Saturday, December 29, 2012

Children of a Lesser Tarzan...

As prior mentioned, 2012 marks the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Creation of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. As far as his film career goes, Tarzan's topmost avatar has always been Johnny Weissmuller, the Olympic Swimming Champ who took the Ape Man to Glory and Big Box Office back in the 1930's and 40's. Thus Weissmuller is in a rare cinematic category along with Sean Connery as 007 and Chris Reeve as Kal El, consistently everyone's favorite version of their respective characters. Johnny's appeal was simple, he was first Tarzan explicitly marketed to women on the basis of his good looks and simpleminded relationship with Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane. Whatever problems purists may have with the scripts and Tarzan's pidgin english or progeny "Boy"...The approach stands the test of time as the iconic Tarzan interpretation. So far as Tarzan is concerned literally the race is to come in second behind Weissmuller. For me three actors come into contention:
Jock Mahoney The great problem of Mahoney's brief two film reign as Tarzan back in the early 1960's is that he came to the part a decade too late, being almost forty two when he was cast in what is my favorite color Tarzan movie "Tarzan goes to India" (1963). Forty two or not, Mahoney is a lean, quick, slightly feral Tarzan who is trying to save a herd of Indian elephants from a dam project that threatens to flood their home. Its a simple movie and Mahoney plays it with a lot of heart as a very human sort of a Jungle Lord. This is also the first Tarzan film to push Lord Greystoke into the role of "International Adventurer" all in color and shot on location as well.
Ya gotta love Mike Henry last of the original All-Up Color Movie Tarzans, a pro football player turned actor, he reputedly refuses to this day to sell his autograph to fans at nostalgia shows despite the fact that his association with the Tarzan franchise could net him a nice annuity. Nope Mike has wonky sort of integrity and he is in the weirdest of the 1960's adaptations of the character "Tarzan and the City of Gold" (1966) which takes Lord Greystoke from International Adventurer to outright Secret Agent as the Jungle Lord must thwart a coup plot in Mexico! 007 needs a souped up Astin Martin & a Walther PPK, Tarzan gets by with a Bowie knife and some arrows. And anyway, look at Mike Henry's physique...the man is literally a Renaissance statuary come to life! His muscles had muscles! Mike is no scenery chewer, none of the post Weismuller Jungle Lords ever were, but when he goes prowling thru the underbrush, he looks at home like he is the Apex Predator of legend.
Gordon Scott, who must have been a yard across at the shoulders in his prime, can credibly claim to be the Man Who Saved the Tarzan Franchise. Initially cast as the successor to Lex Barker Scott limped thru a few cheerless black and white jungle features complete with pidgin English until Producers Sy Weintraub & Sol Lesser got their hooks into the series shot them in color made lavish use of location work and set Gordon Scott free to speak in proper syntax. The result was a box office bonanza, the films started doing huge business overseas with Scott as the most massive, seemingly unstoppable Tarzan of all...Hell in "Tarzan's Greatest Adventure" he throws down with 007 Sean Connery(in a rare villainous role) and wins... All the above mentioned films are available for purchase thru the Warner Brothers Archives, either on Blue Ray or DVD.

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