Drums of the Jungle (1942)

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"Why do we waste so much time watching these animals," lovely Peggy Moran exclaims after observing a stock footage battle between a bear and a hyena in Drums of the Jungle. The line struck contemporary reviewers as singularly hilarious and it is still funny in its own unintentional way. Why indeed? The fact that Drums of the Jungle elicits more guffaws than excitement was Universal's own fault for not allowing Ona Munson, Stuart Erwin, Don Terry, and Moran to wander too far off the reservation -- in this case the studio back lot -- with the result that every (potted) palm and every cardboard rock bear a certain familiarity. As does the plot, which is basically an action serial boiled down to the bare essentials and minus the cliffhanger ending. To compound matters, the melodrama completely wastes such African-American talent as (a very young) Dorothy Dandridge, Napoleon Simpson, and opera singer Jules Bledsoe. The latter performs "Round the Bend," "River Man," and "Hear the Drums Beat Out," all by Everett Carter and Milton Rosen, by gyrating wildly in what apparently was Universal's idea of African tribal dances.