- Nabonga (1944) movie review: Sam Newfield’s Poverty Row jungle flick lacks thrills, logic, and production values, but it does feature an interesting cast (former Flash Gordon Buster Crabbe, future torch singer Julie London, former Fox leading lady/future Follies player Fifi D’Orsay) and some hot crocodile wrestling.
Nabonga movie review: Average ‘A Girl and Her Gorilla’ tale features an eclectic cast & plenty of stock footage
Nabonga is one of those average “Girl and Her Gorilla” love stories.
Although this low-budget Producers Releasing Corporation effort may not be on the same artistic level as King Kong or have the gloss of Mighty Joe Young, it never pretends to be high art.
Nabonga is a Poverty Row production all the way, directed by prolific B filmmaker Sam Newfield and written by his equally prolific collaborator Fred Myton.
And yet the Nabonga cast is without question interesting.
Pre-sultry Julie London
Long before she became a sultry torch singer, Julie London (“Cry Me a River”) was a young actress. Making her feature film debut in Nabonga, London plays Doreen, a.k.a. The White Witch.
As a little girl, Doreen (at first, Sam Newfield’s daughter Jackie) was in an airplane crash in the African jungle. Also on the plane was her nefarious father (early silent era star Herbert Rawlinson), who was escaping with some embezzled money. The blame for the heist, however, was placed on the dead father of Ray Gorman (the ever handsome Buster Crabbe).
A few years later, Ray goes on a mission to find the wreckage and the survivors so as to clear his father’s name.
As a child, Doreen befriended a wounded gorilla deep within the jungle, eventually nursing him back to health. When her father dies, she adapts to life in her new milieu and even finds some of those form-fitting sarongs to wear. Her only companion is the gorilla, Samson, who has become her great protector, following her around obsequiously.
Bwana Ray and his faithful African companion, Tobo (Prince Modupe), go on an expedition to 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, Carl and Marie (Barton MacLane and Fifi D’Orsay, traipsing around in Bermuda shorts and pith helmets), who want to steal the lost treasure.
Predictably enough, once Ray meets Doreen they fall in love.
He tries to explain that her father stole the money and she must return it. But when Doreen turns out to be too stupid to understand what he’s talking about, Ray teams up with Marie to entrap Doreen’s ever-present simian bodyguard and get the loot.
This PRC flick makes the most of its low budget, featuring 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 as if incapable of comprehending the world around her. Maybe it was because she was wondering the same thing I was.
If the gorilla’s name is Samson, who the heck is Nabonga?
Nabonga / Nabonga Gorilla / The Girl and the Gorilla (1944) cast & crew
Director: Sam Newfield.
Screenplay: Fred Myton.
Cast: Buster Crabbe, Fifi D’Orsay, Julie London, Barton MacLane, Bryant Washburn, Herbert Rawlinson, Prince Modupe, Jackie Newfield, Ray Corrigan.
Cinematography: Robert E. Cline.
Film Editing: Holbrook N. Todd.
Music: Willy Stahl.
Set Designer: Paul Palmentola.
Producer: Sigmund Neufeld.
Production Companies: Sigmund Neufeld Productions.
Distributor: Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC).
Running Time: 75 min.
Country: United States.
“Nabonga (1944) Movie Review: Buster Crabbe + Cheesy Production Values + Memorable Crocodile Wrestling” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Nabonga (1944) Movie Review” endnotes
Sam Newfield and Fred Myton’s 40 joint feature credits include anti-classics like The Mad Monster, The Terror in Tiny Town, and Mantan Messes Up.
Nabonga movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) website.
Julie London and Buster Crabbe Nabonga movie image: Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC).
“Nabonga (1944) Movie Review: Buster Crabbe + Cheesy Production Values + Memorable Crocodile Wrestling” last updated in December 2022.