Adventure For A Cure
Considered by many to be the best “jungle adventure” serial ever produced, 1942’s Perils of Nyoka gives us two female leads, a gorilla named Satan, and a journey to find a cure for cancer. The Republic Pictures fifteen chapter serial also featured a cast loaded with serial legends, future superstars, and tons of action. It was also a loose sequel to the 1941 serial Jungle Girl that starred Frances Gifford. Both of these serials were inspired by the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but Republic remained vague enough with Perils of Nyoka that they didn’t have to pay Burroughs a second time.
The serials plot was fairly simple. An expedition in the African desert are on the hunt for the legendary tablets of Hippocrates. The tablets supposedly contain medical cures for tons of ailments including cancer, which is the main reason that the expedition is searching for them. A second group, headed up by Vultura, an Arab ruler, is also seeking out the tablets, but only to find the treasure that is hidden with it.
When the expedition discovers a papyrus map they seek out the help of Nyoka Gordon, a young woman who lives in the jungle whom they believe can interpret it. Vultura uses deception and a spy in order to figure out the translation for herself. The two parties then go on an adventure through the desert and jungle in order to find the tablets, fortune, and medical miracles.
This serial is surprisingly well done. Directed by William Witney, a legend in serial history, the chapters move along at a great pace and are filled with action. There are also a number of brilliant cliffhangers at the end of many of the chapters. Some of my favorites include a bladed pendulum, Nyoka being blown off of a cliff, Nyoka suspended above a flaming pit, and a classic bridge sequence that reminded me of a similar scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The serial stars many familiar faces. Kay Aldridge portrays Nyoka. While her overall performance is a bit lacking, she seems to have no problems with getting tied up, nearly burned, almost crushed by a spiked wall, or finding herself in all sorts of jeopardy. Her nemesis in the film, Vultura, was portrayed by Lorna Gray. Gray, who would earn a Golden Boot in the 1990’s for her work in western films, had a short but very successful career. Aside from starring in a number of serials, Gray also starred in films with actors such as John Wayne and Monte Hale. Speaking of westerns, Nyoka’s hero in the film, Dr. Larry Grayson, was portrayed by the Lone Ranger himself, Clayton Moore. In a much smaller role was Jay Silverheels. He portrayed Tonto in the long running Lone Ranger series with Moore. Also in the serial was Charles Middleton as Cassib. Middleton thrived as Ming the Merciless in the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials. Throw in serial regulars such as the hilarious William Benedict and the reliable Tristram Coffin and you’ve got an amazing cast.
The serial also featured a few furry friends. Ace the Wonder Dog portrayed Nyoka’s loyal German Shepherd named Fang. Professor, a Capuchin monkey, stole all of the scenes that he appeared in as Jitters, the distracting pet of Red Davis (William Benedict). Emil Van Horn wore a gorilla suit as Satan, Vultura’s personal guard.
Howard Lydecker handled special effects. Stunts were provided by legends of the day including Yakima Canutt, David Sharpe, Helen Thurston, Tom Steele, and many more.
The serial was released under its original name in June, 1942, and then released again ten years later as Nyoka and the Tigermen. In 1966 it was repackaged and heavily edited and released on television as Nyoka and the Lost Secrets of Hippocrates.
Thanks for checking out my post. I really enjoyed this serial. Lorna Gray won me over with her performance as Vultura. Any lady that uses a chariot as her primary means of transportation is always cool in my book!