‘Nabonga’: Julie London & Buster Crabbe star in your usual ‘Girl and Her Gorilla’ tale
Nabonga is one of those average girl-and-her-gorilla love stories. Although it may not be on the artistic caliber of King Kong or have the gloss of Mighty Joe Young, it never pretends to be high art. It is a Poverty Row production all the way, directed by Sam Newfield, written by Fred Myton, and starring an interesting cast.
Long before she became a sultry 1950s torch singer, Julie London was a young actress. Here she plays Doreen a.k.a. The White Witch. As a little girl, she was in an airplane crash in the African jungle. Also on the plane was her nefarious father, who was escaping with some embezzled money. The blame for the heist was placed on the dead father of poor Ray Gorman (the ever-handsome Buster Crabbe). A few years later, Ray goes on a mission to find the wreckage and the survivors, and thus clear his father’s name.
As a child, the little white witch befriended a wounded gorilla deep within the jungle. When her father dies, she adapts to life in her new milieu and even finds some of those form-fitting female sarongs to wear. Her only companion is the gorilla, Samson, that she nursed back to health some years earlier. Now he is her great protector, following her around obsequiously.
Bwana Ray and his faithful African servant, Tobo (Prince Modupe), go on an expedition and find the wrecked airplane (or as Tobo describes it, “the great bird that fell from the sky”). Unknown to them they are being trailed by a couple of thieves (Barton MacLane and Fifi D’Orsay, traipsing around in Bermuda shorts and pith helmets) who want to steal the hidden treasure.
Predictably enough, Ray meets Doreen and they fall in love. He tries to explain that her father stole the money and she must return it. But when Doreen is too stupid to understand, he teams up with the female thief to trap Doreen’s ever-present simian bodyguard and get the loot.
This Producers Releasing Corporation entry makes the most of its low budget with plenty of stock footage and animal noises. And since Buster Crabbe does take his shirt off on a few occasions and even gets to wrestle a crocodile, that was good enough for me. Julie London’s performance, however, is something awful. Most of the time she speaks in pidgin English, with a dull look on her face as if incapable of understanding what is going on around her.
Maybe it was because she was wondering the same thing I was. If the gorilla’s name was Samson, who the heck was Nabonga?
© Danny Fortune
Nabonga (1944). Dir.: Sam Newfield. Scr.: Fred Myton. Cast: Julie London, Buster Crabbe, Fifi D’Orsay, Barton MacLane, Bryant Washburn, Herbert Rawlinson, Prince Modupe.