Cast & Crew
Eighteen years after their first visit to British North Borneo, adventurers Martin Johnson and his wife Osa return to the "isle of the inconceivable" to film the natural beauty and wildlife of the Borneo jungle. The Johnsons arrive on the island in their camouflaged amphibious plane, the "Spirit of Africa," which they have flown on a previous exploration. Borneo is ruled by the Dutch and the British, who refused to grant the Johnsons permission for what they deemed to be too perilous a journey. Soon after landing on the Kinabatangan River, the Johnsons are greeted by eager Murut natives, river dwellers who "used to be headhunters and maybe still are." Deep in the jungle, the Johnsons discover an area crowded with dangerous flying snakes. When Osa nearly walks right up to a snake wrapped around a tree trunk, the natives pull her away and shoot it. Farther down the river, the expedition discovers a great number of flying monkeys that run up the sides of trees and jump into the river below. Also spotted are Borneo deer and many birds, including the white heron. A raft constructed from rattan, bamboo and junglewood is used by the Johnsons to travel farther down the river, where they settle for a short time at a native village. There, a man with a toothache mistakes Martin for a medicine man until a Chinese dentist arrives to treat him. Meanwhile, at the Johnsons' hut, Osa is busy chasing after monkeys that have entered their temporary lodgings, and she swats them with a broom. As drinking water is a scarce commodity in this region, Osa demonstrates how water can be gotten by cutting into the branches of water-bearing trees. The Johnson expedition leaves the tribal village in search of proboscis monkeys, which they find in their natural habitat, the dark backwash of one of Borneo's rivers. After leaving the monkeys, the Johnsons go in search of their old friends, the Tenggara headhunters. On the way, they see mud-skippers, rare fish that usually live in water, but when conditions turn dry, can live on dry ground. They also find a local delicacy, large oysters that grow on trees along the riverbank. Before arriving at the headhunters' area, the Johnsons explore an overgrown cave on the river where native birds, swifts, nest in the trees. The swifts' nests are Borneo's second largest export and are plundered twice a year and shipped to China to make bird's nest soup. When the explorers arrive at the shores of the headhunters' home, they are greeted warmly but soon feel uneasy and decide to leave. The expedition then embarks in pursuit of its final objective, the hunt for the native orangutan. After a three-day hunt, the orangutan is captured and shipped to a zoo.
This film was the last Martin and Osa Johnson film. Martin died in an airplane crash near Newhall, CA, on January 13, 1937. The opening title card of the film reads: "Osa Johnson presents Martin Johnson's last picture 'Borneo.'" The release of Borneo was preceded by the release of the lecture film Jungle Depths of Borneo (see below), which was silent and was comprised of footage that was later used in this film. An August 1937 New York Times article notes that "tinting and toning" devices, the predecessors of color photography, were used in the film. Modern souces note that Borneo was printed in opalescent platinum-sepia. According to a 1950 Los Angeles Examiner news item, Borneo was titled Borneo...Land of the Devil Beast for its re-issue. According to a biography of the Johnsons, the couple left New York for Borneo on August 13, 1935 with "more than two hundred crates of gear, pilot Jim Laneri, sound engineer Joe Tilton, and the smaller of their two Sikorsky amphibians." The biography also notes that the Johnsons captured on film for the first time the red-coated, blue-face maroon leaf monkey and the wild proboscis monkey in its natural habitat. For more information on the Johnsons and their films, for Congorilla.