Thursday 1 April 2010

The Wild Women of Wongo (1958)

Director: James L Wolcott
Stars: Jean Hawkshaw and Johnny Walsh

I'm driving the highway to Cinematic Hell in 2010 for the awesome folks at Cinema Head Cheese to post a review a week of the very worst films of all time. These are so bad that they make Uwe Boll look good.

I'm sure you're not going to be surprised to find that something called The Wild Women of Wongo isn't some existential Ingmar Bergman picture, though it does start with an arty introduction from Mother Nature herself. Unfortunately it isn't an early Girls Gone Wild video either, done 1958 style with Bettie Page and a host of tiki room beauties, but it's a lot closer to that than Bergman because this one does at least have a girl in a leopard skin outfit wrestling an alligator. She's Jean Hawkshaw, and like almost everyone else involved in this picture, this was the only thing she did. Cedric Rutherford didn't write anything else. James Wolcott didn't direct anything else, except to patch together some old Laurel and Hardy shorts into a compilation in 1967. The other star, Johnny Walsh, did make 29 movies but he was only credited in three of them, and trust me, we're not looking at Johnny Walsh in this picture.

'For millions of years,' Mother Nature tells us, 'Father Time and I have worked hand in hand to make the world a better place to live in. All things considered, we think we've done fairly well.' I guess they just plain forgot about my side of town but then, to be fair, she hasn't quite finished. 'We have made our mistakes,' she admits, but she's not talking about kangaroos, jackalopes and New York Italians. 'There was one about 10,000 years ago when we tried a topsy turvy experiment with the human race,' and that's where our story comes in. You see wacky old Mother Nature and Father Time decided to populate Wongo in the north with beautiful women and brutish men, while filling Goona in the south with handsome men and, well, not quite so beautiful girls. This is like prehistoric Candid Camera with the priestess of the blue alligator keeping mum about the whole thing and some idiot parrot yakking it up from the treetops.

It's hardly rocket science though and there really isn't a surprise in the entire film, unless you count my abiding belief that Hawkshaw really wrestled an alligator at Florida's Silver Springs, albeit a drugged one that wasn't going to do much damage to this cute little redhead. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that for a low budget 1958 movie without a single recognisable name, all these somewhat wild women of Wongo are all pretty cute. 'Cute' is a perfectly acceptable word for 8,000 BC by the way, because one of these ladies uses it herself. 'This one's mine,' she says. 'He's cute!' I couldn't tell you which one she was because only a few have names and she isn't one of them. The only one who ever appeared on screen again was Joyce Nizzari, who got to appear in a few recognisable films more on account of her being the Playboy Playmate of the month for December 1958 than for debuting in this picture.

Given that Nazzari hadn't found her way into Playboy yet, Hawkshaw is the star, playing Omoo, the daughter of the King of Wongo. He's not much of a king really, as kings go, because his kingdom contains a total of fifteen people and his previous day job was a single appearance in the Welsh national rugby team. My boss at work has at least thirty people reporting to him so perhaps I'll tell him he should be a King too and see if I get a pay raise out of it. I'd ask for the hand of Omoo as well but I'm married and she'll be 10,052 years old this year, so that probably wouldn't be too great an idea. She's cute in this film though and she carries her status as King's Daughter well by dressing up in a leopard skin outfit that plays off her red hair and sets her apart from all the other cuties who just get plain animal skins that look more like deer or antelope. She's a tough cookie too, one who can stand up to her father at least a little, and hey, she wrestles alligators even though she worships one.

Omoo's opposite number over in Goona is Engor, the son of the King of Goona, who also has fifteen people in his kingdom. I'd suggest that these villages had some sort of non-proliferation treaty going on, but they apparently hadn't heard of each other, at least not until Engor comes paddling onto Wongo beach to seek an audience with its King. He's safe because he carries the wing of the white bird of peace, because naturally peace can only be started by ripping wings off doves. I don't quite remember that logic in John Woo movies but perhaps I wasn't paying attention. Anyway Engor wears a pretty snug white loincloth too and the women are instantly in lust. 'This is like a dream I've had,' one of them drools, and you will be utterly stunned to discover that Omoo falls for Engor and Engor falls for Omoo and their hands touch and that's forbidden so they have to kill him.

In the morning, that is. They can't kill him now because they promised him safety for the night, so they'll kill him in the morning instead. Nice guys, these Wongo brutes, but then perhaps it just comes through being brutes. It's all Mother Nature's fault, that sneaky little bitch with her topsy turvy experiments with the human race. Who does she think she is? Josef Mengele? Anyway, before they kill him they have to listen to his message about the ape men who live in the sea and strike at night leaving many dead. It's really important that Goona send Engor to talk to the Wongo folks and ask for their help, but they don't have long memories and by the time Engor gets back home, escaping certain death through the intervention of those wacky wild women of Wongo, everything's back to normal. Ape men? Night strikes? Imminent death? Yeah, let's just dump all the young Goona men in the jungle without weapons for a month.

Have I mentioned yet that rationality gives up the ghost pretty early on in this film and swims out to find a quick death at the hands of the dragon god? Well it does. Nothing here makes the remotest bit of sense, but given that we seem to find ourselves stuck in a large leafy tiki room full of delectable young ladies for 71 minutes, we really don't miss rationality too much at all. The Wongo women get to disappear for a month too, because they have some sort of religious thing where they're supposed to commune with their priestess or something and indulge in kinky dances with her spirit. After they save Engor though, they find themselves on the wrong side of the powers that be and the king tells them that they can't come back at all until the god has claimed a blood sacrifice.

How these two villages managed to survive their respective leadership decisions, I really don't know. One sends its entire female population away until one of them has the common decency to get eaten by a gator and the other sends its entire young male population away without weapons just when they're being attacked by mysterious ape men. Don't even try to work this one out. That way lies madness. Perhaps the Goona thing ties to the fact that the men are forbidden from speaking to any women in the jungle for a whole month, thus making them pretty desperate when they come back for their marriage feast. It's the only way procreation could happen in Goona. What the Wongo men were thinking, I have no clue. Maybe they're real brutes and they couldn't wait to get rid of all the female distractions so they could hit the tiki bar, get drunk and roll the bones.

It's patently obvious what needs to happen. These two villages merely need to swap women and it takes a surprisingly long time in such a short movie for them to work this out. Only Omoo and Engor really have a clue because they're utterly smitten. Right after being castigated by the king for touching the hand of a maiden, something that is naturally forbidden in Wongo, they sneak off together, hand in hand, to get down and dirty in the jungle, well as down and dirty as you could get in a pretty well behaved 1958 movie. She doesn't even bother to warn him that her village is going to kill him in the morning, but then she's probably already organised her wild women to save him from death by rushing the spear carrier all at once. I think the clincher was when she asked her newly beloved about the competition. 'What are the women like in Goona?' asks Omoo. 'They are like your Wongo men,' replies Engor. 'I will never be able to look at them again.'

Even dialogue benefits from these wild women. When it's just the guys, the dialogue sucks royally. The height of complexity in male conversation in this film runs something like, 'Have you eaten?' 'No, I'm hungry.' 'Bring food.' Then again, these are the Wongo elders welcoming Engor and we're too busy trying to work out how old they are. They look to be about the same age as everyone else in the picture but they have old lady blue hair to highlight that they're supposed to be either a generation older than they are or they just ran out of Grecian 2000 or something. Back in Goona, they're not even that sophisticated. When Engor arrives home with his wild stories of wild Wongo women, they all huddle together in a scrum to discuss it and one leaps up to shout, 'Wahoo!' Then again this is the scene where we're first introduced to the Goona women so we can understand where he's coming from.

If you haven't worked it out by now, this is a pretty fun film that has absolutely no worth whatsoever beyond whatever mildly juicy exploitation gimmicks it can conjure up. Omoo wrestling the alligator has to be my favourite, but there are a number of other camp jungle scenes to relish. The reason she takes on the gator is because the wild women go skinny dipping and it decides to join them. Wouldn't you? The priestess at the Temple of the Dragon God is a rather manly woman dressed in some Native American outfit with a toy lizard on her wrist. In this form she just sits in her coral throne and plays with her hair, but she can magically turn into her own spirit, to get down and funky on the sand dancefloor in a scaly fabric outfit and a gator skull cap. They inspire our wild women to do their own modern interpretation of primal dance, which is hardly difficult on the eyes.

There's an ape man attack where they send two ape men to steal away Mona in the dark of the night but the wild women just point spears at them and they get eaten by the blue alligator god instead. Early on I'd have suggested that they throw Ahtee in too, being the bitch of the outfit, but that would have rendered her unavailable for the later catfight scene. 'I don't have to do anything I don't wanna do and nobody can make me!' she pouts and it's on like Donkey Kong, with bouncing spectators. There's even one who cries 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' except she's dubbed 'No! No! No!' for some bizarre reason. The only bad thing here is that Mona doesn't slip out of her top, but these are thoroughly decent wild women. It is 1958, after all, even if they are shooting on the beach in Tahiti. Of course in the end they get their men, courtesy of some rather loose lassoos and some convenient nets, but none of that compares to the rassling.

For some reason they don't get to wrestle the Goona women, which would have been interesting, given that the biggest of them looks like she'd be rather dangerous in the squared circle. It turns out that while she might be something of a behemoth, she's really just a sissy girl. 'You come in peace... with spears!' she cries, screams like a banshee and runs away. If she's as useless in a fight with an alligator, the blue god would be feasting for months. The actresses behind the Goona women are even more obscure than those behind the Wongo women. The only one who's done anything else is Lillian Melek who followed this up with small roles in Pagan Island and Once Upon a Coffee House, also known as Hootenany a Go-Go, a film that features Joan Rivers as a folk singer.

Really the only reason to watch this film is to ogle the talent and I'm sorely tempted to go find a tiki bar right now to see if anyone nowadays remotely compares. I wish I could find some background on the film because almost nobody has any history in the movies at all and I'm fascinated to see how they conjured up the cast. Rex Williams, who plays the King of Wongo, is a pretty terrible actor but the rest aren't really that bad and they certainly look the part. The Wongo women are all pleasing to the eye, more so than plenty of more mainstream Hollywood competition, and if any ladies are viewing, the Goona men are all pretty hunky too. The wonderfully named Ed Fury went on to a few sword and sandal movies in Italy and there's a Mr America in there too, Steve Klisanin. What's in the Florida water that possessed people to gather together an entire cast and crew, complete a movie and then just disappear from the face of the earth? Last time I saw that was with another Florida film, the monster movie Zaat, aka The Blood Waters of Dr Z.

There is one name that will leap out here at you but it's not who you think and it has led to a few misunderstandings here and there around the web. Playing Wana, and I still haven't worked out which wild woman of Wongo she is, is a lady by the name of Adrienne Bourbeau. No, that isn't Adrienne Barbeau, who was a mere thirteen at the time, because there isn't anyone remotely thirteen years old in this film. Her namesake Adrienne Bourbeau, who was born in Florida of French Canadian ancestry, went on to become an assistant director, racking up a few interesting films such as Empire of the Ants and The Funhouse, but never acted in another movie again. Perhaps she paid attention to the parrot, who sarcastically punctuates scenes with comments as if as a suggestion that MST3K don't need to bother. As he says at the end, 'Well, how about that?' Yeah.


Unknown said...

If Bettie Page was really in this film, it would be a major new, previously unknown discovery. You practically lead your review with Bettie's name, but then contradict yourself saying, "a low budget 1958 movie without a single recognisable (sic) name." I think you have it right in the second part and not the first. Bettie's not listed as being in the cast on IMDb.If you knew your Bettie history you'd know that there's a snowball's chance in hell that she was in this movie. Please verify and describe her role in the film or make a retraction.

Hal C. F. Astell said...

Hi Mark,

Bettie Page is absolutely not in this movie. More's the pity. The sentence I mentioned her in began 'Unfortunately it isn't...'

'Unfortunately it isn't an early Girls Gone Wild video either, done 1958 style with Bettie Page and a host of tiki room beauties, but it's a lot closer to that than Bergman because this one does at least have a girl in a leopard skin outfit wrestling an alligator.'

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking it is a jaguar skin outfit, not a leopard skin one. The circles of a jaguar spot are more filled in, the leopard circles have more gaps.

foxter said...

Just browsing the net and I came accross Wild Women of Wongo, just for the record I am Johnny Walsh or Engor if you prefer,. To set the record straight I was never in all of those movies that I have been credited for, I dont know how this happened that I got these credits but Wild Women of Wongo was the first and only movie for me, and probably the worst movie ever made, but we did have a lot of fun back in 1958. This is how I got involved, in 1958 I was 21 and living on Miami Beach and looking for work, I happened to read in the Miami Daily News that there was a movie production company in town and they were looking for extras, I had no experience but I thought I would give it a shot anyway, I read one line for them and they gave me the part of Engor (how crazy is that? ) what were these people thinking? Anyway a long story short, I did the part, got paid for it which was what really counted and had a lot of fun. This is now 53 years ago and who knows where all of the cast and crew scattered to, The only ones I have been able to trace on the web is Jean Hawkshaw, a real estate broker in Myrtle Beach,S.C., Joyce Nizzari, living in California, and Ed Fury also living in California. As for myself I am a retired business owner and I live in Canada, which makes sense being born a Canadian. Once again I must say we had a blast and a once in a life time experience that should not be taken seriously.
Ottawa, Canada, 2011.

Sarah said...

I loved this movie, it was so much fun to watch. My husband and I laughed through the whole thing. Its definately worth watching

Anonymous said...

What fun that Johnny Walsh found this blog and personalized the movie for everyone by commenting. All the best to you!

Anonymous said...

If this really WAS your only film, GOD but it was a fun film to watch!. Most of the low-budget "cheesecake" pictures like this are so much more fun to watch than the crap that comes out of Hollywood. I applaud you sir!