5 July 2005 | silverscreen888
Most Authentic Tarzan of the B/W Era; Fine Cast; Nearly Very Good
This may not be a great film by anyone's standards. But apart from Tarzan speaking in short words, this film I suggest, after more than fifty years of reading and considering Tarzan properties, is the closest any filmmaker has come to capturing the essence of Tarzan as Edgar Rice Burroughs created him. Consider this unpretentious little film's many assets. It features a very attractive and ethical young Tarzan and Jane in the persons of Lex Barker and Vanessa Brown. The feel of the film is jungle, outdoors, hot, humid, on the fringes of a rather rough civilization at best, a zone on the edge of danger. There are very fine supporting performances by a cast that includes Arthur Shields, Robert Alda, Denise Darcel, Anthony Caruso, Robert Warwick and Hurd Hatfield, Mary Ellen Kaye, Peter Mamakos and others. The storyline involves Tarzan and the others with a somewhat alien civilization whose desperate servants, ethically-challenged leader and villains put the whole surrounding group of tribes as well as Tarzan and the others at risk by their illegal actions. The script is well-above average; the characters are quite well-developed and often multi-dimensional; and the climactic escape from living death in a temple engineered by Tarzan I found to be at once exciting, important and decently filmed. The plot line in "Tarzan and the Slave Girl" is at first sight unusually rich for an adventure story. The Lionians and their king have grown desperate. They are not producing children. Under the bad advice of Sengo, played by Caruso, they have begun capturing young women from surrounding peoples in order to solve their dilemma, instead of seeking help through other means. Tarzan becomes involved with the problem when he tries to single-handedly stop a raiding party from carrying off yet another victim. Finally, it becomes necessary to try to reach the Lionians' capital city via an expedition through a country populated by people who disguise themselves as trees and fire blow-darts as weapons. The disease attacking the Lionians is discovered by a doctor, Arthur Shields; fending off amorous advances from his nurse, a sexy half-caste played by Darcel, Tarzan and his trusty, brave but drink-prone helper Alda,and Shields reach the city of the Lionians and find the imprisoned girls there--and also Jane and the nurse, who have also been captured during their roundabout journey to the city. They fail to move the king, Hatfield; and Caruso convinces him to seal Tarzan and Jane in their temple as dangerous enemies to his rule. Tarzan climbs to the top of the structure and overturns the idol sealing the aperture there, thus escaping the trap. Meanwhile, the High Priest of the civilization, Warwick, is being fed to the lions for daring to speak out against the King's unethical scheme. Trazan's prowess in battle with help from his friends wins the day, and Caruso falls into the lions' den, Warwick being freed. Shields finds a cure for the malady and the King embraces amicable relations with all once more. The enslaved girls are returned to their homes; and Alda convinces Darcel to take care of him alone and forget about seducing Tarzan. Having said so many good things about the film, it is necessary to report that apart from some good action scenes, especially those involving boats emerging from or reentering a swamp with islands in it, a very Burroughsian touch, and the city's palace interiors, the production by Sol Lesser's production company in B/W suffers from lack of richness. The tribes involved in the danger mostly resemble Mexican villagers with strange wigs inflicted upon them; and director Lee Sholem, who does well with his very fine cast of actors, has no means of overcoming the budgetary handicaps under which he labors. Lesser was able to produce several much-richer-looking later Tarzan efforts, to his great credit; but this transitional film introduced a post-Johnny- Weismuller Tarzan in Lex Barker, solved some of the problems that needed solving in order to improve the MGM-family-oriented domestic barriers that kept Tarzan from seeking out important adventures; and incidentally the film provided an attractive and very-Burroughsian realization of the original adventure vision the author had dreamed up, as an anti-Communist argument for genetic human worth as against conditioned obedience, four decades earlier. Nearly a very-good film.