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My year with Tarzan

Garp

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BONUS: 'Captive Girl' [1950]

Tarzan meets Tarzan! Yes, Johnny Weissmuller shares screen time with 'Tarzan the Fearless' actor Buster Crabbe in another otherwise middling Jungle Jim adventure.

Jim is summoned from... well, doing whatever it is Jungle Jim does to help track down a mysterious jungle girl. Perhaps she's the lone survivor of an expedition a few years ago to find the lost Lagoon of the Dead...

The film makes us wait a solid 20 minutes before Jim enters the water. But in case you were thinking "Surely he won't be attacked by a crocodile this time..?" just hold that thought. Is this the same crocodile again? The footage would suggest so. Or maybe they are all relatives, out to avenge Jim's previous run-ins with their brethren. Whatever, Jim sure is a croc magnet. He survives, of course, long enough to kick a tiger in the head a few times not long after.

Anita Lhoest plays the titular Captive Girl as a quasi-Sheena. She easily eludes Jim's bumbling attempts to find her for most of the film by calling on her animal friends like some jungle Snow White. Meanwhile, Buster gets to show off his villainous side with a caddish moustache and sneers, scuba diving for the lagoon's treasures. Tied into this morass is a subplot about a tribal leader returning to his native village after becoming educated abroad, utilizing much brown- and blackface in the process. This is a low budget film, using stock footage and, at one point, it's own footage played backwards, allowing a waterfall to defy gravity. Caw-caw the crow is sidelined here - perhaps after 'Mark of the Gorilla' he wanted higher billing - which allows Skipper the dog to fill up the runtime with his intimate and unnatural blossoming relationship with a chimp. Children, avert your eyes.

After the relative high of 'Mark of the Gorilla', this is a comedown. Whereas a Tarzan climax might involve an elephant stampede through a village, here we are witness to the Great Monkey Plague of 1950. No doubt dozens of monkeys attacking your village en masse would be scary to experience, but safe in the confines of an armchair it looks slightly comical. There are really only two things to recommend this film: the Weissmuller-Crabbe faceoff and the gratuitous fan service of seeing Jungle Jim swinging on a vine.
 

bionicbob

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While as I said, I have never watched any JUNGLE JIM, your reviews of them, sure make me smile! 😁 (y)
 

Garp

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Week 13: 'Tarzan's Secret Treasure' [1941]

When Boy discovers gold around their home, scientists on safari hatch a plan to steal it.

By now, a distinct formula has been laid out for these Weissmuller films: there will be some underwater photography; Tarzan will wrestle a crocodile; there will be a couple on safari with ulterior motives, quick to double-cross Tarzan and his family; there will be a comic relief, and an elderly gentleman who wants only to do right by Tarzan, but will die; and elephants will feature in the climax. 'Tarzan's Secret Treasure' ticks all these boxes, resulting in an entertaining film, albeit a little flat.

Johhny Sheffield as Boy proves to be a great choice for Tarzan's son, and his role is increased along with his acting abilities. O'Sullivan never looked lovelier, though Weissmuller is beginning to show the results of domesticity around his middle. The plot is simplistic, but the sets and matte shots still look good. There are more instances of reused footage - the crocodile (again!) and the rhino - but the use of elephants in the climax is at least unique this time and all the better for it.

Barry Fitzgerald as the Irish comic relief is arguably the best thing about this film, taking what could have been a one-dimensional stereotype and embuing it with heart and pathos. There's nothing inherrently wrong with this film, but it came across as slightly stale. No wonder, then, that the next film in the franchise left the jungle far behind.
 

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BONUS: 'Pygmy Island' [1950]

Three minutes. That's how long you have to wait before Johnny Weissmuller (Jungle Jim) dives into a lake. That's pretty good going for a JJ flick. And then less than a minute later, here he is wrestling another crocodile! (Spoiler: it's the same crocodile. It's always the same crocodile.) No matter. It's what Jungle Jim does. He makes lakes safe for people to swim in. Hey, maybe that's his job..?

Anyway, some doctor has got themselves lost in the jungle, and Jim helps to track them down. But - plot twist! - the doctor is female! OK, not the greatest of twists, but this is a Jungle Jim film and we'll take what we can get. It seems she has shacked up with the mysterious white pygmy tribe (no blackface here, thank god. Probably would have taken too long to do, I suspect, rather than any cultural sensitivity), who have no contact with the outside world, but seemingly do have a wireless tuned to Voice of America, from whence they learned their perfectly accented English.

The plot of this film mirrors that of 'Mark of the Gorilla' without being as good. Evil spirits known as Bush Devils are keeping Jim and the US War Department from getting near the pygmy tribe, who also happen to hold the secret of a jungle plant that produces superstrong vines that are impervious to fire. The US War Department want some of that, of course, but for good military reasons, such as parachute lines (!)

There's some quicksand at some point and I'm not sure what else as I found myself dozing off at some point. Even by Jungle Jim standards, this is a low point. This is a film that starts off with the cliched newspaper mill and rotating headlines shot, and one of the headlines spelled 'BELIEVED' incorrectly! But what is more interesting, perhaps, is what happened between this film and its predecessor. In 'Captive Girl', Caw-caw the crow had been sidelined somewhat, with Skipper the dog getting more scenes with an amorous chimp. Here, though, there's no sign nor mention of Caw-caw or Skipper. The chimp has usurped them both! Are they gone for good? Did the censors put a stop to unnatural canine-simian love? I will continue to watch Jungle Jim's adventures and report back.
 

bionicbob

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It is interesting how in the trailers Sheffield is credited as Tarzan Jr.

I agree, at this point the MGM flicks are pure, reliable.. but still entertaining... formula.

I think it is at this point in the franchise, Cheeta actually begins to annoy me lol. He gets more and more screen time antics that is usually just comedic filler.
 

Garp

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Week 14: 'Tarzan's New York Adventure' [1942]

Tarzan, Jane and Cheeta head for the Big Apple to find Boy, who has been adopted by a circus after believing his parents to be dead.

'Tarzan's New York Adventure' follows the successful formula, but adds a few twists to make it a better than average Weissmuller film. The underwater swimming scenes bookend the film, and we have the usual cast of shady characters and good guys. Boy's run-in with a lion, utilising rear projection and a puppet, is extremely well done early on, and we have the familiar treetop set (now with a dishwasher!).

The film starts out in the jungle, but hits its stride when our stars arrive in New York. (There is a fun montage here of their trek to civilization, where they must take a plane to the New World.) There are a mix of genres at play when they finally land - Tarzan's fish-out-of-water confusion is played for laughs, and Cheeta fills in with some (too) lengthy hijinks. The film then takes an unexpected turn when it morphs into a custody battle over Boy, with some courtroom drama. Finally we have the anticipated action of Tarzan swinging and diving his way around Manhattan, and the equally anticipated elephant stampede.

Taking Tarzan away from his natural habitat was a smart move. Although still basically formulaic, 'Tarzan's New York Adventure' gives a fresh coat of paint to a well-worn story. At only 71 minutes, there's little filler (well, Cheeta, maybe), and enough different styles to satisfy most people (at one point when they arrive at a night club, it almost looked as though it was about to become a musical...). This was O'Sullivan's final outing as Jane, and it's not a bad place for her to bow out; her courtroom scene is touching. It'll be interesting to see how the remainder of the Weissmuller-Sheffield films play out without her.
 

bionicbob

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I really LOVE the Apeman's New York escapade!

As you rightly pointed out, it was the perfect franchise refresher at the right time. Now if only they could have left Cheeta behind in NY. lol

This is also the last MGM produced classic Tarzan flick.
And as always, the production values were top notch.

 

Garp

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BONUS: 'Fury of the Congo' [1951]

Director William Berke knows what we want from a Jungle Jim film, getting Johnny Weissmuller into the water again within the first three minutes. But what's this? Where's the ubiquitous crocodile?! 'Fury of the Congo', I'm sorry to relate, does not have Jim wrestling the crocodile. At last he has rid his jungle lakes of the beasts. Instead, we later have him come eye-to-eye with a hippo, but he scarpers before there's any mano o hippo action.

This is a confusing film all round. For starters, Jim now sports unnaturally dark hair, which is distracting. Still no sign of Skipper the dog or Caw-caw the crow, but the chimp (named Tamba) has reappeared. His role is reduced, though, and the only thing he brings to the film is when he pushes Jim into some quicksand when he's being chased, the little jerk. The other confusing thing is the plot. There's another lost scientist, and another hidden tribe, and some dastardly, double-crossing villains. It seems that there are a herd of rare beasts roaming around Jim's neighborhood called the Okongo. They are basically either dark horses with white lines painted on them, or pale horses with dark lines painted on them. They secrete a liquid from their glands that have a narcotic effect, and everyone wants it. It's not clear where these glands are, or how the scientist extracts it, but I imagine it's something similar to what the vet does for our dog when he starts to rub his backside on the carpet. I could be wrong, though.

This is also a very walky film. By which I mean we get an excessive amount of shots of people walking. Sometimes they are walking in a group, and sometimes there may only be one of two. Occasionally we see chasing and running, but mostly it's walking. These Okongo horses are tricky to pin down, it seems.

Then just when you think this is the worst Jungle Jim film so far, the director brings on a sandstorm and has Jim attacked by a giant desert spider. It looks terrible. Of course it looks terrible, but it livens up an otherwise perambulatory film.

The film climaxes with another sandstorm, and I was hoping the spider would make a reappearance, but (spoiler) no. Instead we have no idea what's going on as the sandstorm is a little too good. The females of the tribe, led by the gorgeous Sherry Moreland, attack the bad guys to rescue their menfolk, which is nice to see in an early 50s film, but otherwise there's a lot of fuzziness occurring.

Can I recommend this film? I cannot. If you must, watch for Weissmuller's hair and the spider and the beauty of Sherry Moreland. That's it.
 

bionicbob

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Ok, this one sounds so absolutely bonkers bad that I may have to check it out!!! 🤪😂🤣😂
 

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Week 15: 'Tarzan Triumphs' [1943]

Tarzan vs the Nazis! Jane is off in London, caring for her sick mother, and writes to Tarzan about the war. But Tarzan wants nothing to do with it, until Nazis show up on his own doorstep...

Much like Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes, Weissmuller's Tarzan gets caught up in World War II in this flag-waver. The message is very clear, almost heavy-handedly so. Early on, Tarzan proudly describes himself as an Isolationist, but decides to "make war" when the Germans attack his family and friends. Nevertheless, it's another interesting variation on the usual formula. O'Sullivan as Jane is sorely missed here, as the Tarzan franchise switches to RKO, and she was contracted to MGM. Instead, we have the equally lovely Frances Gifford as Zandra of yet another hidden city. Palandria. (Maybe I've seen too many of these jungle films recently, but Palandria and its chief looked very similar to the lost city in the first 'Jungle Jim' film.)

RKO's Tarzan is largely indistinguishable from MGM's iteration. The two Johnnys are present (Weissmuller sporting longer hair), as is Cheeta, and their home is a good replica of the original. It feels cheaper, though, especially with the use of poor quality stock footage. I thought the second act sagged with Zandra and Boy's attempts to get Tarzan into the war, but it ends well. There is no crocodile-wrestling, and no elephant stampedes, but the action is solid enough. The Nazi element gave it an air of Indiana Jones, which no doubt helped me enjoy it slightly more, as overall it's an average Weissmuller film.
 
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bionicbob

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.... I have been sooooo waiting for your review of this one!!!!

TARZAN TRIUMPS -- it has a goofy charm. I really like it. In some respects, the RKO Apeman flicks are a wee bit closer to the ERB novels. More exotic quests, more lost civilizations, etc. In this particular movie, the geography of Tarzan's Africa become even more mindboggling, as apparently there is a Sahara like desert, with a Persian style empire, only a couple days walk away! LOL!

This movie would also make a great Drinking Game. If you had to take a shot every time someone says "NAZI", you would be falling down, blind drunk before the end of the second act. 😂🤣😂

 

Garp

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Yeah, that ending was a weird game of Marco Polo, but with Nazi Gunshot instead!
 

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BONUS: 'Jungle Manhunt' [1951]

Four minutes in, and Jungle Jim is once more diving into a river, this time to mess with Tamba the chimp's fishing line, then to rescue cute photographer Anna Lawrence (Sheila Ryan) from some rapids. Anna is looking for - wait for it - a missing footballer who has inherited a fortune. (The jungle is a very lucky place to get lost in, apparently. Pretty much anyone who ends up near Tarzan or Jungle Jim is a unbeknownst millionaire.) Meanwhile, another crazed scientist has set down roots, scaring local tribes with his skeleton army and forcing them to be his slaves. Jungle Jim is on the case to see what's afoot...

'Jungle Manhunt' was probably created by a Jungle B-Movie Generator, if such a thing existed in 1951. There is so much thrown into this mix from other Tarzan and Jungle Jim plots, amounting to a generic and therefore flatter film. Still no sign of Skipper the dog and Caw-caw the crow, and Tamba the chimp is slightly better behaved this time, helping Jim to escape rather than aiding his pursuers. The addition of real-life footballer Bob Waterfield was probably a big deal to the kids who ate this stuff up in the 50s, but I only realised his fame afterwards, reading about it on this film's Wikipedia page. Still, it makes for an odd dynamic in this film, with Weissmuller being somewhat sidelined in places over the younger and fitter Wakefield.

In fact, Jim is less active all round here. There's no crocodile wrestling, and he half-heartedly stabs a shark, but that's about it. Jim is much more of a witness to events instead. At one point, the group come across what possibly are supposed to be dinosaurs - a Gila monster, I believe, and a crocodile with a backfin (footage from 'One Million BC', Wikipedia states). Does Jim jump in and battle these beasts? Nah. There's not even an attempt to back-project them with Jim and his mates for scale. Later, Jim's privy to another battle between an octopus and shark - the moment when he stabs the latter - but it's not up to his usual standards.

However, Jim does get to rub dirt on his skin, steal a native's clothes and try to fit in with the tribe - which he does so successfully, despite being about a foot taller than anyone else. And, say what you like about Jungle Jim films, but they do feature some beautiful leading ladies. Sheila Ryan is a delight - quick with the banter (despite Weissmuller's still stilted dialogue) and perfect lipstick no matter what's happening onscreen.

So be it. It's another Jungle Jim formulaic production, and a lesser one at that. But they still entertain me.
 

Garp

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Week 16: 'Tarzan's Desert Mystery' [1943]

Jane has become a nurse in London, caring for soldiers back from Burma. She writes to Tarzan requesting the medicine he used in 'Tarzan's Secret Treasure' to cure their fever. This entails a slog across the previously never-mentioned desert to another, more mysterious jungle....

The writers make a valid attempt to explain O'Sullivan's non-appearance in this film, as well as imbue it with patriotic fervor by stating she's helping the war effort. But 'Tarzan's Desert Mystery' suffers from not having a romantic subtext that made the Weissmuller-O'Sullivan films such a delight. Instead, we have wise-cracking Nancy Kelly as Connie Bryce, a magician who is caught up in this desert intrigue. Kelly is great and she shows her softer side with some touching scenes with Boy. Weissmuller, to be honest, is beginning to show his age a little here and doesn't have any memorable action scenes. In fact, he's locked up for a good portion of the film, with the supporting characters carrying this B-movie effort.

The mystery in 'Tarzan's Desert Mystery' takes its sweet time to show itself; we know who the bad guy is, but not really what the bad stuff is he's doing (apart from subjugating the natives, which is what every white man in a Tarzan film does) nor why, and when we do learn it, it's not that interesting. The cheap-looking aspect of these RKO films continues, with very poor back projection and, yes, are those the same 'dinosaurs' from 'One Million BC'? Pretty damn sure they are. And if you are adverse to excessive brownface, you may wish to look away. Still, the North African sets are good (undoubtedly not made especially for this film) and the climax, featuring a shiny and very slow moving giant spider and a man-eating plant (which I'm certain even I could have escaped from single-handedly) are worth the wait, just.

At a gaunt 70 minutes, 'Tarzan's Desert Mystery' still manages to sag in the middle. But I'll cut it a bit of slack for the ending, which put a smile on my face.
 

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BONUS: ‘The Forbidden Land’ [1952]

At least two plots collide in this barrel-scraping effort, in which Jungle Jim (no one EVER calls him just Jim. It’s like ‘Jungle’ is a title, like ‘Sir’ or ‘Prince’) must help a pretty scientist locate the missing link whilst putting a kibosh on the plans of ivory poachers.

A few minutes in, and the pretty scientist (Angela Greene as Dr. Roberts) is already in the drink. Does Jim dive in to save her? Surprisingly, no. While her native oarsmen are chomped by hungry hungry hippos, she swims to safety, pats herself down and carries on her merry way without a backward glance. Such is the life of native extras in a Jungle Jim film.

At seven minutes, though, Jim has already ran into her and taken a morning swim – a little longer than usual, truth be told. We discover she is in search of the Giant People. We hear a lot about the Giant People – they are teased frequently but not shown. They become even larger in our minds until the final reveal.

Whoever named the Giant People is very bad at naming things. They are, at best, Above Average Height People. But the more noticeable thing about them is that they are COVERED IN HAIR. Why not call them the Tall Hairy People? They look like a cross between the Wolfman and a Wookiee.

Jim sees a bit more action in this film, wrestling a black panther, a hippo (pretty sure we’ve seen that before) and a Tall Hairy Man. There is an elephant stampede, however, which it could be argued livens the film up a bit, only it doesn’t.

I don’t know. I watched this two nights ago and had to read other reviews to remind me what I saw. Must do better next time, Jungle Jim.
 
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bionicbob

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I agree with your observation, at this point in the Tarzan franchise, without the chemistry of O'Sullivan, Weissmuller comes across as a bit bland.
In fact, I find Johnny Sheffield has far more onscreen charisma than Weissmuller.

Just curious, once you have completed the Weissmuller era, will you follow Sheffield over to his BOMBA adventures?

Personally, I always enjoyed the Bomba flicks over the Lex Barker era of Tarzan.
 

Garp

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Yep, I have both volumes of the Bomba films on DVD, so for a few weeks I'll be watching one Tarzan, one Jungle Jim and one Bomba film a week!
 

bionicbob

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Yep, I have both volumes of the Bomba films on DVD, so for a few weeks I'll be watching one Tarzan, one Jungle Jim and one Bomba film a week!
You are my hero!
Thank you for your Jungle Service!
I salute you!!! :)
 

bionicbob

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The first Tarzan action figure in YEARS!!!!


It looks like a nice sculp, though I am not a big fan of the facial design.
 

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Week 17: 'Tarzan and the Amazons' [1945]

Me Tarzan, New Jane.

Jane returns to the jungle, accompanied by a group of scientists. En route to meet her, Tarzan rescues a beautiful Amazonian and returns her to her secret city of Palmeria. When Cheeta steals her bracelet and the scientists examine it, they insist Tarzan take them to see this mysterious lost tribe...

Brenda Joyce slips into the animal skin to play Jane, and holds her own in a role made famous by Maureen O'Sullivan. The writers try to recapture some of the rapport between the jungle lovers, with Joyce laying down seductively next to a lake, gently teasing Tarzan. But the same writers appear to be lost with what to do with Jane afterwards, and she gets sidelined pretty much from thereon. Instead, we have a well-worn story of greedy scientist-explorers, ready to rip off a local tribe.

There's a distinct lack of action in 'Tarzan and the Amazons', with Tarzan wrestling another crocodile (new footage at least, it seemed), but little else to put our characters in peril. Part of the problem is that we know by now how this will play out - the kindly elderly gentleman will be murdered and the rest of the villains will get their comeuppance. Tarzan takes on a sort of Batman role here; he may not kill the wrongdoers, but he may not save them either, as he coolly watches them drown in quicksand.

The sets still look good, the back projections and mattes still less so. Most disappointing is the abrupt and anti-climatic ending; more suspense and action could have been squeezed out of Boy's impending doom, but it just... ends.

All in all, there was enough here to keep my interest (Joyce is lovely in the few scenes she's in, and the character actors put on a good show), but I'm wondering whether this is the start of a decline in quality with three more Weissmuller films still to go.
 
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