4 October 2011 | lugonian
Tarzan and the Hunters
TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE (RKO Radio, 1955), directed by Harold Schuster, introduces Gordon Scott to the screen and as Edgar Rice Burrough's legendary jungle hero. Replacing Lex Barker, who bowed out of the series after five installments, Scott, a lifeguard turned actor, was to become the latest theatrical Tarzan during the final half of the 1950s, thus, taking the series onto a whole new level. For Scott's introduction as the muscular Tarzan, this was the last in the franchise distributed through RKO Radio's Sol Lesser Productions. As it's beginning and the end, TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE is standard jungle fare.
In a story that takes place in the course of a single day, TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE starts off with the ape man (Gordon Scott) taking his morning swim while his pet chimpanzee, Cheta (Zippy) watches amusingly on dry land. After going past a crocodile (with no battles involved), Tarzan comes out, climbs a tree, and tells Cheta, "I hear something!" That something turns out to be white hunters entering the scene as they shoot animals for their skin and tusks. The first victim is a lion, followed by the killing of a harmless deer before injury comes to a baby elephant. Tarzan asks himself, "Why men always want to kill?" After defeating the hunter's tribesmen, Tarzan tends to elephant's wounds and eventually encounters a medical clinic manned nearby with Doctor Celliers (Peter Van Eyck), accompanied by his nursing assistant, Jill Hardy (Vera Miles). Because a large assortment of animals are in Sukuki country across the river where they're held as sacred to the tribe, Burger (Jack Elam) and DeGroot (Charles Fredericks), working under strict orders of Mr. Johnson (Don Beddoe), attempt to deliver the goods to Nyrobi within ten days by posing as cameramen for an independent picture company. They trick Jill into persuading Doctor Celliers, who's friends with the chief Makumba (Rex Ingram), to guide them over to Sukuki territory and capture his work on film. While there, the hunters plot on luring the animals across the river to trap and slaughter them. Discovering these men as frauds, Jill heads out into the jungle to warn the doctor. Rescued from certain dangers by Tarzan, together they head over to Sukuki territory where, after learning the true intentions of the hunters, the angry chief, feeling betrayed, to have place intruders in a lion pit.
Reading the name of Vera Miles as Scott's co-star in the opening credits certainly should indicate Miles in the role of Tarzan's mate, Jane. Jane, however, is absent from this installment, with no explanation given. Interestingly, however, Miles did become Scott's mate in marriage after production was completed. Their scenes together include some amusing moments as their initial meeting as Jill swims naked (to the imagination, not the camera) as Tarzan stands by her clothes watching; and another where the dirty Jill says, "I need a bath," only to be thrown into the river by Tarzan, who laughingly says, "Girl want bath, girl get bath." While no Jane present, the writers eventually provided Tarzan with a blonde Jane (Eve Brent) and a boy (Rickie Sorensen)in TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE (1958). Without Tarzan's family, the action moves swiftly, which could be the sole reason as to why these central characters were dropped entirely by the end of the decade. Cheta, on the other hand, is around for some monkey business, but not so much as in previous installments. As Tarzan tells her, "Cheta come," Cheta makes it clear she'd rather be in the company of another chimp than venturing out with him, thus, forming the only romantic subplot in the story. Cheta and mate's closing moments rank as extremely cute and amusing.
For TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE, limited production values are evident. Echoes of verbal sounds and insertion of stock animal footage certainly indicate production was done in a closed jungle set. While drawbacks such as these might have put an end to this long running series, it actually didn't. Installments that followed showed much improvement over the previous ones, leaving Scott's final two outings, TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959) and TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (1960), both for Paramount, as the finest in the Scott series. Aside from being Jane-less, Scott's Tarzan would be allowed to speak articulately. Broken sentences worked better for the style of Johnny Weissmuller during his reign as Tarzan (1932-1948), but not so believable for both Lex Barker and Gordon Scott. Fortunately writers took notice and made Scott's Tarzan more to the creative style of Burroughs than Hollywood's interpretation that's been used for so long. Prime example here as Tarzanfinds Cheta with a wrist watch, "Where get?" he asks.
Though regarded the lesser in the series, TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE benefits by its short length (73 minutes) that limits itself to mediocre segments with more talk than action.
Never distributed to home video, available on DVD through Turner Home Entertainment, TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE's cable television's history consisted of American Movie Classics (1997-2000) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: September 3, 2011). Scott, though not bad as the title character, would be recalled to star in the next installment: TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI (MGM, 1957), being the first in the series produced in color and slight improvement over this edition. (**1/2)