Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Jungle Book


This is the first of what I think of as the Big Three versions of the Kipling book (there are innumerably other versions), long before the Disney animation in 1967 and the CGI “live action” one in 2016. The star is Sabu, who I recall from The Thief of Baghdad. It was made by the Korda brothers, Zoltan, Alexander, and Vincent, during the period when the war forced them to relocate from the UK to Hollywood. It certainly looks like a Hollywood production, with vast jungle sets and that certain polish that only Tinseltown could produce. It is all very well done, a visual feast with the super-saturated Technicolor film.

They took a different tack on telling the story than the Disney ones do. They concentrate on Mowgli the man cub when he returns to the village. His animal friends are pretty much incidental to the main story, which is one of a greedy trio who learn Mowgli knows of a forgotten city in the jungle where there are incalculable riches. As usual, greed turns out badly for them. (One of them was John Qualen, a Canadian actor who specialized in different accents, most commonly a dumb Swede, by golly!)

There is a mix of real animals and phony ones. The more dangerous ones like the black panther are filmed cleverly so that you can’t see there is a pane of glass between it and Sabu. As for the phony ones … well, they are obvious fakes to us today, but they still look pretty damn good compared to what was the norm in 1942. Particularly the huge snake, Kaa, as she slithers through the water.