Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hey, it's Zimbo!

Zimbo (India, 1958)

Homi Wadia's Zimbo is proof that you can never have too much of a good thing. That is, if your idea of "a good thing" is Tarzan, because Zimbo is essentially just Tarzan under another name. That struck me as odd, because -- despite what the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs might have had to say about the matter -- Indian filmmakers have never seemed shy about making films about Tarzan under his own name. Lots of them, in fact.

Anyway, Zimbo: Professor Chakravarty, after years of toil in his beaker-filled jungle laboratory, has finally perfected his revolutionary youth serum, and secrets the formula away in a locket that he places around his young son's neck. No sooner has he done this, than a pack of angry lions invades the Chakravarty family home. The Professor only has enough time to place his son within the basket of a handy hot air balloon before being fatally mauled by one of the beasts. Chakravarty's wife is unable to join her son before the line mooring the balloon slips loose, and the child goes sailing off into the sunset without her.

With her husband dead and her son now a rapidly receding dot in the sky, Mrs. Chakravarty instantly descends into face-clawing madness and disappears into the jungle, only to emerge periodically throughout the rest of the film to go "boogity boogity" and freak people out. Later, Chakravarty Jr.'s balloon touches down in a remote part of the jungle, where he is taken in by Dada, a chimp played, according to the credits, by "Pedro, the human chimpanzee" (though, to be clear, Pedro is actually a real chimpanzee who acts human, and not the other way around). Thus is young Chakravarty's journey to becoming Zimbo, the lord of the jungle, set in motion.

Seventeen years later, the Professor's brother and his adopted daughter, Leela (Chitra), arrive in the jungle to look for the missing family, and it is not too long before they are confronted with the adult Zimbo (Azad) in all his glory. And hey, color me edified: It turns out that extremely well-built, mostly naked men who are in touch with their primitive sides, but at the same time display a strong, if nascent, sense of chivalry are quite popular with the ladies. Really, who'd have thought? Because judging from the look Leela gives Zimbo upon first laying eyes on him, she really like-a what she sees:



As does Maya, the evil queen of a secret kingdom hidden deep within the jungle:



It should come as no surprise that Leela will eventually become the Jane to Zimbo's Tarzan, and, despite the fact that the leopard skin togs she'll wear are a sight more matronly than those worn by her American counterparts, the obvious warmth that she feels for Zimbo's form adds an estrogen-fueled heat to Zimbo that I don't recall in any of Hollywood's entries in the Tarzan saga. Judging from that look she gives him, you'd expect that, rather than the other way around, it would be she who slings Zimbo over her shoulder and carries him off into the brush.

And why not? Zimbo, as he's presented, fully lives up to his almost-name: a perfect male bimbo, half innocent and half idiot, but with all of his manly parts in prime working order. In short, an ideal fixer-upper for the woman willing to invest herself in the task And Leela, by all appearances, is highly motivated.



While Zimbo provides a rote, eyepatch-wearing male villain with his eye on the Professor's formula, it is clearly a film that belongs to the ladies. And the real MacGuffin is not what's hidden in Zimbo's locket, but what's locked in his trunks. As such, our hero is little more than a delightfully oblivious boy toy, caught in a tug-of-war between two powerful females who both have a very firm grasp on exactly what it is that they want. Of course, we should expect such take-charge women from a director like Wadia. This is, after all, the man who made his directing debut by introducing the whip-wielding Fearless Nadia to Indian cinema audiences, and who would soon after that make Nadia the -- whip wielding? -- star of his own life by marrying her.

Eventually Maya's desires drive her to have her men capture Zimbo and bring him to her palace -- a wonderfully phantasmagorical set complete with cartoonish-looking giant idols that ends up giving Zimbo a bit of a Flash Gordon flavor. Here she tries to win his affections with sexy item numbers, but to no avail. Zimbo ultimately escapes, leaving Maya no choice but to take Leela, her father, and Dada prisoner in order to draw him back. This leads to a spectacular climax in which Zimbo leads a charging herd of elephants in an attack on the palace. It's a sequence that demonstrates that Zimbo, while having a B movie sensibility, is actually a fairly handsomely mounted production, with a large number of extras, some eye-catching sets, and a number of well-staged action set pieces.

While it's definitely the women's show, I don't want Pedro the human chimp's substantial contributions to Zimbo to go unmentioned. Not only does he perform all of the expected movie chimp duties by riding a tricycle and wearing a tutu (though, sadly, no fez), but he also -- while obviously doubled by a dwarf or a small child in a couple of shots -- takes part in a song and dance number with the movie's comic relief and, in the climax, displays a thirst for vengeance and handiness with a weapon that would not be displayed by a chimp again until Dario Argento's Phenomena in the eighties. I've never really sat down to compare the merits of various chimp actors before, but I think that, if I did, Pedro would most likely come out on top.

Zimbo is the rare entertainment that actually earns being described by the over-used adjective "rollicking", aided by what is, by all appearances, a very ahead-of-its-time, self-conscious sense of camp. In short, it's more fun than a barrel of monkeys, human or otherwise.




15 comments:

duriandave said...

Ooh... ooh... looks good!

Rum said...

wow chimps were the forgotten sidekicks of bollywood heroes I'm sure! Pedro looks so bad-ass wielding the gun!

houseinrlyeh said...

Pedro: "Dog Carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout 'Save us!' And I'll look down, and whisper 'no.'"

Looks like fun, obviously. I'm suddenly dreaming. Should probably plan on a double feature with this and Babbar Subhash's Adventures of Tarzan

houseinrlyeh said...

Please ignore my inability to construct a grammatically correct sentence.

Michael Barnum said...

Pedro really steals the thunder from his human co-stars in ZIMBO COMES HOME and ZIMBO FINDS A SON and someday I hope to locate Azad and find out exactly what it was like to work with the ape bomb.

I think Wadia had plans to make Pedro a star, he even gave the chimp his own movie PEDRO in 1960.

For your enjoyment, the plot of PEDRO (1960)co-starring Azad and Chitra, copied directly from the press book (keeping the misspellings intact)
*********************************
In the thick wild jungles Bhola a young and wellbuilt youth, a child of nature live a gay life on the branches of trees with his friend PEDRO (Chimpansee).....Till one day he comes across a group of travellers led by a sceintist Doctor Verma in search of a very valuable minaral " Urinium" and falls in love with Doctors daughter KAMINI - who also becomes very fond of him.... But KAMINIS love for BHOLA set the evil heart of RAMESH (an assistant of her father) at work-he uses all his possible ways to kill BHOLA-On the other hand KAMINI loves him still more-when she sees him killing a crocodile in the water-a monster "APe" who would have other wise killed whole the group-The party of the travellers alongwith BHOLA fall in the hands of jungle tribe, who plan their death...KAMINI sings and Begs for the help, her calls are heard in the Heavens...and the help comes in the form of " Cyclopse" a sixty feet tall one eyed monster who lives on human flesh... he swolows some of the tribe men...and proceeds KAMINI and the party. . Bhola does not loose his courage and fights him alone-everyone knows it is the end of BHOLA, who is a toy in the hand of the fearful monster. . KAMINI and her all companion feel sorry for BHOLAS life ... except the villain RAMESH-who feels hapiest of all-and wants death of BHOLA above all other things- . What happened of such a terrific fight-What happened BHOLA-? and the monster CYCLOPSE... and the evil herted RAMESH- Did he achieve his evil mission? For the answer you will have to see "PEDRO" on the silver screen. [Source: Booklet]

Michael Barnum said...

My error...PEDRO was not made by Homi Wadia, but by his nearest B movie competitor, Akkoo (whose movies I would sure like to see more of).

memsaabstory said...

I wonder if Pedro was the ice-skating chimp in Shikari? Bet he was.

This is a remake of Toofani Tarzan, so needless to say I'll have to watch it (and thanks to Michael, I have it ;-)

Keith said...

That shot of him with the gun -- you do NOT want to monkey around with this chimp!

It warms my heart when certain things -- i.e., chimp shenanigans (or "chimpjinks" as the scientists call them) -- cross all cultural and geographical boundaries. Truly, if there is anything that can bind humanity a little closer together, it is is our internationally shared adoration of chimpanzees flipping the bird while grinning.

Todd said...

I think in Pedro's case all of the tricycle riding and tutu wearing is just subterfuge, because at heart he's a stone killer. Gotta say, though, Michael, that, based on that synopsis, Pedro sounds like it has very little Pedro in it. And House? When Frank Miller decides to film a remake of Zimbo, it sounds like he's got a scenarist.

Keith said...

My life's goal: to train Pedro to ride around on Sheroo the Wonder Bird, all wavin' his six shooter around and howlin' like mad.

There's no way I'm getting to sleep tonight.

houseinrlyeh said...

Todd: There go your geek credentials. I see Pedro more as the ideal casting for Rorschach in Watchmen.

Keith, now if we could get a certain Molotov cocktail throwing dog into that film, too, nothing could stop us.

Todd said...

Oh, man! Pedro, Moti & Sheroo would be the most badass animal movie ever! Just don't let Pixar anywhere near that shit.

House, you have indeed exposed the pathetic limits of my graphic novel knowledge. But I do know who Rorschach is, and I like where you're going with it.

memsaabstory said...

I would SO watch "Pedro, Moti & Sheroo" if someone wants to make it :)

Todd said...

I see it as being a lot like The Incredible Journey, only with a lot more violence and inter-species ESP.

Todd said...

BTW, Memsaab, now that I've watched Shikari (and thank you again for alerting the world to it's splendors), I've gotta say that it looks to me like that whole ice capades sequence is stock footage lifted from another movie... and a Western one by the looks of it (just like the stock footage ice capades sequence in Spy in Rome -- what's up with that, anyway?). I hate to say it, but I'm afraid that's a firangi ice skating chimp!