While Universal's reason for exiting the serial movie market is often misrepresented as a quality issue, and inability to compete with serials from Republic and Columbia, the decision seems to have had more to do with a change in company ownership, and a desire to focus on higher-end films. That said, their next-to-last serial, "Lost City of the Jungle" has a number of problems, though it is better than might be expected from the circumstances of its production.
Lionel Atwill plays war monger Sir Eric Hazarias, who is after a rare element, "Meteorium-245" that provides a defense against the atomic bomb, which he hopes to sell since it would allow a country to engage in atomic warfare without fear of retaliation. On the trail of Sir Eric is an agent of the United Peace Foundation, Rod Stanton (Russell Hayden) who, with difficulties including 'plane stowaway Marjorie Elmore (Jane Adams) flies across the Himalayas to Zalabar, capital of Pendrang, an isolated jungle province apparently near Hollywood. There an archaeological dig is taking place by Ms. Elmore's father, Dr. Elmore (John Eldredge), whose activities are unwittingly helping Sir Eric who, under the assumed name of Geoffrey London, is financing the expedition because he believes it will uncover the "Meteorium-245" needed for his schemes. Stanton meets up with co-agent Tal Shan (Keye Luke) and confirms Sir Eric's identity. Discovering why Sir Eric is interested in the digs takes a little longer. Adding further complications to both sides is the real power in Zalabar, a woman named Indra (Helen Bennett) who runs things from her casino, protecting those who pay for the service.
The serial was directed by the experienced team of Ray Taylor and Lewis D. Collins. It shouldn't be a surprise that the plot is similar to that of the 1945 serial "Secret Agent X-9" since Universal had long been into recycling. We have a casino owner in an isolated part of the world creating, for a profit, a neutral zone between the factions; the usual search for a miracle stuff by the bad guys, with the good guys trying to figure out what they're after and why; and the all-too-obvious "secret agent" types hanging about the casino. It isn't even as believable as the earlier serial; for example no explanation is given as to why Indra has influence over the natives. The plot had to be reworked when Lionel Atwill became seriously ill during production; he died the day before the official release date of the film. Atwill had filmed scenes through the last chapter, but there were gaps, so Sir Eric's secretary, Malborn (John Miljan) became "the real" war monger. Sometimes non-speaking views of Atwill's face are used along with a back view of a body double, but it doesn't work too well. Universal was big on stock footage anyway, here using it for some of the cliffhangers, including clips from the avalanche rescue from the 1929 German film "The White Hell of Pitz Palu," familiar from the third Flash Gordon serial. The 1943 Universal film "White Savage" provided a couple more cliffhangers. The acted out introductions do not help the pacing, since Universal thought it necessary to explain the many plot complications at the start of each chapter, which takes a couple minutes. Acting is mostly to usual serial movie standards, with Russell Hayden a little bland as the hero, though Lionel Atwill did what he could, Keye Luke does his usual fine job as a sidekick, and there are some nice cameos, such as Frank Lackteen as the "blind beggar" outside the casino. And despite the production problems, the plot holds together, if hardly a shining example of the form.
VCI's edition, # 8469 is on a single DVD. The print used isn't bad, given what is often available from these old serials, but it is not ideal. Some of the "next week" titles don't extend the full length of the music, and the final "The End" title finishes on a still frame, before the temple door in the background is fully closed. I'm not sure it really hurts, but the last couple lines, where Ms. Elmore is questioned about her future plans are missing on this print. Otherwise there are occasional splices, scratches and dirt but not to an annoying degree and some of it is from the stock footage; the temple destroyed by a "remote controlled earthquake" is shown in a still frame, with an especially nasty scratch in the original. Brightness and contrast are good, the image well-framed and fairly sharp. The "night" scenes are a bit dark but not totally black, and enough details can be seen with adjustment of brightness and contrast controls. The sound is clear enough for the extensive dialogue to be understood but with a little noise, some distortion and limited frequency range, suggesting more than the image quality that this is from a 16mm reduction print. There is some obvious flutter in Chapter Six, and wow at the start of the opening credits, worse in some chapters but all from the same piece of film with a splice as the credit for John Miljan scrolls up in "The Players" list from the bottom of the screen.
The "extras" include the original two-minute trailer for "Lost City of the Jungle" and one running about three and a half minutes for the 1951 Columbia serial "Captain Video" including some color-tinted scenes. There are also "Bios" of Russell Hayden, Jane Adams, Lionel Atwill, Lewis D. Collins and Ray Taylor. After the FBI warning at the start of the disc there are some clips used as advertising for other serials available from VCI.
More than with most serials, this one shouldn't be watched without at least a day between chapters to forget some of the redundant plot explanations, but otherwise it isn't bad for a post-war serial; the story itself moves along fairly well. VCI's print isn't perfect, but the defects are fairly minor, and at the price, a reasonable value.