Friday, January 18, 2008

Tarzan and the Jungle Boy

I think I mentioned a while back that I'd bought a DVD set of the three Mike Henry Tarzan movies. 1968's Tarzan and the Jungle Boy was Henry's third and last appearance as the Lord of the Jungle. Technically speaking, it may also be the closest anyone has come to actually putting Edgar Rice Burroughs's vision of Tarzan on the big screen. The first two Henry Tarzan films, Tarzan and the City of Gold and Tarzan and the Great River, both contain elements of the then prevalent 60s James Bond craze, especially City of Gold. Jungle Boy loses the Bond style prologue and just begins with Tarzan in the African rainforest, watching someone parachute out of a prop plane. He goes to investigate and finds a lovely lady reporter who has come to seek his help in locating a boy lost in the jungle seven years earlier. A recent photograph shows what looks like the titular Jungle Boy in a remote area of the jungle. Tarzan agrees to help out, and we're off.
The reason this one comes so close to Burroughs is that Henry not only speaks perfect English, but he really looks like Tarzan. The former football player has the sculpted but not overly heavy physique one would expect from Tarzan and with his chiseled features and black hair, he looks like a Russ Manning drawing come to life. Aside from the fact that he's accompanied by the ubiquitous Cheetah the chimp instead of Nkima the monkey, Henry's Tarzan is pretty spot on for the later ERB books especially, when Jane was seldom mentioned and Tarzan was more of a roving adventurer and guardian of "his" jungle. In his fights with the bad guys he is brutal and no nonsense and has no compunction about killing, just like the Tarzan in the books.
The leading lady in this one is Aliza Gur, looking very sexy in a 1960s way with her false eyelashes and her tight trousers. Furthering the Bond connection, Gur was a bond girl in From Russia with Love. She also made the rounds of the 60s adventure TV shows appearing on The Wild Wild West, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Daniel Boone, The Big Valley, etc.
I remember seeing this one at the Theater when I was a kid, and I watched it countless times in reruns on TV. This is my first viewing in about a decade though and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I keep thinking it's about time someone filmed a new version of Tarzan, one that comes closer to the books. If they do, I think they should get away from the origin story and film one of the novels that has a lost civilization or dinosaurs. Tarzan the Terrible comes to mind with its triceratops and its monkey-men and its human sacrifices in barbaric temples. That's the sort of thing that would get audiences fired up these days, not another tired retelling of the old Tarzan meets Jane story. There were two dozen Tarzan novels, but for some reason everyone just keeps adapting the first one over and over.


Henry R. Kujawa said...

"There were two dozen Tarzan novels, but for some reason everyone just keeps adapting the first one over and over."

No kidding. And the worst, in my estimation, was "GREYSTOKE", where the word "Tarzan" was never once mentioned in the dialogue. I guess they were embarrassed by the source material.

By comparison, "TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY" looked like it stepped right out of Russ Manning (with a bit of Ray Harryhausen as well). Saw that when it came out, L;OVED it, and was shocked later to read so many hate-filled reviews of it. WTF?

Among other things, what I don't get is, why Sy Weintraub did a story like "JUNGLE BOY", then did a TV series where Tarzan has a kid sidekick, but, it's NOT any one of the 3 kid sidekicks in the 3 previous films (even if he was played by the same actor from 2 of them).

Ah well. Mike Henry may look the part, but I think fans lucked out. Ron Ely gets my vote for the BEST ACTOR to ever play the role. (He's also my favorite.)

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Henry, I have great fondness for the Ron Ely series as well. I just picked up the first season from Warner Brothers DVD and these are the cleanest, sharpest versions of the show I’ve seen. Worth picking up.
I was okay with the first half of Greystoke, but it goes to the dogs pretty quickly in the second half of the film.