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Jungle Book (1942)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Jungle Book (1942)
35mm, Technicolor, 107 mins
DirectorZoltán Korda
Production CompanyAlexander Korda Films
ProducerAlexander Korda
AdaptationLaurence Stallings
Original bookRudyard Kipling
PhotographyLee Garmes
 W. Howard Greene
MusicMiklos Rozsa

Cast: Sabu (Mowgli), Joseph Calleia (Buldeo/narrator), John Qualen (the barber), Frank Puglia (the pundit), Rosemary De Camp (Messua, Mowgli's mother), Patricia O'Rourke (Mahala, Buldeo's daughter)

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Mowgli grows up among wolves in the jungle, where he makes an enemy of the tiger, Shere Khan.

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This first screen adaptation of Kipling's well-loved stories was created to exploit the commercial popularity of its boy star, Sabu, first seen in director Zoltán Korda's earlier Elephant Boy (1937). It was the last time all three Korda brothers would work together, and Sabu's fourth and final appearance in a Korda production.

Sabu plays Mowgli, a childlike innocent with no concept of the value of money, reared by wolves according to the laws of the jungle, and capable of slaying a tiger. Poignantly, Mowgli turns out to be the most moral character, incapable of greed and imbued with a deep respect for the natural world. He is an adventure hero to whom children can aspire, one who leaves the confusing world of adults behind to live in a world of simpler rules.

Laurence Stalling's adaptation was criticised for straying too far from the original, while the perennial disagreement between producer Alexander Korda and brother Zoltán did not help matters. While Zoltán hoped for an underplayed realist telling, Alex favoured an exuberant fantasist epic. Alex, as ever, largely won the day, but the slightly chaotic result did not deter an enthusiastic audience keen to see Sabu in a Technicolor jungle, complete with wild animals and lost kingdoms.

Due to the war in Europe, Jungle Book was filmed entirely in a Hollywood studio, United Artists having lent Alexander Korda $300,000 to finance the production. Watching the film one might wonder how the crew managed to emerge unscathed with so many fierce jungle beasts around. Precautions were taken, with the real tiger, used for long shots of Shere Khan, safely kept within a specially constructed 'invisible' fence. The set was still a dangerous place, however, and as regular Korda collaborator Osmond Borradaile recounted, Zoltán almost drowned while shooting a sequence involving the huge rubber python; Alex was chased onto a roof by what he believed to be a tiger, but was, in fact, a large dog wearing tiger skin.

The dedicated crew was repaid with Academy Award nominations for Cinematography, Special Effects, Art Direction, and Music. The jungle fire scene, particularly, made spectacular use of Technicolor to climax the film in a roaring blaze of light, and the diverse range of animals provided an exotic background to Sabu's heroic adventures, threatening to eclipse the star himself.

David Morrison

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Video Clips
1. Tiger attack (3:05)
2. Buying a knife (2:58)
3. Buldeo is deceived (2:53)
4. Fire in the jungle (2:58)
Production Stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Korda, Alexander (1893-1956)
Korda, Zoltán (1895-1961)
Sabu (1924-1963)
Children on Film
Korda and Empire