George Ryon (Brad Harris) has been tried and convicted of a crime he did not commit, sent down on a death sentence after his ex-lover contrived to have him arrested but unable to produce the vital evidence that would have seen him exonerated. So it is now that he is stuck in East Africa, handcuffed to a fellow prisoner as they both prepare for their final journey by train to their place of execution, but when they board the carriage, they both grab an opportunity for freedom and soon are hightailing it through the jungle to get away from the guards. Jumping one to grab his machete and gun, because Ryon lets him live the man calls off the search, calling it too dangerous, and now Ryon has a new home...
With a title like Zambo, you might have expected this to be an Italian rip-off of Rambo: First Blood Part II, but this was not only made over ten years before that sequel was concocted, it was made the year David Morell's novel First Blood was published, so they would have to have been moving pretty fast for a cash-in. No, what this was inspired by was a hero who had been around since the start of the twentieth century, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, Edgar Rice Burroughs' athletic apeman hero, only as you'll have noted from the opening Zambo enjoyed a very different origin story, one which saw him escaping a wrongful accusation, though that was not to make up the bulk of the plot.
Ryon is renamed Zambo once he has ensconced himself in the jungle, rather improbably setting himself up as friend to the wildlife and the local tribes while getting rid of his prison unform to don a rather daring animal skin minidress, which is odd because actor Brad Harris had not been shy of whipping off his top for his muscleman roles up to that point, and the stitched-together costume he sported here didn't do him many favours, more cavewoman's attire than Tarzan's loincloth. You might observe the production was trying to avoid stepping on any copyright toes, but there were going to be few watching who would not recognise the allusions to the famed Lord of the Jungle, and calling Zambo King of the Jungle (actually Zambo, il dominatore della foresta originally) wasn't going to fool anybody.
It wasn't as if the newer backstory was any improvement, as even the script pretty much drops it except when necessary to keep Zambo in the same location in favour of introducing an expedition to find a lost temple or somesuch. Naturally this excursion includes the adventurer's very own Jane Porter, Grace Woodworth (Gisela Hahn), who is the daughter of Professor Woodworth (Attilio Dottesio), the archaeologist at the head of the endeavour, so once they meet Zambo is offering his services to see that the party is kept safe. But who is going to keep him safe after the problem arises that one explorer, Juanez (Raf Baldassarre), wishes to take all the treasure they find for himself, and with any luck manage to bring Zambo back to civilisation where he will have to face his fate.
This was the sort of film where if the goodie and the baddie are having a fistfight in the Great Outdoors, soon after blows are exchanged a cliff will appear from nowhere for them to edge ever nearer to, all for tension and suspense's sake. So old time serial stuff, basically, competently handled by director Bitto Albertini and not as sleazy as he could sometimes be: witness his biggest movie, the softcore project that launched Laura Gemser into cult stardom with Black Emanuelle, also shot extensively in Africa though with considerably fewer fisticuffs next to vertiginous drops involved. Those regions this was captured for a spot of exoticism looked nice enough, and it appeared Albertini never found an animal he did not want to plonk into his work in this case though when it came to finding a gorilla he was rather stuck and resorted to a man in an ape suit which I'm sure you'll agree was never less than one hundred percent convincing. Reminiscent of leafing through a pulp paperback brought to life, Zambo failed to create much of an impact when there was still Tarzan around. Music by Marcello Giombini.