Friday, February 24, 2017

Blu-ray debut: PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO--Republic Pictures' penultimate serial is back

1955 must have been a troubling year for movie studios, what with television siphoning off so much of their audience. That was the year that Republic Picturesthe big little studio specializing in B movies, westerns and serials, released one in the last category that TrustMovies -- who was something of a serial fan when he was young -- had never heard of until now. TM was already fourteen at the time of PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO's release, however, so his serial days were long over. Viewing this twelve-part, 168-minute adventure today, makes for mostly a low camp experience: fun for a little while, but soon more of an effort-making bore than anything else.

Panther Girl begins with the scene of an attractive young woman riding an elephant, as a lion looks on. Before you can say crappy-old-fashioned-special-effects, she and her little band of back-lot African natives are confronted with a huge and monstrous crustacean -- on land, in the jungle? Notes our heroine, "This beast does look like an overgrown crawfish." Yes, it does, because, yes, it is -- thanks to the chemical engineering of the serial's leading villain who wants to get his hands on the diamonds in this "Kongo," and so uses his newly minted monster to scare off the local natives.

The initial episode ends with Panther Girl in the clutches of the monster's giant claw (above), and on we go. So far so funny. But things begin to go downhill fast. Trying to binge-watch one of these old-time serials is probably not a good idea because each new episode -- the first lasts around 20 minutes, the following eleven are 13-14 minutes -- begins with the same credits roll plus a recap of the preceding episode, which quickly bores the hell out of you.  It may help if you try to remember that these serials were made for Saturday afternoon youth audiences, the average age of which was probably between five and eight years old. (Since this dovetails with the intelligence level of the average American Trump voter, these old serials may be in for a comeback!)

In any case, almost every one of the episodes features a good-old-fashioned fist fight, almost always between the same three people: Panther Girl's male co-star (Myron Healey) and the serial's two villainous henchmen. These go from fun to funny to tiresome fairly quickly. Meanwhile our heroine is menaced by everything from that earlier lion to the crayfish monster to naughty natives and a man in a monkey suit, above. (It's a virtual Perils of Pauline in jungle setting.)

The trick photography is pretty awful, not nearly as good as that in those early dinosaur movies, in which gussied-up lizards took the roles of the dinos. This poor crayfish hardly seems capable of moving even as fast as the old-fashioned Mummy, let alone doing much damage to anyone or anything.

The dialog is never more than standard boilerplate that shoves the predictable plot from one scene into the next, and the repetition is appalling and monotonous (but remember that we kids had to wait a full week to see the next installment, so for us, back then, there was at least a modicum of suspense generated). Actress Phyllis Coates (the earliest of TV Superman's Lois Lanes) does a creditable job as Panther Girl, while the supporting actors all contribute bread-and-butter jobs as either the good guys or bad.

Released to DVD and Blu-ray by Olive Films, the serial hit the street this past Tuesday, February 21. A word must be said about the Blu-ray transfer here, which is simply impeccable: as sharp and clear as if it were filmed yesterday. (Don't judge by some of the photos above, which were all I could find on the internet to use for now.) This excellent transfer made me dearly wish that certain much-better old movies I've recently viewed on Blu-ray could have emerged looking half as good as does this silly serial.

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