Running Time: 67 minutes
Shooting begins Feb. 20, 1953
Copyright Date: August 31, 1953; Renewed Jan. 15, 1981
Release Date: August 1953
Working Titles: Jungle Jim and the Head Hunters, Valley of the Headhunters
La Vallée des chasseurs de têtes [Fr]
Gefangene der Kopfjäger [Gr]
La valle dei tagliatori di testi [It]
O Vale dos canibais [[Pg]
Valle de los caníbales [Sp]
Mr. Bradley wants to lease native lands in order to
dig for copper. Arco, a small time gangster with big ideas wants the
land for its oil. When Jungle Jim is called in to give Bradley a
hand, Arco plots to gain control of the whole valley for M’Gono,
a trouble-making chief whom Arco has temporarily reprieved from
government justice. To accomplish this, Arco has M’Gono disguise
his warriors as headhunters who formerly terrorized the region.
Catching Jim and his party in a compromising situation, he manages to
convince most of the tribes that Jim is behind the headhunters and
that M’Gono should be made supreme chief since he has thwarted
Two of the chiefs side with Jim and Arco arranges to have their villages destroyed.
Or course, Jim escapes, and when M’Gono and his men attack the one village, men from the other village arrive and the two tribes catch M’Gono's men in the middle. Pico Church, Arco’s henchman, tries to escape but gets killed in the attempt. Arco and Jim fight it out, and when Arco appears to have the advantage, Tamba arrives and hits him on the head with a branch. Stunned, Arco falls and breaks his neck on a log.
Naturally, the grateful tribes sign leases with Bradley. And Barry and Ellen...?
Always looking to save a buck, Katzman latched onto a thirties film titled Sanders of the River, a jungle musical soap opera starring Paul Robeson. Then he commissioned writer Samuel Newman to contrive a script that would use a great deal of the footage from Sanders... However, since the original film used black actors, Katzman had to hire Blacks instead of Latins to populate his latest epic. And the result was, well,... not bad.
Of course, the cast included the wonderful actor Steve Ritch, whose talents were woefully neglected by Columbia. The studio had him playing bit parts in serials or portraying Indians first in “B” films and then on television. His big break came in a Katzman cult classic, The Werewolf, in which he played the title character, and was formally introduced, because it was his first major role. His portrayal of the suffering and doomed Duncan Marsh is in no small way responsible for the film’s following today.
Ritch, born in 1921, grew up to be a thinking actor, which must have made the roles he was asked to play seem idiotic. Nevertheless, he always gave a 100% performance, without exaggerating his portrayals. He met his wife Mary at drama class in 1947, and they were married shortly after. He always managed to earn a good living as an actor, partly because he knew many directors, and they always tried to find work for him. Part of the reason he played the parts he did was because of his Latin looks, and the fact that he was a good horseman. Still, after a decade of thankless roles, the handsome Ritch decided to turn his attention to writing, sure he could do a better job than many of those in whose films he had had to act.
Some of his scripts include Safe at Home, Plunder Road and Hell on Devil’s Island in 1957, and City of Fear in collaboration with Robert Dillon in 1959. He also wrote TV scripts for Combat and Tightrope, 77 Sunset Strip, Adventures in Paradise, Alcoa Goodyear Theater, Hawaiian Eye, and Wagon Train.
Ritch gave up screen writing in 1963 and became a Religious Science minister, after what his ex-wife says was a genuine call to do so. He trained at the Encino Community Church for three years and then had his own church in Woodland Hills till about 1980. He and his wife Mary divorced, but soon after that, he retired and moved to Oregon. His ex-wife did too. They remained friends until his death in July, 1995.
Mary thinks Steve preferred writing because he had more control, but with the advent of the 60s, the wholesome qualities of film-making were on the wane, and he could not in all conscience depict human beings as mere powerless victims. His characters had usually learned and grown by the end of the story, but this was no longer in demand.
In Valley of Head Hunters, Steve plays the romantic lead, for the first and last time. He does not seem very comfortable in the part, something the director must have noticed, because in one of the concluding scenes he is supposed to give a romantic kiss to co-star Christine Larson. They started to kiss, and Steve kept waiting for Berke to shout “Cut!” After what seemed like an eternity, Steve came up for air to discover the members of the set laughing silently. Then the director said quietly: “Steve, you have another line before fadeout.”
Christine Larson (1917-1973) plays Steve Ritch’s romantic interest in Valley of Head Hunters. Her tally of films is quite small, and all were made between 1948 and 1953. On television she appeared in The Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, and several episodes of The Cisco Kid. I have no other information on her except that she is obviously not the Christine Larson who appeared on the scene in the mid-eighties.
Robert Foulk (1908-1989) is Jungle Jim’s nemesis this time. The big man began acting in 1948. His screen credits include The Mob (51), Elopement (51), Saturday’s Hero (51), Tammy and the Doctor (6), The Love Bug (69), Skin Game (71) and Pete’s Dragon (77). In addition, he made numerous appearances on television in series like The Adventures of Superman, Gunsmoke, Circus Boy, Father Knows Best (55-59), Broken Arrow, Perry Mason, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Rifleman, Maverick, Bonanza, Here’s Lucy, Green Acres, Kung Fu, Adam 12, and Little House on the Prairie.
Joe Allen, Jr. (1916-1962) was being groomed for stardom in the 30s at Paramount alongside William Henry, and Patricia Morison. But like the others, he never made the big time, and finished his career in low budget films like Valley of Head Hunters and Cannibal Attack (54).
Don Blackman, Paul Thompson and Vince M. Townsend, Jr. were the three principal black actors hired by Katzman for this romp in the jungle. Blackman (1912-77) was a professional wrestler and boxer, and made only a few film appearances: Two Tickets to Broadway (51), Bomba and the Jungle Girl (52), Affair in Trinidad (52), Jungle Drums of Africa (53), Desert Legion (53), On the Waterfront (54), The Old Man and the Sea (58), and Emperor of the North (73). On television, Blackman had a couple of strictly jungle roles in I Spy and The Man from Uncle.
Paul Thompson had an even more restricted plate than Blackman, and always appeared in a jungle role. In addition to Valley of Head Hunters, his filmography is as follows: The Snows of Kilimanjaro (52), White Witch Doctor (53), Jungle Man-Eaters (54), Untamed (55), The Disembodied (57), Tarzan and the Trappers (58), and Watusi (59). His only television credit that I’ve unearthed to date is in the Jungle Jim TV series.
As for Vincent Monroe Townsend, Jr., he was a wannabe actor of sorts. His portrayal of the villainous and manipulated renegade chieftain took on comic overtones in a couple of scenes, first when he sentences Jungle Jim to death, and finally in his own death scene. Katzman undoubtedly recognized the outrageous performance, but was not about to reshoot scenes. When Katzman used him for his second film based on the Sanders... stock footage, he must have told him to play it straight. Townsend had more longevity than either Blackman or Thompson. In the 80s, he appeared in Weird Science (85) and Maid to Order (87). He was also on The Amos and Andy Radio and TV Shows, and managed to show up on a Perry mason episode.
From The Motion Picture Herald
Johnny Weissmuller as Jungle Jim is up to his usual tricks in "Valley of Head Hunters" a standard jungle melodrama featuring a goodly amount of action for the kids. Supporting Weissmuller this time round are Christine Larson, a shapely interpreter of jungle dialects; Steven Ritch, a well-meaning but green army officer assigned to keep law and order, and Robert C. Foulk, a crooked lawyer who goes to any end to obtain the rights to some oil-rich jungle property.
The film opens with Jim assigned to accompany a government agent into the interior to get the natives' approval for copper mining, the latter needed to help the defense effort. Unknown to Jim, Foulk also wants the rights, but for oil, not copper. Thereafter, Foulk, with the aid of a o-good native, sponsors a series of raids on the villages which he makes to look like the work of Jungle Jim.
The terrified natives almost do in the resourceful Jim and his friends before virtue triumphs in a fitting, rough and tumble climax. Included in the footage are occasional clips featuring candid shots of various wild animals.
Chief comedy support is offered by Jim's clownish chimpanzee, Tamba.
Sam Katzman produced and William Berke directed.
Jungle Jim, in the person of Johnny Weissmuller, is called upon for some routine jungle heroics in this latest entry in the Columbia series. It's passable for bookings in the programmer market and the kiddies will like Tamba, Jungle Jim's chimp pal, who adds some humor to an otherwise plodding adventure tale.
Weissmuller is assigned to help a government representative negotiate mineral rights to land in a rich valley. However, the crooks, led by Robert Foulk and Joseph Allen, Jr., have discovered there are oil deposits in the valley and persuade a native chief to have his men make like head hunters, so they can obtain the rights before the government. The hero fights it out to the finish and triumphs, naturally, at the finale.
Tamba's histrionics pep the pic, especially when he gets on an ether jag and stumbles drunkenly around (the SPCA doesn't have to worry, it's a slow-motion trick). Weissmuller turns in his standard performance and Foulk's villainy is good. For femme decoration the cast has Christine Larson, who even has a bathing suit scene. She and Steve Ritch take care of a mild romance angle. Vince M. Townsend, Jr. is the evil native chief, while Don Blackman and Paul Thompson are chiefs who side with Jungle Jim.
William Berke's direction of the Samuel Newman screenplay is routine, as is Sam Katzman's budget production, which uses a lot of jungle stock shots to fill in the new lensing by William Whitley.