Cast & Crew
Adventurers Martin and Osa Johnson lead a safari into the African Congo to explore the secrets of the "Dark Continent." After recruiting a team of guides, comprised of men from Nairobi, Kenya, the Johnsons begin what they call "the greatest jungle expedition of all time--in numbers, in duration and in the distances travelled." Their journey begins with a closeup view of animal life on the African plains, examining wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, flamingoes, and hippopotomi. Crocodiles are seen moving down a riverbank, and the roar of the mighty Murchison Falls is heard in the distance. The Johnsons mingle with a group of pygmies and follow native gorillas into their natural habitat. Sunrise on the Serengeti Plains finds wildebeests, gazelles and giraffes traveling in groups of thousands, and it is noted that all these animals are prey to the "King of Beasts," the lion. Wild flamingoes remind Martin of chorus girls who, he states are also "long on legs but short on brains." Following the discovery of a baby giraffe, the Johnsons film a lion killing a zebra and a pack of wild dogs tormenting the lion as it attempts to eat its kill. Next, the rhinoceros is observed, as is the camel, which Martin refers to as "mean, cranky and dumb." As the Johnsons approach the Nakuru lake, flamingoes are seen taking to the air. Later, the Johnsons photograph a Ndeze tribal village, a place that has never before been filmed. After listening to the sounds of the native Ndeze drums, the Johnsons travel to the Ripon Falls, head waters of the Victoria Nile, where Osa scares away a herd of elephants. In the Ituri Forest, in the Belgian Congo, Martin points out the dangers of sailing down a river rife with hippopotami poised to capsize their boat. While visiting a pygmy camp, Martin gives the pygmies cigarettes, which they try for the first time, and then watches with amusement as they choke on the smoke. After the Johnsons convince the pygmy chief to call in pygmies from throughout the region to come to their camp the following morning, the natives set out to spring elephant traps so that no one is injured. The next day, Osa entertains the visitors by playing jazz music for them and teaches them how dance to it. A few weeks later, and four hundred miles south of the pygmy camp, a gorilla is spotted and the Johnsons proceed with extreme caution. Two gorillas are captured and sent to the San Diego zoo. The film shows a colobus monkey and Teddy, a chimpanzee, being washed. Snowball, a young gorilla, and Baby, a young chimpanzee, are later seen sleeping in bed.
According to the billing sheet for Congorilla, the film's subtitle was "Adventures Among the Big Ape and Little People of Central Africa." The opening credits list the Fox Film Corp. as the presenter of the film, but Fox's participation in the production or funding of the film has not been determined. According to the file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in February 1937, when Twentieth Century-Fox submitted the film to the PCA for re-issue certification, the PCA informed the studio that scenes in the film of "naked African women with their breasts exposed, [and] of totally naked children" were in violation of the Production Code. Although the film was granted a re-issue certification, it is not known whether these scenes were deleted. Information furnished by the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas, indicates that the release of Congorilla was preceded by the release of the Johnsons' Wonders of the Congo, a silent lecture film featuring footage that was later used in Congorilla. As was the case with Congorilla, the Johnsons routinely went on lecture tours around the country with silent film versions of their adventures before editing the footage into sound commercial releases. The Film Daily review notes that Congorilla was the "first sound picture actually made in toto among the African wilds." An Los Angeles Times article indicates that the Johnsons spent seven months in the African veldt filming this picture. According to a biography of the Johnsons, the couple and their crew returned to Kenya (their fourth expedition to the African continent) in late 1929 to begin shooting this film. Modern sources note that some footage from the Johnsons' 1928 silent film Simba, the King of the Beasts (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2. 5083), was used in Congorilla. Footage from Congorilla was later used (and augmented with back projection effects) in Osa Johnson's 1940 film I Married Adventure (see below). The Johnsons made two commercial feature films in the 1930s, Baboona and Borneo. Between 1913 and 1937, when Martin died in an airplane crash, the Johnsons made at least nine feature-length commercial films, a half-dozen accompanying lecture films and many short films on their adventures around the world. The Johnsons' first feature films were the 1913 picture Jack London's Adventures in the South Sea Islands and the 1918 film Among the Cannibal Isles of the South Pacific (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.2255 and F1.0109). Among the many Johnson feature films released in the 1920s are: the 1921 film Jungle Adventures, the 1922 film Head Hunters of the South Seas and the 1923 film Trailing African Wild Animals (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2824, F2.2344 and F2.5818). Two lecture films, African Paradise and Tulagi and the Solomons were released in the early 1940s, and Osa's Big Game Hunt, a series of twenty-six half-hour television programs featuring footage taken from Johnson films, were produced in the 1950s, with Osa providing the narration for many of them.