Time, friends, to salute the heroic efforts of those luckless starlets who struggled nobly through the swampy absurdities of that eccentric pair of PRC jungle movies I discussed here.
White Pongo offers us Mari Wrixon in its relatively dignified lead role (though when I say relative, I obviously really do mean relative), but Nabonga is lifted into even higher plains of weirdness than would otherwise be the case by one of the oddest female casts of any film that ever snuck out of Poverty Row: Fifi D'Orsay and Julie London.
Together at last! Only PRC could get those names on the one marquee, and with Ray Crash Corrigan and his ape suit too. What major Hollywood studio could hope to compete? It's a wonder they even tried.
The comely blonde who ignites the White Pongo's libidinous urges is a familiar face from skid row movies, mainly at Monogram, where she appeared in The Face of Marble with John Carradine, and managed to avoid the titular menace of The Ape, as the paralysed heroine whose plight so moves kindly doctor Boris Karloff that he kills an escaped gorilla, skins it, and goes out at night wearing the skin and murdering people for their spinal fluid. That way Maris will walk again and the ape will be blamed for all the murders. Does it work out that way? What do you reckon.
Also at Monogram, she co-starred with the great, truly great Frank Albertson and Ace the Wonder Dog in Silent Witness (1943), perhaps the only film in the world that I want to see even more than I want to see Women In Bondage (1944), in which Monogram puts a dream cast - Wrixon, Anne Nagel, Tala Birell and top-lining Gail Patrick! - in (to quote Ted Okuda's essential Monogram Checklist) " a story of the degradation and brutalising of women in Germany where members of the SS Elite Troops are appointed to become fathers of children by women who are selected for motherhood by the Reich."
What on earth is this film like to watch? I only wish I knew. How on earth do Monogram handle the material? Surely not with their usual tastelessness or it would never have gotten past Breen, even allowing for whatever propaganda value it may or may not possess...
Like many another Poverty Row heroine, Maris appears unbilled in scores of walk-ons for the majors - look for her in High Sierra, Meet John Doe and Phantom Lady for starters. She made her last film in 1951, and died in 1999. She was the wife of film editor Rudi Fehr and the mother of film editor Kaja Fehr: they collaborated on the editing of Prizzi's Honor and were jointly Oscar nominated. Rudi died the same year as Maris; Kaja is still editing away.
How in the name of all that suffers and weeps did did Fifi D'Orsay end up in Nabonga?
And then, to top that, they get Julie London, making her screen debut as Doreen of the jungle.
Julie, needless to say, is the sultry chanteuse whose smoky renditions of pop standards made her a permanent fixture on fifties jukeboxes, beloved especially by men who responded to the obvious erotic charge with which she imbued such numbers as Nice Girls Don't Stay For Breakfast, Love For Sale and My Heart Belongs To Daddy. It's also a thrill hearing her deliver that classic of musical sexism Wives and Lovers. Nobody could have been better cast as the woman who made a washed up alcoholic of Tom Ewell in The Girl Can't Help It, and now haunts him in his dreams, singing her signature hit Cry Me A River. Probably nobody could have been better cast in Nabonga either, come to that.
And can any other singer boast as many fantastic album covers?
These are just the tip of the iceberg.