King of the Wild
king of the wild | richard thorpe | wynham gittens | ford beebe | walter miller | nora lane | tom santschi | boris karloff | vacation | action | adventure | united states | animal attack | dorothy christy | victor potel | arthur mclaglen | mischa auer | otto hoffman
Film: King of the Wild
Director: Richard Thorpe
Writer: Wynham Gittens and Ford Beebe
Starring: Walter Miller, Nora Lane and Tom Santschi
This is another movie that I had never heard of until I was going through Letterboxd and it appeared on a list of horror films from 1931. Looking through this a bit, I was curious if it was going to be another one of those that is light on these elements or not. The other thing that struck me was the runtime. This is a serial that was shown in parts so binging it through like I did can make it problematic. To get into this synopsis, American adventurer Robert Grant (Walter Miller) is falsely accused of murdering an Indian noble and escapes to Africa in search of a diamond field and the real culprit.
Much like the synopsis state, we’re starting this in India where Robert is meeting with the just and kind ruler of Rajah (Miller). Robert is actually on a business trip it seems and he’s trying to sell a machine to him. Rajah is more intrigued how close they look like each other despite being from different parts of the world. Robert is made an honored guest and joins them on a hunt. Things take a turn when a tiger attacks Rajah, fatally wounding him. Rajah wants Robert to pose as him until his brother can arrive. The reason being to convince Prince Dakka (Mischa Auer) nothing has happened and he doesn’t usurp the throne.
Robert confides in a hunter of Harris (Tom Santschi). He asks him to keep the secret and take the letter. Harris sees a chance to make money. He reveals to Prince Dakka the truth of Rajah in exchange for when Dakka is king, he will pay him a large sum of money. Rajah’s brother shows up though before he takes the throne with soldiers. To prevent them from looking guilty, Robert is blamed for Rajah’s death and he is taken to prison. What is keeping him going is him knowing the letter is out there that could clear his name. Harris wrote his contract with Dakka on the back of it and it was signed.
Some years later, Robert breaks out of prison and is in the deserts of Algeria. He makes his way to Lobanga where he seeks out the aid of Mustapha (Boris Karloff). It is there he also meets the other important people to this story. Robert seeks the help of Mustapha to track down Harris and it turns out they’re friends. Mustapha isn’t to be trusted. Through Peterson (Victor Potel), they learn Tom Armitage (Carroll Nye) has discovered a diamond mine. They want to avoid government interference to get rich. Robert meets Tom’s sister of Muriel (Nora Lane) and wants to keep them safe. Complicating it more are Mrs. LaSalle (Dorothy Christy) who Tom takes a liking to, Mrs. Colby (Otto Hoffman) who is a secret agent and even this mysterious man in black glasses. Harris also has trained an ape man by the name of Bimi (Arthur McLaglen) as a henchman.
It becomes a dangerous game of cat and mouse with many twists and turns as Robert tries to clear his name, help out Muriel and her brother along with keeping Harris and Mustapha from getting this field of diamonds.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap for this. To echo what I said in the start, this is a serial. It was broken up into shorts and there are 12 chapters for these. This is probably better suited to watch it with some gaps as it does get a bit repetitive to watch straight through like I did, especially when you have the recap at the beginning of each. I’m going to try to not hold this against it too much, but I wanted to point that out.
Next I want to go into what I find interesting. This movie is listed as horror, but it is quite light on those elements. With the time this came out, I can see why it fell into the genre. What is pretty scary here is that there are a lot of instances where animals are attacking people. This is interesting to show how wild the area these events are happening. I also believe this is stock footage that is edited in and works well. Having man-eating animals is pretty horrific. There is also a tribe of Africans that hold our character hostages and hunt them as well. This includes some racist things that I will delve into a bit later, but it is scary if you are in that situation. I do think this is less horror than some movies that we question today, but it is a different time.
Another genre that should be considered here is crime. Robert is accused of something that he didn’t commit. He’s spending most of this movie proving the truth. I like that for early scene, we are seeing him do some nefarious things to prove that. I’m assuming this is pre-code in order to show it. He is willing to go back to prison though, so that could also be their out. Much like him, Muriel and Tom are also our heroes here. I find it interesting that they are all white as well. Robert for most of this movie though is posing as an Arab to keep a low profile.
The reason I brought up the last point though, Mustapha is presented as a character we can’t trust. He is also an Arab here. I will say though Harris is white. Peterson, Mrs. Colby and the man in the black glasses are all white as well. I bring this up as we don’t know if they are good or not throughout. I don’t want to make this film out to be more racist than it is. It has it moments for sure, especially when dealing with the African tribe. Mustapha finds them to primitive and easily controlled. He’s not wrong to an extent. They have a simpler lifestyle so some things they’ve not seen before sways them. I just don’t like some of the language or how they are presented at times. The ape man of Bimi is another problem I have here. The movie doesn’t explain his origins so I’m a bit more forgiving.
Since I’ve taken such a look at the characters themselves, I will go next to the acting. I think that Miller is solid in both Robert and Rajah. I would have liked to see an actual Indian actor for the latter, but for the story it needs to be the same person. Lane is good as our female lead. I like how outgoing and strong she is. It is interesting that Tom takes a backseat to her as a character. Santschi is good as this sneaky hunter of Harris. Another problematic role is Mustapha. I really like Karloff. I think he’s a great actor and he fits the role fine. It is a different time, but I still would have liked to see someone of Middle-Eastern roots playing the character. Potel, Auer, Hoffman, Nye and the rest are solid in their supporting roles. McLaglen as Bimi is also problematic, but I again am not going to hold it against the movie due to the minor back-story given.
Next I want to go to the effects. For this movie, we really don’t get a lot and being the era it is from they were done either practical in front of the camera or edited in. The stock animal footage is fine. I did find it funny that for some attack scenes with a lion, they actually used a lion rug to simulate it. I could tell it wasn’t real or at least alive anymore, but it is creative in my opinion. The camera is pretty static, but I do feel they had some outdoor filming here which worked.
In conclusion here, what I will say is that this is a solid serial. I personally don’t know if it is made to be binged straight through like I did. Normally I’m not a fan to start negative, but this is a bit repetitive and that made it boring for me. There is still an interesting story and concept here, especially for early cinema. I think the acting is solid across the board. There are some problematic casting and things that are portrayed or said for me though. I would say that this is still an above average movie despite my issues with it.
My Rating: 6 out of 10