Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tarzan The Magnificent

Paramount and producer Sy Weintraub brought back muscular Gordon Scott for one last Tarzan feature (Scott’s sixth), and it’s almost as good as the previous picture, the terrific TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE. A notable aspect of TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT is its casting of actor/stuntman Jock Mahoney (TV’s YANCY DERRINGER) as the main villain, because Mahoney would replace Scott as the jungle king in the next two Tarzan movies.

Director Robert Day (FIRST MAN INTO SPACE) and his co-writer Berne Giler (TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE) basically transplanted an old western plot into the East African jungle. The evil Banton family, led by patriarch Abel Banton (John Carradine, whose trip to Kenya to shoot this role was his first foray outside the United States), terrorize the local villages, robbing and killing the natives. Tarzan captures the oldest Banton brother, Coy (Mahoney), and has to take him on foot through the jungle to the authorities in Kairobi.

The journey would be difficult enough if Tarzan were just being pursued by Abel and his sons (minus one who died during Coy’s capture by Tarzan’s arrow). However, he is also forced to drag along five civilians with their own reasons for getting to Kairobi, including cowardly businessman Ames (Lionel Jeffries) and his wife Fay (Betta St. John, formerly Scott’s co-star in TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI), whose allegiance starts to shift from her husband to bad boy Coy.

The familiar story and a few extraneous characters drag MAGNIFICENT down a bit from the heights of GREATEST ADVENTURE, but the film still ranks among the best in the Tarzan canon. The Kenyan location shooting is a bonus, of course (some interiors were filmed at London’s Shepperton Studios), and Day, a former cameraman who cut his teeth directing horror and science fiction movies, has a nice eye for arresting visuals and sharp action. It’s hard to forgive Day, though, for the shots that clearly show Tarzan’s vine is attached to a zipline cable.

The film gets a nice boost from its actors. The great Carradine, who had a tendency to ham when not directed well, delivers a nuanced, even-keeled performance as the Banton-in-charge. Scott is better at the physical stuff than the dramatic, but he’s one of the screen’s better Tarzans (of course, he had some of the best material). He also matches up well with the rangy Mahoney, and their fight that ends the picture is exciting and well-cut. It is said that Sean Connery, who played a heavy in TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE, was approached by Weintraub and Day to play one of the Banton brothers, but was unavailable because he had just signed to star in a film called DR. NO.

Like the previous entry, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT was designed to appeal to both adults and children, and the extra care shows. Paramount released it on a double bill with Jerry Lewis’ THE BELLBOY, so maybe it thought any Tarzan flick was merely kid stuff. Scott, whose acting career to date consisted solely of Tarzan features, went to Europe and starred in sword-and-sandal, spy, and western flicks until his retirement from acting in 1967.

1 comment:

Shay said...

Years ago I was able to download this and Tarzan's Greatest Adventure from YouTube. Alas, they disappeared in a computer crash, and they're no longer on YouTube, either.