Saturday, July 02, 2016

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Blackstar: "The Overlord's Big Spell" (November 21, 1981)

The Overlord conjures an evil and powerful spell, one which draws all the magic from all locations and beings on Sagar to his location, in the ice palace.  

This spell has an unfortunate effect on Mara, whose life force is sustained by magic. She starts to vanish, a little at a time, becoming intangible.

Blackstar understands the risk if The Overlord is successful: “evil things will run wild” on Sagar, and there will be no chance left to stop the Overlord. Mara will die.

Meanwhile, the ever-more-powerful Overlord summons a new minion, a devil creature called Brilerand.  The demon is so evil, even Overlord cannot control him.

Because of this development, Blackstar and Overlord agree to a temporary truce.

“The Overlord’s Big Spell” is another “my enemy, my ally” story in which sworn enemies must put aside their differences so as to vanquish a dangerous and immediate threat.  

Here, the Overlord’s magic-sucking spell allows him to summon a big, red, gargoyle-like monster that refuses to accept his dominion.  In one funny scene, the Overlord demands that Brilerand obey him, and Brilerand replies by shooting laser beams at him, repetitively.

Blackstar and the Overlord join forces, though for different reasons. Blackstar wants to save Mara before she vanishes all-together, and Overlord knows that he cannot defeat the demon alone.  As soon as Brilerand is vanquished, the Overlord is back to his old tricks and the truce is definitively off.

This is a good episode of Blackstar, even though it follows the series formula rigorously since it features yet another evil spell. Mara’s predicament adds an emotional appeal to the story, and it is rich indeed to see the Overlord forced to work with his nemeses.  “Helping trobbits…it pains me!” he croaks.

Next week: “The Crown of the Sorceress”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Flash Gordon: "Survival Game" / "Gremlin's Finest Hour" (November 6, 1982)

In “Survival Game,” Arkon Bay, a bounty hunter (and reptile man), is hired by Ming to retrieve Flash Gordon, dead or alive. 

When Flash and Arkon crash land on a small island following a pursuit, they must work together to survive.

In “Gremlin’s Finest Hour,” Dr. Zarkov detects some unusual happenings in Mongo’s polar region.  

There, at the site of an ancient civilization, he is detecting unusual power readings.  Flash, Thun, Dale and Gremlin travel to investigate, taking along a “retro-scope” which permits them to see back in time thousands of years.

Once in the polar region, they encounter Ancients who mistake Gremlin for their lizard God.

Well, Filmation's Flash Gordon ends not with a bang, but with a whimper, with two underwhelming stories.  

“Survival Game is basically yet another “My Enemy, My Ally” story in which Flash and an opponent, here a bounty hunter, learn to respect and help each other so they can survive a crisis.  And yes, Flash Gordon just recently did a similar story in the second season: "The Warrior."

Meanwhile, “Gremlin’s Finest Hour” hauls out the old trope involving a tribe of ignorant natives mistaking somebody mortal for a God (see: Return of the Jedi [1983]).  Here, that individual is Gremlin, who sits on a dragon throne and eats berries with satisfaction while demanding that Thun fan him.

Both stories exemplify the problems Flash Gordon had after Season One. Basically, for all intents and purposes, Flash’s most interesting narrative ended with the fall of Ming. Season Two feels like an after-thought, a catalog of inconsequential adventures following the main event.  

A better approach, I submit, would have been to come up with a new arc for Season Two that would have kept all the characters occupied and in real danger.  

Personally, I think the “Gor-don” character, the once-ruler of Mongo (and Flash’s double) who was prophesied to return to Mongo one day, should have become the main villain as he returned to Mongo and invaded it. 

Ming could have still played a part, but our heroes would have been fully engaged and fighting for their lives (and freedom) as this new enemy arrived to take advantage of the power vacuum created by Ming’s fall.

I still love Filmation's Flash Gordon, at least it's first season.  But the second season was a grave disappointment.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Movie Trailer: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

Here's the trailer for The Legend of Tarzan (2016) opening in theaters today.

Tarzan (Filmation): "Tarzan and the Golden Lion" (September 25, 1976)

The third Filmation Tarzan episode is titled “Tarzan and the Golden Lion.”

You may recognize that name if you are a fan of the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books. Tarzan, in that story, befriends a golden cub, and raises it to adulthood. The lion then becomes something like a family pet, always loyal to Tarzan and his son and wife. The character of the “golden lion” recurs throughout the book series, following his first appearance in the ninth book. In the stories, he is known as Jad-bal-ja.

The Filmation episode that shares the book’s name is basically a two-part show.

The first part of the episode features N’Kima and Tarzan encountering the cub, and raising it to adulthood as a trusted friend. We see Tarzan teaching the lion in a kind of training montage. Apparently, years pass as it grows to maturity.

The second portion of the episode involves a group of gorilla-men who have taken N’Kima’s monkey friends as slaves.  Tarzan follows them to their kingdom to free them, and finds that these ape men are also enslaving a race of meek humanoids. These (speaking...) apes are known as the Bolmangani.

Tarzan teaches the primitives to fight, and that they are “slaves” to their fears.  When Tarzan is captured, one of the humanoid children leads a campaign against the ape-men, and the golden lion also arrives with reinforcements from the jungle.

I have to confess, I really loved this episode, especially the portion about the golden cub, Jad-bal-ja, at the beginning. The mother lion has died, and Tarzan notes that “Death is no stranger to the jungle.”  He then shows mercy and compassion for the lion, and there are lovely shots of him playing with the cub, training, it and, more importantly, living with the lion, and treating him as a friend.

The second part of the episode is as dogmatically moralistic as any Filmation show you can think of, with Tarzan lecturing the primitives about standing up for themselves.  

It’s a good message (“sometimes we must face our fears to do what is necessary,”) and the end is exciting, with the golden cub showing up with a stampede to stop the ape men.

Tarzan (Filmation): "Tarzan and the Vikings" (September 18, 1976)

The second episode of Filmation’s Tarzan (1976) is called “Tarzan and the Vikings” and in it, Tarzan and N’Kima unexpectedly see a Viking dragon ship sailing down a jungle river.

Tarzan saves the Viking crew, once it disembarks, from a black panther, but the Vikings are not impressed. They decide to take him back to their village as a slave.

In the village, Tarzan soon becomes involved in a local family issue. The leader Erik’s adult daughter, Karina, is betrothed to an insurrectionist named Torvalt, but is in love with a man named Bjorn. 

Bjorn wishes to be a law man, and so Karina’s father doesn’t respect him. He wants her to marry a warrior.  Tarzan reminds everyone that “courage comes in different shapes” and that “being able to fight does not mean you are a man.”

Threatened by Tarzan, Torvalt arranges at trap for him. Karina becomes trapped on a waterfall, and Tarzan goes to her rescue. Torvalt leaves Tarzan there, trapped, and tells everyone he is dead. 

But Bjorn comes to Tarzab;s rescue, and Tarzan is able to confront Torvalt and his lies. Erik comes to realize that heroes indeed can come in many forms.

This second episode of the animated Tarzan is not quite as engaging as the first, though the idea of a Viking culture taking root in an African jungle is a wonderful fantasy touch.  

During the course of the episode, Karina explains to Tarzan how a Viking ship was driven off course during a storm, because of Odin’s anger at the captain. The ship came ashore in the jungle, and a colony was formed. 

Other than that observation, it’s clear that this Tarzan series is mostly about Tarzan helping other people, and lecturing them, using his distinctive brand of wisdom to do so. There is not, at least so far, much going on in terms of Tarzan, his family, or background. 

Instead, each week he encounters fantastic kingdoms, and people in those kingdoms who need his help. That’s the formula.

Tarzan is portrayed in the series as a calm, fair individual. He never rises to take the bait when verbally abused by enemies.  He seems without ego. This i quite far from the image of a “wild man” that many hold of the character.

Advert Artwork: Tarzan (Filmation Edition) - CBS Saturday

Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle (1976): "Tarzan and the City of Gold" (September 11, 1976)

“The jungle. Here I was born. And here my parents died when I was but an infant. I would have soon perished too had I not been found by a kindly she-ape named Kala, who adopted me as her own. And taught me the ways of the wild. 

Now I share the friendship and trust of all jungle animals.  The jungle is filled with beauty…this is my domain…for I am Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle.” - The opening narration to Filmation’s Tarzan (1976).

Commencing in the fall of 1976, Filmation began airing on Saturday mornings an animated series called Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle. Although from its second year forward, the Tarzan show was part of an omnibus hour, the first season consisted of sixteen half-hour episodes devoted totally to the Lord of the Jungle. In total, Filmation produced 36 episodes involving Tarzan.

Remarkably, Filmation’s version of the material was one of the most faithful ever produced and even developed plot-lines direct from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ literary series.  

Tarzan himself was the educated, well-spoken man imagined by Burroughs, and did not follow in the semi-articulate manner of the early Weismuller Tarzans.

Jane did not appear as a regular on this series, and Tarzan’s most frequent on-screen companion is a tiny monkey named N’Kima, a character also taken from the literary adventures.

The Animated Series features an opening montage that recounts Tarzan’s origin (excerpted above), depicting his burned-out jungle home (where his parents died) and his rescue at the hands of a friendly she-ape, Kala.

Because animation allows a writer to travel almost literally anywhere, the Filmation Tarzan is rich in the “lost civilization” or “lost cities” Tarzan trope, taking the characters to a gold metropolis and to a kingdom of Vikings, among other exotic locations.  It's a very busy, very populated jungle.

Throughout the series, Tarzan is a steadfast voice for the persecuted, standing up to Queens and other rulers, and always fighting for the weak, or champion-less.  

He also has a special technique when facing hostile animals. He fights against them for a bit, and then tells them, in friendly terms, to surrender…to leave.  They always obey his entreaties, realizing they have picked the wrong battle.

The series’ first episode, aired on September 11, 1976, is titled “Tarzan and the City of Gold” and is an adaptation of  sorts of the Burroughs book of the same name, first published in April of 1932.  The book is the sixteenth in the original Tarzan continuity and involves Tarzan’s encounter with a gold city, and its tyrannical ruler, Queen Nemone.

In the episode, that gold city is named Zandor, and Tarzan first encounters it while on a trek to take home a lost maiden, Thia, from the neighboring city of Athne.  

Once captured in Zandor, Tarzan is forced to fight in the gladiatorial games against a warrior named Phobeg (Ted Cassidy).

Tarzan refuses to kill Phobeg in the arena, and so Phobeg befriends him. This turn of events qualifies the episode as a “My Enemy, My Ally”-type story, which I have written about in regards to Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Enemy”), and Planet of the Apes (“The Trap”) to name just two variations of the tale. In narratives of this type, the most committed of enemies become friends, or at least work together towards common cause.

The episode culminates with Tarzan and Thia escaping custody -- with Phobeg’s help -- on a chariot. Thia is then returned home to Athne, and Tarzan returns to his jungle, where N’Kima awaits.

I’ve been watching a number of Filmation animated series from the late seventies and early eighties recently (namely season two of Flash Gordon and Blackstar), and it is a delight to report that Tarzan is pitched at a higher level, and seems a bit less slapdash.

First, there’s the commitment to creating Tarzan and his world as Burroughs envisioned it, even if some of the details are altered slightly.  

And secondly, the art work is rendered well. There are some beautiful vistas here, both of the jungle and various fantasy domains. 

This doesn’t feel like a cheap attempt to strip mine a popular brand, but a legitimate attempt to introduce a new generation to the adventures of Tarzan.  Not all the episodes are great, and there's a fair amount of moralizing (a constant in 1970s Saturday morning television), but many of the stories are exciting and well-rendered.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tarzan Week: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)

First things first. Director Hugh Hudson's cinematic follow-up to his Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire (1981), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) is not particularly faithful to the events depicted in his source material, Edgar Rice Burrough's 1914 novel, Tarzan of the Apes.

For instance, in this 27-million dollar movie adaptation, Tarzan (Christopher Lambert) does not meet Jane Porter (Andie MacDowell) in the jungle; nor return for her later in the United States; in Baltimore, and then Wisconsin, specifically.

The film also largely omits Tarzan's varied (sometimes playful) interactions with a local village/tribe in Africa, plus his attempts to learn to read English himself.

And the film's climax -- in which Tarzan returns to the jungle, leaving Jane behind (ostensibly forever...) -- is also not exactly canonical; though it can certainly be rationalized in movie terms, since everyone involved in the production was no doubt thinking/hoping "sequel."

Importantly, however, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, does, in very welcome fashion, get at the human "truth" of the popular, often-told Tarzan story. Specifically, the film offers a realistic and believable excavation of that which Burroughs first imagined: the story of an orphaned human boy raised by apes in the wild, and his interactions with so-called human civilization.

If the Richard Donner Superman: The Movie of 1978 was all about "you'll believe a man can fly," then this careful, painstaking iteration of Tarzan is, perhaps, "you'll believe a man can swing on a vine."

And actually, that's no small achievement.

Over the long decades, the silver screen Tarzan has been involved in the hunt for gold (Tarzan's Secret Treasure [1941]), battled Nazis (Tarzan Triumphs [1943]) and faced down evil cults (Tarzan and the Leopard Woman [1946]). 

By deliberate contrast, Greystoke is a back-to-basics approach, focusing on the man and his identity rather than the pulp-styled enemies or cliffhanger challenges the character so often faces.

Crafted with meticulous care -- with talented actors, gorgeous locations and Rick Baker's still-impressive ape make-up -- Greystoke was widely welcomed in theaters in 1984 as "one of the best movies" of the year. Joseph Gelmis wrote in Newsday (March 30, 1984, page 7) that it is a "serious movie, a thinking man's Tarzan. It is also ravishingly beautiful, provocative" and "profoundly moving."

Much of that "profoundly moving" part arises from the considerable efforts of Christopher Lambert, an actor who is, in many ways at his absolute finest here. I also admire Johnny Weissmuller, one of Lambert's more prominent predecessors in the role of Tarzan, but Weissmuller's interpretation was a product of a different, more artificial/theatrical age in movie history. Weissmuller was a sort of muscle-bound body-builder-type, which today seems wrong for Tarzan. He was also a bit too clean-shaven and civilized to seem a believable man of the jungle.

Greystoke knowingly adopts a more natural approach, and Lambert is absolutely believable as an animalistic figure, one almost constantly in motion. His Tarzan is a creature of instinct, curiosity, and barely-contained energy. Lambert doesn't look like a body builder, either. His Tarzan is a lean, strong man who has flourished in the wild, sustained by that which nature provides. 

And much of Lambert's focused performance -- the character's sense of cunning and intelligence -- arises in his penetrating eyes. Lamberts' eyes are like lasers here, targeting objects and, in an instant, assessing them as threats or non-threats. Lambert also carries all of the character's emotional pain in his eyes, and at times, this is a powerful choice. It's an accomplished performance.

Jack Kroll in Newsweek described Lambert's Tarzan well, (March 26, 1984, page 74), calling him "a supple, feral creature, not an over-muscled hulk, whose animal grace becomes a human virtue and whose eyes, piercing but gentle, shows a keenness and clarity that over-civilized senses have lost."

This description really nails the Tarzan persona of Greystoke. Tarzan is not a super-human "hero" in any way, though he boasts the survival skills of his adopted family, the apes. Instead, the movie finds the character's vulnerable, human core.

Much of what Greystoke dramatizes is, in effect, Tarzan's sense of powerlessness in the face of mortality. 

As a baby, he is unable to prevent the death of his biological parents, the noble Claytons. 

As a teen in the jungle, he loses his ape mother, Kala, and is again. powerless to prevent death. 

Finally, upon return to civilization, Tarzan loses his kindly grandfather (Ralph Richardson) and even his ape father, who has been shipped to London to be studied. 

Thus life for Tarzan, as depicted in this film, is but a series of terrible losses; grief experienced and re-experienced.

This viewpoint, I submit, helps to explain Tarzan's final choice to return to the jungle at the film's climax. When life is so short, when death lurks around every corner, we cling to "home," to the place that helps us remember those loved ones that we've lost. For Tarzan, that place of happier memories is the jungle.

Unlike many Tarzan adventures of the silver screen, Greystoke also focuses explicitly on the differences between man's "modern" world and the primitive ape world of the jungle. Howard Kissel, writing a review in Women's Wear Daily (March 28, 1984, page 27), noted that Burroughs' book was written "when Darwinism and its social implications were still a dominant intellectual force." 

He goes on to suggest that "the book was aware of man's dual nature - simultaneously primitive and civilized." 

Greystoke gets at this point ably. It spends a little over half its running time in the jungle, as Tarzan ascends to the leadership of a local ape tribe, and about an hour in staid England, where instinct is derided and manners are treated as a paramount consideration.

Here's the difference as I see it: In the ape world, nobody tried to control Tarzan. Or if they did...he confronted and dominated (or even killed) them. In England, Tarzan becomes a pawn of sorts, one who is supposed to "represent" something, perhaps, like the innate superiority of man over beast. "You must overturn what has happened to you," Phillippe D'Arnot (Ian Holm) suggests. at one point. But Tarzan isn't interested in being a case study. He doesn't need to be "greater than the accident of his childhood," or a triumph of the "Imperial Science."

On the contrary, Tarzan is "what the jungle has made him" and just wants to be free 

As much as Tarzan loves and admires his grandfather, he knows that the land is not his to "sell" or "keep." His wisdom is different from the conventional wisdom of Darwin's England, and this also makes him a perpetual outsider.

The duality of Tarzan 's nature -- part man/part ape -- is often expressed in Greystoke through shots involving a mirror (or a reflection). "Mirror" is one of the first English words Tarzan learns, for instance. 

Early in the film, while sitting lakeside with another ape, Tarzan also spies his own reflection in the water and can detect, for the first time, how different he is from those around him. Later, he discovers the hut where his parents died and -- again -- gazes into a mirror, expressing a half-remembered familiarity with the alien world of human civilization.

Finally, when Tarzan courts Jane, Hudson shoots almost the entire scene inside the frame of a mirror, in a reflection. 
he inference is that by accepting Jane, by loving her, Tarzan fully enters the world of civilization, perhaps. 

There's a subtle message about human relationships here, as well. Jane loves Tarzan because he is not like the mannered buttoned-down men of the aristocracy, the men who are all around her. And yet, still, she wants to change him. As much as she admires him for what he is, she knows that in this state he is not an acceptable husband. Eventually, in a scene showcasing the nobility of women, Jane chooses Tarzan's happiness over her own.

Greystoke is made with great care and love (from a script by Robert Towne, under a pseudonym). For example, I admire the beautiful book-end views of the jungle that open/close the film, a reminder that the life of Tarzan -- indeed all our lives -- is but a blip in the life of the Earth. 

The ape-suits by Rick Baker hold up remarkable well today, nearly thirty-years after the film's production. And the performances are particularly strong, with Lambert providing a strong, sympathetic anchor. Richardson and Holm also do great work, creating very sympathetic "father figures" for Tarzan.

But two aspects of the film may prove troubling to some. The first is a technical issue. Andie MacDowell (playing Jane) is dubbed throughout the entire film by Glenn Close. Every time the young character speaks, there's an emotional disconnect between MacDowell's youthful appearance and Close's line readings. You can just tell something is off, and this fact diminishes the relationship between Jane and Tarzan in some critical, under-the-surface fashion. American accent or no American accent, MacDowell's line readings should have stayed in the film. Americans Kevin Costner (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), Keanu Reeves (Bram Stoker's Dracula) and Julia Roberts (Mary Reilly) have all played British characters and were not dubbed in their roles, and MacDowell deserves the same courtesy.

Secondly, Greystoke seems to go out of its way to not include or verbalize the name "Tarzan" in relation to Lambert's character. He is called Clayton, Jack, or simply Greystoke. I understand why this decision was made. It's another attempt to distance the character from his pulpy movie past and make this film a serious, believable interpretation of the legend. But Tarzan must be can't hide his name any more than you can hide the name "Superman" (like Man of Steel attempted...) or "Batman." This movie very much wants to be about who Greystoke is -- his very identity -- and yet the name Tarzan ("White Skin") is a crucial part of that identity. The movie should have taken the name back for Tarzan, not ignored it.

My feeling about Greystoke is that it is a great first movie in a franchise that, unfortunately, never arrived. 

The movie accomplishes the difficult task of taking Tarzan's world seriously; of making the character and his environs believable and authentic to a degree never before seen. I just wish there had been a second film in the franchise, one which captured a little more of the pulp; a little more of the adventurous spirit of the Tarzan stories we know from our pop culture. Rex Reed wrote In The New York Post (March 30, 1984, page 39) that Greystoke boasts "lavish detail," "opulent sets and splendid canvases of Scottish life on the heath" but "the second half resembles all too often a boring Masterpiece Theater production on Public Broadcasting."

I wouldn't go that far, perhaps. 

Greystoke is a lush and enchanting character piece that gazes at the beating heart of Tarzan. It succeeds on those grounds. But I too -- particularly as the movie rounded out its second hour -- wished for a little more excitement, a little more action

After all, what's the point of being the Lord of the Jungle if you can't rescue Jane from a few perils like quick sand, giant snakes, or rampaging elephant? Right?

Greystoke remains a gorgeous and powerful movie, featuring perhaps one of the greatest Tarzans in film history (thanks to Christopher Lambert's performance.)  Yet when its over, you do wish the movie had also let Greystoke be the Tarzan of our popular imagination, at least for a little while.

I also would have enjoyed, I guess I'm saying, seeing a sequel with Lambert's Tarzan...fighting Nazis, Ant-Men and unearthing golden cities.

Tarzan Week: Tarzan the Ape Man (1981)

"We're here for your pleasure. Not ours," states Bo Derek (as prim and proper Jane Parker), in her husband (John Derek's) sexual-skewing interpretation of the Tarzan mythos, Tarzan the Ape Man (1981).

Naturally, she's talking about the reasons why women are put on this Earth (for men's pleasure; not their own...), but she might as well be discussing the reasons this film looks the way it does.

Tarzan the Ape Man was produced -- seemingly -- entirely for male consumption and pleasure. After all, the film is a lingering, loving tribute not to Edgar Rice Burroughs' seemingly immortal jungle man character, but to Derek's legendary and statuesque, perfectly-sculpted body and her character's tantalizing sense of sexual "innocence."

I realize the purists -- and just about everybody else, too -- hated Tarzan the Ape Man when it was released back in the early 1980s, but perhaps it is not as far off the mark as many have insisted.  If one considers the sexual allure of Maureen O’Sullivan, in Tarzan and his Mate (1934), for instance, one could see this film as honoring, perhaps, that heritage.

The basic idea of this "re-imagination" is a depiction of the Tarzan story re-framed and re-parsed from Jane's naive perspective; and as a sort of soft-core travelogue across gorgeous, picturesque, wild Africa.

Accordingly, the film's photography (of both naked bodies and exterior locations...) is never less than beautiful (some might say stunning), and there's no studio fakery to break the illusion of a sojourn into the bush, so-to-speak.

In terms of bad movie history, the torch of bad-actors starring in soft-porn genre films is passed from John Phillip Law (Barbarella), here playing a photographer named Holt (Neil Hamilton’s character in 1932 and 1934), to chiseled Miles O'Keeffe, portraying Tarzan. That baton-passing alone is a cinematic milestone, I'd estimate.

Richard Harris (who also starred with Bo Derek in Orca back in the disco decade), plays Jane's father in this version of Tarzan, and he takes his performance way over-the-top. Mr. James Parker is a central character in the screenplay, however, which concerns Jane's journey of self-discovery. Yes, she must select one of the two Alpha males in her life: either bad old Dad or hunky, heroic Tarzan.

Since this battle of the --ahem -- larger-than-life men is the crucible of the narrative, both male characters are depicted by director John Derek in - how shall I say this? -- phallic terms.

For instance, Mr. Parker informs Jane that her mother almost died "during conception." 

You read that right. Not child-birth, mind you, but conception. That the act of love-making. 

"I held her too long; I loved her too hard," he explains regretfully, providing way too much information about a scene I don't want to envision.

Later, Holt (a milquetoast) explains to Jane that it takes a very "big" (!) man -- her father -- to go into wild Africa in search of a mythical inland sea, which is tucked secretly away behind a giant stone protrusion in the land, an outcropping of insurmountable rock that Bo and the others must scale. 

Uh oh. A big man to climb towering outcroppings of rock hard stone.  Got it.

Finally, there's an absolutely incredible, shameless, downright brazen composition in which Harris is seen to be polishing a large chrome cannon (placed in the frame around his crotch level).

The cannon, not surprisingly, is pointed due north.

When Bo Derek approaches Harris and his gleaming cannon, she arrives from the submissive position in the frame, from below...studying the shining cannon wide-eyed...

Even Richard Harris (who regrettably plays his first scene without pants...) and his silver cannon, however, can't compete with Tarzan in the phallus department. The Ape Man (always wearing a tiny loin cloth...) reveals his worthiness by freeing Bo not just from another phallic symbol -- a gigantic boa constrictor -- but by rescuing her from a deflowering at the --errh-- hand of a savage local who had planned to make Jane his bride.

The set-pieces in Tarzan The Ape Man are not really what you would expect of a Tarzan movie; confirming the fact that this movie is really about sex, not adventure. The few action sequences are filmed in agonizing slow-motion and look more like coitus than combat.

Take the snake scene: it's an over-long montage in slow-motion photography, with close-ups of Bo and Miles writhing, gasping and twisting in muddy water. Foreplay never looked so great. But it takes too want to get to the main event.

There's also an incredible scene in the middle of the film, one set at an "inland ocean" in which Jane decides - out of the blue -- to take a bath. 

We are then treated to a lingering scene of Bo Derek swimming in a shiny blue sea; the waves lapping against her supple, gorgeous flesh. She poses in the sand, her clothes clinging transparently to her flesh. It's quite intoxicating...until a wandering lion shows up.

Tarzan shows up too, and a love story (of sorts) commences.

Harris, who actually gets to voice a line of dialogue I've always wanted to say to my wife ("I wallow in me. I enjoy every syllable I say."), soon confronts daughter Jane over her new interest in the hunky ape man. "Do you understand what he wants?" He asks.

Yeah Dad, I think she understands.

Later, Tarzan abducts Jane and one of his chimpanzee entourage tosses her a banana at a well-timed moment. Clutching the banana close to her mouth, doe-eyed Jane says the words we've longed to hear from her: "I'm still a virgin." 

She then adds "I don't know whether that's good or bad...” Tantalizingly, Jane then sucks a little on the banana...

Later in a film that feels like all promises and no delivery, Jane teaches Tarzan to smile. She puts her fingers to his lips. He responds in kind. Then, as if he was born to it, Tarzan reaches quickly under Jane's (see-through) shirt and begins to vigorously massage her nipples.

The film climaxes (if you'll pardon my choice of phrase), with Bo Derek topless again, covered head-to-toe in glistening white paint; rescued in the nick of time by Tarzan from the aforementioned savage. As for poor Daddy, he's finally undone by the King of Phallic Symbols: gored by an elephant tusk.

As he dies, he continues to blabber endlessly. "Your life is going to be a marvelous adventure," old Dad says to his daughter, just as she is about go off and be deflowered by Tarzan.

Then, as the end credits roll, we are treated to the oddest threesome in cinema history. Tarzan, Jane and an eager orangutan frolic and wrestle at length, their limbs and bodies intertwined.

Well, whatever floats your banana, Tarzan.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tarzan Week: Ranking the MGM Tarzan Movies - Best to Worst

I enjoy and deeply admire all the Weismuller/O’Sullivan Tarzan pictures from MGM, and this is how I would rank them, best to worst. 

I would say that at least two of them (1932 and 1934) editions are cinematic classics.  Tarzan and His Mate is an undisputed work of art (erotic and pointed) and only one of the films, Tarzan's Secret Treasure, is truly underwhelming.

MGM Tarzan: Best to Worst

1. Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

2. Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)

3. Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942)

4. Tarzan Escapes (1936)

5. Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939)

6 Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941)

Tarzan Week: Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942)

A plane lands in the Great Escarpment with circus employees aboard. They have come to capture lions for their show in New York, but Tarzan (Johnny Weismuller) destroys their guns, and orders them to leave by sun-up the next day.

Boy (John Sheffield) encounters the hunters before they leave, and Buck Rand (Charlie Bickford), circus owner, sees how Boy has trained his elephant wards to perform tricks.  He realizes they would make a great act in the Big Apple.

A tribe of natives attack after Boy saves one white man from a lion, and the interlopers retreat to the plane, taking Boy with them.

Cheetah tells Tarzan what has occurred, and so the Lord of the Jungle and Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) make plans to get him back, even though it will mean leaving the jungle.

With Cheetah in tow, they make it to New York City, and try to track down Rand and his circus. Jane implores Tarzan to let the law act, but a custody trial goes awry.  

Tarzan swings into action in the “stone jungle” to get his boy back.

Critics have not been kind to this Tarzan film, the last of the run before a studio switch to RKO.  But I have a different opinion. 

Tarzan’s New York Adventure is actually The Voyage Home (1986) of the MGM Tarzan series. The movie is filled with humorous fish-out-of-water scenarios as Tarzan reckons with city life, and the movie features abundant heart and suspense too. 

Nothing less than Tarzan’s family is on the line here. But despite this fact, the film includes gag after gag, for both Weismuller's Tarzan and the mischievous Cheetah.

I was not the world’s biggest fan of Tarzan’s Secret Treasure because it seemed content with the status quo, and felt tired.  

This movie, by contrast, feels invigorated by the new setting and new situations.  

Yes, broadly speaking, we get the same plot we’ve seen before, on numerous occasions.  White capitalists arrive in the jungle and threaten the family with their greed.  

But in this case, Tarzan’s rescue involves a trip into modernity, where he grapples with tailors, lawyers, hat-check girls, opera singers, and policeman.  And when he swings into action, he climbs skyscraper ledges, or dives from the top of the Brooklyn Bridge.  

These are all fresh spins on the standing scenarios of the Tarzan franchise, and are a lot of fun.  I particularly lie how Tarzan takes a shower with his clothes on, at one point, and Jane must step in.

Basically, we learn a lot about Tarzan here by the way he navigates our world, and audiences will feel more affection for the character than ever before. 

Also -- it’s impossible not to note it -- but white civilization gets some redemption here, for the first time since we said goodbye to Jane’s father in Tarzan the Ape Man in 1932.  

The judge in Tarzan’s case is eminently fair-minded and decent, for example, and so is his lawyer.  One would expect the film’s criticism of the modern age to kick into high gear in this film, but instead the film relies on humorous aside and jibes.  It’s a sweet, amusing movie, never a strident one.

Tarzan's New York Adventure isn’t bad, structurally-speaking, either. 

The film’s book-end swimming scenes achieve a lot, with very little.  Tarzan, Boy and Jane start and end the movie by swimming together -- as a family -- in the jungle river.  These moments showcase order, and, finally, the restoration of order.  Also, this is our last view of Weismuller, O’Sullivan and Sheffield in their trademark roles.

I suppose the MGM series could have ended in a variety of ways, but Tarzan’s New York Adventure possesses a fine sense of humor, and a sense of visual distinction that separates it from the other Tarzan films.  

Tarzan's New York Adventure stands out in the memory, and is a strong closing chapter to this particular cinematic Camelot.