Tuesday, September 24, 2019


As a comic book, RAMAR OF THE JUNGLE ran for five issues. The first was with Toby Press (see pic, the well-worn blue cover with star Jon Hall), whose most successful comic seemed to be JOHN WAYNE ADVENTURE COMICS, in 1954….Toby was on its last legs in 54-55, and the series was then picked up by Charlton for four more issues, running at four-month intervals in late 1955 and throughout 1956. All five issues are included, complete except for the original ads, in this exciting Gwandanaland collection.

The TV series RAMAR OF THE JUNGLE was a syndicated show that ran for 52 episodes over the 1952-54 period and then entered into endless re-runs, which were still being shown on Channel 38 in the late 1960’s, when I watched them. (EDITOR'S NOTE: this show was also a part of the broadcast schedule on the short lived Youngstown Ohio indie station WXTV-45 way back 1960 way.) There were also a number of “feature films” cobbled together from the episodes, some of which were released theatrically by Lippert Pictures in the US and some which were TV only and released both here and overseas. The Lippert ones were in rotation on another UHF station I watched as a child, so I was getting a double-dose of Ramar as a boy of 8-11. I’d heard that there was a Ramar comic, but I never saw one until Comic Book Plus posted them online during the internet age, and I never actually held one in my hands until this Gwandanaland collection. I wish it had been sooner, but it was worth the wait.

RAMAR was created by and starred JON HALL, well-known for his featured roles at Universal in the late 30’s and early 40’s, an actor who was considered “exotic” (I’ve read that his mother was Polynesian, though that’s not mentioned in his Wikipedia entry….in fact, no mother is mentioned at all!) and put into a number of “South Seas” adventures, including the film that made him a star, the 1937 HURRICANE. Somewhat typecast in this period, he starred in 6 films with Maria Montez, whose name was synonymous in the Hollywood hype factory of that era with the word “exotic.” He worked steadily through the years, and after his time at Universal, was part of Sam Katzman’s stable at Columbia Pictures. No doubt seeing how quickly and cheaply feature films could be made by working with Katzman, Hall moved into producing and directing himself, realizing that was where the money, such as it was, could be made. About 5-6 years ago, I had the privilege of seeing a 35mm screening of his 1965 classic BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER (aka MONSTER FROM THE SURF), which he starred in and directed, in Austin, and it was quite impressive (I loved seeing it in TV horror-movie packages as a teenager). After RAMAR, Hall did some pilot episodes for a show called KNIGHT OF THE SOUTH SEAS. These did not get picked up, so Hall cobbled them together into the over-the-top 1957 feature film HELL-SHIP MUTINY (see poster), which featured neither a Hell Ship nor a mutiny (that in itself shows that Hall totally “got” the low-budget exploitation-film mentality), but was great fun. If you ever wondered why the co-stars such as John Carradine or Peter Lorre were only in part of that film, now you know why—each was in a separate pilot episode. They didn’t even know they were in a “film” with each other. It was released by Republic Pictures, which by then was running on fumes and releasing re-titled reissues of their earlier product, foreign pick-ups, and independent product such as HELL-SHIP MUTINY. It’s the kind of film tailor-made for the BTC audience.

The RAMAR show was certainly inspired by the success of the Jungle Jim series of films at Columbia, produced by Hall’s old employer Sam Katzman, starring a similarly “exotic” actor, Johnny Weissmuller, after his Tarzan fame. In this case, you had two lead actors, Hall as Dr. Tom Reynolds (known as Ramar, or medicine man, to the locals) and Ray Montgomery as his partner/assistant, Professor Howard Ogden. Some of the episodes were supposedly set in India and the majority supposedly in Africa, but it made little difference. Even as a child, I could tell that there was very little location shooting in these shows…..even location shooting at a California lake or Marineland or whatever. A few seconds would be shown at the beginning of the episode to provide our juvenile minds with a setting, and here and there another few snippets would be dropped in to remind us of that setting. It seemed as though there were a few 20’ by 20’ “jungle” sets that they would traipse through on each show, coming in and out from different sides and with different camera angles. It mattered little to me—I loved the show. And watching some episodes here and there in the last year, I still love it. Just use your imagination and you are there in some fantasy “jungle.” After all, who has ever been to a real one? The farthest south I’ve been is Harlingen, Texas (where I visited the dog-racing track, Valley Race Park, and also managed to find, on a back street, the mural of the city’s most famous one-time resident, Bill Haley!).

Hall and Montgomery (see pic—they are the two men in the center of the still photo) were both handsome, athletic, and charismatic, so throw them into those Jungle Jim outfits, come up with some plots about evil European poachers and/or local political intrigues among the tribes in the area, and you’ve got classic jungle-action. When I was recently reading a book about Lippert Pictures (which issued a number of such films), I learned that many small-town theater operators loved jungle films and begged Lippert to keep making and releasing them, as they went over well with rural audiences. And why not----in the pre-television, pre-internet age, they could take us away from our limited daily life and into a world of danger and intrigue….and exotic animals. And it was cheaper than a family visit to the zoo, and had an exciting plot to boot!

The comic books are, in a way, even better than the show, in that we are not limited by low budgets and backlot jungle sets. Thus the plots are much wilder and feature much more action and large-scale settings than the TV show ever could. Jon Hall’s name appears on each comic book cover, and I’d guess any juvenile fan of the show would be super-excited about owning one. I certainly wish they’d been available in the late 60’s when I was watching the show.

Well, at least the five comic books are available now in this attractive book. You can watch a number of Ramar episodes for free online, and those who don’t mind reading comics online and saving the cost of a book could even read the five comics for free at Comic Book Plus. These old jungle films and TV shows, rooted in the colonial era and made with a kind of wide-eyed enthusiasm impossible in today’s ironic and self-absorbed world, are truly a relic of an age long-gone. You can have it back for an hour or two with this fine collection from Gwandanaland comics. Just Google the book title and publisher and you can order your own copy today!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

HELL Ship Mutiny?! Watch your %$#@ language!