(1937) was a bit more unusal than the others I've seen so far. Inspired by Republic's Darkest Africa
, it was the first serial released by Columbia. Yet it is far better, less juvenile, and much less campy.
To counteract Republic's Clyde Beatty, Jungle Menace
has Frank ‘Bring ‘em Back Alive’ Buck, who was a hunter, 'collector of wild animals', as well as a writer, actor, director, producer and circus showman. He's older than Beatty and conveys both more authority and acting ability.
The serial also boasts Sasha Siemel, a prominent adventurer and hunter of the time. Though he's really a one trick pony, who shows the same trick three times: In 1914 Siemel traveled to the jungles of Brazil where he worked as a gunsmith and mechanic in the diamond mining camps of the Matto Grosso. There he met a native who taught him to become a Tigrero
, one who kills jaguars armed only with a spear. He found employment with the ranches of the Pantanal, hunting jaguars that were attacking livestock. In 1925, Sasha killed his first jaguar using a zagya, a seven-foot spear, allegedly making him the only white man to attain such a feat.
In Jungle Menace
he appears to skewer the same leopard three times.
However, there's much more to this serial. It feels like a hangover from the supposedly more adult-oriented productions. It doesn't always follow the format of having a cliffhanger resolved at the start of the next episode, but instead entices viewers to return to see how this "engrossing" story will unfold. As such there's a lot more talking and less action than later serials. The tangled plot involves the machinations of white men scheming over a rubber plantation in south east Asia (likely Malaya). We see, often in a very film noir style, the progress of the investigation and the underhand dealings of the characters, such as the Toht-like Professor helping to dump a body in the harbour.
Action is often animal oriented, with tigers and leopards attacking people or each other, and is well done.