Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Tarzan Escapes - 1936!

This third entry in the MGM Tarzan series is a real whopper. As it turns out, by 1936 the censor's axe had fallen and our scantily-clad heroine was much less au-naturale in this flick. Jane went from near-naked vixen to prim domestic in one movie. It's a shame really. Another thing knocked out of this movie was any real sense of danger or adventure. That's even more a shame. 

The story gets underway when two civilized types (Benita Hume and William Henry) drop off the boat in Africa and announce they are Jane's cousins and if they don't find her everyone will miss out on a big inheritance. A great white hunter type named Captain Fry (John Buckler who was tragically killed before the movie even came out) takes them out on safari to the dangerous Mutia Escarpment but seems to have plans all his own and takes a giant metal cage to make them happen. The way to the Mutia Escarpment seems different this time as they go by boat most of the way, but they hit land just in time to make good use of some stock footage of the Gaboni attack from last movie. A quick climb (with the obligatory fall-to-their-doom deaths of a few no-name bearers) and they are on top and soon enough encounter Tarzan and his bride (Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan). They are taken to the pair's new digs, an outstanding tree house which Gilligan himself would find comfortable powered by a gang of animals in a pre-Flinstonian manner. 

The tone shifts when Jane plans to leave with her relatives and Tarzan goes off in a snit. The safari makes for home, but Fry plots to trap the Ape Man and show him off at a profit in some way. He kills Rawlins (Herbert Mundin), a colleague who has come to respect Tarzan and soon enough captures the Ape Man who is still glum that Jane is leaving. But Fry's plans go awry when the local native chief double-crosses him and all of the safari are captured and soon to be killed by being split in twain on two giant trees. Tarzan though has managed with the help of two elephants to escape the cage (hence the name of the movie) and he saves the lot of them by leading the whole safari into a cave which is bubbling with sulferous intensity. Fry is forced by Tarzan to stay there and soon enough dies and the cousins say that Jane really didn't need to come after all, so she and Tarzan are happily reunited as the movie comes to an end.

It's a pretty tired plot with lots of comedy relief from Cheeta and the doomed henchman Rawlins. There is quite a bit of footage reused from the last movie including some of Cheetah's romp through the jungle. I find these things tiresome, but I guess the kiddie audience of the time was intrigued. And the kiddie audience was of most importance as this movie was largely gutted to spare the little darlings from a scare. 

Famously, the original story here was smashed and put backed together many times because the original tale was deemed too scary, since it had some awesome cave bats which attacked the party. A lot of money was apparently spent on this sequence and then it was cut out, and so far the footage has remained lost. There are stills and the original story can be read in a Big Little Book which came out in connection with the movie. Here's a link to read the text of the original. All in all, I'd have to give Tarzan Escapes a good grade for acting, but alas it falls well short on story and cohesiveness. More's the pity. 

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Monday, May 16, 2022

The New Adventures Of Tarzan - 1935!

I've long read that Herman Brix was arguably the most accurate Tarzan on screen, and while from the stills and things I'd seen he sure looked the part, it wasn't until he spoke in normal unbroken English that I'd tend to agree. While Ron Ely is my favorite Tarzan, I must say that Brix does a magnificent job portraying the Ape Man, though his acting is suspect he's very earnest about the whole thing. He's perfect physically and apparently did many of his own stunts in this movie, and it shows. The stunts are pretty good too, especially a fight with a lion. It's clearly not Brix in this scene but it's the most rugged such scene I've encountered, it really looked like the lion was trying to gnaw on the guy. Brix jumping around in the trees is really convincing. Great stuff. 

The New Adventures of Tarzan, a serial from 1935 is pretty basic actually in terms of plot. There's an idol that holds the secret to riches and a formula for a ghastly explosive. It's hidden in the Guatemalan jungle and Tarzan and his allies Major Martling and Ulla Vale along with some guy named George for comedy relief go to Guatemala to get this "Green Goddess" and to rescue Paul D'Arnot, Tarzan's friend. They do the latter pretty quickly but keeping hold of the statue is tougher and despite its pretty hefty mass and weight the thing gets hauled all over the place by both sides. There's savage ancient culture that wants to sacrifice someone every few chapters and some spies who serve as nice villains for the piece. It's not a perfect story, but it's a pretty good one, and has that solid Tarzan feel to it. That's doubtless because of ERB's direct input in this production. 

The big drawback on this is the sound which on my DVD was pretty terrible in places, but it's not like this is Shakespeare, so missing a line here and there is not so critical. Apparently, the sound of the movie was bad from the get-go and there's even an apology in the print to say it was the environment of shooting. The action is on display and there's lots of it. The music is often absent from this story, and when there is music it's often a series of peculiar tones which get more effective as the story unfolds. The climax on the story is stupendous, but the final chapter is an odd one, and that's all I'll say. 

The serial was cut up into two feature films, one called The New Adventures of Tarzan and the sequel Tarzan and the Green Goddess. If you like Tarzan at all, you'll probably like this story and for the cheap prices this can be had at, it's a bargain regardless. Highly recommended. 

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Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Sunday Funnies - Tarzan And The Adventurers!

Tarzan and the Adventurers from Titan Books wraps up their run of Burne Hogarth Tarzan of the Apes comic strips. These strips are from Hogarth's second tour of duty on the strip from 1947 until 1950. In that time Hogarth drew Sunday color strips with scripts from Rob Thompson and James Freeman. His Sunday run narrative is completed in this collection by a few strips from Bob Lubbers who picked up the Tarzan strip from Hogarth. Hogarth also worked on the daily strips, first as a consultant for artists like Dan Barry, Nick Cardy and others. Later still he scripted a few adventures with art by Bob Lubbers. Of note too is that the Sunday pages here are presented in a half-page format which was dictated to the creators due to shifts in the needs of newspapers after the war years had diminished some interest in the Sunday adventures. 

On the Sunday pages here are most of the iconic images I associate with Hogarth's run on the character. He draws the Ape Men as a sleek athlete with grim dark eyes and jet-black hair. The strip is very much about the physicality of Tarzan and given the limits of the times must've come across as quite alluring in many ways. 

As usual Tarzan deals with treacherous white hunters who in the story "Tarzan and the Adventurers" stir up trouble among the natives. Tarzan evades one deadly trap after another as he attempts to stop these men from stealing a hidden submerged treasure. Later in "Tarzan and the Wild Game Hunter" he runs across jungle novices who don't realize the full dangers they are confronting in the wild. 

In the daily strips we begin with the lengthy "Tarzan at the Earth's Core". This was the work primarily of Thompson and Barry with Hogarth giving guidance in the early stages. This is a strange Tarzan tale as much of it focuses on a retelling of At the Earth's Core and the adventures of David Innes in Pellucidar. Tarzan agrees to go to Pellucidar with Jason Gridley and others. They find the hidden territory in the middle of the Earth but are quickly separated. The story goes many days if not weeks without a sign of Tarzan, a strange approach. 

Then we jump ahead a few years to two daily storylines written by Hogarth and drawn by others. "Tarzan and Hard-Luck Harrigan" features art by Nick Cardy and focuses on an old-timer who requires Tarzan's assistance when he fall into the clutches of a gang of bandits. Bob Lubbers draws "Attack of the Apes" which reveals a deadly scheme to turn men and apes against each other when a villain disguises himself as an ape. Tarzan soon clears this mess up. And that abruptly is a wrap on the work of Burne Hogarth on the Lord of the Jungle...with two exceptions. Those have to wait a few decades. More on that next week. 

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Saturday, May 14, 2022

Tarzan - The Beckoning!

Back in those halcyon days of the "Hot" 90's when superheroes were popping up in comic bookstores like so many mushrooms, tasty but alas very much alike, there came the occasional different kind of comic book experience. And from Malibu by way of Sweden came some very different takes on Tarzan of the Apes. Sadly in America ERB's Ape Man is perceived too much through the movie camera lens and much of the background depth of the myriad world's Burroughs created are lost. In Tarzan - The Beckoning by artist and writer Tom Yeates with assist from Danish writer and editor Henning Kure, we get a story about Tarzan that challenges both expectations about the Ape Man and his lovely bride Jane.

This series was first published by Malibu Comics, made famous as the launching platform for Image Comics. In collaboration with the Danes, Malibu brought out several fascinating Tarzan stories, all rich with mythology and fresh exciting takes on the classic Jungle Lord. There was a trilogy by Henning Kure and Peter Snejbjerg called Tarzan - Love, Lies and the Lost City and another by Marc Hempel and Neil Vokes called Tarzan the Warrior. The third and most impressive was Tarzan - The Beckoning which ran a lusty seven issues, all seven of which were gathered up by Dark Horse some years ago. The others deserve a new audience as well. 

The story begins with Tarzan and Jane in San Francisco where they are living comfortably very long lives. Tarzan is at least one hundred years old and still vital, and we learn why before this story is over. Jane too is still young as well. The two are fighting to end the ivory trade which is exterminating the elephants of Africa. Tarzan for his part fights the fight with his usual direct methods. But he is hampered in his struggle by strange dreams which cause him to revert to his most savage nature. 

The powers that be decide that Tarzan must die after he destroys a particularly rich shipment of ivory. For him these tusks are parts of his friends and he'd rather see them burned and sunk to the bottom of the sea than sold. He is targeted by foes both old and new, foes who don't really know the true nature of the man they are targeting. 

He leaves Jane in California and heads to Africa but in a brutal sequence his plane is shot down with all its many passengers. This series as full of fantasy elements as it is still has a shocking realism to it thanks to Yeates remarkable art. He draws figures which feel real. Needless to say Tarzan survives the savage attack. In classic ERB tradition he washes up on the shore near his old cabin in which he was born. We get bits and pieces of his "origin" as the series proceeds. 

His enemies, thinking they have killed him seek to end the threat of the Waziri who also fight to save the elephants. Tarzan is key to turning back a savage helicopter raid the fabulous Waziri village. Death is meted out on all sides as the primitive struggles against the weapons of the modern deadly world. 

But there is still the mystery of Tarzan's dreams and we discover that the same man who give Tarzan his long life now is invading his dreams. That man, called Loc the Trickster, has also taken Jane captive when she came to Africa hearing of Tarzan's seeming demise but hoping for the best. Loc needs Jane to get him into a strange valley where the secret of long life resides. Again in classic ERB style Jane has lost her memory. 

Followed by the aged son of an old enemy Tarzan does to the ancient valley and battles savages there who descend from Atlantis. The culture he seeks is older still and dedicated to peace. Jane for her part escapes her captor and survives thanks to her instincts and training and while still not knowing her name becomes a savage jungle woman of the most attractive variety. Yeates is at his best when he renders Jane, she's exceedingly sexy but still very much a realistic if somewhat idealized woman. 

Without give too much away the saga concludes in typical ERB form with a somewhat happy ending for most. For those who like the literary Tarzan this series is a real treat, both modern but still evoking those classic ERB themes. Tom Yeates draws a Tarzan I can relate to. He's idealized but somehow of still human proportions --he feels real. The dreams in this storyline are rendered in a looser style and that makes the story telling much clearer than it might've been under less capable hands. Over a hundred years ago ERB created his idealized noble savage in an Africa mostly myth and countless lost civilizations. But in an Africa which is much better known, there is still room for magic and monsters, and most importantly there is still room for Tarzan.

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Friday, May 13, 2022

Tarzan And His Mate -1934!

Tarzan and his Mate
is the sequel to the quite successful MGM Tarzan the Ape Man from two years before. There is a distinct change in the level of action in this one, as the spectacle (and the budget) have been greatly increased. 

The story picks up one year after the events of the last flick and Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) is still running the trading store operated in partnership with Jane Parker's late father. He though still has plans to return to the Mutia Escarpment with a large safari and gather up much of the ivory from the "Elephants' Graveyard" discovered in the previous movie. He calls in a school chum named Martin Arlington (Paul Cavanaugh) who is a bit of a cad with the ladies. These two are thwarted when Harry's map is stolen by two white hunters named Pierce and Van Ness. A quick safari finds the two thieves dead, the map gone, and the whole group is then attacked by the murderous Gaboni tribe and driven to the foot of the Mutia Escarpment. The survivors head up the cliff but are attacked by ferocious apes but are saved when Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) arrive. The two hunters are met with kindness, but Martin quickly begins to eye the lovely Jane. Tarzan agrees to take them to the graveyard but reneges when he learns they want to take the ivory. Martin then critically wounds an elephant, and the safari follows it to the site, but they are stopped when Tarzan and vast herd of elephants appear. Jane stops the battle when Martin and Harry agree to leave empty handed. They spend the night at the graveyard, but the next morning Martin shoots an unsuspecting Tarzan and tells Jane he was killed by a crocodile. The safari loads up with ivory again and heads out only to stopped by the native tribe named "The Men Who Eat Lions". These ferocious tribesmen kill the bearers and trap the rest in a cave and call upon a great herd of lions to kill them. Harry sacrifices himself to save his top bearer and Martin is killed by a lion. But Tarzan who has been nursed by the apes shows up and saves Jane and calls down a great herd of elephants to rout the ferocious lions. The two ride off into the sunset, rejoined in their jungle Eden.

The first thing you notice about this movie is the greater sense of scale. The battles are huge, much larger than before and the safari is made up of very large groups of men. There is a real sense of the scope of a Burroughs novel in this one, despite of course this story having little to do with the details of any of the novels themselves. Jane and Tarzan are living an idyllic life in the trees, making love and catering to one another surrounded by wild animals of all types. Tarzan's job seems mostly to feed his wife, make love to her, and save her from all sorts of critters. He saves her in this movie from a lion, a rhino, and a crocodile. All the battles are real showstoppers with great energy and by and large convincing effects (if you don't look too closely). Cheeta again shows up to ramble around the jungle, but this time we are specifically told that this is the scion of the original Cheeta from the last movie who has gotten quite large. The original sacrifices himself to save Jane from the rhino. As in the first movie, Cheeta stops the narrative when the director feels the need to follow the chimp's migration through the jungle. I get the need to feed the young audience, but I find Cheeta to be a pain by and large. 

This movie contains the notorious nude swimming scenes which are quite lovely. Jane and Tarzan are both wearing very little through most of this movie, a fact heightened by Jane changing into civilized wear off and on through the tale. Their nakedness is part of the allure I'm sure, and this scene, removed from later prints of the movie is an elegant water ballet. There is a great deal of charm in this movie, and I appreciate how it picks up the story so directly from the one a few years earlier. It limits the need for exposition. Harry Holt is changed only in that for some reason he and Jane are now old friends from England, whereas in the first one they met for the first time. It's clearly a change meant to focus on Jane's choice to stay in the jungle or return to her former life, something Harry wants desperately since he loves her. His death closes that door. You have to feel sorry for the native bearers in these movies. In both films so far all of them have been killed in some very unsettling ways. In this movie scores of men are killed in the search for ivory, for riches, and the movie seems to suggest this quest motivated by greed is inherently dangerous. 

This is considered by some to be the best of the MGM Tarzan movies, and I don't disagree.

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Thursday, May 12, 2022

Tarzan The Fearless -1933!

Tarzan the Fearless is a serial starring superhero Buster Crabbe. Despite the charm of Crabbe and the beauty of his blonde co-star the movie is a bit listless in places. That's doubtless because it's a cobbled together flick from the full 12-chapter serial which seems to be a lost movie. There's likely little a seasoned watcher cannot gather from the pieces remaining, but the movie is filled with odd moments.

In this one Tarzan helps an old scientist who is researching the lost people of Zar. He gets kidnapped by them just as his daughter and her boyfriend and two villains show up to see him. Tarzan gets mixed up with them mostly attracted by the lovely woman who likes to swim with crocodiles. There are several moments of confusion and some lion fighting, but it all comes eventually down to rescuing the father and the girl rejecting her trusting boyfriend (poor guy really gets screwed in this story) and she stays with Tarzan and her father. Crabbe hardly speaks, but his charm shines through as well as his sculpted body since he's hardly wearing anything at all.

This one has most of the tropes you'd expect in a Tarzan flicker, and Crabbe makes a decent looking Tarzan. He captures a naive excitement about the world that is intriguing. 

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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Tarzan And The Mysterious She!

"Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She" is a story by Michael Teirney developed from a fragment left behind by Edgar Rice Burroughs himself. The story appeared in Cirsova Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense in early 2019. The fragment by ERB was thought lost for a time but this tale of a young Tarzan trying to figure out who he is did survive and was expanded by Teirney into a touching tale of awakening and death. 

Tarzan is depressed because his differences from his peers is becoming more and more evident as they age and become adults. His white skin is a bane to him, and his delicate features bring him shame.  Then he hears of a woman who seems to have white hair and white skin like himself. He treks to the Gomangani village and sure enough he spies such a woman, a witch of sorts. The truth of her I will not reveal, but know also that Tarzan is greeted by visions of a blonde woman which serve both as a sweet memory and something of a prophecy. 

This is a tender story (a third of which was written by ERB himself) but also a ruggedly brutal one. Tarzan lived a life in which death was a commonplace, a daily occurrence requiring only a moment's distraction to invite the last visitor. There is tragic death in this small story, and secrets which reveal a great deal about ERB's legendary Ape Man. It was thought that Tarzan encountering a blonde before he met Jane was a problem and so the fragment was dismissed, but Tierney has cleverly solved that dilemma. 

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