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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tarzan’s Peril (1951) – Review

Tarzan’s Peril is the third outing with Lex Barker in the titular role but is slightly darker in tone than the previous two. There are no lost civilizations or fountains of youth this time out. For this movie we go back to the standard evil white man entering the jungle which was the staple of the Johnny Weissmuller years.

Tarzans peril

The film begins with two white dudes witnessing the coronation of Melmendi (Dorothy Dandridge), the queen of the Ashuba tribe. One of the gentlemen is Commissioner Peters (Alan Napier) who is retiring from his position and is giving his replacement, Connors (Edward Ashley), the nickel tour. The celebrations are interrupted by party crashers in the form of the neighbouring Yorango tribe lead by the brutal King Bulam (Frederick O'Neal). Bulam has been hankering to marry the beautiful Melmendi for some time now but she’d rather marry a snake than this creep.

Take one look at this guy and who could blame her?

Peters informs Connors that he has been able to keep gin and guns out of this neck of the woods and expresses the importance to Connors that it be kept this way. This scene seems more in keeping with Westerns of the time with white man worried about the Indians getting drunk or arming themselves, and it’s rather uncomfortable to see an old white guy forcing the newly crowned queen to promise that she will obey these restrictions. The “Superior White Man” element is something that unfortunately pops up a lot in the older Tarzan flicks.

I say, it’s best to keep dangerous toys away from them.

As rotten to the core as Bulam is, he isn’t the film’s key villain that would be the nefarious Radijack (George Macready) who, as far was Commissioner Peters and Tarzan knew, was locked up and facing a hanging for such crimes as slaving and gunrunning. Unfortunately, with the aid of two compatriots; Doctor Herbert Trask (Douglas Fowley) and Andrews (Glenn Anders) he manages to escape, and to make matter worse he plans on selling a passel of guns to Bulam.

Later we’ll be selling drugs to orphans.

When Tarzan (Lex Barker) finds out that Radijack has escaped he initially promises Jane (Virginia Huston) to not get involved and to stay out of trouble. This is an odd thing for the “Lord of the Jungle” to promise as not only was it Tarzan and Commissioner Peters who stopped Radijack in the first place but we also find out that Jane unwittingly nursed Radijack back to health years before. With that kind of history it makes no sense for Tarzan to decide to sit on the sidelines, that is unless he’s married to a stereotypical fifties wife who rains on everyone’s parade.

No Tarzan, you can play with Cheeta and Tantor after you repaint the bedroom.”

Virginia Hudson is one of the worst Jane in Tarzan’s cinematic history, she’s kind of like if June Cleaver was cosplaying Wilma Flintstone. Not only does she not look the part but she’s given nothing to do but make dinner for Tarzan and later get held hostage by Radijack. When Tarzan discovers that Radijack has murdered Commissioner Peters and Connors he leaps into action, but not before first ordering, “Jane go home!” This is not one of Tarzan’s finer moments. Now, aside from the racial and sexual backwardness of the film, it does at least have some fun jungle adventure moments. We get Tarzan swinging into action against Bulam’s entire tribe, diving into them as if they were a mosh pit, and even when outnumbered, beaten and sent over a waterfall he keeps coming back for more. There are also a couple of unintentionally hilarious bits where Tarzan faces off against…

A rubber snake that threatens Cheeta.

And a goofy as hell fight with a man-eating plant.

The one thing that makes director Bryan Haskin’s Tarzan film stand-out from its brethren is the amount of time it spends with the villains and not with Tarzan. The Ape Man really doesn’t do much of anything until the third act, as the first two thirds of the film focuses on Radijack, his henchman, and their dealings with Bulam. Lucky for us that actor George Macready is up to the task with his villainous portrayal of Radijack, as it’s great fun to watch him sneer and scheme against even his supposed allies. On the downside is the aforementioned horrible version of Jane and also some overly long comedy bits with Cheeta that stop the film cold.

"If you see a chimp, please kill it."

It is nice to see such notable personages as Dorothy Dandridge playing the native queen and always great to see character actor Alan Napier, though it is odd that this film series has already gone through three actresses for Jane yet bring back Alan Napier for a second time to play a completely different part (He was the love interest in Tarzan’s Magic Fountain). Lex Barker continues to give a decent performance with maybe a touch more gravitas than we got in the Johnny Weissmuller films.


Note: This is the first Tarzan film by producer Sol Lesser that has elements actually filmed in Africa,
but though some stuff was filmed in Kenya the bulk of the movie is still clearly shot on grounds back in the United States.

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