Directed by Clyde E. Elliott
Written by Clyde E. Elliott (story), Robert E. Welsh (screenplay)
Starring: Colin Tapley, Mamo Clark, Herbert de Souza
Produced by Paramount Pictures
Year of release: 1938
Singapore Harbour Board – Tanjong Pagar Wharf?
Tanjong Pagar Railway Station
Reformatory Road (Clementi Road)
The ‘Gap’ (South Buona Vista Road, Kent Ridge)
AMERICAN FILM DIRECTOR Clyde Elliott was not new to Singapore. Before Booloo, he had already conceived exotic jungle escapades into the Malayan jungles with Frank Buck’s Bring ‘Em Back Alive (1932) and Devil Tiger (1934). Singapore had featured prominently in these fiction films as a port-of-call that adventurers from the West used as a gateway or base to make hunting exploits in Malaya. Singapore’s menageries and rural spots (usually just off the main roads) also acted as stand-ins for the dense primary forests of the peninsula up north. And Booloo was not much different from its predecessors.
In the film, British officer Robert Rogers (Colin Tapley) is bound for Malaya to investigate a controversial claim that his father had made when he was still alive. He had written a book about it, describing what his late father had witnessed in Malaya – Sakai tribe rituals involving an all-powerful white tiger and the sacrifice of ‘native girls’. Disbelieving elders in the Imperial Exploration Society of London denounced Roger’s book, and casted aspersions on his father’s credibility. So, he hooked up with Herbert de Souza the Singapore-based animal dealer – he was a real person and appeared as himself in the film – for an expedition into the Malayan jungles to prove to his detractors that ‘Booloo’ the white tiger really exists. (The name ‘Booloo’ is based on the Malay word ‘bulu’ which means ‘fur’ or ‘feathers’.)
Robert Rogers arrives in Singapore on a steamship (he might have disembarked at the Tanjong Pagar section of the Singapore Harbour Board), and finds time for a little amusement with coin-divers at the wharf. He is then packed off in a rickshaw to the nearby Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to catch the FMSR (Federated Malay States Railways) night mail train into Malaya. Substantial screen time was dedicated to Rogers and Herbert de Souza’s arrival at the station. We see them enter the complex via a ‘1st and 2nd Class Entrance’, have their tickets checked, and locate their train car on the platform. There’s a certain documentary aspect to this sequence, especially when the camera looks away from the actors and focuses (to our delight) on the interiors of the train, its passengers, the clock at the platform and the standard procedures that station staff execute. A few moments later, the train finally departs, the protagonists leaving Singapore behind – just like how the last KTM train (bound for Kuala Lumpur) pulled out of the same station and platform 73 years later, never to return.
1. Movie Scenes Filmed At Singapore Station. The Straits Times, 13 September 1937, p. 12.
2. Special Free Press Pictures (“Booloo” film unit on location by the Reformatory Road, Singapore, by the “Gap”). The Singapore Free Press, 24 November 1937, p. 6.
3. Malayans in London Think “Booloo” Is Disappointing. The Singapore Free Press, 22 August 1938, p. 3.
4. You can buy a mouse or a mongoose from Mr. de Souza. The Singapore Free Press, 27 April 1953, p. 8.
5. If you are looking for a pet rhino here’s the man (Herbert de Souza). The Singapore Free Press, 16 September 1959, p. 8.
© 1938 Paramount Pictures
Federated Malay States. Survey Department, Singapore and Johore, National Library of Australia, MAP G8040 1935. [http://nla.gov.au/nla.map-vn382576]
© 2014 Toh Hun Ping