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Film

Don’t Open That Door! #50: 'The Wild Women of Wongo' (1959)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: gender equality takes a hit (along with much else) in The Wild Women of Wongo.


The Wild Women of Wongo

Director: James L. Wolcott
Cast: Jean Hackshaw, Mary Ann Webb, Cande Gerrard, Adrienne Bourbeau
US Release Date: 1958

Alternative titles: There are none. Really. Can you think of anything better?

POSITIVES:

* First line in the movie is: "I am Mother Nature".

* Jaw-droppingly poor acting and plenty of Freudian snake imagery.

* Insightful exploration of gender roles and stereotyping. Nah, not really.

* Dance of sacrifice to the dragon god!.

* Well, it is a tropical paradise.

NEGATIVES:

* Clean-cut ape-men (all two of them) are lamest "monsters" ever committed to film.

* Cringe-inducing talking parakeet provides comic relief.

* Possibly the most painful concluding minute in all of film.

SYNOPSIS: The women of Wonga island are beautiful, but the men of Wonga are brutes: bad teeth, oddly dyed hair and crummy posture. The men of Goona, meanwhile, are handsome in a well-oiled Greek kind of way, while the women of Goona are brutes with bad teeth, crummy posture and substandard skin-care products. See where this is going? If you've kept up so far, then you can pretty much figure out the rest.


The women of Wonga have to put up with boring stuff like being bartered for dead otters, which is pretty much a downer whatever island you're from. But Omoo and Mona see no way out of their dead-end existence, at least not until Goona pretty boy Engor shows up with startling news and shiny pecs. Engor carries tales of marauding ape-men raiding the coast and raising Cain, but the Wongo women are more interested in the studs from Goona. Engor, who is the prince of Goona, invites the Wongese warriors to join with the Gooni to fight off the ape-men. The Wongi women, Ahtee and Wana among them, have men of a different sort on their minds. Sensing this, the Wongati men decide to give Engor the big heave-ho, and it's up to the gals to bail him out.

This they do—right in the middle of prayers to the dragon god, no less!—with the consequence that the ladies are exiled from the tribe. (Not such a horrible punishment, all things considered.) Engor makes it safely back to Goona, leaving the Wongarian women to make their interpretive-dance sacrifice at the temple of the dragon god.

All the performance art in the world, however, will do nothing to stop those hordes of slavering ape-men once they show up looking for trouble. Those hordes of slavering ape-men, by the way, number exactly two and are surprisingly clean shaven, right down to their well-manicured sideburns, but they don't say much—grunts mostly—and they do have a crouched-down way of walking. The women fend off the initial attack, with a little help from the dragon god, though further resistance is going to depend on a bit of inter-island cooperation. Sort of a bad time for the Goonish men to go tramping into the forest for one month without weapons. But you know how those primitive cultures are with their rites of passage. They're almost as bad as the ape-men. Almost.

Best line of dialogue: "O dragon god, we bring you men for Wongo!" (But there are countless other possibilities; choose your own.)

Moral of the story: Anatomy really does equal destiny. But we knew that already.

What gets sent to the the big prehistoric island in the sky: Sadly, not much, although several movie careers bite the dust (see below); and a couple of well-coiffed ape-men get sent to Davy Jones's locker, too.

What gets saved: Future modeling careers for some of our most talented young men and women.

Party game: Play "Canoe race". Everybody makes a little boat out of some buoyant material like cardboard, Q-tips etc. Then fill a bathtub. Using only their breath, players blow their boats from one end of the tub to the other. As many racers can participate at one time as can fit. If necessary, several trial heats can be run before the big finale. Whoever wins the championship race is awarded a gold (or gold-like) medal. A bottle cap on a ribbon is useful for this.

Maybe you can explain this: The king of Wongo looks about twenty. His daughter Omoo looks about nineteen. Discuss.

Is it really so surprising that their careers didn't survive? Jean Hackshaw (Omoo) appeared in no other movie but this. Mary Ann Webb (Mona) appeared in no other movie but this. Cande Gerrard (Ahtee) appeared in no other movie but this. All together now: Adrienne Bourbeau (Wana) appeared in no other movie but this—though she was in a 1967 episode of TV's Flipper. She is not, by the way, sex goddess and future Swamp Thing and Escape From New York star Adrienne Barbeau, who was about twelve years old when this movie was made. Writer Cedric Rutherford and director James L. Wolcott never made any other movies but this. Raise your hand if you are surprised.


BOTTOM LINE: Dumber than dirt, and pretty much awful, but inane enough to be fun in certain moods. Likely to offend if you think about the subtext too deeply--like, at all.

NEXT WEEK: The Thing From Another World (1951)

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