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My year with Tarzan

bionicbob

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While O'Sullivan is a hard act to follow, Brenda Joyce does an admirable job. In fact, the only time Weissmuller really comes alive onscreen is in his scenes with Joyce. It is no wonder they kept her as Jane when the franchise transitioned into the Lex Barker era.

 

Garp

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BONUS: 'Voodoo Tiger' [1952]

Great Title, Terrible Film.

What's Jungle Jim's problem? Firstly, he allows someone to call him plain "Jim", then goes all White Colonial on a native tribe. Jim, it seems, hates voodoo. He attacks the tribe's shaman, then follows up by burning down the effigy of their stuffed tiger god. But, worst of all, he doesn't enter any body of water until 41 minutes into the film! What were they thinking?! It's like Hitchcock turning up for his cameo during the shower scene of 'Psycho'.

Anyway, the film continues with an impressive display of self-reflection for a 1950s jungle film, as we meet scientist Phyllis (Jean Byron) as she is trying to figure out why an African tribe of headhunters would worship a beast native to India. Into this mix, we quickly learn that the owner of the local hunting post is actually an ex-Nazi who stole precious art pieces throughout the war. To cap it all, a planeload of dancing girls - one of whom happens to own a tiger - crash lands nearby, allowing the tiger to escape.

Voodoo Headhunters! Nazi on the run! Escaped Tiger! Dancing Girls! Kitchen Sink!

As you can imagine, this is a breathless entry in the Jungle Jim franchise. Jim finally gets wet saving one of the dancing girls from being attacked by a water buffalo. This was a surprise, as we hadn't previously seen them as a threat, and I wondered why we were suddenly being told they are vicious. Moments later, the fog clears, as we get some stock footage of a tiger attacking a water buffalo. Just use what you've got to hand.

Later JJ is forced into a Voodoo Trial, in which he must singlehandedly battle a lion. If he wins, everyone goes free. If he doesn't, they all die. Everyone is pretty stoic about the fact that they are all going to die, but one of the girls does a seductive dance before the trial begins, just to cheer everyone up.

There is not one ounce of sense in this film, and it has its moments of entertainment, no doubt. But ultimately, it's all just a bit too much.
 

bionicbob

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NEAL ADAMS passed away today at the age of 80.
Advocate. Artist. Legend.
Everything he touched, he made Definitive.
Including TARZAN.
His Ballantine Book covers ignited the imagination and introduced a whole new generation to the adventures of Lord Greystoke.
He will be missed but his work lives on.

KlqHAklm.jpg
4SegdEdm.jpg


jVS8n9Jl.jpg


cVTiafNl.jpg
 

Fran_Garcia

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NEAL ADAMS passed away today at the age of 80.
Advocate. Artist. Legend.
Everything he touched, he made Definitive.
Including TARZAN.
His Ballantine Book covers ignited the imagination and introduced a whole new generation to the adventures of Lord Greystoke.
He will be missed but his work lives on.

KlqHAklm.jpg
4SegdEdm.jpg


jVS8n9Jl.jpg


cVTiafNl.jpg
He helped secure a pension and recognition for Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

His comics for the Green Lantern / Green Arrow series are among the best.

RIP Neal Adams 🙏🏻
 

Garp

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Week 18: 'Tarzan and the Leopard Woman' [1946]

It is believed that leopards are attacking caravans en route to a village that the local white men wish to exploit. Tarzan, however, is skeptical and decides to investigate.

'Tarzan and the Leopard Woman' sticks fairly close to its time-honored formula, with double-crossers and narrow-minded colonists, albeit with a twist. Here, the white settlers are portrayed as a force for good - providing schoolteachers and thrusting other benefits of civilization on an otherwise ungrateful tribe. In turn, the tribe are out to destroy white man's settlements and get back to enjoying dressing up as leopards. Tarzan pretty much stays out of the politics of this argument, but does get to beat up a good few of the leopard men in the meantime.

This is a good looking film, in the most part. Weissmuller is in good shape, and Sheffield has had a growth spurt since 'Tarzan and the Amazons'; he's much more Young Adult than Boy, with the voice to prove it. Perhaps because of that, he has a much more vigorous role here, getting to tussle with a young villain and saving Jane (or at least, putting in a good effort). Brenda Joyce is still looking for something more meaningful to do than gently chide Tarzan into doing his chores (there's a shopping trip and some maintenance work on a shower for him to do), but she's breezy and natural and hopefully the writers figure out what to do with her soon.

Dennis Hoey pops up in an I-know-best role that mimics his portrayal of Inspector Lestrade from the Sherlock Holmes franchise, but the wonderfully named Acquanetta as the Leopard Woman is wasted. You'd think a film that has her name in the title would give her a prominent role, but she's largely a figurehead here.

There's some good action (with stuffed leopards, of course) and a great climax, resulting in an entertaining film with few sagging moments.
 

Garp

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BONUS: 'Savage Mutiny' [1953]

Jungle Jim vs the Radioactive Savage!

Actually, that would have been pretty cool, far more interesting than the sober and oh so dull film I dozed through last night. Jungle Jim has been tasked with helping to relocate temporarily a reclusive tribe from their island to the mainland. The reason? Well, the US want to test an atom bomb there and they don't want them harmed. The plan is to ship them back shortly afterwards, help them rebuild their devastated homes and then deny all knowledge of it when they start dying of cancer a few years later. While they're about it, they'll vaccinate the tribe (probably as test subjects - I'm just surmising) and make it look like a humanitarian project. Jungle Jim jumps on board!

This is less an entertaining jungle B-movie and more a PR piece on How to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. There's a villain with an unplaceable accent whose motive, it took a while to figure out, is to ensure the tribe are killed in the blast to make the US look bad. Honestly, though, the US here do a pretty good job on their own. The villain manages to get everyone, including Jim and the Obligatory Pretty Scientist (Angela Stevens) covered in radioactive dust, but no one seems unduly concerned.

Jim has a couple of fistfights, but it's an otherwise action-less film. And, continuing the worrying trend started in 'Voodoo Tiger', Weissmuller doesn't dive into a river until six minutes before the end! That's over an hour of hearing how the bomb will bring peace to the world before Jim even gets wet! Totally unacceptable.

'Savage Mutiny' is a low low point for Jungle Jim movies, and a missed opportunity to have Jim wrestle a giant radioactive crab on a beach.
 

Garp

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Week 19: 'Tarzan and the Huntress' [1947]

When hunters arrive to bag an excessive number of wild animals for American zoos, Tarzan is peeved and decides to put a stop to it.

After 'Tarzan and the Leopard Woman' it was possibly decided that all future Tarzan films must have a female in the title. Similar to its predecessor, though, the huntress of this title doesn't have a particularly important role, and is certainly not the antagonist. Instead we have a fairly straight-forward story of usual greedy hunters, double-crossers and Tarzan's attempts to thwart them. That's not to disparage it - 'Tarzan and the Huntress' is an entertaining film - but it doesn't stray far from the trusted and true.

Johnny Sheffield as Boy has had another growth spurt, and is called upon by Tarzan to do "man" things now, such as help ransack the hunters camp. In fact, this was Sheffield's last film in the Tarzan series before moving on to become Bomba the Jungle Boy, a series I'll also be reviewing. He was astute casting back in 1939, and it was fun to see him grow up in these movies.

If you're a fan of Cheeta, you're in for a real treat here as she has a lot of screentime, mostly as cutesy filler, but also advancing the plot in places. It's still a little disturbing to see that the writers are able to come up with more things for a chimp to do than Brenda Joyce as Jane, who shares some nice scenes with Tarzan and Boy (the synchronized swimming is well done) but is otherwise either a domestic goddess or a damsel in distress.

The plot moves along at a good pace - not exactly action-packed for a lot of it, but enough to avoid sagging too badly. Special shout-out must go to Wallace Scott as Smitty, who mangles his dialogue with the worst bloomin' 'Ollywood Cockney accent yer evah likely to 'ear, godblessya guv'nor.

The climax is worth the wait, though, with Tarzan offing bad guys left and right, with the help of some oversized friends we haven't seen in such numbers for some time. Overall, a simple but well-made Tarzan flick.
 
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Garp

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'Valley of the Head Hunters' [1953]

It was inevitable, I suppose. As the years pass, movie goers remember his role as Tarzan, but forget he was once an Olympic swimming champion. Or maybe Johnny just wasn't feeling it anymore. Whatever the reason, this is the first Jungle Jim film in which Weissmuller does not swim. Thoughts and prayers.

So, what are we left with instead? Well, not much, as it happens. The film starts with the forced kidnapping of native women, but then takes a convoluted path that encompasses mineral rights, discovered oil and sham head hunters. It's all a little confusing and not much fun, like someone deciding to make a Star Wars film about tax disputes and trade blockades.

What this film does have is fistfights aplenty and spear throwing. Lots of spears are hurled - either into people or, more likely, Very Close To People. The natives may not be completely accurate when it comes to hitting body parts, but they are damn good at having spears thwack a tree our heroes are standing next to.

There is a very rushed romance (not involving Jungle Jim, of course; he is above such things) and Tamba the chimp continues to be a jerk, this time stealing a good guy's gun and setting it off wildly, thus alerting the bad guys to their presence. Why Jim continues to hang out with this loose cannon, I'll never know.

There are five more of these films to go in this franchise, and I admit I am beginning to feel the strain. If the next film, 'Killer Ape', doesn't actually feature a killer ape, I may have to write a strongly-worded letter to someone.
 

bionicbob

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Tarzan and the Huntress; a solid, formulaic, Apeman adventure. As usual, an exciting final act wins the viewer over, making one remember the picture being much better than it actually was...? lol Honestly, as I have mentioned before, for me, the RKO flicks, while lower budget, have a faster pace and greater fun factor than the more prestigious MGM movies.

Weissmuller looks a bit more fit in this one, having apparently toned up in between pictures.

While it was sad to see Sheffield depart the franchise, at least this movie's arc was a nice send off. Look out world, here comes BOMBA!!!

Here's a nice vid of some of the promotional items for the film...

 

Garp

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Week 20: 'Tarzan and the Mermaids' [1948]

When a beautiful young woman flees a forbidden island to escape an arranged marriage to a god, Tarzan feels compelled to get involved...

'Tarzan and the Mermaids' was Johnny Weissmuller's last outing as King of the Jungle, and it's a strange beast at that. The film starts with over five minutes of narrated exposition, as we see and learn the ways of the exotic peoples of Aquatania. (None have tails for feet, however, so the 'mermaids' in the title is a bit of poetic licence.) The film is shot in Acapulco, but the vibe is much more Polynesian, with natives diving for pearls and the like. This film also plays fast and loose with the already sketchy geography of Tarzan's home, as he is now seemingly only a short swim from the coast.

Johnny Sheffield's non-appearance in this film is explained by his being off at school in England. In his place, John Laurenz plays Benji, the all-singing calypso postman, making 'Tarzan and the Mermaids' almost a musical. Brenda Joyce returns as Jane - still a largely decorative role - as well as Cheeta who looks smaller and younger here. Weissmuller himself is not in the best of shape, but does adequately in the few action sequences. The real star here is Linda Christian as Mara, the young girl forced to marry her peoples' god - a stunning beauty, who Wikipedia states was the first Bond girl. Interesting.

The plot features the usual greedy villains exploiting the natives, but it's so thin that even the filmmakers don't bother with it much. By the third act, they abandon it almost completely, and settle for a travelogue instead, with long sequences of water jousting and high diving (very impressive, to be fair). Still, taking a cue from Chekhov, if you write an octopus into Act One, then Tarzan must wrestle the octopus by Act Three. So be it.

'Tarzan and the Mermaids' is a good place for Weissmuller to bow out, as the writers were obviously running out of ideas by now. The film looks good, albeit not quite like the usual Tarzan picture, and Linda Christian lights up the screen. But it's time to hang up your loincloth, Johnny. I'll catch you in the next Jungle Jim adventure.
 
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Hymie

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Christian appeared with Barry Nelson in the Climax! adaptation of Casino Royale. She played Valerie Mathis aka Vesper Lynd in the live production. So technically a Bond girl, but not in the EON official series.
 

Garp

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BONUS: 'Bomba the Jungle Boy' [1949]

In 'Tarzan and the Mermaids', Tarzan and Jane may have thought Boy was off at school in England, but actually he was in another part of the jungle, becoming Bomba. This was the first of 12 films Johnny Sheffield made as the eponymous Jungle Boy and, frankly, it's not a smooth transition.

'Bomba' is very much 'Tarzan Lite'. It seems to be aimed at that particular younger age group who may find the Tarzan film plots too confusing, but would have no problem seeing a lion speared to death. This is not a Bomba origin story - we get his backstory through exposition, that he was raised by a curmudgeonly explorer who has since died - but it probably didn't need to be; anyone seeing this film probably already knew him as Boy and filled out the rest in their heads. Sheffield utilizes the truncated speech pattern of his erstwhile screen father here and unfortunately it didn't quite work for me.

There isn't really a plot as such. A documentary filmmaker and his enthusiastic daughter (Peggy Ann Garner) meet up with a canny old Scot in the jungle, who has promised to find them some exotic animals to film - possibly to make the very same stock footage this film plays over and over. The daughter gets lost, and is befriended by our hero Bomba. The rest of the film plays out as we follow each group in their attempts to reunite.

The story isn't the point here, and neither frankly is Sheffield's role as the mysterious jungle boy. This is an educational film for kids. We get a lot of scenes of actors looking offscreen as the film cuts to another roll of stock footage. If we happen to be following the canny Scot's group at the time, we'll also get his narration about the animals and/or the local natives' culture and rituals - including the lion killing. The pacing, therefore, tends to be on the slower side.

Things ramp up ten minutes before the end, with a plague of locusts and a spot of arson, but it barely qualifies as a climax. Overall, 'Bomba the Jungle Boy' is disappointing. Sheffield is a better actor than this film allowed him to show; hopefully having introduced his character, the rest of the films manage to add some action too.
 

Garp

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BONUS: 'Killer Ape' [1953]

This lively kids film starts with footage of crocodiles being beaten to death and ends with Tamba the chimp getting drunk, stealing a truck for a joyride and crashing into a tree. What it doesn't have, for a second time in a row, is Weissmuller swimming. I fear he may have hung up his Speedos for good.

The jungle folk are perplexed. They have never seen the crocodiles succumb to their vicious and fatal beatings so stoically. Even when one takes a lunge at Tamba (about time...) it is easily overcome by Jim and his trusty dagger. Something nefarious is afoot...

This is another Jungle Jim film that mashes together two unrelated plots - one of a mad scientist who has discovered a serum to make animals (and by extension, people too) do his bidding, and one of a wild apeman on the loose. The apeman is previously thought of as mere legend, never having been seen much. Even now, he's a bit like Mr. Snuffleupagus, only interacting with Jim for much of the film, with everyone else being skeptical of his claims. Thus when Jim is knocked out and the apeman kills a tribal leader with Jim's trusty dagger, guess who gets the blame? If it were me, I would have framed Tamba. But no - Jim is in the crosshairs instead.

This film has what 'The Forbidden land' lacked, which is an actual giant playing a giant's role. Max Palmer plays the apeman and he is huge. His backstory is explained by Jim thus: "You've heard stories of how some people were raised by apes..?", practically winking at the camera. The apeman, therefore, is some kind of mutant, which explains why he's only hairy due to the woolly tunic he wears and his kickin' furry boots. Still, his size alone (Wikipedia pegs him at 7' 7") makes him impressive.

Anyway, the film climaxes with the same Great Monkey Plague from 'Captive Girl', but that was three years ago, who remembers that anymore? The apeman suffers a Frankenstein's monster demise, and Tamba gets drunk. Cue the laughter and end scene.
 

bionicbob

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Busy, week, just catching up with this thread...

"Tarzan and the Mermaids", as Weissmuller's final adventure, it is probably his weakest RKO entry and as you said, a good time to bow out. But I like some of the lost civilization/false god stuff, as I said before, it has a nice ERB flavour and Linda Christian is very good in the role.


BOMBA!!!
What can I say? Unoriginal? Yes. Formulaic? Absolutely. Made too many of them? Undoubtedly.
But for some reason I got a lot of dumb fun out of these as a kid. As an adult, there is still some charm to be found. Though, on the rare occasion when I do re-watch these, it is now clear Sheffield was already too old to be a Jungle BOY.... lol

 

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Week 21: 'Tarzan's Magic Fountain' [1949]

When the journal of a missing aviator turns up in the jungle, Tarzan has to decide whether to keep a lost tribe's secret or help save the life of an imprisoned man...

With Johnny Weissmuller off making his Jungle Jim movies, Lex Barker gets his big break as Tarzan. Physically, he looks the part - handsome, muscular, every inch the Lord of the Jungle. But despite Weissmuller not being the greatest actor, Barker can't really compete. What Weissmuller lacked in acting ability, he made up for with charisma, playfulness and a natural rapport with his leading ladies, O'Sullivan especially so. Barker, in comparison, is wooden and appears ill at ease in this first outing.

Having gone for something more exotic and epic with 'Tarzan and the Mermaids', 'Tarzan's Magic Fountain' gets back to basics. The story of a tribe guarding the Fountain of Youth - and the greedy men out to steal their secret - could have come from an earlier RKO film. Tarzan's stubbornness in refusing to guide anyone to the hidden valley, and Jane deciding to go off on her own anyway, would have fit well with the characters Weissmuller and O'Sullivan had already established. Brenda Joyce does well with a welcome expanded role here (her last as Jane), but it's a pity she's saddled with a wet mop as her leading man.

The film is also lacking in action, with Cheeta filling up the runtime with her comic relief. Still, the rainstorm and flash flood are new and exciting additions to the Tarzan films. Overall, there's nothing particular wrong with 'Tarzan's Magic Fountain', and hopefully Barker grows into the role with subsequent films (and many new Janes). But if a new face was intended to kickstart a somewhat tired franchise, it ultimately failed, I'm afraid.
 

bionicbob

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The Lex Barker years.... while I own all of these and have watched them all once, I must admit they did not leave much of an impression of me and I have never felt the urge to revisit them in the same way I will with the Weismuller years.
They were fine, but other swapping out Jungle Lords, there is nothing new here to experience.
I think if this was one's first entry point into the Tarzan film world, the viewer would find it to be an enjoyable romp.

My only real memory of Magic Fountain is Baker's Tarzan wearing some sort of sandal/slipper throughout the movie, which I found to be odd for the Apeman lol.
I can't remember if he continues to wear them in the following movies?

Honestly, until producer Sy Weintraub takes over the franchise in 1959, the Tarzan movies of Barker and early Gordon Scott are all rather interchangeable, repeating the same tired (though still well made and mildly entertaining) formula.

Here is a more positive review of the film...
 

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BONUS: 'Bomba on Panther Island' [1949]

A rogue panther, killing for sport rather than food, is on the loose, first mauling a small monkey before attacking the natives. A racist developer is troubled that the men he's paying in salt (double handfuls, though. Let's be fair) are either slacking off, refusing to start a major forest fire, or getting eaten. He enlists Bomba to help with the latter issue.

'Bomba on Panther Island' reintroduces us to Johnny Sheffield's other jungle role with some nifty exposition about his unusual upbringing via a journal entry. From then on, we get a mix of genres in what amounts to a step up from its predecessor. There's still stock footage aplenty - this is a jungle film, after all, so characters looking offscreen at interspliced and sometimes grainy film of wild beasts is to be expected. However, the educational narration has been dumped, and it's no more distracting than your average Jungle Jim movie. (Spoiler: they're all average.)

Charles Irwin also returns as the canny Scot who knows best, doling out his nuggets of wisdom on Africa and her customs; hopefully he'll be a recurring character throughout the series. Harry Lewis plays the naïve developer who treats every black character as either an idiot or a bum - a little hard to take, and it would have been welcome if he had had any meaningful comeuppance.

There's some adequate action - Bomba fighting the obligatory panther is well done, with blurry close-ups of its fanged mouth - but the film strays from its original storyline of Bomba vs the Panther at some point in the second act to become a teen romance instead. Sweet but somewhat dim Bomba finds himself in the middle of a love triangle between young fish-out-of-water Allene Roberts and the sultry older Lita Baron, whom the natives believe is supernaturally connected to the errant panther. Bomba seems to have a good time stringing them both along with his stilted speech, chiseled physique and wholesome grin.

The climax is telegraphed a mile off and then peters out incredibly quickly. Bomba goes off on his merry way, ready to meet the next swooning girl to cross his path, no doubt. It seems like 'Bomba' is going to be an inoffensive, mildly entertaining series, and I admit I'm beginning to warm to it.
 

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BONUS: 'Jungle Man-Eaters' [1954]

Jungle Jim has a run-in with some diamond smugglers, blah, blah, I'm not really sure...

Let's begin by addressing the stock footage of the elephant in the room: there are no jungle man-eaters in 'Jungle Man-Eaters'. Now, I wasn't paying very close attention, and I may have nodded off more than once, but I'm pretty certain I would have noticed either a Jungle Man eater, or a Man Eater of the jungle, whichever this title is supposed to portray. This is false advertising, Columbia Pictures, and I demand my 68 minutes back.

But let us not dwell on the negative, and revel in the fact that, after two films in which Jungle Jim steadfastly refuses to enter the water, he dives headfirst into H20 on no less than four (!) occasions! (At the four minute mark, then 26, 42 and lastly at 45, for those who must know these things.) May the saints be praised!

I had trouble following the plot of this film, in part because I was on the look-out for Man Eaters of some kind (of which - let us be very clear on this point - there are none). Instead we have plots concerning a diamond smuggling operation and a new tribal king. Even though I only watched it last night, I have no recollection of how these plots intertwined.

My abiding memory is that this film reminded me - very loosely. Extremely loosely, to be honest - of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. Sort of. This is due to the facts that the main villain was a Frenchman who had conned the locals into working for him, and that JJ swims over to a ship and boards it at one point. Yes, that is literally it. It isn't much, but it livened up an otherwise confusing Jungle Jim movie.

Apparently, this is the final actual Jungle Jim film, inasmuch as in the remaining three films in the series, Johnny Weissmuller just uses his real name. I am curious how they pull this off. 'Clumsily' is my guess.

Anyway, the next film is called 'Cannibal Attack', which, for all I know, may actually be about pig-raising. Stay tuned.
 

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Week 22: 'Tarzan and the Slave Girl' [1950]

A mysterious tribe, ravaged by a plague, are kidnapping girls. Tarzan is on hand to bring relief to the ailing populace and rescue the slave girls...

Lex Barker returns in 'Tarzan and the Slave Girl' and looks slightly more comfortable in his leading role. He also has more to do action-wise, leaping all over the place, and even gets to show off some archery skills. Barker is paired with Vanessa Brown as Jane, who looks at least 5 years too young for the part. She's not as natural an actress as Brenda Joyce, and she and Lex have zero chemistry on screen.

Again, we're light on plot here. There's a lengthy middle section in which Tarzan and his entourage must cut through enemy territory, populated by a tribe who disguise themselves as bushes. Lee Sholem directs with a heavy hand, and what could have been suspenseful becomes plodding. Sholem lingers on certain objects and scenes so much that future events are telegraphed well in advance. It makes for another predictable and routine Tarzan film.

The tribe doing the kidnapping are distinct from the tribe disguised as bushes as they are the ones wearing the funny hats, portrayed as a mix of Aztecs and Egyptians. The film is elevated a little by the inclusion of Denise Darcel as fiery Lola, smitten with Tarzan but who could just as easily give herself to the Prince of the kidnappers. (There's a Jane-Lola brawl in their treetop home, but it's over pretty quickly and they're best buds again in no time.)

All in all, there's not much entertainment to be had here, although I suppose you could start a drinking game based on how many times the Prince's right hand man strokes the scar on his cheek that Tarzan has given him.
 

bionicbob

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I can’t remember, does Barker’s Tarzan wear slippers in this one too???
 
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