Borneo (1937)

  • Borneo (1937)Directors: Truman H. Talley, Martin Johnson, Osa Johnson
  • Actors: Martin Johnson, Osa Johnson
  • Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Americans Martin and Osa Johnson return in a aquaplane to the scene of Cannibals of the South Seas (1912), their first feature. The footage of flying snakes, “tree climbing” fish, weird owls, 100’s of monkeys (including ones with “Jimmy Durante” noses), and various types of people is excellent.

The narration is split between Lowell Thomas (hyper serious) and Lew Lehr (comic German/Jewish). The music is also a mixture of dramatic and comic. We learn that members of a former headhunter tribe are “the laziest people on earth” who spend time cockfighting, gambling – and probably – headhunting! Osa jokes with the natives about – head hunting! The music is said to be “Barbarian. Primitive. Harsh!”

Many scenes are obviously staged, with locals as unpaid actors. Comic adult native “boys” get drunk and high and one flees from a visiting Chinese dentist. It ends with a “devil beast” orangutan which had been “terrorizing” a village until the brave wise Johnson arrived to take charge of its capture. The “monster” was to be sent to an “anthropoid paradise” (a zoo).

When 20th Century Fox released this 75 min. feature audiences around the world “learned” more from it than from any teacher or book. It was the last of many similar hits by the show off globe trotting couple (Martin died in a plane crash before it was released.) Thomas, who also narrated the big hit Africa Speaks (1930) and many others, had his own radio and TV shows and founded the Cinerama company. Think of “documentaries” like this while watching any of today’s reality based TV shows. We’re still living during the age of mass (dis)information.

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