Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tarzan And The Valley Of Gold

Smack dab in the middle of Bondmania — it was released the year after THUNDERBALL — came TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD, which is never quite as thrilling as its title. Screenwriter Clair Huffaker, better known for westerns like THE WAR WAGON and THE COMANCHEROS, put together some decent pulp ideas for producer Sy Weintraub, and there’s no denying the novel impact of the film’s opening. Tarzan (Mike Henry) arrives in Mexico City wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase — you don’t see that every day. He enters a bullfighting ring, where he is attacked by a sniper, whom the jungle king kills with a giant Coca-Cola bottle. That’s the real thing, punk!

Tarzan, who hadn’t been seen on screen in Africa since 1960’s TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT, is in Mexico at the request of his old friend Ruiz, but he doesn’t know why. Before Tarzan can find out, Ruiz and everyone else in his house is murdered by the devious Augustus Vinero (David Opatoshu), who kidnaps the lone survivor, a young boy named Ramel (Manuel Padilla Jr., who became Ron Ely’s sidekick in the TARZAN TV series that premiered on NBC a few months later).

Ramel’s value is his knowledge of the legendary Valley of Gold, which Vinero wants for his own bad self. Turning down the offer of troops from the Mexican government, Tarzan barges after Vinero’s parties armed with just a knife, a leopard, a lion, and a chimpanzee. Despite Tarzan finally stripping down to the loincloth we’re so familiar with, Huffaker’s plot is firmly in spy territory. Vinero exterminates his enemies by gifting them with explosive jewelry, and the delectable Nancy Kovack (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS) would fit right in with the Bond Girls of the era.

Henry, a former NFL star, replaced stuntman Jock Mahoney, who did a good job in his two MGM films, but was significantly older and trimmer than most screen Tarzans. Henry is a weak actor, but he’s buff and more like the bodybuilder physique that Gordon Scott brought to the role. Henry made three Tarzan films for Weintraub in 1965, but he hated the experience of filming in Mexico and (in the latter two films) Brazil and later sued Weintraub.

Director Robert Day made four Tarzan features, as well as an episode of the Ely television series (Henry turned down the series). VALLEY OF GOLD isn’t up to the high standards of his TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT, partially because a more formidable villain than Opatoshu was needed. Tarzan and Vinaro never even lay eyes on each other, which is baffling, though Tarzan squares off with big, bald henchman Mr. Train (Don Megowan). Van Alexander’s jazz score is, again, more appropriate for a spy film than a jungle adventure.

American International Pictures handled the one-off release, which was supported by a novelization of Huffaker’s screenplay penned by noted fantasy author Fritz Leiber. It was the first time the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate had authorized a Tarzan novel written by an outside author, and it’s quite good.

1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

I've been meaning to read Leiber's novel for decades.