Saturday, September 17, 2011
TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI (1957); TARZAN AND THE TRAPPERS (1958)
MYTHICITY: (1) *fair*, (2) poor
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*
After re-viewing these two Gordon Scott Tarzan entries-- his second and third efforts with the character respectively-- I'm rather surprised as to how quickly the ape-man slipped from a mythic, Adamic figure to a jungle cop. I didn't see quite so great a change in the basic approach to Tarzan during earlier eras under producer Sol Lesser, not even when the starring actor changed. It seems that as soon as Gordon Scott came in, the filmmakers started rethinking Tarzan somewhat.
Despite the shift to a hero with greater muscularity, the action-scenes are only fair in these two Tarzans. The question of whether or not this Adam keeps an "Eve" around or not receives mixed emphasis; in SAFARI nothing is said of Jane or any version of "Boy," but in TRAPPERS (consisting of re-edited pilot TV episodes for a proposed Tarzan teleseries), Jane and Boy are back, though they're largely peripheral to the action.
TRAPPERS's choppy continuity is just barely held together by a theory of relativity: in one section Tarzan fights the usual illegal game-trapper, and in the second section, he battles the trapper's vengeful brother, who sets out to hunt Tarzan. The dialogue and fight-scenes are thoroughly ordinary, and the only interest this film holds for me personally is that on this blog it's the first time I've reviewed a work with a "Most Dangerous Game" plotline. This alone places this film into my "bizarre crimes" category. There's also a little interest in seeing an earlier appearance by Scatman ("Sherman" here) Crothers as your standard African native.
SAFARI is a little better. A private plane crashes in the jungle, and Tarzan tries to take the ersatz "safari" to civilization against the wishes of a scheming white hunter and a sacrifice-happy band of natives. For some strange reason the scripter decided to call the natives "Opar men." The name is is certainly derived from ER Burroughs' name for a savage but far more fascinating tribe in his books, but it seems a pretty pointless use of the name, lacking any real resonance.
The core of the conflict in SAFARI, such as it is, is a marital conflict between the plane's pilot Dick Penrod and his wife, the aptly named Diana. It's suggested, in a very G-rated manner, that Diana may contemplate messing around on her man, either with Tarzan (who has a short speech about how women ought to come when their men call them) or with the villainous white hunter. The most mythic scene is one of the few in which the film emulates the Weismuller swimming-scenes. Diana and her frowsy female companion Gamage (four times married, she says) ogle Tarzan as he catches fish in a waterfall; for once making explicit the visual feast Tarzan allows for hetero female viewers. ("I like the way it ripples," says Gamage, only apparently speaking of the waterfall.) Then Diana goes for a swim with Tarzan which, though technically chaste, can't help but evoke the old Weismuller/O'Sullivan water-ballets, which almost always signified sexual congress. But despite Gamage's example of rapacious femininity, Diana reconciles with her husband. Needless to say, the safari is saved from becoming a routine jungle-sacrifice.
Still, SAFARI's mythic moment still doesn't make for much of a film.