My first movie Tarzan was stuntman and former Range Rider Jock Mahoney in Tarzan Goes to India, so maybe it was TV that introduced me to Gordon Scott’s take on the ape man. All due respect to Mahoney, but he didn’t look right and he was on the wrong frickin’ continent. He looked like he’d slipped out of a sports bar and into the loincloth.
By contrast Scott – a walking brick sh*thouse of a hero – showed just enough culture to evoke the character as Burroughs wrote him, while retaining a sense of the primitive under the skin. And Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure wasn’t just set in Africa, it was shot there as well.
This was the movie that had always lingered in my mind as a Tarzan for grownups, and once I was grown up I waited in vain for it to come around again. Meanwhile there was Greystoke – a Tarzan movie with barely any Tarzanning in it, and not much of anything else to compensate. Disney’s animated Tarzan was surprisingly faithful to the source but… well, two words. Phil Collins. I genuinely can’t enjoy the movie with all that weary whiny stuff going on. Casper Van Dien’s Tarzan and the Lost City featured a return to African locations and handsome production design, but was let down by story, script, and performances.
When Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure finally made it to DVD, it sneaked out so quietly that it had been around for quite a while before I even got to know about it. Like the Eleventh Hour boxed set it’s sold on DVD-R as part of the Warner Archive Collection – a home-burn, basically, at the price of an undiscounted commercial release.
You can only get it from the WBShop website, nowhere else. As you can probably tell, I have mixed feelings about this marketing approach. While it’s great to have the titles available, this method of marketing and production is almost a guarantee against wide circulation. They won’t even let Amazon offer the titles; you can find them on there, but only from dealers who’ve added their own hefty markup.
Here’s the site’s plot summary:
The mighty Lord of the Apes (Gordon Scott) is on a deadly trail. He’s determined to find the diamond hunters (including Anthony Quayle and Sean Connery) who brought terror and death to a peaceful village. But as much as Tarzan is a tracker and avenger, he’s also a protector. An irresponsible gadfly from the so-called civilized world intrudes on his quest and Tarzan knows he cannot leave her to fend for herself. Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure is widely applauded as one of the best and most grownup films in the entire film annals of the jungle lord’s exploits.
The disc arrived today and I ran it tonight. Pressed play, and nothing happened. Bit of a panic and I thought I had a dud copy, but I’d inadvertently hit something that changed the setup on the DVD player. When I worked out which button I’d mis-pressed, I was away.
‘Tis great. Not digital restoration quality, just a good transfer of a relatively decent print, nice and bright and sharp. The stock footage sticks out and the matte shots look a bit poo, but then my recall is that they always did. Something about the grain and the colour values says, “British film of the 50s”. Somewhere between Genevieve and Zulu.
The screenplay is credited to director John Guillermin and Berne Giler, whose solid background in classic TV Westerns shows in the clean lines of the narrative and the mythic sense behind the central good guy/bad guy conflict. I marvelled again at how pure and spare the storytelling is. All deft strokes and no scene dragged out one word longer than it needs to be. Sara Shane’s ‘irresponsible gadfly’ is actually a capable female bush pilot, neither love interest nor rescue-object but (for its time) a rounded and properly-written character.
I’d heard that the movie exists in more than one version, the original and one trimmed for violence; I wasn’t aware of any cuts but then I wouldn’t be sure what to look for – the various scenes of mortality seem to get full value, as does the brutal clifftop fight to the death between Scott and Quayle at the end. Even the business with the Quayle’s deadly wire snare doesn’t look to have been trimmed.