WIZ Retro Review: The Jungle Princess starring Dorothy Lamour

The Jungle Princess

Graceful and alluring Dorothy Lamour stars as Ulah, The Jungle Princess, in this chimerical but endearing, black-and-white 1936 Paramount production that launched her career.  Ray Milland co-stars as Christopher Powell, a hunter who comes to the Malaysian jungle to capture wild animals but himself falls captive to Ulah’s native beauty, her stunning singing voice, and her child-like candor. The Jungle Princess taps deeply into the fantasy of the orphaned, nature-nurtured child, who by virtue of being human ascends to the throne of wild domains.  The roughly contemporary Tarzan franchise starring Olympic medalist Johnny Weissmuller (12 films between 1918 and 1948) and the1942 version of The Jungle Book starring Sabu also capitalized on that tradition.  And let’s not forget Johnny Shepherd as Bomba, The Jungle Boy.

When I was a kid, I loved this stuff.  Being a semi-nature child myself who kept company with wild animals in the woods and weeds of Virginia, movies of this sort, no matter how silly, made perfect sense.   Oscar-nominated The Jungle Book is far and away a better movie than The Jungle Princess, but like the fierce-browed and free-spirited Sabu, Dorothy Lamour casts a screen presence that makes watching her pretty darned enjoyable. Co-star Ray Milland—eh, not so much. 

The storyline: Little Ulah (Sally Martin) and her grandfather (Bernard Seigel) are the only survivors of an elephant stampede that destroys their Malay village.  They go to live in the jungle with Ulah’s pet tiger cub Limau until an adult tiger kills Ulah’s grandfather.  Now on her own, Ulah develops the skills necessary to survive the Malaysian jungle’s perils.  She finds a cave and makes a cozy home of it with Limau.  Girl and tiger grow up together, and local natives, overlooking the fact there’s a beautiful girl living all on her lonesome in their neighborhood, come to believe that the silvery laughter they hear whenever they encounter the tiger means that the big cat is a devil.

Despite the indigens’ angst over the demon tiger, grownup Ulah (played by Lamour), Limau, and their chimpanzee friend Bogo live in peace in the jungle until American hunter Chris Powell decides to investigate the natives’ stories of le tigre qui rit.  Limau, perhaps understanding better than Ulah what Chris’ presence means for the future, wastes no time in attacking the him.  Ulah calls Limau off, and while Christopher binds his only wound from the onslaught—a sprained ankle—the fascinated Ulah creeps up from behind without his noticing.  (Did he learn nothing from the tiger attack?)  When he realizes she’s there, he chirps out a friendly schoolboy, “Oh, hello!”  Ulah helps Chris (she speaks no English and pronounces his name “Kiss”) limp to her cave where she tends his sprained ankle with natural remedies and sings to him a beautiful native love song that he thinks is a lullaby.  Viewers don’t know it’s a love song either (though there’s ample reason suspect so) until Chris teaches Ulah enough English that she’s able to translate the song’s seductive lyrics into words that anybody can understand clearly.  Ulah’s childlike forwardness puts pressure on Chris, already engaged to the sophisticated Ava (played by Molly Lamont).

Back at the hunting camp, Chris’ friends, fiancée, and the native camp staff think the devil tiger ate Chris and break off their search for him.  This frees Chris to enjoy a lengthy and provocative convalescence under Ulah’s very warm and tender care.  When Chris abruptly returns to his hunting compound, Ulah and her animal companions follow on the sly, but of course, the tiger, chimpanzee, and beautiful girl have a difficult time keeping a low profile. Supposedly experienced wild game hunter Chris seems very surprised to discover that Ulah has shadowed him to camp.

Jealousy erupts between Ulah and Chris’ socialite fiancée Ava, who nevertheless attempts to “civilize” Ulah–possibly in a misguided attempt to level the playing field.  The plan backfires, and Ava realizes quickly that she’s losing Chris to the untameble and thoroughly beguiling jungle princess.  Indeed, Chris’ perpetually soused friend Frank (Lynne Overman) and even Ava’s own upper-crust father (Hugh Buckler) also find Ulah to be completely enchanting.  Only the superstitious Malays working the hunting camp share Ava’s poor opinion of Ulah.  Because of her familiarity with the ferocious Limau, they believe the jungle girl to be a witch and the tiger to be “her servant,” which I suppose the hapless creature is, more or less.  The natives capture Limau with the intent of destroying him.  Ulah tries to free her friend but is betrayed.  She flees the angry natives but falls into a tiger trap that the natives dug to catch Limau.  With clear-thinking Bogo’s help, Chris finds Ulah and tries to lead her back to her cave and safety, but the disgruntled natives arrive and stop them—mostly because that mooncalf Chris leads them right to her.  With drums pounding and foul looks, they prepare to kill Ulah in fitting ritual fashion.  Chris summons enough presence of mind to protect Ulah from the witch-loathing natives, but Bogo finally gives up on Chris, takes matters into his own simian but capable hands, and saves the day.  How?  Let’s just say that the movie ends pretty much the way it begins.

I got a kick out of this golden oldie.  It’s a lively tropical romp, complete with chimp-using-human-toiletries jokes.  Obviously, The Jungle Princess is not a thinking-man’s or –woman’s movie.  To accept the story’s premises you have to shush your brain repeatedly.  (Chimpanzees in Malaysia? No. Orangutans? Yes.)  If you want a nature-based story that’s more thought-provoking, try The Wild North starring Stewart Granger.  But in my opinion, Dorothy Lamour makes an engaging jungle princess.  The main male characters’ behavior appears to support the European cliché that American men never grown up.  I’m very disappointed in them all, especially Chris.  Nice enough fellow, but the plot depends upon his being a complete nudnik.  That Ulah finds him irresistible is tragic. A girl who can control an adult male Malayan tiger shouldn’t have to settle for the first glint of boyish charm that turns his ankle among her malu malu flowers.

12 thoughts on “WIZ Retro Review: The Jungle Princess starring Dorothy Lamour”

  1. Just in case if you’re wondering if anyone read this, I’ve gone over it two or three times. All I can access verbally are these:
    They don’t seem to make big game hunters like they used to- or, couldn’t get the man the producers really wanted for this movie.
    Sensual appeal seems to either go with nature girls or city girls, but not both in the same movie.
    This review could almost be of a very popular vampire book/movie series, lol. As in, what does he/she see in her/him?
    There are other things, too. The whole mysticism around the wild child, nostalgia for Sabu, and my attachment to old movies in general. Oh, and movie reviews. I read movie reviews for fun.
    Thanks!

  2. Sensual appeal seems to either go with nature girls or city girls, but not both in the same movie.

    Astute observation. Socialite fiancee Ava is beautiful, elegant, pouty–and blond–and believes she has Chris all sewn up. Once Chris stumbles upon Ulah, he does his best to honor his commitment to Ava, dodging the dark-haired native Malay’s uninhibited advances–up to a point. Presumably, one of the reasons he departs the wild child’s company is to return to his own life and get himself back on track. But of course part of Ulah’s job is to smash through the veneer of high-society refinement and show it to be less than desirable, especially for the repressed white guys that civilized life holds captive. Poor proper Ava hasn’t a chance against a jungle beauty who, upon first seeing Chris with Ava, sizes the situation up immediately and in a charming tantrum shouts, “Other woman, no!”

    There’s a B-movie resemblance to Brigadoon’s plot line, where Gene Kelly’s character, similarly faced with falling victim to the oppressions of matrimony to high society, goes on one last hunting trip and winds up gathering heather on the hill with Cyd Charisse. He returns to his fiancee in noisy, crowded NYC (I think it is) but keeps hearing the siren call of the mystical, musical, rustic existence. Impulsively, he ditches the high life with all of its responsibilities and confinements to secure true happiness in bewitched–and unreachable–Brigadoon. Probably, this pattern turns up in tons of movies.

    Thanks for reading, Lora. In appreciation, I’ll send you a copy of the movie!

  3. Ooh, thank you! My kids have one of two responses to old movies: they are either entranced with it, or they simply stare at us, the parents, as tho we were crazy. So they love Brigadoon, and Singin in the Rain. They thought the Bob Hope/ Bing Crosby ‘road’ movies were completely bizarre. Can’t wait to see which response they have for this, lol!

  4. Ok, Lora, it’s on its way. Come back and let us know what you think of the movie. (Actually, the disc contains a double feature, Jungle Princess and Her Jungle Love, but these movies are more or less fraternal twins.)

  5. Well, maybe I am still a child at heart, but I loved that Movie.
    I bought it a few months ago, and Dorothy Lamour has always been one of my favorites.
    I found Ray Milland very sexy, and I loved his part, and that accent.
    I may not be a so called critic, but I know what I enjoy. No Sex! No Cursing! I am fine with those old movies. I don’t feel dirty afterwards.
    Especially the Jungle ones are my7 favorite. I have all of her Movies and her songs.
    Ray was a HUNK!!!
    Too bad they are both gone, but none of us can live forever.

  6. I’m glad you liked The Jungle Princess, Delores. I liked it, too–hope that comes through at least a little. This movie was my introduction to Dorothy Lamour and I found myself unexpectedly impressed with her.

    I’m no movie critic, just someone having fun with the film.

    If you didn’t already have a copy, I’d send you one.

  7. I want to thank you so much for the offer of the movie, but I have two DVD’S of ” The Jungle Princess” I hope I wasn’t rude. I don’t mean to be, but sometimes I come off like that.

    I Just finished Dorothy Lamour’s Autobiography, and I loved it. ” My side of the Road” I laughed a lot at some of the things that happened to her while making those Jungle films. She was a real trooper though.
    Thanks again for your kindness.
    Dee Adams
    Highland, Ca.

  8. All’s good, Dee! I’m happy to learn that that these movie stars from another era still have their loyal fans and fierce defenders. When I get more time, I want to see more Dorothy Lamour films. Right now, I’m watching Clara Bow movies. I’ve watched Wings, which is a really amazing movie, and I watched It yesterday. I have more Clara on my list. I’ve been thinking of reviewing Wings for WIZ but can’t think of a way to make it fit the nature theme.

    There’s a lot to discover in those oldies, isn’t there?

  9. Hi Patricia,
    I hope I am doing this website right. Even my Husband who usually knows about computers isn’t sure about the website.
    I Just read my email, and then yours, so must be doing something right.
    I have that movie “Wings” A real oldie too. Milland, and Holden were good in that Movie. My Son has always loved Veronica Lake. He Just loves Blondes. (Ha)
    I am glad that you are enjoying reviewing different Movies. I enjoy watching them.
    I have to admit I did like the newer one. ” The Notebook”
    I wish you the best, and keep on doing what makes you feel good inside. Life is so short.
    Dee

  10. Sure, Delores, your participation on this site is welcome. You provide interesting insight and a lovely voice.

    I hope you come back–I’ll continue to post other Retro Reviews and be looking for you.

  11. Hi Patricia,
    I will be looking forward to another Retro Review from you again.
    I don’t know much about Clara Bow, but I have heard of her. I have a picture someplace of Marilyn Monroe dressed like her, and she looks like her with the wig, and make up.
    I have several pictures of Marilyn dressed like other stars. I have a big collection of Marilyn. Too Big!!!
    Take Care

  12. Nice to see you again, Delores. That’s interesting–what you said about Marilyn Monroe dressing like Clara and other stars. Some sources I read said that Clara was an inspiration to Marilyn. I watched 7 Clara Bow movies. There are characteristics about them I don’t like, but I think that the person who described Clara as having a genuine spark of divine fire was probably right. Too bad the studios lost so many of her films and allowed many others to deteriorate. Have you seen the Clara Bow’s movie, Saturday Night Kid?

    You might like to visit my recent Retro Review of The Charge at Feather River. To see it, click here (there’s a link in the word “here” above, but links don’t show up very well in the comments–just mouse over the word and click).

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