Jane and the Lost City

Jane and the Lost City.
New World Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie:

The legend of the comic strip “Jane” is of a series of contrived pretenses to get the attractive young woman character to lose her clothes, especially around soldiers, drawn as a morale booster for British soldiers in WWII. When I was investigating the background of what this movie is based on, I couldn’t even get much more out of Wikipedia, because the legend is that pervasive. But that just made me even more curious how this pulp adventure-sounding story could relate to that beyond jamming an attractive girl named Jane whose clothes keep falling off into the plot.

I was able to find an article that traces a somewhat more comprehensive history (part 1 of 4, sequential parts are backward in the archive for some reason), where I was able to learn that it started as a high society satire/romance comic a bit like how I imagine early Blondie was before it fossilized around Dagwood’s suburban atomic family, and only later did the titillation creep in, and the war only took it over still later than that, but that reaches the end of the scope of the article, so while I have an impression that Jane was getting into war-related scrapes as an officer’s secretary, I still don’t have much of an idea of how that translates into a movie described as “Winston Churchill sends Jane on a mission to retrieve diamonds from a lost African city before the Nazis can get them.”

After watching the movie:

The British war effort weighs heavily on the public coffers and the Empire needs a quick boost from the abandoned diamond hoard of the Lost City. After one man of a three-man team sent to Africa to find the fabled Lost City is able to return alive to confirm its existence, Winston Churchill himself assigns greying gentleman The Colonel, his assistant Jane, and his manservant Tombs to find the city before the Nazis do. Why is this the most qualified team? Because they’re the stars of the movie, that’s why. They haven’t even dried off from the crash landing in the ocean an assassin sent them to before they’re captured by a vicious African tribe, and fortunately they get saved by Jungle Jack, an American adventurer (and heir to an aircraft fortune) who agrees to be their guide. Their every move stalked by Nazi nemesis Lola Pagola, her assassins Heinrich and his triplet brothers, and strongman Carl, Jane and the others find the Lost City not as deserted as thought.

There’s a decent amount of lore here that the movie assumes audiences are familiar with. I didn’t even realize Lola Pagola was a recurring character and not a single use baddie until Jane and the Colonel recognized her name. A jungle adventure might be a little out of the range of what the comic generally did in the war years, but it very much feels like, rather than a standalone movie, one chapter in the ongoing adventures you’re expected to already be reading.

While it’s consistently silly, the comic stripping doesn’t really seem to fit the same tone. The strip gags (Jane really ought to stop wearing tearaway shirts) feel like they’re only there by obligation, but also the plot feels as thin as a plot meant to justify putting Jane on screen so she can get stripped to her underwear a handful of times. So everything feels like it’s expecting something else to carry the movie.

I can’t comment on how well the main characters are cast, but since they’re pretty broadly played, they seem fine. However, I can say that they clearly didn’t even try to present a good imitation of Churchill. His accent is vaguely reminiscent of the man, he’s a large actor with blond hair smoking a cigar, and that’s about it. On the other hand, I liked the Leopard Queen pretty well for the complete subversion.

This movie is a bit of amusement, but it’s not putting in any effort and trying to get by on nostalgia I can’t provide and possibly very mild titillation that mostly just irritated me. I’d only recommend it for people who already enjoy the war years of the comic strip, and I wonder how much they’d actually appreciate the adaptation.

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