Among seasoned fans of awful Italian films, the title Jungle Master (aka Karzan, il favoloso uomo della jungla) is up there pretty much on a level of it’s own. A cheery Tarzan rip-off, filmed in 1972 by hackmeister extraordinaire Demofilo Findani, it’s a quite mind-boggling mix of the inane, the incompetent and the ill-judged, all put together with a leftfield sensibility and a not inconsiderable bit of verve. In other words, it’s quite incredible fun. But… two mysteries have long existed about this film… the identity of actors Crazy Matthews (who plays the loony, ill-fated guide ‘Crazy’) and Johnny Kissmuller jr (!!!), who plays, achem, Karzan.
Some time ago, ‘Crazy Matthews’ was actually revealed to be Attilio Severini, a long-serving stuntman who must have appeared in hundreds of films throughout the 60s and 70s. But Johnny Kissmuller jr? Who the hell was he? Well, the only clues as to his identity seemed to be his generally buffed appearence and a complete absence of acting skills.
In an interview shortly before his death, Demofilo Fidani revealed more:
The lead actor was a musleman, but he was bad, disagreeable. I didn’t like him, he was a funny Tarzan, his face made me laugh and he never did anything. I gave him a psseudonym… He was good at doing the stunts and swimming, but… that face.
Now, however, the true identity of the elusive Mr Kissmuller can be revealed. Step forward… Armando Bottin!
Now, not many people have heard of Armando Bottin, but I can guarantee that anybody who watches films from the golden age of Italian cinema will have seen him, albeit briefly, at some point. He’s in virtually all films by Gianfranco Parolini (all the Sabata‘s, for instance), a lot of Fernando Di Leo movies and many, many more. Most often, you’ll just notice his face before he gets smashed across the head by a bar-stool / bottle / barrell of beer / etc, and he seems to appear almost entirely in mass-brawls.
But, complete with dyed blonde hair, he seems to have had this one grasp at emulating stuntman-turned-actor Fabio Testi and becoming a bonafide movie star. Testi, by the way, was originally slated to be the protagonist of Jungle Master, before being offered the chance to feature in De Sica’s Garden of the Finzi-Continis instead (the choice between working with Fidani and De Sica must have been a tough one…) Unfortunately for Bottin, things didn’t work out quite as well.
But who was Sr Bottin? Well, according to Wikipedia, he was born in 1942 in Anzio. He soon found success as an amateur medium weight boxer, and like many acrobats of the time soon drifted into being a stuntman. This was during the heyday of the peplum and, along with his fellow Anzionian Giovanni Cinafriglia and his brother Lucinao Bottin (who’s even less known than Armando), he soon began finding regular work.
During the seventies, he married, and moved – rather bizarrely – to Romford, in England, where he managed gyms and swimming pools until his death in 1989.