East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Cobra Woman (1944)

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220px-CobrawomanThere’s no sand, in Cobra Woman, the 1944 Universal movie that brought Maria Montez, Jon Hall and Sabu back to the screens after the success of Arabian Nights… so this is an anomalous entry in the Tits & Sand series.
Cobra Woman is a South Seas movie – and yes, that’s another genre we’ll have to keep an eye on, because it’s a fun, pulp sort of entertainment.

Directed by Robert Siodmak, Cobra Woman also features Lon Chaney Jr.1 in a small but foundamental role.
And yes, there’s also a big plastic cobra – somewhat embarrassing – but we’ll get to that.

The story in a nutshell…
Sout seas: the day of her marriage, beautiful Tollea (Montez) is kidnapped from the island where she lives and taken, by a mysterious wanderer (Chaney Jr.), to Cobra Island.
Her would-be husband, Ramu (Hall) sails to the rescue, not caring for the fact that strangers on Cobra Island are instantly put to death.
Ramu’s young friend Kado (Sabu) tags along – and it’s a good thing, because he’s clearly the brain of the outfit.


On Cobra Island, Naja (Montez again), Tollea evil twin sister, is holding the population under her thumb as high priestess of the cobra cult. There’s also an evil Cobra priest, that’s apparently making a nice profit out of the whole thing.
Tollea has been brought back to face her twin and restore peace and love among the islanders.

The plot, as anyone can see, is good pulp fun, good for Oriental Stories magazine (maybe not one of the top issues) – exotic locales, a forbidden island, an evil twin, a dark cult, an evil priest, the bold hero torn between two women…
The lot, in 71 Technicolor minutes.


So, why am I less than thrilled?
Because for all the color (once again, the sets, costumes and matte painting effects are wonderful), the plot is way too flimsy, and the great main set piece – the Cobra Dance, that apparently has some kind of online cult/fetish following – starts good, but ends in silliness.
The plastic cobra that “dances” with Montez is almost up to its duty, but the final “frenzy” of human sacrifices is… ah, judge for yourself…

Heels too high?
Skirt too tight?
Plastic cobra looking like a muppet?
On the plus side, you have to admit it, when Montez played “evil and perverse” she really did get it right.
And the costume’s great – if somewhat wrong for rampaging.

tumblr_me1x4gZy0o1qaun7do1_500So, a good story, great production values and excellent cast – but something is missing.
What the movie misses – but this is just my personal opinion, mind you – is probably the naivety the story requires.
There’s a sort of arch premeditation, in the development of the plot, that sort of kills the thrill.
The whole turns therefore into an eye-pleasing piece of chewing-gum, that somewhere aong the way manages to drag, despite the 71 minutes.

Interestingly enough, Cobra Woman was slated for production in 1942, hot on the heels of the success of Arabian Nights – but something went astray, and another South Seas movie, called White Savage, was distributed first, featuring the same cast.
Wait a second… White Savage?
Something tells me I’ll have to see this one.

ADDENDUM 2018: apparently someone denounced the Cobra Dance clip and had Youtube pull it down because it probably caused undue perturbations of the viewers’ morals. Or something. Sorry about that. You’ll have to make do with a poor screenshot.


  1. Chaney was billed as Lon Chaney, dropping the Jr., possibly as a way to cash in on his father’s fame. Indeed, as the titles rolled, I did a double take and prepared for… well, something different from what I got. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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