Friday, July 17, 2015

Movie #319: Jungle Book

The Jungle Book is one of several versions that have been made over the years, and it isn't the more famous animated version. This version, by the Korda brothers, stars Sabu and a bunch of white people in brownface.

Not having read Jungle Book, I'm not sure how closely it sticks to the material, but my Wiki-research leads me to think "not very." Anyway, the movie is framed by an elderly storyteller called Sikh (Noble Johnson) tells a story about a boy lost to the jungle during a tiger attack and raised by wolves who grew into a feral child called Mowgli (Sabu). He lives with wolves for a while, including some amazingly cute footage of him as a little toddler playing with puppies that are totally not wolf cubs, and then as a tween he gets captured by the villagers and mostly accepted, except for Buldeo (Joseph Calleia), who thinks he's a savage or something.

So Mowgli leaves and hangs with his animal pals and takes his new human girl (Patricia O'Rourke) to an ancient ruined city, and he kills Shere Khan and skins him, and then Buldeo learns about the treasure in the ruined city and sets the whole place on fire.

A few things stand out. One is that holy shit, everyone is a white person in brownface except Noble Johnson and Sabu. The other is that the effects are really cool, because they used tigers and panthers and wolves, and it's often shot in such a way that you think the actors are right near the animals, but if you know what to look for it's pretty clearly done with perspective.

Sabu's performance is nice, the rest of the folks are appropriately awed, outraged, or stupid as necessary. Sometimes the brownface isn't quite as obvious as others (Ralph Byrd as Durgaived is fucking painful). The movie retains the feel of a fable being told to an audience even when there's no voiceover going on, so that's kind of neat. In general, though, I think I prefer the Disney cartoon.

My grade: C-
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Jupiter Ascending