Review of “The Cult of the Cobra” (1955)

trailer from YouTube

This was this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering. We had a nice chardonnay. The moral of the story: don’t be a jerk, even when you think the other guy’s religion looks weird.

Plot:

In 1945, six U.S. airmen are about to return home from their deployment someplace in “Asia:” Sgt. Paul Able (Richard Long), Rico Nardi (David Janssen), Pete Norton (William Reynolds), Tom Markel (Marshall Thompson), Nick Hommel (James Dobson), and Carl Turner (Jack Kelly). The airmen wear what looks suspiciously to my inexpert eyes like Army insignia, and their location seems to be the Indian subcontinent, albeit with a Middle-East flavor.

While shopping in the local bazaar, the men watch a snake charmer (Leonard Strong). They even pay him $2 to hold the cobra. As he’s posing, and they’re snapping pictures, Sgt. Able asks, “Hey, have you ever heard of snakes being changed into people?”

This catches the attention of the snake charmer, especially when he hears Paul mention he’s heard of the Lamians, a secret society that worships snakes. The rest of the men don’t think much of the idea, but Paul says, “I’d give anything to see that.”

“If the sergeant means what he says,” the snake charmer says, “about giving anything, he might the chance he’s looking for.”

He asks for $100 (“there’s over $15 each!”) to show them “she who is a snake and yet a woman.” He can get them past the temple guards. “The secret meeting is at 9 o’clock.” He warns them there must be no pictures. No outsiders have even seen the ceremony. It would be fatal for them, and none too healthy for him, if they were discovered.

What could go wrong?

The Lamians sit in robes and watch a dance telling the story of the first time the cobra goddess came to the aid of the Lamians. Just as the lithe cobra/woman dancer is about the enter a basket that could not contain an adult human, Nick Hommel pulls out his camera, complete with flash. One of the Lamians (an uncredited Edward Platt) curses the interlopers: “The Cobra Goddess will avenge herself! On by one, you will die!”

In the ensuing mayhem, the snake charmer who brought in the servicemen is slain, punches are thrown, and the curtains set ablaze. Nick grabs the aforementioned basket only to find himself staring down a cobra. Our heroes escape to their Jeep. Nick is missing. No—wait! There he is. Lying in the street next to the empty basket he took. A woman walks away. Tom Markel gives chase but loses her.

In the military hospital, Nick feels much better. The docs say he should be able to ship home with his buddies in the morning. The nurse leaves his window open a couple of inches, despite the rainstorm.

Nick is found dead the next morning. At Paul’s insistence, the doctors look for and discover Nick’s corpse full of cobra venom.

But the remaining five are going home the next day. They’ll be in the States, far away from “Asia” and any problems with the snake-worshippers, right?

Two seemingly unrelated things happen. Back in New York City, one of the original airmen, Rico Nardi, goes to work at his old man’s bowling alley. While driving home one night, he dies in what looks like a terrible one-car accident.

Paul Able shares an apartment with Tom Markel. They’ve been interested in the same woman, Julia Thompson (Kathleen Hughes). Julia has just decided to marry Paul. Tom is understandably upset until he meets the beautiful woman who moves in across the hall. He ignores the oddities that arise around her: the way his dog cowers in his bed when she’s around, the way horses in the street startle when she passes by—or the way another friend dies.

Thoughts:

It was hard to like this movie despite some very cool elements. The dancers at the temple are enjoyable, particularly the snake-woman who slithers around in a way no human ought to be able. They’re only billed as The Carlssons—a married couple, Ruth and Carl. There were three dancers, however.

There is also suspense. The viewer knows something is hinky with the neighbor long before any of the characters suspect a thing. The special effects are less than extraordinary, but they don’t have to be overwhelming for a movie made in 1955—just don’t show me see the strings, okay?

The airmen are jerks, though hardly deserving of death. They might be forgiven for sneaking into a “secret meeting at 9 o’clock,” but taking a picture, then burning the place down is overkill. The woman across the hall, who uses the name Lisa Moya (Faith Domergue), at first refuses Tom’s advances. He pursues her in ways that border on stalking.

Does Lisa grow a (long, very flexible) backbone and slap him upside the head, telling him that no means no? Nah. She starts falling for him and becomes…confused. Her goal is to kill him and his friends. Sadly, she has no choice in the matter. On the other hand, she’s just a helpless cobra goddess, and like all females, powerless before a commanding male presence. Never mind that that male presence is in part responsible for the destruction of the temple back home and threatened people she traditionally protects…

There were fun moments in this movie. The car crash that took out poor old Rico was spectacular and must have left someone walking funny. The threatening shadow of the cobra as she slinks up on her next victim is nice and creepy.

I really wanted to like this movie, but the main characters were unlikeable, even if I didn’t necessarily want to see them all picked off by a snake. How about paying for that temple you ruined, dudes?

I could not find this one as a free download.


Title: The Cult of the Cobra (1955)

Directed by
Francis D. Lyon

Writing Credits
Jerry Davis…(story)
Jerry Davis…(screenplay) and
Cecil Maiden…(screenplay) and
Richard Collins…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Faith Domergue…Lisa Moya
Richard Long…Paul Able
Marshall Thompson…Tom Markel
Kathleen Hughes…Julia Thompson
William Reynolds…Pete Norton

Released: August 5, 1955
Length: 1 hour, 22 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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