Monday, February 22, 2016

Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959)

This film is a game changer. Gone are almost all of the trappings of the previous films, key among them Jane and the pigeon English. It is the rebirth of the ape man as an adult character. Its is considered to be one of the best, if not the best Tarzan film ever made. I would have no trouble calling it one of the best in the series, certainly the best of the post Weissmuller films.

The plot of the film has Tarzan (Gordon Scott) trying to hunt down an old "friend" named Slade (Anthony Qualye). He and his men had been raiding villages getting supplies dressed as natives. When one someone in the village recognizes Slade, he shoot the man but not before moaning Slade's name. Its a clue which Tarzan is able to follow.  Heading off down the river Tarzan ends up joined by Angie (Sara Shane), a female pilot and model. The majority of the film is the cat and mouse game between Slade and Tarzan.

Gritty, realistic and nasty, this was no longer your grandfather's Tarzan. This was closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs idea of Lord Greystoke. Scott completely comes into the role in this film and it's shame he had only one more outing in the role. Its also completely understandable that he ended up in Italy doing Maciste films.

The film is notable for any number of reasons but of semi-major interest is the appearance of a young Sean Connery as one of Slade's cronies. He's a mean spirited and nasty man who loves to torment people. It ends up getting people, including himself killed.

One of the things that I really like is the relationship between Taran and Angie. What starts off as neither caring for the other much, but being intrigued and turns into something much more complex. How it unfolds is atypical not only of the series, but of most films period. The resolution is kind of to be expected, except you'd think it was to happen between films.

The psychology of everyone in this film is intriguing more so when you consider when the film was made. The allusions to sex (characters are clearly horny for each other) and the outright graphic violence as part of a character's psyche is shocking in what may very well have been deemed a kids film (something the Tarzan films were often considered). The fact that Tarzan yells triumphantly after pitching a foe off a cliff is both cathartic and makes you wonder who the hell our hero really is. There is a complexity here that ended up being lost when Scott left the role after the next film and the focus changed.

This is a great film on any level. Its just a solid trip into the jungle where bad things happen to bad people. You have a great hero and a great group of villains interacting in a series of great action set pieces. Its a film that has you on the edge of your seat for it's entire running time.

A must see for anyone who likes damn good films, never mind Tarzan or adventure films.

(There is a kind of inversion of this story with Tarzan hunted in the next film, the really good TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT)

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