The jaw-dropping, eye-popping, edge-of-your-seat exploits of the fearless Panther Girl are brought vividly to life in the Republic Pictures serial Panther Girl of the Kongo starring Phyllis Coates (Perils of the Jungle) as Jean Evans, the Panther Girl of the title; Myron Healey (The Unearthly) as big game hunter Larry Sanders; and Arthur Space (The Red House) as the maddest of the mad scientists, Dr. Morgan.
All twelve action-packed jungle adventures (including The Claw Monster, The Killer Beast, Crater of Flame and the thrilling final chapter of the serial, House of Doom), directed by Franklin Adreon (Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe) are now available for your home viewing pleasure in one exciting package.
There's something about old Republic serials from the late 40s and early 50s that just make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Part of it rests on the notion that these multipart prolonged stories pre-date television. They were a great way to have a nice long reoccurring story that was a ton of fun and made you want to come back to the theater for more. They were also the first filmed adaptations of our favorite comic book heroes and pulp stories. From Batman to Superman to Flash Gordon, Serials were the first way for people to see their favorite heroes on the screen. In total, Republic Pictures made over 66 serials! Their penultimate outing, 'Panther Girl of the Kongo' from 1954 features all of the best (and worst) elements of a classic Republic Serial and is an absolute blast!
Jean Evans (Phyllis Coates) is a woman of adventure. Known as "Panther Girl" to the local African natives, she hunts, she shoots wildlife films, and she rides an elephant. Her macho hunter friend Larry Sanders (Myron Healey) does what he can to ensure Jean stays safe - but the woman is more than capable of handling things on her own. Most of the time, that is. When diabolical mad scientist Dr. Morgan (Arthur Space) has a mind of creating gigantic Claw Monsters (stock footage of little crawfish) in order to scare off Jean, Larry and the local tribal natives so he can loot a diamond mine. As Jean and Larry try to outwit the mad Dr. Morgan and kill off the murderous Claw Monsters, they routinely fall into precarious pits of peril they may not survive!
As a huge fan of Republic Pictures serials, even I have to admit that to a certain degree if you've seen one, you've more or less, seen them all. That isn't to say the stories are exactly the same, but realistically, each episode follows a very predictable formula. Each episode features the hero unraveling a piece of the mystery, getting a little more information about the dastardly villain, moving the plot forward an inch, and then without fail fall for an idiotic trap that leaves the audience with a cliffhanger ending. It's this predictability that inevitably turns out to be a strength rather than a weakness. Sure, on occasion the hero probably couldn't have leaped from the cock-a-doodie car before it careened over the cliff - but knowing that he would survive made watching the next episode that much more fun. You wanted to see how they were going to explain how the characters survived!
The same is true here for Jean Evans and her great white hunter pal Larry. They're supposed to be brilliant, intuitive people, and yet, each episode sees them fall for a hammy trap cooked up by the mad scientist's mook minions. Just when you think that paper mache claw is going to kill our titular Panther Girl, somehow, some way, she finds a way out of the trap. The reliable routine is what makes these serials so much fun. They may not be the greatest shows on Earth, but they're infectiously fun.
As the second to last serial produced by Republic Pictures, 'Panther Girl of the Kongo' showcases the telltale signs of a studio slowing down. The film sets were recycled from other shorts. Stock footage is abundant - as one would expect - but it's even worse here. 'Panther Girl' is loaded with footage that was used for Republic Pictures' 1941 serial 'Jungle Girl.' They even went so far as to use look-alike costumes so the new footage would match! Plus, that blown up footage of a tiny little crawfish looking all menacing just makes me smile. I grew up near rivers and creeks so I'm well familiar with these somewhat harmless little critters. I can only imagine what it was like shooting these things on a model set. The best is when the claw attacks someone, you can see the actor have to work themselves into the pinchers.
For all of their goofy faults, I love serials. Even when they're at their most eye-rolling groan-inducing worst, they're still a ton of fun. Even as the 12 episodes nears a three-hour runtime, 'Panther Girl of the Kongo' is infectiously entertaining. Even if you're not paying close attention, it makes for great background entertainment. I've always wanted to own a small three or four screen movie theater where I could show a classic sci-fi or horror movie and open the show with an episode from a serial such as this. 'Panther Girl of the Kongo' may not reinvent the wheel, but it plays to the format's built-in strengths and is a riot to watch! So pop some corn, turn out the lights, and have some fun.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Panther Girl of the Kongo' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu featuring traditional navigation options.
For a Serial of this vintage, the 1.33:1 1080p transfer for 'Panther Girl of the Kongo' is actually well kept and maintains a strong visual presence. That isn't to say this is the most visually amazing film to look at, it's mostly made up of stock footage and reused footage, but what's here looks genuinely pretty good. There is a subtle amount of film grain left, it hasn't been completely scrubbed clean giving rise to some decent detail levels. Black levels never quite approach the desired inky black range, they're pretty good, instead, most things appear in various shades of deep gray with only a little bit of separation. There is a bit of depth to the image, but overall this is a very flat looking presentation. Taken as a whole, this is probably one of the better looking Republic Pictures serials to come out on Blu-ray, but it doesn't exactly "wow" either.
'Panther Girl of the Kongo' comes with a solid, by the numbers, English DTS-HD MA 1.0 track. Considering the makeup of these episodes, the sound design is fairly flat, music heightened to punch up the action, and sound effects sound canned. But that's also why one loves a serial like this! Dialogue is clean and clear throughout - almost to a detriment when the performers start improvising an African dialect on the spot. the mumbo jumbo speak is pretty hilarious. Production values were pretty slim for this one so sound effects and layering are pretty restrained. There tends to be a rather hollow sound to most effects and the music is just tossed on top. It's not an impressive track, but it gets the job done.
No supplemental content.
When you sign up to watch something like 'Panther Girl of the Kongo' you go in with a pretty clear idea of what you're getting. Serials were always a bit predictable. The structure of each episode was a routine. While serials had their story and structure faults, there was an undeniable charm to them that makes them unique to this day. 'Panther Girl of the Kongo' may have come out at the end of an era, but it's wild and entertaining nature is infectious. Where else are you going to see a hunter filmmaker woman fighting off stock footage of crawfish? Olive Films has done a respectable job bringing this classic serial to Blu-ray with a fine A/V presentation. Sadly no bonus feature content was included with this release. If you love serial stories, keep 'Panther Girl of the Kongo' on your radar. Worth a look.