Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack / U.S., 1927):

The wild tiger bounds at the cameraman and its muzzle rubs against the lenses, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack live for such flashes of danger and delight. "Never completely victorious... never completely defeated... such is manís fate in the jungle." So it goes with Kru the Laotian tribesman, tending to his rice paddy and facing the world's marauding menagerie, one primeval scrape after another. A leopard leaps over the bamboo wall and helps itself to the family's small herd, a baby elephant is kept on a leash until its mother charges to the rescue and brings down the house. (Even the mascots are wise guys, Bimbo the pet gibbon swings rambunctiously from the shack's ceiling and a POV shot gives an upside-down close-up of Kru's cradled infant.) A sort of slapstick Kipling spirit suffuses the venture, boisterous where Grass was contemplative: these "mighty humans" stride into the humid forest as if they owned the place yet quickly scramble up a tree at the mere sight of a fanged feline. "What foolish words be these, o grandson of a monkey," laughs the wizened chief at the protagonist's warnings, only to do a Hal Roach double-take as the stampede of jumbos flattens the village. The literal pitfalls of quotidian survival, hair-raising and comical, the manifold gradations of sweltering sunlight on panchromatic stock, the globetrotters' sundry treasures. Satyajit Ray in Pather Panchali remembers the basket full of puppies, and reverberations extend to Ford (Mogambo), Hawks (Hatari!), and just about every Tarzan movie. The native marveling at the pacified pachyderm munching on sugar cane is a sight to encapsulate the labors and rewards of Cooper-Schoedsack filmmaking, and then there is King Kong. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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