5 November 2006 | barnabyrudge
Cheap and cheerful Tarzan film. Savaged by the critics... but it has a certain innocence, not to mention some unintended hilarity.
This 1959 Tarzan film is a real curio on several levels. For one thing, it is far and away the lowest-budget Tarzan film ever made, and therefore contains some irresistibly silly footage and special effects. Secondly, it marks the one and only occasion that the ape man was played by ex-basketballer Denny Miller. In spite of the massive critical mauling the film received, Miller is not really as awful in the role as people have always maintained. Given a better film in which to appear, it's conceivable that he may have made more appearances as Tarzan and enjoyed a measure of success in the part. Thirdly, the film has one of the most bizarrely ill-fitting scores ever... provided by jazz supremo Shorty Rogers. These mismatched ingredients actually lend the film a sort of innocent charm. It's definitely bad cinema, but there have been much worse films over the years (heck, there have been worse Tarzan films – anyone seen the 1981 Bo Derek debacle?)
English explorer James Parker (James Parker) heads into the heart of Africa in search of a legendary elephant's graveyard. Among his travelling companions are his daughter Jane (Joanna Barnes) and her fiancée Harry Holt (Cesare Danova). Their journey is fraught with danger, what with hostile landscapes, jungle tribes and savage animal attacks. Eventually, however, the party successfully negotiate their way deeper into uncharted territory. Jane is separated from her friends and winds up in the company of a primitive man-of-the-jungle, the ape man of the title, Tarzan (Denny Miller). Her father is determined to find his daughter and save her from this half-animal jungle man, but it is not long before Jane has begun to fall in love with her captor
There are some pretty embarrassing moments during the course of this movie, of that there can be no argument. The fire sequence in the pygmy village is so fake and cheap that it is nothing short of terrible. The scene in which Tarzan fights against a leopard contains some absolutely hilarious close-ups of Miller tussling with what appears to be a stuffed toy. And worst of all is the frequent tinted footage stolen from the 1932 Johnny Weismuller film of the same title – even the smallest of children will be able to tell that these scenes are not shot in Technicolor like the rest of the film (hell, occasionally Weismuller's face can be seen as plain as day!) Having said all that, I can't bring myself to be as derogatory about this film as some of the previous reviewers have been. For me, Barnes, Douglas and Danova do a passable enough job with their roles, and the film's brief 82 minute duration is crammed with incident. One needs to remember that when director Joseph M. Newman and producer Al Zimbalist actually set out to make this film, they weren't trying to re-do Shakespeare. A simple jungle adventure is what they had in mind, and to some extent a simple jungle adventure is precisely what they've given us. Tarzan The Ape Man (1959) is an enjoyably bad time filler – if nothing else, it has enough innocent charm and unintentional laughs to bring a smile to our faces in these weary and cynical times.