Saturday, January 2, 2010

Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959)

Director: John Guillermin

Starring: Gordon Scott, Anthony Quayle, Sean Connery, Sara Shane, Niall MacGinns

More Info: IMDB

Plot: Tarzan is out to capture a quintet of British diamond hunters in Africa, who killed a pair of natives while robbing supplies. Joining Tarzan on his hunt upriver is a beautiful American pilot, who has crash landed nearby.

My Rating: 8/10

Would I watch it again? Oh, yeah

As a kid I watched more than a few Tarzan pictures. I was a tremendous fan of the 1966 TV series with Ron Ely. I rarely missed an episode. Then puberty hit in the early 80s and I eagerly anticipated sneaking into the living room after everyone was asleep to catch TARZAN, THE APE MAN (1981) with Bo Derek. Not to see Tarzan, mind you, but Derek's mouth-watering jungle drums. After that? I don't think I've seen a Tarzan anything since. I've now seen TGA and my childhood love of the character has been re-ignited.

TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE is one outstanding jungle adventure flick. So good that I'm worried perhaps from this point on nothing will top it. What broke my near 30-year hiatus and drew me to seeing this? Sean Connery. He doesn't play the Lord of the Jungle but he almost did. More on that later.

Brown, James Brown

In this outing, T is played by Gordon Scott, an muscle-bound actor who got his start in pictures with TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE (1955) and went on to do five more T movies (TGA being the penultimate film). After that he headlined a shitload of Sword & Sandal pictures playing Maciste, Hercules, etc. Here he plays T as an articulate, educated man (a movie Tarzan first) as opposed to the countless films that came before with the "Me Tarzan, you Jane" mentality. Edgar Rice Burroughs had written the character to be intelligent and well spoken but the grunt-speak established in the early thirties caught on and became part of the world-wide iconography of Tarzan. It's not too unlike Bram Stoker's Dracula and the movie conventions created for the 1931 Lugosi classic.

Anyway, I dig this type of T. He's a total badass in this picture and doesn't take shit from anyone. There are a lot of badasses in this one. The picture opens with a midnight raid on a small African village. The raiders are dressed in tribal garb and are covered in black grease paint. Their objective is to steal dynamite and medical supplies.

We soon discover this group is led by Slade (Quayle). His outfit includes a hired thug, O'Bannion (Connery), the river boat operator Dino (Al Mulock), the diamond expert Kruger (Niall MacGinnis) and Slade's former whore/now girlfriend Toni (Scilla Gabel). Their goal is to make their way to a hidden diamond mine along the river. During the raid they kill two men. T gets wind of it and he's PISSED!

TGA sports some great unexpected dialogue. When a British officer briefs T about the particulars of the raid (at the funeral of the dead men), he ends with...

Officer: The service is about to start. Will you stay?
Tarzan: No. I need no sermon to tell me how I feel about Doctor Quarrels.

Take that!

Now he had just met Angie (Sara Shane) and she tells how she heard the distress call from one of the men who was shot. She's taken by T's physique while sipping Coke through a straw in a glass bottle and begins to recount her story of how she's a pilot for her 'friend', Louis Sanchez.

Angie: As a matter of fact, that's his plane I'm flying.

Tarzan: [in "I don't care about your sorry, prissy ass" mode]
There was another girl flying it last year.


T's now cruising down the river when Angie shows up flying low doing some stunts. Stupid bitch. I say that 'cause that's exactly what she is. She fucks up and crashes. T saves her sorry ass and now she's a liability and he doesn't miss a chance to remind her from time to time. From this point until the end it's a cat-and-mouse game with Slade and his crew doing what they can to stop T and T picking them off, one by one. I almost forgot that T and Slade have a little bit of history which sheds light on Slade's shady morality.

Cut to the end when it's just Slade and Tarzan left to duke it out. This is one badass motherfucking fight that has T losing. In one stroke of genius moment, Slade breaks off some cactus and starts beating T with it! WTF? OUCH!!! AWESOME!!!

Naturally T has to win and he does with him pushing Slade off the side of the large rock facing they're on. Slade lands on the rocks below and it's too cool for school. Tarzan is victorious, Angie has the boat and she's on her way back to civilization, the bad guys are dead and everything is right with the jungle once again. Fuckin'-A, Brother!

Scott sold me on his portrayal in the first few minutes of the film. He's outstanding. The rest of the cast (almost) is terrific as well. Quayle plays a great heavy as does Connery. This is 1958 Connery, not too long before he became James Bond, a time when he was criminally handsome. It's fucking unfair to the gazillions of other men in the world who just pale in comparison. It's disgusting. He's at his roguish best here and plays a great cad. It's said the producers were so taken with him and his physique that two years later when Scott's contract was up, they asked him to be the next Tarzan. He gave it a few days and was prepared to take the role but he got the call to be Bond at the last minute and you know how that turned out.

The ONLY thing that bugs me about TGA is Shane is as Angie. She's annoying, as I'm sure she's supposed to be, but Shane's just enough steps on this side of "not good" to bring the picture down a little bit. Know what I mean? Had they gotten a better actress it would have served the picture much better. I will say this, though; she improves after she's been in the jungle for a while, enduring hardships to the point of humility and respect. So it seems that Shane is capable but her range was limited. Ms. Shane, if you're reading this, I'm your biggest fan and you can send me your autograph to...

Oh, in case you're wondering? Tarzan nails her but not until after her "transformation". He's got standards, too, ya know.

If I'm not mistaken, this is the first (or certainly one of the first) Tarzan films shot in Africa. The location shooting is magnificent and it really adds to the adventure, not to mention the LOADS of action set pieces. After it was over I was wanting to pack my bags and head for the jungle to get into my own adventures. If I were 8 years old I would have pestered my parents to take me until they would finally give in and I'd end up at Walt Disney World taking the Jungle Cruise for the umpteenth time with the biggest grin on my face.

It just wouldn't be a Tarzan picture without three things: the stock footage of hippos, gators, birds and such, a mano-a-reptilio knife fight with an alligator/crocodile, and the classic Tarzan yell.

Fortunately, there's very little of the former and only one instance of the latter and even then it's only at the end of the picture. I was thinking up to that point how cool it would be NOT to hear it but then when it happens it's one of those jump up and cheer moments like at the end of CASINO ROYALE (2006) when, after the entire film of not hearing the classic Bond theme, Bond says his "Bond, James Bond" line and then the trumpets blast with all the balls of everyone who's ever played the roll. Wah-dap, bom, wah-dap, bom, wah-dap ba dom bom! It's one of those moments. Brilliant. Fucking brilliant.

Suck it, BITCH!

Kudos to EVERYONE who made this film. Everything worked and it's a shining example of why I love movies. TGA makes for pure escapist fun.

So how much did I like this movie? Well, I found a VHS fullscreen copy and watched it. Days later I showed it to a to a friend. Less than three weeks later I find out it's just been released by Warner Brothers Archive Collection. Days later I have a great widescreen DVD in my hands. Three times in one month. Life is fucking beautiful. I've since gotten the other Gordon Scott WBAC releases and they're awaiting play. And while I'm looking forward to re-vising this character again and again, I can't help but feel that TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE might be just that and the rest won't live up to it. Either way it'll be fun finding out.

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