Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Cannon Files: JUNGLE RAIDERS (1985)

(Italy - 1985)

Directed by Anthony M. Dawson (Antonio Margheriti).  Written by Giovanni Simonelli.  Cast: Christopher Connelly, Marina Costa, Lee Van Cleef, Alan Collins (Luciano Pigozzi), Mike Monty, Rene Abadeza, Protacio Dee (PG-13, 94 mins/101 mins)

The Italian exploitation scene wasted no time ripping off Steven Spielberg's 1981 blockbuster RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, with veteran journeyman Antonio Margheriti (YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE), aka "Anthony M. Dawson," becoming Italy's go-to director for contemporary and period jungle action movies. Going back to the early 1960s, Margheriti dabbled in everything:  peplum, sci-fi, gothic horror, 007 ripoffs, spaghetti westerns, martial arts, crime thrillers, and even a ripoff of a ripoff with 1979's PIRANHA-inspired KILLER FISH, but he really found his niche in the 1980s with a near-constant stream of jungle/commando/explosion actioners.  In quick succession, the busy Margheriti and his frequent star David Warbeck cranked out HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA (1982; released in the US in 1984) and THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD (1984; released in the US in 1986), in addition to their ongoing Vietnam-themed outings like THE LAST HUNTER (1980; released in the US in 1984), and TIGER JOE (1982; released in the US in 1986).  In 1985, without Warbeck, Margheriti made one more INDIANA JONES knockoff before turning his attention to a series of WILD GEESE imitations with British TV star Lewis Collins while his contemporaries like Bruno Mattei focused on ripping off RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II.  JUNGLE RAIDERS was produced by the Italian B-movie outfit L'Immagine, and was acquired by Cannon and given a very limited US theatrical run in the summer of 1985, making it one of the few Italian exploitation films to not wait anywhere from one to four years to get a token US release.  JUNGLE RAIDERS turned up in US video stores not long after and could be found in most of them until the end of the VHS era.

In 1938 Malaysia, adventurer/con artist Duke Howard, better known to the locals as Captain Yankee (Christopher Connelly) and his affable sidekick Gin Fizz (Margheriti regular Luciano Pigozzi, dubbed by the gravelly Robert Spafford) run a scam where they take rich vacationers on a trek to find a rare piece of treasure.  However, it's all a staged set-up between Howard and some locals pretending to be "natives," as Howard's pal, US government official Inspector Warren (Lee Van Cleef) looks the other way.  Warren comes to Howard with a legit pursuit:  lead a pair of academics--Maria Janez (Marina Costa, dubbed by Carolynn De Fonseca) and Professor Lansky (Mike Monty)--deep into the jungle and into a volcano to find the priceless Ruby of Gloom (the US trailer calls it the "Ruby of Doom," which sounds better).  Howard isn't too keen on the idea, but agrees when Warren blackmails him with a report from American authorities over a Texas oil man being swindled by a Duke Howard on a search through Mexico for "Montezuma's diamond-studded toilet bowl."  Howard, Gin Fizz, and their other pal Alain (the ubiquitous Rene Abadeza, in a rare instance of playing something other than a nameless native in an Italian jungle adventure) lead Maria and Lansky to the Ruby, with Borneo pirates led by the nefarious Tiger (Protacio Dee, dubbed by Ted Rusoff) in hot pursuit.

JUNGLE RAIDERS was made with a larger budget than most Italian copycats, though as he did until the end of his career, Margheriti still relies--perhaps too much--on obvious miniatures for the big explosion and chase sequences.  You can clearly see immobile action figures sitting in model trucks in several shots during a big chase.  Margheriti tries to be slick about it, but by 1985, it was harder to convincingly pull off these 1950s techniques.  Unlike a major Hollywood movie, Margheriti's miniatures are so obvious that they only succeed in drawing attention to themselves rather then seemlessly blending. And the less said about the precocious child who can communicate with his lovable pet cobra (!), the better.  Still, it's a fun and fast-paced B-movie, with enjoyable performances by Connelly, Van Cleef, and Pigozzi.


JUNGLE RAIDERS wasn't Cannon's first RAIDERS/INDIANA JONES ripoff:  Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus also had their in-house Allan Quatermain franchise kick off in 1985 with J. Lee Thompson's remake of KING SOLOMON'S MINES, with Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone, which was followed by a 1987 sequel ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD.  Additionally, Golan & Globus handled Ferdinando Baldi's 1983 3D Italian/Spanish co-production TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS, with forgotten American-born '60s spaghetti western third-stringer Tony Anthony as one J.T. Striker (in his introduction to FOUR CROWNS on The Movie Channel's Drive-In Theater, Joe Bob Briggs called it "the first hit in a series of one for Tony").  By the time JUNGLE RAIDERS was released, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II happened and, using the same Filipino locations, most of the Italians gradually moved on to RAMBO ripoffs and other Namsploitation, most notably Bruno Mattei's infamous STRIKE COMMANDO, which co-starred Connelly, Pigozzi, and Monty (in 1987, a badly-dubbed Connelly also took on the mandatory professor role in another Italian RAIDERS ripoff, Mino Guerrini's rock-bottom THE MINES OF KILIMANJARO).  Margheriti belatedly joined the RAMBO game with 1989's INDIO (featuring the once-in-a-lifetime pairing of Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Brian Dennehy, the latter inexplicably slumming in an Italian knockoff at the height of his Hollywood character actor fame) and its 1991 sequel INDIO 2: THE REVOLT, but mainly stayed busy with his WILD GEESE ripoffs:  1984's CODENAME: WILDGEESE (given a decent-sized US release in 1986 by New World), 1985's COMMANDO LEOPARD, and 1988's THE COMMANDER, with the latter two never given official US distribution.

The US release of JUNGLE RAIDERS was uncut and ran 101 minutes, receiving a PG-13 rating from the MPAA, with the VHS print cropping the 2.35 image to the full-frame 1.33.  The German print available on the bootleg and torrent circuit, titled DIE JAGER DER GOLDENEN GOTTIN (translated: THE HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN GODDESS), dubbed in English, omits some of the violence and other minor bits and comes in at 94 minutes, but it's the full 2.35 image, and seeing as its one of Margheriti's and L'Immagine's more generously-budgeted '80s films, obviously benefits greatly from the intended framing.

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