Mouse Goes to War!: Jungle Drums (1943)

Hi guys! We are now halfway there to getting Mauricio safely out of Venzuela and, as promised, here is the second of the war era animated short reviews. Because you’re all superheroes, and because I thought it might be particularly cathartic right now to watch some Nazis get punched in the face, today we’re looking at one of the Superman shorts from the 1940s.  Enjoy, and please consider donating if you haven’t already.

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Studio: Famous Studios

Country of Origin: United States

First Screened: March 26, 1943

Recently, the internet came down with a case of the vapours when it was announced by the BBC that the next Doctor would be played by Jodie Whittaker, who has lady bits.

Jolly good, quite right, good idea, quite right, jolly good and not before time. Now, when it comes to Who I haven’t really had skin in the game since Ecclestone left but I’m sure she’ll kill in the part. There have been bad Who writers, bad Who directors and even bad Who seasons but they have never cast a bad actor in the lead role (no, not even him) and I doubt very much they’ve started here. But Whittaker’s casting does raise some interesting questions. How will people in the past react to a character whose main defining trait is showing up out of nowhere and bossing everyone around when it’s a woman doing the bossing? How will, say, the Puritans react to this trouser wearing lady with a mysterious blue box and what can only be described as a magic wand? Will every episode of Doctor Who consist of angry peasants trying to ascertain if Jodie Whitaker weighs as much as a duck? It’ll be interesting to see how they handle it.

Of course, the status of women in society has swung wildly upwards and downwards over the millennia depending on the era and society in question. Progress is not a hill, but a rollercoaster. Consider Lois Lane, who, as the perennial love interest of one of the most famous pop-culture icons of the last century has had an unbroken presence in various media for almost eight decades now, and so represents a useful yardstick for the portrayal and status of women in American culture. In the Silver Age, this was Lois Lane.

The fifties saw Lois’ role as a daring and accomplished journalist minimised to almost nothing so that she could engage in an unending spiteful love rivalry with Lana Lang over who could dupe Superman into marrying her first. It was a terrible time to be a woman in America, and it was a terrible time to be Lois Lane.

Contrast this with a decade earlier, where we find Lois Lane wasting bitches with an uzi.

“Take that ya rat bastards! When you get to hell, tell em Lois sent ya!”

World War 2 brought huge advances both for women and minorities because America had to either make the most use of every available person regardless of race or gender or risk total defeat to the forces of fascism and America was all “Ugh, fine.” You see this in the Fleischer (later Famous) studios Superman shorts with their depiction of Lois Lane, still one of the finest interpretations of the character three quarters of a century later. And possibly the character’s finest hour is today’s short, Jungle Drums.

This short is unique in that it’s the only propaganda short in the series where Superman actually fights Nazis as opposed to the Japanese or local saboteurs and gangsters. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s also one of only two shorts that don’t take place on American soil. With the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese threat undoubtedly felt closer to home.

So the Germans have taken over a remote tropical island and have taken control of the local tribe who worship them as gods…look it’s a cartoon from the forties with word “Jungle” in the title, you knew there was going to be racism, don’t even front. Anyway, they shoot down an American plane that just happens to have intrepid gal reporter Lois Lane on board. Before the pilot dies, he gives Lois some plans showing the route of an American convoy but she gets captured by the tribesmen before she can destroy them. She manages to briefly escape and hide them in the jungle but is recaptured. She’s brought before the German commander who tells her that unless she tells him where she hid the plans he will straight up burn her alive. Lois’ response?

“So what?”

In case you’re wondering, that thing on top of the Daily Planet is one of Lois’ massive brass balls.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, learns that Lois’ plane has gone missing and tags along on the mission to find her. Seeing that the local tribesmen are throwing a party, Clark jumps out of the plane to take care of business. Tied to a stake, Lois is offered one last chance to surrender the plans and refuses. The flame is lit.

By this point in the series, Dave and Max Fleischer had left the Superman shorts after their bitter falling out. Jungle Drums is directed by Dan Gordon, a veteran on both Popeye and Superman and also the director of Eleventh Hourmy favourite of all the Superman shorts. Here, Gordon again shows an absolute mastery of building suspense, as the flames rise higher and higher the music increases in pitch and intensity and the dancing of the tribespeople becomes ever more eerie and terrifying.

It builds and builds and builds to an unbearable sense of panic until Superman suddenly appears and the music stops dead…

Perfection.

And yes. The depiction of the tribesmen is all kinds of wrong. Cartoon from the forties with the word “jungle” in the title. Never not going to be racist.

Anyway, Superman rescues Lois and fights off the Germans while Lois disguises herself and sneaks into their base. She’s almost killed by the commander but Superman saves her. Lois radioes the US Air Force to warn them of the German U-Boats and saves the American convoy.

And the short ends with ol’ Captain Crazy Moustache himself listening to the radio and learning that the convoy got through safely. Enraged, he changes the station which starts belting the American war song “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”.

“Ach lieben! Why do I even get this station?!”

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How’s the animation?: It’s a Superman short from the forties. What do you think?

Art or Propaganda?:  Art. Although it’s definitely boosting a pro-Allied message it’s first and foremost a Superman story and an excellent one.

How does this rate on the Jingo-Meter?: I give it three saluting bald eagles out of five.

What’s going on with the War?: In March 1943 the allies have launched their largest ever air raid on Berlin, killing almost 500 people, Patton takes command of US Army II Corps in North Africa and the Polish Government In Exile for the first time issues ominous warnings about a German “murder camp” in Oświęcim (known in Germany as “Auschwitz”).

Dude, is this racist?: Dude, this is pretty racist. By modern standards the depiction of the island natives is extremely uncomfortable. But honestly, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Should I buy bonds? Hell yeah you should buy bonds!

16 comments

  1. Good point about Lois getting much less badass in the 50s. Seems like every other issue back then was her attempting to con Superman into walking down the aisle.

    How much of that do you think was due to societal shift, and how much to demographic shift? In the 40s soldiers read comic books, and I can imagine them appreciating a more confident, capable, smart, and thus sexy Lois. Whereas in the 50s I think it was mostly little boys reading, and to them women were either A) mommies, or B) pre-mommies.

    That’s probably an over-simplification, though. I’m sure a lot of it was the different roles women were expected to take in those decades. Man, the 50s sucked in so many ways.

    1. Nice suits, though. You gotta give them that. You gotta remember that there was basically an almost twenty year period where it was next to impossible to just get married, settle down and do the whole nuclear family thing what with the two world wars and great depression. So with the second world war over and the economy roaring, traditional gender roles reasserted themselves in a BIG way.

  2. Honestly, the story in this short makes zero sense. Why doesn’t Lois throw the plans into the fire immediately? Or claimed that she did when she was asked after them? why does have the pilot those plans while flying over enemy territory anyway? And why is there a need to warn the convoy when she didn’t tell them the route?

    1. She was taken prisoner immediately so she didnt have time to destroy them. The tribesmen found the plans and had targeted the convoy, hence why she needed to warn them. No idea why the pilot had the plans but they didnt know the island was under Nazi control.

      1. If she had time to put in into her jacket she also had the time to throw it in the fire right beside her. But thanks for clearing up the part with the tribesmen finding the plans, I somehow missed that detail. (still think the story makes very little sense overall).

    2. I agree with you on this not making any sense. To add another few: How does telling the Air Force about the Germans knowing about the convoy tell them exactly where the UBoats are? Why did the Germans have this whole set up to begin with? How did they find out that Lois would be flying over at exactly that time on a plane with the plans?

      Finally a meta one: really? How many people had to sit down and approve NAZIs teaming up with black people?

  3. Superman using a parachute is a bizarre image. So, did they cut “and the American way” out of the opening, because it felt like the narration skipped a beat or was it just not added yet because it seems like this is right in the middle of Superman’s “American way” period.
    Still an overall stunning cartoon. I can just imagine waiting to see, judging by the date, maybe Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, and getting pumped beforehand watching this.

    1. So, the radio show introduced “Truth, Justice and the American Way” instead of “Truth and Justice” for a brief period during the forties when the war was going particularly badly. They dropped it and went back to “Truth and Justice” but the fifties Superman TV show put the American Way back and it’s been there ever since.

  4. When I was a child, I remember watching this Superman cartoon like a thousand times. I don’t know why they aired it on Argentinian tv so much, but it was a great way to forget school and just see Superman kicking some ass. Anyways, as usual, amazing review, Mouse!

  5. Good Mouse, I am stunned and shocked to see you so grossly mistaken in a review – Miss Lane is clearly laying waste to the Axis powers with a TOMMY GUN and not an Uzi (further bolstering her impeccable OG credentials).

    This sort of detail is, of course, far more important than anything else because …

    … well give me a minute and I’ll think of a some excuse. Just Maybe.

    Until then please accept my compliments on a fine review of a splendid cartoon short!

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