Another of the weird lil’ films that this Catgirl watched endlessly on her Saturday mornings back when I was nothing but a wee lil’ kitten. This one had it all…. romance, exotic south seas adventure, lost civilizations…. an evil Cobra Queen…. and Sabu!!
Our synopsis reads: “Upon discovering his fiance Tollea (played by Maria Montez) has been kidnapped, Ramu (played by Jon Hall) and his friend Kado (played by Sabu) set out for a Pacific isle where all strangers are to be killed on arrival and the inhabitants, who are frequently sacrificed to an angry volcano god, worship the cobra. The island is ruled over by Tollea’s evil twin Naja (again… Maria Montez), the “Cobra Woman”, who, besides having designs on her handsome new prisoner Ramu, also desires to eliminate any romantic competition from her sister.”
Oooohhh!! Identical twins! You just know with a tried and true plot element like this that we’re in for some nifty “mistaken identity” fun….. and with a fanatical island of snake worshipping natives and a volcano god needing some virgin sacrifice this one’s got classic pulp goodness written all over it.
So…. having whetted your appetite for classic old school pulp adventure let’s dive in and see if the years have been kind to my memories of this one, shall we?
So…. this one is by Universal Pictures during the heyday of their classic horror films and features the star of the great “Thief of Bagdad” and “The Jungle Book”, Sabu….. C’mon…. you remember Sabu…. the turbaned inspiration for lil’ Hadji in those nifty ol’ “Johnny Quest” cartoons of the 60’s….Add Jon Hall and the exotic Maria Montez and even Lon Chaney Jr., spend the big bucks for Technicolor and you must have the recipe for a winner of a film, right? Well, maybe you do…… but then again, maybe not….
This one is directed by Robert Siodmak, who did some excellent Film Noir pieces, along with some really craptacular stuff in his early career, but there is just so much even a great director can do with material of this nature. Luckily…. lil’ Miyuki was easily entertained by the exotic, the wild, and the implausible….. so “Cobra Woman” was right up her alley.
It all starts off with the beautiful Tollea (Maria Montez) poised to marry the love of her life, Ramu (Jon Hall). Before this can happen, she gets kidnapped by Hava, the mute servant of her grandmother, the queen of the Cobra people (Mary Nash). Seems she’s actually the rightful heir to the position of High Priestess…. but was hidden away as a child because she failed to be immune to the deadly poison of the King Cobra. In her absence, the title of High Priestess has been in the hands of her equally gorgeous twin sister Naja…. but Naja it seems, is completely evil…. crazy, megalomaniacally evil and has taken to torturing and killing those among her subjects who oppose her in her bid to rule Cobra Island with an iron fist.
Tollea’s grandmother wants her to depose her sister and her equally villainous confederate Martok (played by Edgar Barrier) and return the island to it’s peaceful idyllic lifestyle…. but that’s just not gonna happen without a fight… you just know that. Luckily Ramu and his little buddy Kado find out all about Tollea from her “father” MacDonald, the Scotsman who raised her ever since he was unlucky enough to get shipwrecked on mysterious Cobra Island all those years ago. Captured by the natives, he had been tortured and sentanced to death, but then awoke back on his ship far out to sea. How he managed to escape was unknown to him… even stranger was that he had baby Tollea with him. He had raised her since that day as his very own daughter despite her mysterious appearance in his life. (How that ended up creating a beautiful white girl raised by a Scotsman somewhere in India who speaks English with a thick Mexican accent completely slipped by lil’ Miyuki at the time, but does feel a bit weird to me watching it again after all these years…. but we’ll skip over that…. sometimes you just gotta let these things go… Hehehe!!)
Anyway…. Ramu and Kado get to Cobra Island and almost immediately get into trouble. Ramu gets captured by Naja’s guards and they plan to add him to the annual human sacrifice made to the island’s active volcano. Luckily,he escapes from prison while being interrogated by Martok, Naja’s priest and corrupt adviser. Naturally, in true pulp adventure fashion he has to run into Naja and then mistake her for his beloved Tollea (That ALWAYS happens when you use the “twins” plotline…. and I mean ALWAYS….) Of course, the evil Naja quickly falls in love with him. Yep…. had to happen, it’s a rule or something…
Eventually our thick headed hero figures out what the heck is going on and who is who but not before spilling the beans to Naja that her sister has been returned to the island by those plotting to remove her from power. Naja promises Ramu that she will let Tollea leave the island in safety if he agrees to stay behind with her and become her lover (Boooo!! Hisss!!). Kado, in the meantime, gets himself caught after he mistakenly frees the villainous Martok. Refusing to divulge the locations of Ramu and Tollea, Kado gets himself tortured by Martok until he is rescued by Hava and Coco, a chimpanzee. (See…. they had to squeeze a lovable monkey in here somewheres…. otherwise Sabu would get lonely….Hehehehe!!)
Then the old Queen tries to end the trouble by asking Naja to abdicate her crown in favor of her sister for the good of all the island’s people, but the wicked Naja refuses her and sets her men to hunting for Tollea, Ramu and Kado. Later that night, the queen is murdered by Martok when she refuses to reveal Tollea’s whereabouts to him instead of Naja, but manages to lay a terrible curse upon him before expiring. Whoops!! Guess he’s in for it…. The very next morning, Ramu and Kado get captured by Naja’s guards, so Tollea finally goes to the royal castle to confronts her wicked sister. She plays her trump card, and demands as the first born daughter of their mother, to take her rightful place as High Priestess. Not one to give up easily…. Naja then tries to kill her sister, but is killed herself when she falls out one of the castle’s windows while attempting to throw a spear.
The evil Naja finally dead, Tollea takes her place and orders a stop to the executions of Ramu and Kado. Realizing who she is, Martok demands that Tollea perform the priestess’s deadly cobra dance. Deadly Cobra Dance? That just doesn’t sound good….. Apparently the ancient island gods agree because then the Queen’s death curse strikes as the volcano erupts with all the fun and apocalyptic action you’d expect from such an event.During the eruption, the queen’s servant, Hava, takes revenge for her mistress and kills Martok. With the evil priest’s death, the volcanic eruption stops and the Cobra people are finally freed to return to their formerly peaceful existence. Ramu and Kado then leave the island, but Tollea stows away on their boat and begs Ramu to return to Cobra Island with her, stating, “Thy people shall be my people. Awwwwwww… soooo sweet! Love really does conquer all…..
Neko managed to watch this one on the recent French Region 2 PAL release and even though it’s an old film, the print still looks good after all these years…. there’s definitely something about Technicolor that gives one of the films a certain “look” that you just don’t get from modern color film. So…. is it a great film? Is it even a good one? Hmmmmm? With the almost pulp serial plotline and soap opera evil twins and the terrible acting and script, Neko would have to say that “Cobra Woman” is certainly never going to be regarded as a particularly great cinematic epic, but even still…. if you liked this one as a kid, and I really, really did, you’ll probably still dig it’s crazy plot even now. Neko gives it her 3 “Meows” out of 5 for being a neat little movie gem that somehow got stuck in my head and still gives me a chuckle even after all these years.
Trailers? Oh yeah… we got that covered. Enjoy!