“You shall see for yourself the cruel barbarism by which Naja holds our people… Fear has made them religious fanatics!”
When his fiancee Tollea (Maria Montez) is kidnapped, Ramu (Jon Hall) and his friend Kado (Sabu) follow her to an enchanted island ruled by Tollea’s evil twin, Naja (also Montez).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Lon Chaney, Jr. Films
- Robert Siodmak Films
- Sabu Films
- South Sea Islands
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary begins his review of Cobra Woman by labeling it a “Kitsch Klassic”, noting that “the dialogue is enjoyably trite, the decor is ornate, the stars are sexy, the volcano is bubbly, [and] the picture is colorful.” While Dominican actress Maria Montez remains largely unfamiliar to modern audiences, she is, as noted by Peary, “as significant to film history as Carmen Miranda”, and her dual roles here are likely “her definitive performance”. Indeed, it is Montez’s portrayal of both the meek Tollea and the vicious Naja which give this film its delightful air of campiness: Montez takes herself so seriously — and dresses in such outlandishly colorful costumes — that it’s easy to ignore the ridiculous story (which in itself is relatively unimportant). Surprisingly, this camp classic was helmed by noir director Robert Siodmak, who would return to the theme of good-and-evil twins in The Dark Mirror (1946) starring Olivia De Havilland.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- The outlandish technicolor costumes and over-the-top headdresses
- Countless campy moments, such as when Naja dances while selecting victims for the island’s angry volcano god
Yes, simply for its status as a campy cult classic.
One thought on “Cobra Woman (1944)”
More fever dream than film, ‘Cobra Woman’ boasts one of the silliest scripts ever to be given (at least what looks like) a serious big-budget production. FFs will certainly want to check out this early work co-written by future auteur Richard Brooks (what was HE smoking?!). However, oddly enough, though it does have camp appeal, it’s not really the camp classic one expects.
Until…thirty minutes in. In this lengthy sequence, following an entrance with an entourage somewhat like Zsa Zsa Gabor’s in ‘Queen of Outer Space’ (btw: in that film, ZZG’s character has a name very similar to the good Montez here), the evil Montez holds court in what is undeniably Camp Heaven. She’s gussied up in the kind of OTT technicolor get-up that dreams are made of. The headdress alone! But the fun doesn’t stop there. MM then does The Cobra Dance, in which she faces off with an actual cobra, dutifully gyrating and undulating a la Ann-Margret in…just about anything. This is cherry-topped as MM, while dancing, hilariously chooses the next needed human sacrifices. As fun as it is, the rest of the film doesn’t out-do this centerpiece. But it doesn’t have to. This part of the movie is so strong and satisfying that, in its own way, it’s like great sex – and, as for what follows, all is forgiven. (There is a book-end scene for this near the end which is fun and disturbing if ultimately less potent.)
Not that there aren’t other treats to be found. Watching Montez act against herself (a la – as noted – de Havilland in ‘The Dark Mirror’, as well as Bette Davis in ‘A Stolen Life’ and ‘Dead Ringer’) is alone, as they say, worth the price of admission. And there’s a certain charm in the stiff performances of Jon Hall and esp. Sabu. (I love how Hall is accused of bathing “in the sacred pool”: do they mean the one that needs a strong dose of chlorine?) Lon Chaney Jr. is also on-board in another odd turn in an odd career. And, in the film’s most dignified role as the grandmother Queen, stage veteran Mary Nash has quite a memorable death scene.
And let’s not forget Sabu’s sidekick Koko – and they say there are no good roles for chimps!