Saturday, June 30, 2012
Tarzan's New York Adventure - 1942
Tarzan's New York Adventure is the final MGM Tarzan movie. After a decade with the character, the studio and the cast seem to have wearied of the project. This last movie starring Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane was something of an appeasement to her since it allowed her to dress in civilized up town fashion for much of the movie. The formula for the stories was well established by this time and can be seen here despite the abrupt changes of setting.
The Tarzan clan (Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Johnny Sheffield) is again living happily on the little Eden hidden atop the mysterious Mutia Escarpment when a plane load of lion hunters arrives. The crew is made up of Manchester Montford (Chill Wills), a well-meaning circus man who is kindly to the Tarzan family by and large, Jimmy Shields (Paul Kelly) the pilot of the expediton, also a man of seeming integrity, and Buck Rand (Charles Bickford) the obligatory villain of this story. The trio soon encounter Tarzan who tells them to get out immediately. They ignore him and go about gathering up lions and such for the circus back in America. Boy meanwhile ignores Tarzan's warnings and goes to see the plane which fascinates him. The men see what magnificent control over elephants Boy has and want him for their show, at least Rand does, but Shields says no. Boy saves Montford from a deadly lion and then the Jacuni tribe appears to kill the expedition. Running for their lives the men make for the plane and Boy yells for Tarzan. Tarzan and Jane swing to his rescue but are seemingly killed when they fall together from the trees into a field which is set afire. Boy and the men leave the escarpment for civilization. Tarzan and Jane recover and soon enough head off for civilization to get Boy back. They find that thanks to gold they can maneuver quite well in society and led by Jane the duo head off to New York to get their son back. After a confrontation with Rand and his partner Colonel Ralph Sergeant (Cy Kendall) the two are forced to go to court to try and establish their right to Boy. The hearing goes well until Jane admits Boy was found and is not their natural son and a frustrated Tarzan violently puts an end to the proceedings. Jane admits that her civilized way has failed and Tarzan then leaves police custody and leads them on a wild jaunt across the face of New York City, eventually diving off the Brooklyn Bridge. He heads to the circus to find and Boy and confront the villains. Meanwhile Jane assisted by Jimmy Shields and his girl Connie Beach head to the circus too. Montford tries to keep the villains from making off with Boy but is killed for his trouble. Tarzan arrives and after a furious battle in which he enlists the aid of the circus elephants the villains are seemingly killed in a car crash. The story ends quickly as the court ignores Tarzan's escapades for the most part and the movie closes with the happy Tarzan family again swimming in their jungle paradise one more time.
This is one of the better Tarzan movies as putting the Ape Man into a new environment adds some variety and better establishes his unusual nature. Weissmuller also seems to play Tarzan a tad more sophisticated in this one, though sadly he stills speaks in that miserable broken English. Weissmuller's Tarzan is different in the MGM movies. In the first two he's quite the raw native, a man full of passion and energy, but in the later ones he becomes more childlike. In all of them though, he demonstrates a keen understanding of human nature and is able to size up the people he meets quickly.
This movie alas has quite a bit of Cheetah who mugs for the camera in typical style. There is an extended scene where Cheetah plays with make-up and whatnot. It's perhaps good for the kiddies, but I weary of this stuff quite quickly. This movie also has some more racial stereotypes as Mantan Moreland has a few scenes playing up the black man as naive idiot. Tarzan also calls a porter a "Jacuni", making it seem that he sees all black men as the same. Given his acute understanding of people, this is a distressing slip.
Chill Wills as Montford is a great character who doesn't get enough to do. As with all the characters who seem to show sympathy for the Tarzan family, he gets killed, so justifying the demise of the villains. It's a predictable part of the show, but I hoped this time it might be altered a bit.
The definite highlight of this movie is Tarzan's rampage across New York. Climbing buildings is fun and I especially liked when he threw the lawyer (Charles Lane) into the jury box. There is a ferocious quality in Weissmuller's portrayal here that is effective.
But sadly too, Weissmuller is at the limit of his physical skills. He looks great in his tailored suit, but in the just the loin cloth he is beginning to lose his youthful trim.
This is a very entertaining final MGM effort. RKO studios will take over the franchise and keep Weissmuller and Sheffield aboard, but O'Sullivan says good-bye in this one. It's been a wild and interesting decade of jungle adventures indeed.