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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD (1965)

Let's get one thing straight: Tarzan is not — repeat, NOT — James Bond. There. With that piece of information imparted, you, dear Vaultie, now understand more than the makers of TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD.

TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD is in my opinion the weirdest of the Tarzan flicks that I've seen by virtue of it coming out during the 1960's James Bond craze and the filmmakers attempting (unsuccessfully) to re-tool the venerable jungle lord into what amounts to 007 in a loincloth. Former NFL linebacker Mike Henry took over after Jock Mahoney's age and health issues rendered him no longer suitable as the heroic wildman, and before or since there has never been a Tarzan whose physical awesomeness came close to Henry's "body by Michelangelo" (as he's described in Gabe Essoe's invaluable book TARZAN OF THE MOVIES, which is in sore need of an update).

Mike Henry as Tarzan: now THAT'S a superhero's physique!

But while he looked incredible, Henry's Tarzan was done in by a script that removed all traces of his legendary animal nature, instead giving us a handsome guy who was indistinguishable from your accountant brother-in-law or a talking head on some TV sports roundup show.

Following opening credits that remind one of those seen in DR. NO (the first James Bond film), we see the jet-setting and very 007-ish Tarzan arriving in Mexico by helicopter — in a tan suit and carrying a briefcase, no less — at the request of the Mexican government.

A Tarzan for the 007 era.

Tarzan's been brought in to settle the hash of Vinero (David Opatoshu), a low-rent Bond villain knockoff who has discovered the existence of a lost city made of gold. This asshole has in his clutches Ramel (Manuel Padilla, Jr.), a lost boy from the legendary city and he hopes to use the kid to guide him to the treasure. The early part of Tarzan's investigation puts him in the sights of Vinero's incompetent assassins, one of whom Tarzan kills in an empty bull-fighting arena with an eight-foot plastic replica of a Coke bottle (no, seriously), and he learns of Vinero's penchant for sending explosive wristwatches to his enemies. When Ramel escapes (with his pet leopard) and makes his way to the home of a friend of Tarzan's (who just happens to keep exotic animals on hand for no explained reason), the bad guys trail and recover the kid, murdering Tarzan's friend and burning down his house in the process. Arriving too late to be of any use, Tarzan finally ditches his James Bond look and demands "a strong rope, a hunting knife and a piece of soft leather" (sounds like a fun Saturday night about to happen) and once in his familiar next-to-nothing duds, he frees the leopard so it can track the boy and he can follow the cat. He also conscripts Dinky the chimp as his scout and Major, a huge fucking lion, as his "army." Then follows a rather lackluster and plodding Tarzan adventure featuring our hero wielding machine guns, taking down a sniping helicopter with hand grenades and engaging Vinero's small military force with a tank, all while clad in a shorter-than-usual loincloth. In other words, it all adds up to TARZAN VERSUS GOLDFINGER.

Other than the sculpted masculine beauty of Mike Henry, there's really nothing to recommend about this film. It's paced slightly better than most of the legion of 007 ripoffs that plagued the cinematic landscape at the time and it is amusing to witness the insanity of Tarzan re-jiggered as a Bond clone, but that novelty wears of quite swiftly. The aforementioned helicopter sequence is unintentionally funny thanks to the helicopter landing behind an obscuring bush before the grenades blow it up, so we see the explosion take place behind the foliage, thus sparing the filmmaker's the budgetary output of actually destroying an expensive helicopter. That said, it's still preferable to the awful model work seen in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE two years later, when James Bond shoots down a bunch of enemy helicopters over the SPECTRE volcano base. That film had a mega-budget behind it, so shoddy model effects are inexcusable.

A few of the film's similarities to the Bond offerings that had been released up to the time of TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD's release, specifically DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER, are:
  • A titles and credit sequence reminiscent of DR. NO
  • A murderous and hulking henchman in the Red Grant and Oddjob mold
  • Gadgets, in the form of Vinero's exploding bling-bling
  • Vinero's obsession with gold (though admittedly not anywhere near as pathological as that of Auric Goldfinger)
  • The climax taking place in a vault full of gold
  • A would-be "cool" soundtrack that has no chance of competing with even three notes of a score composed by John Barry
Also of note is the presence of Manuel Padilla, Jr. as Ramel. The kid would continue as a part of the Tarzan universe when he was cast the following year as Jai, Tarzan's sidekick in the 1966-1968 NBC primetime series (which I would bet made it onto the air in the wake of BATMAN's ratings success). He was less offensive than most kid sidekicks, but I still could have done without him. Let's face it, a Johnny Sheffield only comes along once in a lifetime.

In his next film, TARZAN AND THE GREAT RIVER (1967), Mike Henry unfortunately ended up on the receiving end of Dinky the chimp, who, apparently uneasy with the shoot's Brazilian environment, tore open Henry's jaw with his fangs.

Mike Henry, after his run-in with Dinky the chimp.

Henry required twenty-three stitches and languished with a fever for three days, while his co-star was destroyed.

In summation, I only recommend TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD for Tarzan completists, James Bond knockoff aficionados and appreciators of quality beefcake. All others are advised to give it a miss.

5 comments:

Glenn Greenberg said...

I used to have the novelization of this movie--written by Fritz Leiber, of all people!

Never got around to reading it, though, and I have no idea where it ended up. But I meant to read it after I finished the first couple of original Tarzan novels by Burroughs.

Ah well. So many books, so little time!

Bunche said...

I've read a hell of a lot of Leiber and I bet what he wrote would have been a hundred times better than the movie.

Satyrblade said...

So, was this the film where dudes threw grenades at Tarzan as he swan underwater to escape them? Or was that the next flick?

I wonder this because I have a hazy recollection of seeing a Tarzan movie at a drive-in with my dad in the mid-late '60s. The only bit I remember, really, was Tarzan swimming underwater, dodging grenade explosions.

Tarz-n-helicopters? Guess Tarzan (born in the early 1900s, who also battled Nazis) had found himself a stash of longevity herbs somewhere in his travels...

Bunche said...

Satyrblade, I think the movie you're thinking of is one of the two Henry did that followed VALLEY OF GOLD. I haven't seen either of them, so I cannot answer for certain.

As for Tarzan's longevity, two things:

1. The first Tarzan story was published in THE ALL-STORY in 1912, so let's assume that the story the unidentified narrator tells us was known for a while and contemporary to the date of publication. According to the details of the story, Tarzan's parents left England for Africa in May of 1888 and his mother was already an unspecified number of months pregnant (let's say two or so) when they were set ashore on the continent's shore by mutineers, so let's assume he was born just before or slightly after 1889. That means he was slightly older than twenty by the end of the first book (I'm quoting all of this from the book, which I just took down from the shelf). Following that story Tarzan was aged realistically from book to book, up to a certain point, culminating somewhere when he was around in his early forties.

2. After Tarzan got too old to be a hero (in Burroughs' estimation, anyway), the books told stories of Tarzan that were disconnected from his life with Jane and their son, so some readers figure those stories took place before he met Jane. Then came the novel TARZAN'S QUEST (1935), in which Tarzan and Jane get their hands on "immortality pills" that must be taken once a month, and in TARZAN AND THE FOREIGN LEGION, Tarzan, approaching sixty (as his author knew), states he was blessed with immortality by a witch doctor, so take your pick as to the explanation. I go with the latter, becuase pills eventually run out and the ones he got appeared to have been of a finite supply.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

Satyrblade:
"So, was this the film where dudes threw grenades at Tarzan as he swan underwater to escape them?"

That sounds like "THE DEADLY SILENCE", the 2nd-season 2-parter re-edited into "TARZAN'S DEADLY SILENCE". The villain, one of the nastiest in the TV show's 2-year run, was played by (who else?) JOCK MAHONEY. Ron Ely's character lost his hearing and was completely deaf for the 2nd half of the story, until Mahoney's "Colonel" got what was coming to him. (A sequel later that year had The Colonel's sister come after Tarzan for revenge.)