Blog Archive

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949) – Review

Tarzan’s Magic Fountain is the first of the Lex Barker Tarzan movies after Johnny Weissmuller retired from the role. Weissmuller had portrayed the Ape Man for twelve films so it’s not surprising he would get tired of it, Maureen O’Sullivan who portrayed Jane left the series four films earlier and was replaced by Brenda Joyce who also plays Jane in this film but who in turn was then replaced by Vanessa Brown in Tarzan and the Slave Girl a year later.

It’s not easy being Jane.

Produced by Sol Lesser these films are much in keeping with the Weissmuller films as they rely almost completely on studio backlot sets, stock footage and a formulaic script. This isn’t to say they are bad films, it’s just something one has to adjust to when sitting down to watch one of these movies.

Tarzan Magic Fountain Poster

In this outing we start with Cheeta and her ape pals finding an old cigarette case that piques Jane’s curiosity and has her sending them back into the jungle to where they found it. They find the remains of a crashed airplane and its skeletonized pilot as well as a journal belonging to a famous aviatrix named Gloria James (Evelyn Ankers) who went missing over twenty years ago. The journal reveals that the plane had run into bad weather and was icing up badly (icing up over the jungles of Africa?) and Gloria had decided to bail out while her co-pilot decided to take his chances with the plane.

Someone made the wrong call.

Jane wants Tarzan to take the journal to the nearest outpost so that it can be sent back to England, but Tarzan is reluctant to do this. He doesn’t tell Jane why he feels this is a bad idea, but later when he discovers that a man named Douglas Jessup (Alan Napier) has been rotting in jail for twenty years, and that Gloria James is the one person that can prove his innocence, he moves into action.

He journeys across several really nice matte paintings.

It turns out that Gloria is far from dead and has been living all this time in Blue Valley, a hidden city which consists of a lost people who have discovered a fountain of youth. Because a man’s freedom is at stake the High Elder agrees to let Tarzan guide Gloria out of the mountain valley. Jane is quite surprised when Tarzan brings home the missing aviatrix who hasn’t seemed to have aged a day in her twenty lost years in the jungle. Tarzan keeps mum on the subject but when two traders Mr. Trask (Albert Dekker) and Mr. Dodd (Charles Drake) see the impossibly young Gloria the wheels in their head spin toward dreams of fortune and glory. Trask hires a local bully, one who Tarzan beats up routinely, to take a safari into the jungle and find the secret of her youthful appearance.

Things don’t go well for him.

Seems that the residents on the Blue Valley are not keen on visitors and Tarzan’s silence on the matter has to do with his promise never to reveal the location of the valley to outsiders. The way in is guarded by locals armed with a large crossbow that fires flaming arrows, and only people approved by the High Elder are allowed passage. Amongst the Blue Valley residents is a hothead who thinks Tarzan has betrayed them and wants to kill the Ape Man.  Of course we know Tarzan would never do such a thing, but the evidence is certainly against him. Tthis begs the question, “How then did this bozo and his safari ever find their way to the valley entrance?” Trask somehow managed to point his henchman in exactly the right direction with absolutely no evidence as to where Gloria came from other than “Somewhere in the jungle...that a-way.

Says here, turn left at stock footage of an elephant.”

That this movie is blatantly ripping off elements from the movie Lost Horizons is one thing, but what is worse is that they never bother to develop what they steal. The people of Shangri-La…sorry I mean Blue Valley have no more personality than the flora and fauna that Tarzan and Jane traipse passed. They are nice enough to let Gloria leave to help a wronged man and then when being away ages her rapidly they allow her and her new hubby Jessup to return and get rejuvenated, but aside from the couple of malcontents that want to burn Tarzan’s eyes out they just seem to stand around being immortal with no thought to motivations.

Old Faithful Plot Device.

The movie does have some fun moments; the aforementioned repeated casual beatings of the local jerk, a flash flood in a ravine that almost drowns Jane and friends, and Cheeta saving the day by causing an avalanche to kill Tarzan’s enemies. I’ll say this it’s usually Cheeta the chimpanzee stuff that annoys me the most in these films but in this outing I actually found the very well trained chimps to be effectively funny. Though the ending "stinger" is rather lame where Cheeta drinks some of the magic water from the fountain and is turned into a baby, but of a completely different species…with a tail!
Maybe Charles Darwin was wrong?

First time director Lee Sholem does a serviceable job and Lex Barker as Tarzan does find in what is a fairly thankless part as the whole “Secret of the Valley” thing keeps him out of the way for too much of the films running time. I do like Brenda Joyce as Jane and it’s a shame she didn’t continue on. I do have a problem with the title as it’s not Tarzan’s Magic Fountain for he does not own it, the film should have been titled Tarzan and the Magic Fountain, or to be more honest Tarzan Goes to Shangri-La.  On the plus side, such magical youth giving elixirs is more in keeping with the fantasy elements from the Burroughs books than what we ever saw in the Johnny Weissmuller movies.

No comments: