Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tarzan and the Mermaids

1948's Tarzan and the Mermaids was Johnny Weissmuller's last hurrah as the ape-man. He was 44 by this time and had let himself get a little out of shape. It's not that he looks overly flabby. He just seems tired. Still, Big John does his best and still looks pretty good in the action sequences.
I have no memory of seeing this one as a kid, so last night's viewing on DVD was for all intents and purposes my first. This is a weird film. It was shot primarily in Mexico, and good use is made of the locations in Acapulco. The cinematography on this one is different from any of the other MGM/RKO Tarzan films. They almost seem to have shot it in high contrast, but that may be the stark lighting of the Mexican sunlight. The extensive use of location shooting makes a nice break from the studio bound look of the preceding three or four Tarzan films.
Of course this gets a bit strange when Tarzan and Jane's MGM tree house has suddenly moved from an insurmountable escarpment to the shore of a river, so the film could make use of the water locations.
Another weird thing is this is the first Tarzan film with extensive musical numbers. The comedy relief character Benji, a Mexican mailman who inexplicably lives in Africa, has a couple of songs and there's an elaborate dance number later in the lost city of Aquatania. Thankfully Tarzan is not involved in any of these numbers.
The plot is fairly routine, with a false god and an evil high priest exploiting happy natives and stealing the pearls that the natives dive for. You know that Tarzan will straighten things right out, and he does.
Missing is Johnny Sheffield as Boy, since he had grown too old to be called Boy anymore. His absence was explained by his being away at School in England. Actually the actor was starring in his own series of films as Bomba the Jungle Boy at a rival studio.
After Tarzan and the Mermaids, Johnny Weissmuller would be replaced by the younger and more chiseled Lex Barker for the next five Tarzan films. Weissmuller would go on to star as Alex Raymond's hero, Jungle Jim in 20 movies and a short lived television series.
Couple of bits of trivia. While shooting this film, Weissmuller fell in love with Acapulco and bought into a resort there along with John Wayne and some other film stars. He eventually retired to the area and is buried there.
Linda Christian, who plays the native girl Mara, has the distinction of being the very first Bond Girl, appearing in the "Climax!" television adaptation of the James Bond book Casino Royal in 1954.
Tarzan and the Mermaids is perhaps not the best send off that Weissmuller could have hoped for after 16 years and 12 films, but it's not a bad little movie.

No comments: