A Gloriously Goofy Pulp Adventure Brought to Us in Living Technicolor!
Directed By Robert Siodmak / 1944 / Color
Blu-Ray Street Date Jan 20, 2020 / Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Cobra Woman is a movie that has everything: torture, fighting, intrigue, daring escapes, and strange religious cults! There are serpent swords, black panthers, a chimp in a loincloth, and Scotsmen! It’s an old-fashioned adventure tale that has no time for coherence and plot! How can it slow down to make sense of anything when the heroes are being threatened by the temple guards once again?
Handsome Ramu (Jon Hall) and beautiful Tollea (Maria Montez) are going to get married. Before the ceremony can take place, Tollea is kidnapped by the hulking Hava (Lon Chaney Jr.) She is brought to Cobra Island. Cobra Island is rumored to be surrounded by high walls, the natives will kill any stranger they meet, and it is ruled by the fanatical Cobra Cult. It also, presumably, has cobras.
Despite the dangers, Ramu chases after Tollea to rescue her. He’s joined in his quest by his young friend Kado, played by Sabu (The Thief of Bagdad). Sabu seems a little too old to be playing the part of the kid sidekick (he was close to 20 at the time of filming). Still, it’s a good thing he’s come along, since his character is clearly the more competent of the two, despite the annoying pidgin English dialogue he’s forced to spout.
Cobra Island’s leader is the High Priestess Naja, who happens to be Tollea’s twin sister. The highlight of the movie comes when Naja performs the ‘King Cobra’ dance, where she writhes around in a slinky, bedazzling dress in front of a snake. She then selects sacrifices to the island’s volcano god with the same glee as Oprah has when giving out cars. Naja’s and Tollea’s grandmother, the Queen of Cobra Island (Mary Nash) hopes Tollea will take her place as the rightful ruler, putting an end to Naja’s despotic regime.
Ramu’s not the brightest guy as evidenced by this exchange when he first meets Naja, not realizing that his beloved Tollea has a twin:
Ramu asks her, “Why did you run away from me?”
“Strange faces frighten me.”
“Err, I mean, familiar faces turning up unexpectedly.”
And he’s cool with that.
The movie’s negligible budget is apparent in almost every frame. At one point, Naja calls for 200 human sacrifices (man, she can’t get enough of them human sacrifices!), and based on the size of the crowds at her ceremonies, the island doesn’t have 200 people to spare! Many of those sacrifices would have to get back in line two or three times! Despite that (or maybe because of it?) the movie was shot in Technicolor. And it looks absolutely gorgeous. The lush green foliage, the vibrant dresses of Naja’s handmaids, the blood from the Cobra Cult victims are all radiant. The colors just pop off the screen like panels of the four-color comic books in which this story would be right at home.
The actors also completely commit to their parts. No one (save maybe Chaney) is sleepwalking through this movie. Witness the scene where Nash places a curse on one of her enemies, or Hall’s goofy charm when he sees he’s forgotten to wear shoes to his wedding (again, not bright). Montez, above all, throws herself into that ‘Cobra Dance.’ She’s not much of an actor otherwise, but you can tell she’s giving 100%!
Cobra Woman is not going to be confused for a good movie by any stretch, but it’s a fun time. The movie’s influences (for good and bad) can be seen in films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. If pulpy adventure of the sort described above is your cup of tea, this is a can’t miss.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray release of Cobra Woman comes with an audio commentary by film historian Phillipa Berry. This is as entertaining and informative a track as we’ve come to expect from Kino Lorber. The movie also comes with the usual collection of trailers. It’s presented in its original Academy ratio at 1080p.