Of all the films made by 1930s comedy team Wheeler and Woolsey, the once-notorious SO THIS IS AFRICA has always been their most difficult to see, thanks to an abundance of what was once called "blue" material. Unfortunately, while the film amusingly spoofs Tarzan and other Hollywood
jungle pictures, it's impossible to judge just how raunchy it originally was, since it only exists now in a severely edited and censored form.
Failed vaudevillians Alexander (Robert Woolsey) and Wilbur (Bert Wheeler) are about to commit suicide when they're hired by a movie studio that wants to use the tamed lions from their act in a jungle picture to be filmed in Africa. When they arrive there, the film's director, Mrs. Johnson-Martini
(Esther Muir), develops a mad crush on Alexander and makes wild love to him. Meanwhile, a sleepwalking Wilbur is rescued from some killer lions by an Amazonian tribe leader (Raquel Torres), who falls in love with him after he teaches her how to kiss. When Alexander goes to look for Wilbur, he's
kissed by the Amazon leader's amorous gorilla, which Mrs. Martini sees, driving her into a jealous rage.
A band of Amazon women comes along and kidnaps Wilbur and Alexander, and Mrs. Martini explains to them that the crazed Amazons will "love them to death" when it becomes dark. Just then, an eclipse blots out the sun and Alexander tries to escape, while Wilbur and Mrs. Martini disguise themselves as
Amazons. Alexander is captured and forced to pick a bride, and he chooses a bikini-clad Wilbur. Alexander then disguises himself as a woman, and the three try to run way. Just as the Amazons are about to spear them, they're interrupted by a pack of Tarzans, who arrive once a year to kidnap the
Amazons and make them their wives. Two of the Tarzans grab the disguised Alexander and Wilbur and carry them into a hut. One year later, Alexander and Wilbur, still dressed as women, are seen washing laundry and carrying babies on their backs.
The comedies of Wheeler and Woolsey are an acquired taste, to say the least, and they had been virtually forgotten for decades until developing a devoted cult following after their movies were revived on cable TV in the late 1980s and early '90s. Most of their films were pun-filled, knockabout
farces, but at their best they had an anarchic, Marx Bros.-like quality that could be very funny, with the cigar-chomping, spectacle-wearing Woolsey clearly serving as an inspiration for George Burns's later stage persona.
Unlike the duo's other 19 features, SO THIS IS AFRICA was made for Columbia studios following a contract dispute with RKO, and for many years was virtually impossible to see. After a New York preview of the film, which ran 90 minutes, it was rejected by local censors and the National Board of
Review for "highly offensive sexual situations." Following extensive editing, the film was finally released, with almost half an hour cut, but was still described as "torrid" and "raw" by Variety.
Aside from the wholesale deletions, extant prints are marred by crude jump-cuts, splices, and overdubs to cover up lewd dialogue, resulting in a frustrating viewing experience. Amazingly, the censors somehow missed one outrageous line that can still be heard, when Alexander is cracking a string of
nuts which a busty Amazon woman is wearing as necklace, and he leans over to Wilbur and remarks: "Nice tits, too." Even with the cuts, screenwriter Norman Krasna (LET'S MAKE LOVE) manages to throw in some eyebrow- raising double entendres and sexual innuendoes (dealing with everything from
laxatives to "virgin trees"), while offering some not-so-subtle gags about bestiality and homosexuality. And veteran comedy director Eddie Cline (THE BANK DICK) stages some hilariously tacky production numbers of a couple of Kalmar & Ruby songs, involving writhing natives with bones in their noses
and undulating, half-dressed Amazons. (Sexual situations, profanity.)
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