Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan and the Trappers (1958)

Introduction

In 2012 the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th year in print. A serialized version of the story first appeared in 1912. A hardcover collection of Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1914. Being in the middle of the Tarzan centennial period it’s an opportune time to (re)visit many of the screen renditions of the character. Previous posts in this and other series can be found here.

Tarzan and the Trappers (1958)

Here, not entirely unlike last week, we have a feature film that was created by splicing together. Last week’s was created by cutting together a serial into a feature format. Here you have a proposed TV series that was turned into a film. Now this could equal if not better results than the former treatment, but the material here is quite odd.

In many ways it feels as if episode one and two were a single storyline (i.e. a double episode) and then the third act/episode was a new story with similar players that was shoehorned in. Aside from story issues this also creates little gaffes in continuity. For example, Tartu, the name of Tarzan’s son in this tale (Rickie Sorensen) has two distinct haircuts and they jump back and forth over the course of three scenes.

Now with these pacing and narrative issues clearly this is one that was going to fall low down the pecking order. This is also one I had seen previously. My initial rating was 3/10 and I was wondering why that was until it became clear there was a narrative break and structuring issue. If there is a lack of a link between episodes and no episodic structure to allow links to be built between episodes like, say Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did in season one; it had seemed like all cases were isolated then an overarching plot came to the fore.

This, and many ventures in the 1950s, was produced by Sol Lesser. Lesser was involved in many Tarzan titles among many other films. The call is not entirely dissimilar to MGM’s, this is another story that deals with Tarzan against animal trappers (granted there are only so many avenues these tales can take). This environmental angle has new angles these days and could play well in a newer version (moreso than treasure which this also touches upon). This Tarzan played by Gordon Scott, is a more literate version and closer to Burroughs initial intention. This film also returns Cheetah the chimpanzee to the series. Scott was a star in a slew of Tarzan’s. His build is better, but his acting, at least in this one, seems as stiff-acting as ever. I would gladly look into a designed feature to try and dispel that.

In this tale there is next to no stasis and lots of presumptive givens about who these characters are and what their backstory is and it dives straight into the adventure. This can be a positive if the narrative is strong enough which it is not.

While I recently have discussed how TV has become more like film over time this is a clear example of how they are not interchangeable. While there are minute elements that are more appealing here like lack of stock footage cutaways, many bigger elements and production value issues (like the fighting and wasting Scatman Crothers) cannot be overlooked.

Still a 3/10.

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Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan’s Revenge (1938)

Introduction

In 2012 the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th year in print. A serialized version of the story first appeared in 1912. A hardcover collection of Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1914. Being in the middle of the Tarzan centennial period it’s an opportune time to (re)visit many of the screen renditions of the character. Previous posts in this and other series can be found here.

Tarzan’s Revenge (1938)

If you page through the Poverty Row Studio books you’ll find an entry for a studio established by Edgar Rice Burroughs to bring his characters, mainly Tarzan to the silver screen the way he saw fit. Surely, Burroughs (and his estate) was not the only author ever dissatisfied with screen versions of his story, but a reason for that could be the proliferation of poor films made. Disregarding “accuracy” many of them are just not good and highly disposable works.

This particular version though produced by Sol Lesser, who was the architect of many of the character’s onscreen incarnations, was a Fox release. There’s not a lot in Tarzan’s Revenge that stands out as unique and most of it stands out as being so in a bad way. Hunting is a major plot element, and the goal of the hunt is to trap animals for a zoo.

Being at another studio there are some things that would have to be different: the love interest is Eleanor (Eleanor Holm) not Jane, the Tarzan call is different, the chimps is a quieter less insane version, and in its defense this Tarzan (Glenn Morris) is a bit more fit.

However, many of the issues from the MGM-RKO titles are here too because conventions of the day were too easily obeyed. A map of Africa plays a significant supporting role, ambiguous native, excessive amounts of exposition, Eleanor being disbelieved, lots of swimming and gallivanting.

However, there are things uniquely weird here: Tarzan is there but rather passive for a time, the battle for Eleanor’s affection is lame; the bottom line is that this is flat and unengaging.

Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 4 of 5)

This is a list I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

The Great Ghost Rescue (2011)

The Great Ghost Rescue

Family horror is an under-appreciated and under-utilized subgenre. It is usually a delicate balancing act where you have to have elements of a harsher genre keep it true, effective and still palatable for young audiences and hopefully engaging enough for those accompanying said viewers.

There are definitely different phases to this narrative, and it’s also one that, at least in its backstory does not fear taking things to the scariest place it can for children (death), but also presents a flip-side offers comedy and a strong lead performance by Toby Hall that elevates it above the ordinary.

The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

The Life of Emile Zola (1937, Warner Bros.)

Here was my 31 Days of Oscar take on this film:

A Paul Muni biopic strikes again, and perhaps he takes an early lead in the Neutron Star Award race for this year. What’s fascinating is that it chronicles a writer’s rise in typical biopic fashion in act one, then a military frame-up at the head of act two and has them smash together and culminate in a riveting courtroom drama. It distills the essential and best elements of a few subgenres to make a riveting and engaging film that surpasses its formulaic and periodic tropes.

Caught up in trying to stay current I was vague, so I will elaborate some: as opposed to his rendition of Pasteur, which had its own interesting take on scientific ideals and fear of new ideas; here we have a man who gets comfortable, perhaps forgetting his roots and then in seeing grave injustice lays his life and reputation on the line. It’s a fascinating, as holistic as possible in a two-hour film as it can be, treatment. It owes much of its success not only to the narrative, but also its structure and also Muni.

The Phantom Express (1932)

The Phantom Express (1932)

This is the first of the Poverty Row titles on this portion of the list. It’s also one of the more surprising revelations from that theme.

As I read and downloaded titles I noted the proclivity for the word phantom in titles. It must’ve scored well in marketing research of the day, it gives an air of mystery and intrigue. Sadly, no film I saw with the word phantom in it had either featured a ghost or been any good. This one at least accomplished the latter and is a highly entertaining tale. It’s not a whodunit so much as a “howdunit” as the perpetrators are revealed early. The film concerns a man who derails a train attempting to make an emergency stop causing many fatalities. He claimed there was an oncoming train he wanted to avoid, there was no record of this supposed train so it was dubbed “The Phantom Express.” The investigation into the mystery, the repeated incidents, the reveal along with explicatory closing monologue are all great. The effects work, mainly miniatures, may look primitive now, but is well done for the time and budgetary constraints. It’s really captivating stuff.

In a Year with 13 Moons (1978)

In a Year with 13 Moons (1977, RWF Foundation)

Were my list shorter than it is Fassbinder could have easier dominated it rather than just being a prominent theme, which is why I like allowing this list to bloat as it allows more themes to seep through. However, my increased consumption of Fassbinder titles cannot be denied here.

In a Year with 13 Moons explains its name with title cards to start, and has the kind of narrative that could easily be exploitative were it wielded by less skilled hands. Here’s a synopsis per the IMDb:

This drama follows the last few days in the life of Elvira (formerly Erwin) Weisshaupt. Years before, Erwin told a co-worker, Anton, that he loved him. “Too bad, you aren’t a woman,” he replied. Erwin took Anton at his word. Trying to salvage something from the wreckage love has made of his life, he now hopes that Anton will not reject him again.

It could wander into parody, or the absurd; it never threatens to instead it’s just absolutely gutting and virtually pitch perfect.

Rainbow on the River (1936)

Rainbow on the River (1936, RKO)

I believe it was first through Movies Unlimited, when they had brick-and-mortar locations, that I first discovered the Sol Lesser-produced musicals that star Bobby Breen. Rainbow on the River, however, is likely the last of them that I can see, as his last outstanding film (Johnny Doughboy) is hard-to-find and overpriced through resellers at Amazon.

Fairly often in these films the story was but more than a pretense to get Bobby singing. On the rare occasion both of these combined perfectly. Yes, there’s an uncomfortable postbellum rendition of the south that’s a bit dated, but there’s a predominant fish-out-of-water aspect and fairytale caliber adoptive family that distract from that and get sympathies where the film wants it. The songs are naturalistically instilled and, as usual, brilliantly rendered.

To the Left of the Father (2001)

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This is a film I first heard about years ago when visiting family in Brazil. It’s one I didn’t get a chance to see there and it took a while for it to migrate over and secure North American distribution both in theaters and on home video via Kino Lorber. It’s one that took me even longer to see, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit because of its running time.

What you find in this film is an extraordinarily poetic title both in verbal and visual terms that externalizes the inner-workings of the mind extremely well and successfully manipulates time as only film truly can. While it has very internal conflicts it brings them forth, and even while being a very technical “filmmaker’s film” still allows room for the actors to work and drive home the emotions being underscored by the narrative. I’m completely unfamiliar with the written work upon which this film is based and did not find that it’s opaque without having read the book.

It may have taken me a while, but it’s testament to Edgar Wright’s statement that “It’s never too late to see a movie.”

Gorgo (1961)

Gorgo (1961, MGM)

In hindsight I was rather fortunate in my viewing themes as they are providing most of the content of these selections. This is another 61 Days of Halloween selection that…

came to me by way of Stephen King’s list of horror films in Danse Macabre. I have to admit, I chuckled a bit and had some trepidation when I saw that this was a monster movie. After all I’m fairly sure that during the period from which King curated the list (1950-1980) there were other, more well-known giant-monster-attacks-city films; most notably the Japanese brood. So what makes Gorgo special?

I soon realized what it was and it’s not really about the fact that this species of prehistoric beast is discovered off the coast of an Irish isle, but rather the thing the film does in just 78 minutes. There’s a period of time wherein the film is like a proto-Jaws. There is a threat identified and a mostly unseen enemy. There is a plan to try and take it down.

What occurs then is a spin on King Kong, which has also been done. One notable example I viewed, that didn’t really work out, was Jurassic Park: The Lost World. However, here it does work because that second twist on the average monster film isn’t the last.

It’s also another brisk selection that’s worth looking up.

Imitation of Life (1934)

Imitation of Life (1934, Universal)

One interesting thing about this title is that after having seen it I discovered it one of friend’s all-time favorite films, which got me thinking about that aspect. Specifically about how some overlooked titles can affect people. Even before I was made to realize and reflect upon that I had before me the film and there were many notable things about that made it stand out to me.

Merely being ahead of one’s time is a great in and of itself, however, that alone doesn’t make for a great drama. What’s fortunate is that for this film it has both. Imitation of Life deals with race about as openly, maturely and progressively as any film of its era – if you can fault it for anything cinematically it’s being slightly repetitious (But it addresses that), in social terms it discusses and even challenges norms. This was considered a dangerous films and Universal was strongly urged not to make it. Not only does it deal with race relations but in having Delilah’s daughter be able to pass for white, it also implies miscegenation, which was at the time one of the biggest taboos there was.

However, as I said without a compelling narrative all of the above is just a footnote. Bea’s chance meeting with Delilah snowballs in a very compelling way into a most unlikely friendship and partnership. The trials as single mothers also form dueling subplots that at times are equally compelling. The only knock I thought I had against it was that I wanted more focus on the more unusual plot, but based on the way things play out it is handled properly.

Blossoms in the Dust (1941)

Blossoms in the Dust (1941,

Perhaps one of the biggest laments in all my TCM 31 Days of Oscar watching has been the fact that I didn’t sit and watch all of Greer Garson’s consecutive Oscar-nominated roles back-to-back. Since that block aired I’ve been trying to make up for it and I haven’t been disappointed yet. Here’s my reaction to my latest find:

This was actually I found in a drug store on Oscar Day in 2012, this was after my having missed this on a TCM broadcast. This film is part of Greer Garson’s legendary run of five consecutive Oscar Nominations for Best Actress and six in seven years. Yes, this film doesn’t get away with not having its stump-speeches and it does give a classical Hollywood whirlwind treatment to and elongated tale, but it is so tremendously moving and gorgeous to look at. Watch it for the the acting, watch for Karl Freund working in color and stay for the tale, which when it really has to, when it wants to hit home, holds up just enough. It took me a while to get this one off my to watch pile, but it certainly was a memorable viewing. There are plenty of jaw-dropping moments in the film. I also learned a few things so it has the righteous indignation angle working for it too.

The Ghost Walks (1934)

The Ghost Walks (1934)

There are two titles on this section of the list with the word Ghost in the title. Only one, however, can stake any claim to being a straight horror film and this isn’t the one. There’s plenty going on in both, more so here:

Perhaps the first thing that struck me as a side note is that this is the first of the selections I chose that struck me as being very Pre-Code, though its December 1st, 1934 release date made it after promised Code re-enforcement. Most of that impression has to do with the theatrical producer and his the male secretary, the secretary both in affectation and through dialogue directed at him, is being portrayed as gay – perhaps the biggest code taboo. This all leads me to my second point, which is had the acting not been of such quality, the lines not as well-timed or funny, this film would’ve been ridiculous. Instead it’s one of the funnier films I’ve seen in a while. Granted the horror/thriller portions are intended too and the first act pantomimes a straight horror film excellently, but the comedy is very much by design and laugh out loud funny.