Cobra Woman (1944)
“featuring the Stars of “Arabian Nights””
Director: Robert Siodmak
Cast: Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Sabu
Synopsis: Upon discovering his fiancÃ©e Tollea has been kidnaped, Ramu and his friend Kado set out for a Pacific isle where all strangers are to be killed on arrival…
From its title, you’d think Cobra Woman was a lurid horror movie but it is in fact a colourful but plodding adventure story that marked the third of six movies Maria Montez and Jon Hall made for Universal during the wartime years. Despite its turgid plot, Cobra Woman has an undeniable camp appeal thank to its garish use of Technicolor combined with a cheesy story involving that timeless old plot device of identical twins — one good, one evil — separated at birth.
The twins are Tollea (Montez), the fiance of seaman Ramu (Hall), and Naja (Montez again), the despotic ruler of Cobra island. Tollea and Ramu’s plans to be wed are rudely disrupted when Tollea is abducted by the mute Hava (Lon Chaney Jr. — High Noon, The Indian Fighter) and spirited away to Cobra Island. Despite the ominous warnings of Mr. MacDonald (Moroni Olsen — It’s a Wonderful Life, Call Northside 777), Tollea’s guardian, who attained that positioned after surviving prolonged torture at the hands of the natives of Cobra Island, Ramu sets off in pursuit of Tollea, with the resourceful young buck Kado (Sabu) in tow. But Ramu doesn’t risk mere torture by visiting the island — to date, McDonald is the only outsider fortunate enough to survive an encounter with the highly secretive and hostile Cobra Tribe.
As Ramu and Kado set about promptly getting themselves caught by the Cobra tribe, Tollea learns from her grandmother, the island’s benevolent queen (Mary Nash), that she has an identical twin who, although younger than Tollea, became ruler as a baby because she proved immune to the bite of the cobra, while Tollea nearly died from its bite (which explains the two strange wounds on her wrist) and was sentenced to death. However, the Queen managed to save her, and placed her in a boat with the unconscious MacDonald. Now, however, Naja, has gone a little power-crazed and is prone to dancing the hoochie-coochie around an irritated cobra as she frenziedly points out the unlucky natives in the watching crowd who are to be sacrificed to the ‘fire mountain.’
This bonkers scene alone is worth the price of viewing, but there’s so much more to scoff at that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Firstly, we have an old, balding chimpanzee named Koko who wanders around in a nappy in a vain attempt to provide comic relief (not that Cobra Woman needs any) and who proves instrumental in our heroes’ escape bid come movie’s end. In fact, if it wasn’t for Koko, everyone would certainly be toast, yet he doesn’t even receive a credit in the movie. Secondly, we have the presence of gay icon Maria Montez in a dual role, wearing a succession of fabulous outfits (where do these hostile cultures who kill all outsiders get these outfits from, I wonder?); then we have Lon Chaney Jr as the mute Hava, demonstrating just how quickly a movie career can go downhill and struggling manfully — in the best Robert Mitchum tradition — to hold in his hairy tummy.
Cobra Woman isn’t a classic movie by any means, but its camp enough to keep you watching, even though there’s not much action, and the hero figure is something of a dead loss.
(Reviewed 15th April 2014)