Friday, January 10, 2014

Tarzan Likes Mike!

Best Tarzan movie poster ever!
Mike Henry's turn as Tarzan in the movie Tarzan and the Valley of Gold has long been reported as quite good. Consequently I've long wanted to see this particular Tarzan movie which according to many has a distinct James Bond vibe to it. That as it turns out is quite true. The beginning of the movie reminded me a lot of the beginning of Dr. No as Tarzan arrives in a foreign airport and gets waylaid by a bogus driver who then tries to kill him. The results are essentially the same though Tarzan's methods are a great deal more dramatic than Bond's. After that though, the Bond aspects recede and a dang good Tarzan adventure unfolds. Motivated by the death of his friend Tarzan quickly dons the traditional loincloth and conveniently finds both a chimp and a lion to accompany him into the Mexican wilderness in search of a small boy who reportedly knows how to find a lost city of gold. It's the very stuff of classic Burroughs adventures but with a vivid modern gloss. The action is rugged, again suggestive of the more realistic and brutal Bond action sequences. And Tarzan is perfectly able to talk and function as civilized man when he chooses. That double nature is what makes Tarzan such a rich character and it sadly is what the films all but ignored for decades.

My favorite scene comes early when Tarzan (still in suit and tie) finds himself being shot at in a bullfighting arena and ends up killing his enemy with a giant Coca-Cola prop. It's weirdly humorous and brutal at the same time in a very 007 sort of way. Take a look.  

Fritz Lieber wrote the novelization for this splendid saga, and some day I'd love to read it.Why it's never been reprinted is frankly a mystery with so much grand Tarzan material becoming available almost every day. 

Sadly none of the three things mentioned on this poster happen.
Sadly of somewhat lesser interest are the two sequels in the Mike Henry Tarzan canon. Tarzan and the Great River and Tarzan and the Jungle Boy were essentially shot back-to-back in Brazil, which country served as setting for the first and pretended to be Africa for the second. Neither flick lives up the promise of the first movie, though we do see Tarzan in a suit in the early stages of the first movie.

In Tarzan's trip up the Amazon he confronts a rather formidable Jaguar-based death cult which looks pretty smashing at times, but unfortunately does very little besides die in droves. The movie is bogged down pretty early by Tarzan joining up with river boat captain Jan Murray and his kid sidekick Pepe (played by Manuel Padilla from the first movie) and their antics on the really slowly moving boat form the core of the movie. It's pretty much a drag after that with too much animal comedy (something blissfully almost missing from the earlier Henry effort) and essentially losing track of its own plot when they stumble across a beautiful woman doctor upriver. Eventually Tarzan goes toe-to-toe with the arch-villain played by Rafer Johnson, and it's a pretty good battle in a pretty dramatic setting, but sadly it's too little to late to save the movie.

No promises made on this one.
Even worse is the last Henry effort which squanders the character in a tedious search for a lost boy who has like Tarzan himself gone somewhat feral. There are the obligatory western journalists who contact the Apeman, but the story meanders and lopes through the jungle with little momentum. Rafer Johnson is on hand to play a pretty much identical villain while his brother Ed shows up to play is "good" brother. The contest between them is really the only true friction in this tiresome effort.

So it seems that Mike Henry sued the producers of these three flicks after Cheeta bit him. The Cheeta in these movies did seem to be a rather old and grumpy chimp. So Henry passed on the chance to become TV's Tarzan, a role that went to excellent Ron Ely, one of the most visually convincing Tarzan's ever on screen.

Rip Off


  1. Ron Ely one of the most realistic Tarzans in my opinion great series. remember the one where he is hunted and bombed in the river making him deaf temporarily great stuff!

  2. I think Mike Henry made a great Tarzan.
    One of the closest to ERB's in looks and mannerisms.
    Not an "Umgowa" to be heard!


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