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Monday, February 23, 2015

Tarzan the Magnificent (1960) - Review

In this sequel to Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, producer Sy Weintraub continues to make gritty character driven stories starring Tarzan that really capture much of the tone of the Burroughs books. Although this Tarzan doesn’t run into any lost cities, he is more in keeping with the intelligent and honorable hero from the books, as opposed to the “Me Tarzan, you Jane” of the earlier Johnny Weissmuller years.


  The notorious Banton Family rob a mining company of their payroll at a local settlement, killing some people as they escape. One of the gang members tears off a wanted poster with his picture on it, stating there is a $5,000 bounty on Coy Banton (Jock Mahoney). Inspector Wyntors (John Sullivan) tracks down the Bantons and is able to capture Coy while the rest of them are asleep. He attempts to take Coy in but they are quickly ambushed by the now awakened and angered Bantons, resulting in Wyntors getting shot and killed. Why Inspector Wyntors came alone and only tried to bring in one of the criminal family is never fully explained other than there being no reward mentioned for any of the other Bantons. So this guy was clearly in it for the money.

Dead Inspector 
Sadly the only bank he gets to has crocodiles sun bathing on it.

The Bantons have to postpone their victory party, because it just so happens that Tarzan (Gordon Scott) was right in the vicinity and is able to re-capture Coy and kill Ethan Banton (Ron MacDonnell) with some well-placed arrows. Once again it is nice to see Tarzan using a bow and arrow which, along with his knife, was his primary weapon in the books. Turns out that Wyntors was a friend of Tarzan and so he decides to bring Coy Banton in so that Wyntors’ widow can get the reward. This does not sit well with Abel Banton (John Carradine), the patriarch of the Banton Gang who vows to rescue Coy and avenge the death of Ethan.

Tarzan the Magnificent John Carradine 
The Bantons.

Tarzan arrives at the town of Mantu where he plans to wait for the riverboat to Kairobi where Coy Banton will stand trial, but there is a slight hitch as no one in town is willing put them up for the night, as helping Tarzan against the Bantons is considered a death sentence. And by no one I mean none of the white people in town, as an old black native is not afraid to die and offers Tarzan sanctuary.

High Noon in Mantu.

Abel Banton isn’t about to let anyone take his son to jail, so along with his other sons Martin (Al Mulock) and Johnny (Gary Cockrell), they ambush the riverboat before it reaches Mantu, killing the boat captain and forcing the first mate and passengers to shore before torching the boat.

Four passengers set sail that day, for a three hour tour, a three hour tour.

The interesting thing here is that after killing the boat captain, Abel orders the passengers off and when rich white dude Ames (Lionel Jeffries) offers him money to let them stay on the boat, he refuses the money as destroying the boat is his only goal here, not robbery. This family gang is shown having no problem killing, yet they spare the life of several witnesses, then turn around murdering more people and destroying property. They even offer to give the group a gun to keep them safe from the local wildlife. Later, when they arrive at Mantu and ask the outpost doctor to tell them where Tarzan went, Johnny Banton kills the doctor after he gives in to their threats and tells them that Tarzan is heading to Kairobi on foot. As villainous groups go, they have quite the widely varying morality.

Johnny Banton 
There’s got to be a crazy one.

On his trip to Kairobi with Coy Banton, Tarzan is saddled with Ames, his much younger wife Fay (Betta St. John), Conway (Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell) a young man on his way to a job interview, and Lori (Alexandra Stewart), a pretty blonde woman. The only reason Tarzan allows this group to tag along is because Ames claims to be in charge of a huge dam construction that will mean many jobs for the locals. This is another clear example of Tarzan as not just a guy who can wrestle lions, but one who can think of the big picture when it comes to helping people. Of course this means Tarzan has to keep a bunch of ill-equipped foreigners alive while being chased by the murderous Bantons. At least he has Tate (Earl Cameron), the riverboats first mate who happens to be competent, and wants to avenge his dead friend.

no smores 
Do you think Tarzan packed any Smores?”

The trip is interrupted when natives capture them, as they recognize Coy as one of the men who raided their village earlier, killing one of their people, and are very keen on administering their own justice. Lucky for the group the Chief’s wife is in the middle of a difficult labour, but it turns out Conway used to be a doctor and is able to aid with the poor woman’s breach birth. Being that they saved the Chiefs son, a life for a life is offered and the group is allowed to leave with Coy.

Native trouble 
No nasty cannibals in this film, just rightfully pissed off natives.

During their long trek through dense jungle, burning hot savannahs, and deadly swamps, Coy Banton has worked his rugged charms on Fay who has become seriously disillusioned with her husband’s utter cowardice, racism and tired monologues about being the best. This leads to her dropping clues for the following Banton clan and to eventually helping Coy escape, kind of like a reverse Stockholm syndrome. While everyone is asleep, Fay somehow gets the handcuff keys from around a sleeping Tarzan’s neck, and the two sneak off together. I do have to call bullshit on that, as Tarzan could never be that deep a sleeper and have survived all those years in the jungle.

Tarzan sleeps 
Pssst, Tarzan, they’re getting away.

The movie has some pretty dark elements as well as quite a few decent action scenes; Tate is killed saving Ames, much to the racist Ames surprise, and when the Bantons first catch up with our intrepid group, Johnny tries to sexually assault poor Lori who made the mistake of wandering off, but luckily her screams alert Tarzan. After a brief struggle, Johnny gets his face shot off in a struggle over his gun. Fay learns that Coy wasn’t all that great a choice, for when she gets too tired to carry on he just abandons her to the mercies of the jungle.  I was quite shocked that a character who was not intrinsically bad, but who just made poor choices, met such a gruesome end.

Fay and the lioness 
Fay loses this cat fight.

When Abel and Martin come across the graves of Tate and Johnny we get one of the finest moments in the film, where Martin tells his father that he’s had enough, “You turned us into murderers by the time we were sixteen. You taught us to cheat, lie, steal, and kill, what did you expect?” he then turns and walks away. Abel raises his rifle to shoot his son but finds he is unable to, and that is the last we see of Martin, which is another nice surprise.  Shades of grey abound in this jungle.

Screw this 
What I’m saying is that you’re not father of the year material.”

When we finally get the showdown between Tarzan, Coy, and Abel, the movie goes into full badass mode; Coy and Abel lay in ambush for Tarzan, but someone should have told them that when hiding and shooting amongst large rocks you may want to be careful, as one of Coy’s rounds ricochets off a rock and kills his father.

sorry dad 
Sorry Dad, my bad.”

What follows next is a knock down drag out fight that rivals the one from They Live. Coy runs out of ammunition so he tosses down his gun and, in response, Tarzan puts down his bow and arrow so the two can go at each other mano e mano. Both men are clearly already exhausted from all they’ve gone through over the past few days so this is more of a brutal slug fest than a choreographed fight sequence as they continually and mercilessly pound their fists into each other, and unlike many of the films in this genre, Tarzan holds off killing him in the end and hands him over to the authorities in Kairobi.

final fight 
I’ve… had enough… of you!

This is a great follow up to Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure as director Robert Day mixes well rounded characters in a crime thriller plot located in Tarzan’s Africa, and what’s not to love about any of that? The whole cast is great with Gordon Scott, who is quickly becoming my favorite Tarzan, and it will be interesting to see Jock Mahoney who played the villainous Coy Banton here, but will don the jungle man’s loincloth himself in the next film as the 13th person to play Tarzan. And of course the great John Carradine brought great depth and gravitas to what in many pictures of this kind would have been a two dimensional villain. Lionel Jeffries also brought his “A” game as the cowardly Ames who starts out as a yellow racist with wife problems but who becomes a bit better of a person by the end. This is not the kind of thing one usually gets in a jungle adventure movie.

And once again the filmakers gleefully introduce Cheetah and then leave him behind at the beginning of the film.

If you haven’t seen Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure or Tarzan the Magnificent and you are a fan of the Ape Man, I urge you to track these films down as they are well crafted, well-acted, and just damn fun.

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