Friday, January 24, 2014
Tarzan's Greatest Adventures!
Tarzan's Greatest Adventure from 1958 is a real turning point in the series and held is very high esteem by most fans including yours truly. This in fact can safely be argued to be perhaps the single best Tarzan movie ever made though I have high regard for Tarzan and his Mate and some of the silents. Gordon Scott takes his fifth turn as the Ape Man and has grown very comfortable in the loincloth by this time. And I'd argue his acting skills have significantly improved since his first Tarzan effort in which he seemed not always clear of his purpose. The fact he's allowed to speak in full-blown grammatically-correct sentences sure doesn't hurt his ability to communicate a highly serious purpose. The location shooting in Kenya didn't hurt the legitimate atmosphere of this one either.
The plot is a simple one, but one which allows for tons of action. Slade (Anthony Quayle) is an old nemesis of Tarzan's and he has gathered a gang of hoodlums and creeps to exploit a potential diamond mine he's discovered. To do that they need dynamite and to get that they callously murder two men, one of whom knows Slade and manages to communicate that. That info puts the Ape Man on their trail and its with a grim and lethal purpose he starts his trek. Tumbling along is a female airplane pilot named Angie (Sara Shane) who crashes into his path and ends up tagging along, though for the first time ever I feel certain he'd leave her behind if she should prove too much trouble. Meanwhile Slade and his gang made up of his girlfriend Toni (Scilla Gabel) and a German named Krueger (played by The Night of Demon warlock Nial McGinnis), an Irishman named O'Banion (played by an up and comer named Sean Connery), and a guy named Dino (played by the wonderfully named Al Mulock) slither up the river showing off their petty cruelties at every opportunity. Tarzan tries to intercept them a few times with mostly deadly results. The climax of this wonderful and deadly combat is one of the great moments in Tarzan cinema history. Let's just say, that finally at last someone remembers why Tarzan yells.
The whole tone of this movie is stunner, with Gordon Scott unafraid to get his hair mussed, hair by the way which seems far less cleverly done than in movies past. It works. The gang he chases is a vile and debauched bunch who destroy themselves as quickly as does the Ape Man, suggesting something I supposed about the human nature. Tarzan here is grim and even says in so many words that he is part of the unforgiving nature of the jungle and what he does seems to be apart from the judgements of mankind and simply the result of what the natural world demands. For the first time in a long long time Tarzan seems savage.
Tarzan the Magnificent from 1960 alas takes a step back. This one clearly meant to follow in the same vein makes a brutal mistake and weighs down the Ape Man with too many civilized folks to care for, forcing him to remain more than man than the savage. In fact oddly while his mission in the previous movie seemed to be pure vengeance, in this one he's operating as an agent of the law, of civilization itself. Maybe they thought they went too far the last time, but sadly by returning him to his former more restrained self, he loses something which makes the character truly magnetic.
His opponent in this one is a vile robber and killer named Coy Banton (played by Jock Mahoney, the guy destined to be the very next Tarzan oddly enough). Tarzan must take Banton to justice and hot on his trail is the Banton family led by the murderous patriarch Abel (John Carradine) and brothers Martin (Al Mulock again), Johnny (Gary Cockrell), and Ethan (Ron MacDonnell). Tarzan is assisted and hindered by a veritable gang of tourists stranded in the jungle seeking a way out. Ames is a blowhard (played by Lionel Jeffries) and his beautiful but unhappy wife Fay (Betta St.John returning from her much more benign role in Tarzan and the Lost Safari) don't help much. Of more assistance are Conway (Charles Tingwell) and Lori (Alexandra Stewart), but only barely. Tate (Earl Cameron) is the most useful andthe token black man in this story, but times were changing hopefully.
The plot reminded me somewhat of the Western classic Stagecoach, a sundry gang of folks with personal issues thrown into a dangerous situation. There's also a bit of High Noon in the mix as well, but as I said that puts Tarzan in the Will Kane role - the defender of the laws of man, not what the last film suggested he might be. Tarzan never loses control really in this one, never becomes less than the stout-hearted brave citizen. That's a great hero, but perhaps not Tarzan who in pure terms plays by different rules.
Whatever the case, these two movies mark the end of Gordon Scott's term as "King of the Jungle". He soon headed overseas to makes some pretty remarkable sword and sandal epics, and got paid well for doing it.
With this post I'm going to get onto other subjects for awhile. The last two weeks plus of Tarzan-mania have been a blast, but other things require attention. Thanks to all who have stuck it out as I bungled in the jungle.