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Friday, 7 August 2015

Pulp Picture Of The Week: Tarzan, The Ape Man (1959)


Billed erroneously on TCM as the 1932 Johnny Weissmuller original (his first Tarzan flick), Tarzan, The Ape Man turned out to be the 1959 remake starring blonde-haired Denny Miller in his only outing as the Lord of The Jungle.

Rather a mess from start to finish, this low-budget, colour reworking of the original black-and-white movie is padded with jarringly incongruous stock footage and footage re-purposed from the Weissmuller movie (including shots of Weissmuller swinging through the trees), given a slight tint as a cheap stab at making it blend.

There's also a scene of Tarzan wrestling a crocodile randomly thrown in at one point that has been taken from 1934's Tarzan and His Mate.

Even Weissmuller's distinctive Tarzan yodel is lifted from the old films and dubbed into Miller's mouth. 

The story of Tarzan, The Ape Man sees Jane Parker (Joanna Barnes) arriving at a jungle way-station to find out why the money that had been supporting her London socialite lifestyle has dried up. It turns out that her father, Col. James Parker (Robert Douglas), and his caddish business partner Harry Holt (Cesare Danova) have been having financial troubles due to native unrest.

Just as they were all about to pack it in, they get a lead on the mythical elephants' graveyard and Holt convinces them there's a fortune in ivory to made there.

They all head off into the jungle, with a train of native bearers, slaughtering wild animals as they go like a pack of feral dentists.

Along the way, they run into Tarzan (Denny Miller), a westerner living in the jungle like a primitive (although you wouldn't know from his perfectly quaffed hair), who saves Jane from a rogue elephant.

If Tarzan was initially supposed to come across as an innocent, he fails, coming across instead as slightly creepy and rather threatening.

He does, however, remain an enigma throughout the film. His name is never spoken, nor the fact that he was raised by apes ever revealed. In fact, no explanation is ever given for what he is doing in the jungle in the first place.

After their encounter with Tarzan, the hunting party - having lost all their bearers except for their native guide - decide to push on for the elephants' graveyard.

The highlight of the film (and I'm really stretching the definition of that word here) comes when they discover the ruins of a lost city that contains a fantastically weird statue and a not-so-fiendish trap.

The adventurers end up surrounded by hostile pygmies and have to be rescued by Tarzan once more.

The final act of the movie comes with the survivors following the slow, heartbreaking, walk of a wounded elephant through a mountain tunnel system to the elephant graveyard.

Eventually, the very shallow, and financially motivated, Jane finally sees the light, although her emotional arc and sudden decision to stay with Tarzan makes no sense whatsoever.

At the same time, Holt - who started off as a bounder and has stayed one for the duration of the film - is effectively forgotten about, free to return home and bring in a fresh team to loot the graveyard of its ivory!

There's no escaping the feeling that Tarzan, The Ape Man was stitched together with very little consideration for how the story was going to work or if the characters were particularly convincing, instead opting to trade on the names Tarzan and Jane as known quantities.

As well as dodgy character development (or lack thereof) and shifting film stock, the film is rife with continuity errors, such as Jane's instantly drying hair when she's getting soaked by a playful baby elephant outside Tarzan's IKEA tree-house homestead.

Tarzan (Denny Miller) and Jane (Joanna Barnes)

2 comments:

  1. I love the original Weissmuller movies and have fond mermories of watching the 60s/70s TV series on Saturdays as a kid...Saturdays were great as a kid with repeats of Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon, Zorro, Tarzan...so much swashbuckling adventure! And that on top of Tiswas and The Banana Splits!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was my childhood recollections of Tarzan And The Leopard Woman that prompted this new 'pulp picture of the week' feature and got me tracking down old Tarzan films and the like.

      Ah, The Banana Splits - loved primarily for the cartoons, of course ;-)

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