Sat 20 Dec 2014
CALL OF THE SAVAGE. Universal, 1935. Serial: 12 episodes. Noah Beery Jr., Dorothy Short, H. L. Woods, Bryant Washburn, Walter Miller, Fred MacKaye. Based on the novel by Otis Adelbert Kline. Director: Louis Friedlander (aka Lew Landers).
One of the other things I do every year is watch an old-time time movie serial. One year not too long ago it was Call of the Savage, a competent and quite enjoyable trifle from folks who knew how to properly do a trifle. The writers — whose names would mean nothing to you — were all seasoned serial hacks, who based the story around Otis Aldelbert Kline’s classic Jan of the Jungle, though how faithfully I cannot say.
Call was directed by Lew Landers, a director who knew enough to keep this thing moving before anyone looked too closely at it. Landers serves up all the improbable thrills — lions, tigers, shipwreck, stampede and volcano — mismatched stock footage and laughable back-projection with a commendably straight face, even dragging in sets and props from Bride of Frankenstein for the obligatory Lost City with nary a giggle.
And then there’s the thespians. Harry Woods, normally a baddie in Westerns, gets to play a mysterious good guy for a change, his type-cast history lending a certain ambiguity to the character, and Dorothy Short, who spent her life in B-movies, looks quite fetching in a leopard skin.
But best of all is Noah Beery Jr. as the Jungle Man. That’s right. Noah Beery Jr, the loveable sidekick of a dozen westerns, James Garner’s dad in The Rockford Files. Yep, he plays a cut-rate Tarzan here, and he plays it as a likeable half-wit, not so much Noble Savage, but more like Old Mose in The Searchers. And somehow the incongruity just adds to the dopey charm of a movie I liked in spite of itself.