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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Tarzan and the Lost Safari (1957) – Review

See Tarzan in glorious COLOR. This MGM Tarzan movie was the first one to be filmed in colour, and though it boasts being shot on location in Nairobi, British East Africa, none of the actors left the sound stages in England. Gordon Scott returns for his second outing as Tarzan, yet once again Jane is missing in action. 

Tarzan and the Lost Safari opens with a group of socialites flying across Africa after attending a wedding between an African prince and an American heiress. On board the plane are as follows; four time divorcee Gamage Dean (Yolande Donlan), hangover sufferer Carl Kraski (George Coulouris), society columnist "Doodles" Fletcher (Wilfrid Hyde-White), pilot Dick Penrod (Peter Arne) and his long suffering wife Diana Penrod (Betta St. John) who will show up again in Tarzan the Magnificent. Dick and Diana are in midst of personal feud over Dick’s aeronautic wanderlust, and seem to be heading for divorce, and because Dick is a complete dick he takes his frustrations out on everybody by flying the plane way too low to, “Get a good look at the wildlife.”


That’s not flying low, Dick. That’s driving through the jungle.

Sure enough this stunt ends in disaster as the plane flies into a flock of flamingoes and crashes. (Note: In the 1984 Sheena: Queen of the Jungle movie the Jungle Queen takes out a plane with a flock of flamingos. So apparently flamingos are a serious menace to aviation in Africa.) Meanwhile Tarzan (Gordon Scott) was relaxing nearby when the plane gets into trouble. Because we are still in the “Tarzan is an ignorant savage” portion of the series he calls the plane a “Skybird.*sheesh*


Tarzan just lion around.

Tarzan finds the plane precariously positioned at the edge of a deep gorge and immediately swings into action. He and Cheta manage to get the occupants out just before it tumbles off into the abyss, but then for some bizarre reason he disappears into the trees to watch them from afar. Tarzan has never been the shy hero before so this makes zero sense, other than to provide Diana a reason to wander into the jungle looking for their rescuer to only then get captured by a group of savage Opar warriors.


These do no look like the Opar warriors from the books.

Tarzan dives into the fray, but while he’s mucking about wrestling with a one of the Oparians Diana is spirited away. It’s here we meet the film’s chief villain, Tusker Hawkins (Robert Beatty) a hunter working with the Opar people in the hopes of getting his hands on a bunch of their ivory. The Oparians want the five survivors of the skybird as sacrifices for their lion god. Hawkins tells the head warrior that he will lead the group into an ambush if the Oparians promise tons of ivory as a reward, and of course let him keep Diana as well.


I’m betting he has “Evil White Hunter” written right on his passport.

Tarzan finally arrives only to find the Opar warriors gone and Diana “rescued” by Hawkins. Diana was unconscious during the deal making so she thinks Hawkins is a good guy, but Tarzan smells something dark and fishy about the man. The trio make it back to the rest of the group and then argue about whether to wait for rescue or to strike out for the coast. Hawkins of course encourages the trek to the coast as this leads right by the Opar village and the planned ambush. Tarzan is not keen on that idea and becomes even more suspicious of Hawkins’s complete lack of fear of the Opar warriors. In and amongst all this action and high drama we still have to put up with the comedy stylings of Cheta the chimp.


Who is revealed to be a bit of an alcoholic.

What follows is your standard jungle trek with Tarzan leading the group between numerous perils; killer crocodile, lethal spider and the ever present Opar warriors tracking them. With no Jane we get a bit of flirting between Tarzan and Diana, but it doesn't really go anywhere and she eventually reconciles with her husband.  When Hawkins leads them into the gorge that was to take them out of Opar territory they are shocked to find it blocked with rocks that must have been carried into it during a flash flood. Tarzan’s keen eyes reveal that this flood happened quite a while ago so Hawkins must have known he was leading them into a cul-de-sac. The treachery exposed Tarzan quickly divests Hawkins of his guns, places him under guard, and then he heads off to find another route.


Seems our story has reached a dead end.

But Hawkins has a few more tricks up his sleeve and the Opar warriors sneak into the gorge through a concealed tunnel and capture our rather ineffectual heroes. Hawkins has them all bound and led through the tunnel while ordering two Opar men to stay behind to ambush Tarzan. You may have noticed the slight flaw in this plan, mainly the whole Two Guys left behind to handle Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. Needless to say it doesn’t go to well for those suckers, and Tarzan and Cheta are able to reach the Opar village.


My friends must be located somewhere down in that matte painting.”

This is where the film really shows some good Tarzan stuff as he sends Cheta on a stealth mission into the village with a lighter, uses captured Opar drums to fake a message stating that Tarzan has been captured and that Hawkins has betrayed them, and is planning to burn the village. Hawkins is a bit shocked at this turn of events as the entire Opar village moves against him, he tries to proclaim his innocence, but when the village bursts into flames, due to Cheta’s well used lighter, his goose is pretty cooked.


Do not screw with Tarzan or he will burn your bloody house down.

Tarzan is able to free his friends, and he leads them to the suspension bridge that connects the village to the mountain pass, but the fire burns through it just as Tarzan and Hawkins are halfway across. It breaks free and slams down against the cliff face. Poor Hawkins catches a spear in the back, but Tarzan is able to climb to safety and escape with his pals.


At least no one was trying to yank out his heart while he was trying to climb.

Director H. Bruce Humberstone put together an excellent Tarzan tale, even if he still has that stupid inarticulate simpleton shtick, but we get to see Tarzan use his jungle smarts and cunning to win the day.  So I’ll call that a win. Another interesting element here is the use of several things from the books, used pretty almost completely incorrectly but it at least showed us that someone involved at least heard of the books. Now in the books there is a place called Opar, but it was not a native village, it was a lost outpost of Atlantis ruled by a blonde priestess and populated by savage animalistic men.  Now the most egregious mistake this movie makes is in the scene where Tarzan talks to Diana about his parents dying and how, “Kerchak the great ape, she found me.” WTF! Kerchak was the leader of the apes and Tarzan’s number one nemesis, certainly NOT his foster mother.  He was found and raised by the she-ape Kala. Kerchak wasn’t even Kala’s mate, as it was incorrectly shown in the Disney animated version, and Tarzan eventually killed him to become Lord of the Apes.


Shown here in this awesome cover art by Neal Adams.

Those quibbles aside this is a solid Tarzan adventure, well worth checking out as it starts to show the series going in the direction of a much smarter jungle hero than what we’d been getting for decades, and making Gordon Scott one of the best Tarzans in the film canon.

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