A young boy is raised by a pride of lions in Africa after his parents are killed while on a safari. He loves the lions and speaks to them as friends. Years later, a group of hunters captures "the lion man" as he is now known, and along with his lions, they ship him to San Francisco to be exhibited in a circus. The Lion Man ( Buster Crabbe ) quickly escapes and finds refuge in the apartment of two startled women - one of whom takes a fancy to this strange two-legged creature. With her guidance, the lion man is soon tamed, taught to speak, and eventually goes on tour with the circus.....but his heart remains in Africa and his one dream is to buy back his lions so that he can free them in the wild again.
When MGM premiered the jungle adventure Tarzan the Ape Man in 1932, it became an overnight sensation and, not wanting to be outdone by their rivals, Paramount Pictures quickly put into production their own version of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan - Kaspa the Lion Man in King of the Jungle. In place of Johnny Weismuller, they starred Buster Crabbe, the 1932 Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer whose virile presence could rival Weismuller's in any jungle.
Buster Crabbe was an ideal man to portray Kaspa, a wonderful wild man who had never seen "civilization" before. Buster had a boyish innocent face and a physique that made him seem twice the size of any man next to him. Just like when Dr. Banner turned into the Hulk, Crabbe's clothes looked like they would split at any moment if he flexed his muscles.
Not surprisingly, Kaspa quickly found a mate for himself when he arrived stateside - the lovely Frances Dee. He sneaks into her apartment to eat the porkchop dinner she left on the table and within ten minutes she was by his side and off to the circus with him!
King of the Jungle runs for only 73 minutes but it is filled to the brim with excitement. The jungle scenes, as well as some of the circus scenes, are not for the faint of heart. Back in the day, Paramount was able to put a lion in a cage with a tiger and just film them brawling, a practice that animal leagues would definitely not approve of today. While the fight scenes are frightening, what is most amazing is how many lions they were able to film in the wild. It would be nice to think that large prides of lions are still roaming in Africa like this. Buster Crabbe learned how to train lions while making King of the Jungle so in many of the scenes where he appears with the lions, that is Crabbe himself doing his own stunts. Impressive.
The film also boasts a strong cast of supporting players including Sidney Toler ( not playing Charlie Chan ), Nydia Westman, Robert Barrat and Patricia Farley.
King of the Jungle is available on DVD as well as on Youtube here.