Thursday, May 28, 2015


FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Thus far, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN is the worst Tarzan movie I've seen-- and yes, that even takes in pretentious junk like 1981's remake of "Tarzan the Ape Man."

This serial-- the last one to feature Tarzan-- is sometimes admired for having hewed more closely to the prose version of the ape man, in contrast to the two highly regarded MGM films that immediately preceded it. The Tarzan of the serial speaks full sentences. has a best friend named D'Arnot, and even pals around with an ape-buddy named N'Kima, though the book-version was a monkey and the serial-ape is a chimp. D'Arnot goes missing in Guatemala, providing Lord Greystoke with a motivation to join a party of treasure-hunters seeking to acquire (translated "rip off") an idol called the Green Goddess from a tribe of natives, apparently distant descendants of the Mayans.

However, these piddling concessions to the continuity of the books is a poor substitute for Burroughs' lively storytelling. I don't expect deep characterization from an adventure serial, but I like to feel that the characters, even if broadly drawn, are reasonably distinct. The Guatemalan expedition has its stock roles-- middle-aged archaeologist, cute archaeologist's daughter, female fiancee looking for her lost love, sneaking betrayer, and comedy relief-- but they aren't even rendered with the slight touches of humanity that one finds in average serials. Tarzan looks great as portrayed by Olympic competitor Herman Brix, but he too is a cipher. Early in the serial he encounters one villain who possesses a mild resemblance to the books' Priestess La, but she only appears in a few episodes. Once the expedition steals the fabulous Green Goddess statue from the sacrifice-loving savages, most of the serial's action concerns the heroes trying to hold onto the statue as the sneaky traitor keeps trying to steal it. But the Green Goddess is no Maltese Falcon, so I for one didn't care if the heroes succeeded or not.

The action-scenes are just fair; instead of artful choreography, Tarzan just wades into hordes of opponents, hitting and shoving. There's one memorable scene in which the ape man is bloodied by a falling spike-edged trap, but that's as visceral as things get. I'm not sure if the murky look of the photography is simply the result of the serial's age: perhaps it would look better after a proper restoration. But given that the events of the serial are so relentlessly humdrum, I don't know why anyone would bother.

THE LIGHTNING WARRIOR, also filmed on location, may creak a few times, but the directors' cameras are far more lucid in portraying the simple tale of three bereaved heroes seeking vengeance on the villain who caused the death of their loved ones. Teenaged Jimmy Carter (no relation) loses his father, while adult Alan Scott loses his brother, who is also the master to his dog Rinty. Jimmy, Alan and Rinty become allies in overcoming the villainy of a masked figure, the Wolf Man, who seeks to incite the local Native Americans against the settlers.

Like the last two serials I reviewed, the only metaphenomenal aspect of this one is that it contains a character in a mysterioso outfit. There's nothing physically lupine about the Wolf Man, who dresses up in a heavy black robe and a black slouch hat, but he is a little more imposing than some serial fiends. His only wolf-like aspect is that he utters a high-pitched wolf's-howl when summoning the renegade Indians to his aid-- which isn't a bad effect, as serials go.

The action is decent if ordinary, but the three heroes-- Frankie Darro as Jimmy, George Brent as Alan, and the fabled Rin Tin Tin as Rinty-- make the experience better than the run-of-the-mill serial. Brent, it should be noted, is one of the few serial-stars who ever graduated from chapter-plays to become an A-list leading man. As for Rin Tin Tin, this was his last serial, and he was getting up there in dog-years, but he's still fun to watch.

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