Jungle Book (1942)

It is interesting how inspiration can sometimes go in circles – or at least in spirals. Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, published in 1894, lent inspiration to Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote the first Tarzan book in 1912. Burroughs has said that Kipling was among his inspirational sources, and Kipling later admitted that Burroughs was a “genius among genii” of imitators (though, strictly speaking, Tarzan is more than just a Mowgli imitation). The Tarzan character was later changed, in both subtle and not so subtle ways, for the silver screen, and among those changes was the iconic vine swinging, allegedly invented by Frank Merrill and popularized by Johnny Weissmuller. Now, here comes the real inspirational loop, for when Jungle Book, one of the most classic of the film adaptations, was made in 1942, we suddenly see Mowgli swinging the vines from tree to tree, just like the Tarzan that was originally inspired by the book Mowgli.

(NB. Tarzan of the books finally did swing the vines, but not until 1948, in the final Tarzan book published during Edgar Rice Burroughs’ lifetime, Tarzan and the Foreign Legion.)

Patricia O'Rourke and Sabu in Zoltan Korda's Jungle Book (1942)

With or without vine swinging, Jungle Book is really a spectacular piece of film, though truth be told, it is not a very faithful adaptation of the literary original. It begins with a neat framing sequence, where an old storyteller somewhere in the Indian countryside tells the story of Mowgli. Then we see many scenes of nature, both beautiful and powerful. And at last, the story comes to Mowgli himself and his struggle for finding his place, among the jungle animals, but even more so among the humans. There is naturally also a romantic interest in the form of a young girl.

Mowgli was played by the actor simply named Sabu, who at this time was at the height of his career. Sabu had a very special screen personality, one that mesmerized and captivated the audience. But after he had served as a tailgunner in World War II, his career never quite got back on its feet, and this is therefore one of his rather few films as leading actor. If you are unfamiliar with Sabu, watching him is by itself worth the price of admission.

This film is best enjoyed because it combines the best of Hollywood and British film of the time. From the British, it has the attention to detail, the flowing dialogue, and that little something which I cannot quite put my finger on. From Hollywood, it has the lavish sets and the budget to truly make it rise above the average.

Sabu as Mowgli among the elephants in Zoltan Korda's Jungle Book (1942)

Jungle Book
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Year: 1942
Running time: 1 h 46 min
Director: Zoltán Korda
Stars: Sabu
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (960×738)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (3.8 G)

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Wolf Blood (1925)

It is only natural, I suppose, that a whole lot of “firsts” of cinematic history came into existence during the silent era. Many of these are little more than historical curiosities, such as the first Frankenstein film from 1910.

Occasionally, however, such a film turns out to have interesting qualities in addition to just being first, and one such is Wolf Blood, the first feature-length werewolf movie (and the oldest preserved of any length).

George Chesebro, Marguerite Clayton and Raymond Hanford in Wolf Blood (1925)

The film is set deep in the Canadian forests, where two competing lumber companies fight for control of the best timber. Dick Bannister is the local boss of one company, and when one of the employees is shot, he asks the female owner Miss Ford to come to the site for a first-hand experience of the situation. She does so, bringing her fiancée along for the ride. In spite of this, Bannister and his employer feel a mutual attraction, gradually deepening as the film progresses.

Bannister is wounded in a fight and the fiancée, a surgeon, is forced to perform a blood transfusion using a wolf’s blood to save Bannister’s life. This in spite of the risk that the animal’s savage characteristics may transfer to the victim. Miss Ford nurses him to health, but are the rumours true that he is now part-wolf, terrorizing the camps?

Wolf Blood is slow-moving and not very exciting in terms of adventure or horror. Its qualities lie elsewhere.

This film is best enjoyed for its warm, humane drama and nice character portraits. There is also a lot of fascinating forest scenery and film of what is probably genuine lumberjacks at work. The werewolf theme is relatively low-key, and it was probably not an inspiration to The Wolfman (1941), the film that really made the werewolf into one of the legendary Hollywood monsters.

George Chesebro chasing a wolf in the werewolf film Wolf Blood (1925)

Wolf Blood
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Year: 1925
Running time: 1 h 7 min
Directors: George Chesebro, Bruce Mitchell
Stars: George Chesebro, Marguerite Clayton
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (400×304)
Soundtrack: Acceptable; classical and jazz music partly synchronized with the images
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (699 M)