Sunday, July 12, 2009

NEVER AS A KID DID I HAVE THE SLIGHTEST INTEREST IN WATCHING TARZAN MOVIES AND GOD KNOWS THEY WERE ON ALL THE TIME. That's why it was such a pleasant surprise when our friend Weaverman sent me TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE (1942). This was one of the series of Tarzan movies featuring Johnny Weissmuller in the title role and frankly, even though I did watch an episode or two of the 60's Tarzan TV series with Ron Ely, Weissmuller will always be Tarzan to me. This despite his rather oddly uneven nipples. Seriously, take a look next time; one of Weissmuller's nipples is noticeably higher than the other. This is the first thing I noticed about a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movie. The second thing I noticed about it was that it was pretty entertaining. It ain't CITIZEN KANE, of course, but neither is THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. This Tarzan film is is one many typical 40's movie series that succeeded in getting bums in seats for years.
Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan is thankfully still paired with Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane and the erotic playfulness is in full force. Particularly in the scene where Tarzan scoops Jane up in his arms and carries her into the jungle treehouse's bedroom! No nude swimming in this one (O'Sullivan DID swim nude in the earlier TARZAN AND HIS MATE which I definitely need to see!) but the pair do take a dip along with their adopted son Boy (Johnny Sheffield of the later Bomba the Jungle Boy series). In fact, the studio must've liked the swimming scene so much that they re-insert it at the end of the film -- the exact same scene! The family's normal jungle idyll is disrupted by the arrival of a gruff, not-to-honest safari hunter who manages to piss off Tarzan almost immediately. As if that wasn't enough, he then manages to kidnap Boy and fly him to New York. Tarzan and Jane have been previously knocked out in a huge jungle fire and are rescued just in time by their faithful chimp Cheetah. When they find out Boy has been taken, Tarzan and Jane gather together some gold and head for New York. The nice touch is that, owing to Jane's previous knowledge of civilisation, Tarzan allows Jane to take the lead and he follows her. Various comic and serious adventures ensue -- from Tarzan taking a shower fully clothed to a suspenseful courtroom custody battle to Tarzan's leap off the Brooklyn Bridge. Tarzan eventually tracks Boy down to a travelling circus and frees him with the aid of some friendly elephants.
TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE is directed by Richard Thorpe with economy and snappy pacing. Thorpe's early directorial efforts include several "forgotten horrors" like MURDER AT DAWN (1932), SECRETS OF WU SIN (1932) and GREEN EYES (1934) as well as a couple other Tarzan flicks and THE THIN MAN GOES HOME (1944) with William Powell & Myrna Loy. Then Thorpe apparently was given bigger budgets and colour when he helmed the adventure films IVANHOE (1952) and KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE (1953) as well as a rather good Esther Williams musical ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU (1948). However, he will always be best known to me for directing one of my all-time favourite musicals: THREE LITTLE WORDS (1950) starring Fred Astaire, Red Skelton and Vera-Ellen. Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan by this time appear to have their roles down cold and they have developed a really nice chemistry together full of humour and affection (and the aforementioned sex). Child actor Johnny Sheffield as Boy isn't even annoying. Hell, they must've caught me on a good day. The supporting cast features three-time Oscar nominated (SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943), THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER (1947) & JOHNNY BELINDA (1948) character actor Charles Bickford as nasty hunter Buck Rand. Bickford's credits include 1939's OF MICE AND MEN with Lon Chaney Jr. and King Vidor's DUEL IN THE SUN (1946) otherwise known as "Lust in the Dust". Paul Kelly plays pilot Jimmy Shields who first goes along with Buck Rand and then turns against him and aids Tarzan. Kelly is probably best known for his real-life prison term for manslaughter in 1927 when he was involved in a love triangle and, after pummeling the cuckolded husband in a fistfight, caused the guy's death. Kelly began his acting career as a boy in 1911 and successfully managed to not only keep working from teenager to adult but ALSO managed to still have a career AFTER his jail term. That career also included classic gangster film THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939) with James Cagney, the Inner Sanctum series entry DEAD MAN'S EYES (1944) with Lon Chaney Jr. and classic film noir THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN with Barbara Stanwyck. Also aiding Tarzan is Connie played by Virginia Grey -- whose long and varied career includes a small role in 1939's THE WOMEN (as a perfume counter clerk), the Marx Brothers' THE BIG STORE (1941), WHISTLING IN THE DARK (1941) with Red Skelton and Conrad Veidt, Universal's HOUSE OF HORRORS (1946) with Rondo Hatton and Martin Kosleck, the Abbott & Costello comedy MEXICAN HAYRIDE (1948), Budd Boetticher's THE BULLFIGHTER AND THE LADY (1951), Douglas Sirk's ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955) with Jane Wyman & Rock Hudson and even Sam Fuller's THE NAKED KISS (1964). The supporting cast is rounded out by veteran Oscar-nominated character actor Chill Wills who also provided the voice for Francis the Talking Mule! Wills' credits include MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) with Judy Garland, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) with Gene Tierney, John Ford's RIO GRANDE (1950) with John Wayne, GIANT (1956) with James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor & Rock Hudson, and the 1970 episode of Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY entitled "The Little Black Bag" in which a futuristic medical bag is sent back in time. Sharp-eyed genre fans will note walk-on cameo roles by Miles Mander (RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, the Sherlock Holmes films THE PEARL OF DEATH and THE SCARLET CLAW, the 1943 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, classic film noir MURDER, MY SWEET and THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY), Willie Fung (MASK OF FU MANCHU), Darby Jones (as the memorable gaunt walking dead in Val Lewton's I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE) and the wonderful, spectacular, marvelous, beloved Mantan Moreland!
TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE was a surprisingly entertaining hour and change; especially when Tarzan decides to stop pussyfooting around New York society and to do things HIS way. Then the action truly amps up. Now if only I can get my hands on TARZAN AND HIS MATE. . .


Weaverman said...

Told you so! Seems it wasn't actually Maureen who did the nude swim in TARZAN AND HIS MATE but another olympic swimmer who could match JW's prowess.

Cerpts said...

Aw drat! Ah well, any nudity is good nudity, I suppose.