SWINGING CINEMA: Tarzans Galore! Part II

by Jake on November 13, 2012

(Continued from Part I)

Meanwhile, Weissmuller finally hung up his loincloth. In the 1950′s, his replacements continued the inarticulate and simple-minded portrayal of the character up until a new direction in the 1960′s.

Tarzan and the Valley of GoldIt’s worth mentioning that for no apparent reason, the adaptations we’ve been talking about take place in ‘modern’ times, that is, whatever year they were made. Which seems odder as it goes along, Tarzan surrounded by very modern society! But nowhere is it odder than the movie I want to talk about next.

Let’s skip over to ‘Tarzan and the Valley of Gold‘ (1966), a personal favorite, which was a James Bond ripoff – yes, really!

Bond style opening credits, Bond style villain, Bond style Tarzan!

Former football player Mike Henry suited up as the most physically impressive Tarzan ever, who was equally at home in a nice suit moving through civilization as he was in a loincloth traipsing about the jungle. It’s as weird as it sounds. Very fun, though! Jane was¬†conspicuously¬†absent by this point, so that various potential love interests could be brought in as needed.

Ron ElyHenry played the part for two films, and then the producers took the ape man to television. The ‘Tarzan’ TV series starring Ron Ely ran from 1966 to 1968. The concept was in many ways closet to the Burroughs novels: Tarzan was raised in the jungle, then educated in civilization but grew tired of that world and returned to Africa. He still wears a loincloth and hangs around with Cheetah, but he is often in contact with modern Africa, not simply jungle life.

While there have been other live-action Tarzan series since then, they were not particularly successful.

A television adaptation well worth mentioning is ‘Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle‘, a Saturday morning cartoon which debuted in 1976. This show, while aimed at young children, was nevertheless remarkably faithful to Burroughs, although again, Jane is not present. For the first time, Tarzan is accompanied by Nkima, his pet monkey, rather than Cheetah the chimp. The ‘Tarzan yell’ is still part of the character, though.

GreystokeThe 1980′s brought a remake of ‘Tarzan, the Ape Man‘, which sucked, and the best Tarzan movie ever made, ‘Greystoke: the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes‘. Long title! Long movie, too, but well worth it. The film restores Tarzan to a turn of the century time frame and is remarkably faithful to most of the original story. Christopher Lambert plays Tarzan (who is never called that in the actual film) as a wild animal who struggles to adapt to civilization. It’s a great movie, and the choice to have most of the first half hour or so dialogue free was pretty brave, but effective.

Tarzan DisneyLast, we have Disney’s animated ‘Tarzan‘ (1999). I gotta admit, I don’t much care for Disney, particularly their modern stuff. That being said, this is actually pretty good! It’s not exactly a faithful adaptation (Disney has never faithfully adapted ANYTHING), but it comes pretty close. The film has sort of an ecological theme, with the villains plundering and exploiting the jungle and its inhabitants. If you like Phil Collins, well, you are in for a treat, is all I can say, heaven help you.

This being Disney, the movie had a straight to video sequel, a TV series and a Broadway musical adaptation. It may be THE modern concept of Tarzan – for now.

Well, this list is by no means complete, but it does highlight the Tarzan films and series that are either my favorites or are the most well-regarded or both. Certainly, they vary as to quality and availability, but all are worth a look.

Just don’t start swinging through the trees while trying to do that famous yodel – save it for the professionals!

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