Not found in the prints that have been reconstructed into the recent restorations, the episode of the Challenger Expedition running afoul of a tribe of cannibals is naught but some still photos and a segment of the shooting script. A copy of Roy Kinnard's invaluable 'The Lost World' of Willis O’Brien: The Original Shooting Script of the 1925 Landmark Special Effects Dinosaur Film with Photographs in hand, it is this sequence which we narrate in this article. The few remaining still photos add some illustration.
The Challenger Expedition is paddling via canoe down the byways of the Amazon river basin, spying exotic creatures along the way... And at one time having a close run in with a gigantic constrictor entwined around an overhanging branch, causing Paula White to recoil in fear and poor little Jocko the monkey to enter a fit. However, one thing the Englishmen didn't see staring at them from the banks was the figure of a native bushman, stealing away in the undergrowth.
Night creeps across the South American sky and the Expedition sets up camp, with hammocks strung in the trees and a warm fire in the distance. However, there is very little comfort, for in the darkness there pounds the ominous beat of native drums. Summerlee is enthrawled as always with his collection of bettles, while Roxton, Malone, Paula, and the rest of the company listen frightfully to the beat. Only Challenger seems unafraid... His head ever titled back in disdain for all dangers and afronts. Only he could be amused by this threat.
Even poor little Jocko is once again spooked and runs into the arms of Paula. Malone is filled with sympathy for the monkey and joins with the daughter of stranded Maple White in stroking the little creature... Until their hands meet. A tense momment is shared when finally, much to Ed's chagrin, Paula slips her hand away.
"Those cursed war drums again! They have followed us for a week now!" Summerlee whispers to Malone, causing Paula to shrink into her youthful paramour. Ever looking for a condescending remark, Challenger bellows: "They are merely signal drums of the Cucuma Indians. Degraded savages - with scarcely more intelligence than the average college professor!" Summerlee rises and sputters out: "The average college professor at least has more brains than the average charlatan-" But infuriatingly, nothing phases Challenger, and the expedition leader lets out a low chuckle.
The expedition makes camp.
About 20 yards away from the near row between Challenger and Summerlee, a troupe of howling monkeys enjoying an evening drink at a watering hole is interrupted by one of the Expedition's native bearers and his dog. As the bearer fills the group's canteens, the dog bristles... He sense something on the other side of the pool. Looking around in the midst of the barking and clawing, the bearer can't see a thing, but something must be there... Even as there is no sign of life... The man slowly puts down the canteen and raises his gun, every nerve tense...
Finally an arrow flashes from the shadows, launched from the bow of the Nhambiquara, a tribe of Amazon cannibals! It strikes the bearer in the shoulder and he bolts back to camp. The dog, however, leaps into the brush, pursuing the savage.
The cannibals attack!
Over the debate of the two professors, Roxton hears something come crashing through the foliage. Grabbing Malone, they cock their guns and prepare for whatever might come... But it is the native bearer! Stumbling into camp, he collapses by the fire, where Zambo cuts off the arrow shaft with his knife. The dreaded arrowtip has barbed, which would cause more damage coming out than the arrow had going in. Roxton, examining the arrow gives the bad news: "One of the poison arrows of the Nhambiquara cannibals - the poor chap will be dead in a few minutes."
"Say, Boss, dis you say - cannibules?" asks Zambo, rolling his eyes with fear. Roxton replies: "I said cannibals, Zambo - but, I'm told, they always prefer - white meat." Zambo takes a minute to digest those words, and then much relieved, says to Roxton: "I sho' am glad to hear you speak dem words, Boss!"
Roxton and Zambo nurse the victim.
As Zambo and the white contingent minister to the dying man, Gomez, the leader of the half-breed bearers begins furtively talking to his own companions.
Meanwhile, out in a moonlit jungle clearing, the cannibal bowman bursts into a conference of his tribe. Excitedly telling them what happened, they burst to their feet and begin with a new and terrible song on their hide drums. Hearing the fresh outburst, the professors are grave with it's import, while Gomez and the half-breeds are restless. Challenger sneers: "More drum talk! These sneaking devils are telegraphing the 'good news' that they have killed one of our men!" But not letting impending disaster interfere with a quick jab, Summerlee replies: "You now admit that I am right - that they are war drums!" Challenger snorts and turns away, refusing to admit that Summerless could be right, even in the midst of such danger.
Listening to the dreaded drums, the eyes of Paula and Ed meet... Touching his arm, Paula half-jokingly asks: "If we are ever in real danger of capture, will you promise to shoot me, Ed?" Not knowing what to say, Malone can merely kiss her hand as it rests on him, and walk away. More than a little jealous, Roxton intercepts the fleeing Ed: "We'd better scout about a bit, young fellah-my-lad!" Fearful for the duo, Paula asks Challenger to go with them, to bolster their number. Agreeing, the mighty professor dissappears into the night as well.
With the three men gone, the scurrilous Gomez sees his opportunity. Mutiny - dreaded mutiny - is in the air! Gomez has all the bearers on his side, as Zambo tends to the dying man's last requests...
In the dark jungle, the three men - Challenger, Roxton, and Malone - skulk, rifles at the ready. They sneak upon a horrifying site: a cannibal wardance! In the moonlight a company of about 20 savages parade about to the beat of their drums. The brandish their great poison bows in a deadly elegant mock attack, stamping their feet, and swingly wildly too and fro. Then there is a rustle to the side... Out comes a jaguar! Malone prepares to shoot it, but Roxton stops him, pointing the to savages. Better to risk the jaguar who has not seen them than the 20 cannibals would would surely be alerted by a gunshot.
Challenger, Roxton and Malone stalk the cannibals.
Tense momments pass, but the jaguar moves on, thankfully downwind. The trio resumes their vigil of the wardance. Finally Roxton whispers to his rival for Paula's affections: "Wed better go back to the canoes - these chaps'll keep this up until daylight." Malone nods: "-and we'll be miles up river by that time!" Pulling the scientifically enthrawled Challenger away from the spectacle, they resume their path back to the camp.
The moonlit cannibal encampment.
Unbeknownst to the scouts, the canoes are already on the river, paddling furiously with the current, heading back to civlization! Only bearers are aboard... No white people, no sceintific instruements, no Zambo, but plenty of food and amunition and all the dogs. At the head of the first canoe is the villainous Gomez, spurring his men onwards.
Rushing back to camp, Challenger is the first to see the devistating scene left by the mutineers. First astonsihment flashes across his face, then red hot rage. All the hammocks are empty, save that holding the native bearer's corpse. The cooking gear as dissappeared and the fire is little but a spiraling current of smoke. On the ground, bound hand and foot by vines, is poor Zambo, rolling about. And he has sustained a grusome injury: his right arm just above the elbow has been nearly severed by a clean machette chop. Austin and Summerlee are gagged and bound to a nearby tree, while Paula is nowhere in sight. As the men are being freed, a frantic Malone can't help but cry out "PAULA!"
Freed but injured Summerlee points to the shadowy tangle of ferns, and the scouting trio immediately bound off into it. Not far they find Paula, also bound hand-and-foot and gagged, lying face down in the ferns. Clinging to her is faithful Jocko. HOlding back agonized tears, Malone gathers her up in his arms... Thank heavens! She is still conscious! With cries of thankfulness and relief, they carry her back to camp, while Challenger tends to the monkey.
Returning her to the shambled camp, Paula is placed in a hammock and freed under the watchful eye of Jocko. After receiving a sip of brandy, she attempts to fill in the story: "Poor Zambo tried to prevent them from stealing the canoes-" Malone saunters to the river's edge, where indeed there are no canoes, and the rampled mud clearly shows that they were set off downstream. Try as he might, Ed can't see a thing and finally gives up the search. Meanwhile, Austin, Roxton, and Summerlee tend to the grievous wounds of the giant negro.
The injured Zambo.
Patched up with a bandage and sling, Roxton gives it a test poke, which causes Zambo to let out a howl. Roxton grimly states: "You're a lukcy dog, Zambo - if you couldn't walk we'd have to leave you here!" Rolling his eyes again, Zambo whispers: "Oh, I can walk all right, Boss! I don' want to be lef' heah fo' a reception committee fo' no cannibules!" Impressed by the resolute man, Roxton picks up a machette and places it in Zambo's left hand, saying: "You can't shoot with your left hand, Zambo, but you can out trail - and we've got to be a dam' long way off by daybreak!"
"Yessir!" Zambo responds, adding "I dropped my gun somewhere-" Discovering his gun, Zambo hands the gun to Roxton who gives it to the able Austin. Packs made, the remaining Expedition is ready to set out again, cutting through as much trail as they can. Snaking along the river's edge, they are forced to go single-file, carrying whatever weaponry, provisions, and scientific instruments they can.
As dawn breaks over the steaming jungle, the broken camps feels the feet of the cannibal savages. In the pink and red light, they see the disturbed muds revealling a hasty canoe-launch, pointed downstream. From their gesticulating, it is evident that the savages thing they are too late... By some strange twist of fate, the mutineers save the lives of the Challenger Expedition, their cowardice convincing the natives that the whole Expedition left their territory. This tranquil morning scene ends with the cannibals gathering around the corpse in the hammock, contemplating a horrifying breakfast...