TARZAN GOES TO INDIA. The film was a hit, and everyone involved, including the studio (MGM), was eager to make the next one. Set to film in Thailand under the direction of Robert Day, who helmed the excellent TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (Mahoney played the heavy opposite Gordon Scott’s Tarzan), TARZAN’S THREE CHALLENGES is the film that almost killed Jocko. Ironic that one of Hollywood’s premier stuntmen — who never suffered a serious injury on the set, despite the brawls, falls, and crashes — was almost taken down by tiny germs.
Because Day more or less shot TARZAN’S THREE CHALLENGES in sequence, Mahoney’s drastic weight loss during production from 220 pounds to 175 is obvious. The star contracted dysentery (apparently by swallowing water while shooting an ambush scene on a polluted river) with his body temperature occasionally reaching 105 degrees. He finally collapsed after finishing a rigorous fight scene with co-star Woody Strode (SPARTACUS) and might have died without the aid of Strode, who carried Mahoney to an ice-filled bathtub, and a physician who pumped the actor full of antibiotics.
Needless to say, TARZAN’S THREE CHALLENGES was the final Tarzan film for the then-44-year-old actor, whose career never recovered from the health scare (it was 18 months before he got his full strength back). The bright side is that this film is quite good with plenty of well developed action (despite his condition, Mahoney insisted on performing his own stunts, as always), gorgeous scenery, and the ever-intimidating Strode in a dual role.
Despite the title, the three challenges have little to do with the plot, but Tarzan must complete them successfully before taking possession of a little boy named Kashi (Ricky Der), the chosen successor to the throne of his country. The dying leader, Tarim (Strode in “Asian” makeup), sends for Tarzan to retrieve Kashi and escort him across dangerous terrain to Tarim’s city. Unfortunately, Tarim’s brother Khan (Strode at his most badassedness) believes his young son Nari (Robert Hu) should be the next leader and sets out with his men to stop Tarzan and kill Kashi.
A harrowing fire sequence satiates action fans during the first half, but the film’s show-stopper is the afore-mentioned fight to the death between Tarzan and Khan. Did I mention Mahoney and Strode battle with swords on a large net suspended over barrels of boiling oil? TARZAN’S THREE CHALLENGES was Mahoney’s swan song as the jungle king, but he also guest-starred in three episodes of Ron Ely’s TARZAN television series, including an excellent turn as a whip-wielding colonel in the two-part “The Deadly Silence,” which later was released to theaters as TARZAN’S DEADLY SILENCE.