Edgar Rice Burroughs

Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959, John Guillermin)

Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure is a fairly solid action thriller. Tarzan (genial, musclebound Gordon Scott) is hunting nemesis Anthony Quayle through the jungle. The movie opens with Quayle and his crew robbing an African settlement. They’re after the dynamite but they end up killing a couple people. They’re also in blackface, which would just be a dated oddity if you didn’t realize they were in blackface until one of them is deliberating the fate of an actual Black person, a sick African child. It’s this really weird moment in the film and it’s the first really memorable sequence. Greatest Adventure seems a little different from the start.

So the gang. Sean Connery is the cocky, rough and tumble one, Niall MacGinnis is the nerdy Dutch one (he’s the diamond guy—turns out it’s all about diamonds), Al Mulock is the secretive boat driver, Scilla Gabel is Quayle’s woman. Connery and Gabel are flirty but it’s never a thing for Quayle because Quayle’s so secure. Connery worships him, MacGinnis is terrified of him, and Mulock respects him. Because Quayle and Mulock are the older guys who aren’t shifty Dutchmen or cocky heartthrobs, they’ve got the experience. Half of Greatest Adventure is this “after the heist” movie, just set in Africa on a questionable boat. There are certain exterior shots where the boat looks really fake. And I think always when it’s on a set. And now I guess I better just get the set-talk over with.

Greatest Adventure has profound production deficiencies. Director Guillermin and cinematographer Edward Scaife are mixing location shots from two obviously different locations—usually with a jump cut courtesy Bert Rule—but Guillermin and Scaife also have some set shots, then some projection composites, then stock African safari footage. And then Rule’s jump cuts. And Guillermin’s composition. He’s so close on it, every time. The way he shoots leading lady Sara Shane ruins her performance. Well, okay, Rule’s cutting probably hurts it worse, but Guillermin has a very strange way of shooting Scott and Shane—like he doesn’t trust them with the scene, and then when they succeed (occasionally with qualifications, yes, but still success), Guillermin doesn’t acknowledge it. Scott and Shane have this relatively effective love affair in this tense experience. Because Shane didn’t mean to tag along with Scott, she just wanted to be a jerk to him—Shane’s a model but mostly just a special friend to a very rich guy. The characterization of Shane and Gabel—their character setup—is not great. But Gabel and Shane get caught up in the events—Scott hunting Quayle, Quayle deciding to hunt him right back—and both women start their own character arcs, totally separate from the boys.

It’s cool. Even with all the issues.

Scott’s fine. Well, until the end when he needs to carry the movie, even for a moment and he can’t, but he’s fine. Even with the goofy dialogue. He’s got very goofy dialogue to show he’s Tarzan and not some regular dude. Formal but grammatically incorrect or something. But it’s all about Quayle. Quayle gives a truly superb performance. He gets to Ahab out, he gets to bare his soul, he gets to handle the mundane personality conflicts between his crew, he gets to have this weird but sincere romance with Gabel. Quayle takes the role as written and adds all sorts of depth to it. Guillermin helps a lot with adding texture—with the bad guys, anyway—but it seems like Quayle’s out there on his own and Guillermin is just getting to watch like the rest of us. It’s a great villain performance. And rather grounded, especially considering it’s Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure.

It gets good for a long while, then the end fumbles. Badly.

But Guillermin tries a lot and some of it succeeds. Quayle’s legitimately fantastic performance, for example.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Guillermin; screenplay by Berne Giler and Guillermin, based on a story by Les Crutchfield and characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Edward Scaife; edited by Bert Rule; music by Douglas Gamley; produced by Sy Weintraub; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gordon Scott (Tarzan), Anthony Quayle (Slade), Sara Shane (Angie), Niall MacGinnis (Kruger), Sean Connery (O’Bannion), Al Mulock (Dino), and Scilla Gabel (Toni).


Tarzan and His Mate (1934, Cedric Gibbons)

For a film called Tarzan and His Mate, Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan doesn’t get much to do. He spends the film rescuing Maureen O’Sullivan (which is one of the more frustrating aspects of the film–she doesn’t exhibit any jungle survival skills until the finale) from a variety of animals. These sequences are often exciting, especially since the film doesn’t have any music. It’s just the sound of the jungle battle, expertly cut together by editor Tom Held.

The film opens with Neil Hamilton and Paul Cavanagh as ivory hunters mounting an expedition. Hamilton’s O’Sullivan’s ex, Cavanagh is his blue blood gone poor best friend. Cavanagh’s delightfully scummy, though director Gibbons makes the audience sorry for enjoying it once they meet up with Weissmuller and O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan’s been living in wild Africa for a year (since the previous film) and she’s left the world of high society and so on. She runs around the jungle in skimpy (but functional) attire and, after spending at least twenty minutes objectifying O’Sullivan (from Cavanagh and Hamilton’s perspective, the film’s actually rather complex in how it presents her), Gibbons is able to get over it to some degree. He and O’Sullivan (and Weissmuller) sell it. Maybe the nude swimming scene just overwhelms enough.

Except then O’Sullivan (and Weissmuller) fall out of the plot and the excellent wildlife effects take over.

Neither the finish (or her scripted helplessness) do justice to O’Sullivan’s performance. Its handling of the extant sexuality, however, is as impressive as its action.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Cedric Gibbons; screenplay by Howard Emmett Rogers, Leon Gordon and James Kevin McGuinness, based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs; directors of photography, Charles G. Clarke and Clyde De Vinna; edited by Tom Held; produced by Bernard H. Hyman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan), Maureen O’Sullivan (Jane Parker), Neil Hamilton (Harry Holt), Paul Cavanagh (Martin Arlington), Nathan Curry (Saidi) and Forrester Harvey (Beamish).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE SEX! (now that I have your attention) BLOGATHON HOSTED BY STEVE OF MOVIE MOVIE BLOG BLOG.


At the Earth’s Core (1976, Kevin Connor), the digest version

Take one bad movie–At the Earth's Core–running eighty-nine minutes and take one inept editor and tell him or her (the editor is uncredited) to cut it down to fourteen minutes. It's a lousy movie anyway, so what are you going to lose….

Well, some bad things. Definitely some bad things. Like most of Peter Cushing's performance. This Super 8mm version (for watching at home before video), must have been intended for the younger male audience. The mystery editor keeps all the bad monster action and cuts away scantily clad Caroline Munro. She doesn't even get to keep any lines.

It sort of plays like a fast forwarded version of the film, with only Doug McClure's action scenes kept in. There are a couple reasonably effective sequences involving Cy Grant as a caveman, but it's a rather unimaginative reduction of an already tedious film.

At fourteen minutes, it's way too long.

1/3Not Recommended

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Barry Peters and John Ireland; music by Michael Vickers; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark, Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by Ken Films.

Starring Doug McClure (David Innes), Cy Grant (Ra), Caroline Munro (Dia) and Peter Cushing (Dr. Abner Perry).


The Land That Time Forgot (2009, C. Thomas Howell)

It’s a Christian movie? Really? Okay….

I guess the dinosaurs confused that point. And I think there’s some gravity in there.

Being a fan of the seventies adaptation, I thought I’d see this one too. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever sat through. It’s relatively harmless, with far better acting than I was expecting. There’s some bad acting, but no worse than I expected from my first viewing of a “film” from the Asylum (who don’t even have a dot com, they have a dot cc).

I once read an interview with C. Thomas Howell where he said (paraphrasing), given all the great directors he’d worked with, he’d like to direct. And direct The Land That Time Forgot he does–a little bit less classy than a network sci-fi show from the nineties, but definitely better than their syndicated cousins.

His performance is solid too. He’s not much of an everyman (it’s unfortunate the script doesn’t recognize what yuppie flakes the main characters are), but he’s solid.

Screenwriter Darren Dalton gives a better performance than Howell and Lindsey McKeon is solid as his girlfriend. Anya Benton’s a disaster as Howell’s wife.

The best performances come from Timothy Bottoms and Scott Subiono, as a sixties burn-out captain and WWI U-boat commander (the biggest connection to the source novel), respectively. The film’s even better if you pretend Bottoms is gay (it never says he isn’t).

There isn’t, unfortunately, any reference to the first adaptation. There should have been.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by C. Thomas Howell; screenplay by Darren Dalton, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Mark Atkins; edited by Brian Brinkman; music by Chris Ridenhour; production designer, Brandon Kihl; produced by David Michael Latt; released by the Asylum.

Starring C. Thomas Howell (Frost Michaels), Timothy Bottoms (Captain Burroughs), Lindsey McKeon (Lindsey Stevens), Darren Dalton (Cole Stevens), Stephen Blackehart (Lonzo), Christopher Showerman (Stack), Patrick Gorman (Conrad), Scott Subiono (Zander), Anya Benton (Karen Michaels) and David Stevens (Jude).


Tarzan the Ape Man (1932, W.S. Van Dyke)

It’s hard to believe a movie called Tarzan the Ape Man is going to be boring, but this one drags on and on. After a solid opening twenty minutes, the movie stumbles and never regains its footing. The problem is with Tarzan. Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan obviously doesn’t speak English but he also doesn’t communicate. He makes noises and so on, but there aren’t any conversations between him and the apes. He just runs around, occasionally getting into fights with lions or having to run from crocodiles. The action scenes are all very well done–beautifully edited, seeing as how there’s the shots of the actors cut together with location footage of the animals–but there’s no narrative. Even some of the sequences with Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan, while well done (O’Sullivan being fantastic doesn’t hurt), are of little consequence to the actual plot.

The opening’s a different matter, however. It’s a far more literate film than what follows. O’Sullivan arrives in Africa to reunite with father C. Aubrey Smith after a long absence and there’s a great moment with Smith realizing his daughter has become a woman. It’s an entirely unexpected, wonderful scene and it really had me looking forward to the rest of the film.

Then it’s Smith, O’Sullivan and Neil Hamilton into the jungle as they search for a fabled elephant graveyard (for the ivory, of course). There’s some good action scenes as they climb a mountain and then have to get across a river of angry hippopotamuses. These sequences are all good… but immediately following the river traversing, Weissmuller shows up and the good plotting stops.

Hamilton becomes a bad guy, which isn’t unexpected since he plays him as morally ambiguous from the start. What’s strange about the transition is the film doesn’t recognize it. Hamilton’s shooting all over the place, but the movie still treats him like a good guy in the end. It’s inexplicable.

At some point, as the end finally neared, I realized I was going to watch a movie–the earliest where I can remember this scene happening–with the hero versus the impossible adversary. Here it’s Tarzan versus a monstrous ape. The evil dwarf trip keeps him in a pit and dumps tall people in for him to kill. It’s a lot like Return of the Jedi… and then Tarzan’s elephant friends show up and destroy the dwarf village and it’s even more like Return of the Jedi.

What’s also strange about Tarzan is how the film can be so meandering with all its technical glory. It isn’t just that fantastic editing, there’s also wonderful set design and great matte shots. W.S. Van Dyke’s best scenes are probably at the beginning with O’Sullivan arriving, but the rest of the film is good too. The sound design is phenomenal, bringing how must be men in animal costumes to life. It’s just all for naught. The movie fast forwards to its conclusion in four minutes, skipping a lot of important details (like how O’Sullivan decided to stay with Tarzan).

There’s one more interesting thing I don’t want to forget. There’s a knowing fade-out followed by a stunningly obvious postcoital scene; the two never even kiss on screen.

O’Sullivan’s great, which I already said, and Weissmuller’s fine. He has nothing to do. Smith’s good, Hamilton’s also fine–he similarly has a disadvantaged character. Ivory Williams is particularly good as the chief guide.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Tarzan for over ten years (it never aired on AMC or something). I figured Van Dyke wouldn’t do it wrong… but then, not only does he do it wrong, he does it boring–and I never thought Van Dyke would make a boring film.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Cyril Hume and Ivor Novello, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; directors of photography, Clyde De Vinna and Harold Rosson; edited by Tom Held and Ben Lewis; produced by Bernard H. Hyman and Irving Thalberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan), Neil Hamilton (Harry Holt), Maureen O’Sullivan (Jane Parker), C. Aubrey Smith (James Parker), Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Cutten), Forrester Harvey (Beamish) and Ivory Williams (Riano).


The People That Time Forgot (1977, Kevin Connor)

Apparently, all Kevin Connor needs–besides a decently concocted screenplay–is location shooting and a good score.

The People That Time Forgot–around the halfway point–became a movie I found myself enjoying too much. I got self-conscious about it, questioning its quality even more than usual, just because it seemed so good. It’s an adventure film, one told almost entirely in the language of film–there’s a cranky mechanic, a blustering scientist (who’s got a taste for the hooch), and an independent-minded woman who clashes with the macho protagonist. It’s somehow a perfect mix of its elements… though the music, by John Scott, helps it a lot initially. There’s also the film stock. The People That Time Forgot has a nice film stock, while Connor’s two previous films (The Land That Time Forgot and At the Earth’s Core did not).

The budget for People That Time Forgot allows for decent special effects, not great, but decent. There’s some stop-motion work and then there’s some men-in-suit work, giving the viewer a chance to compare (as usual, the stop-motion is superior). Unless there’s a model of person in them, the miniature shots are all excellent. The film creates an experience of exploration and wonder. Maybe not wonderment, but definitely wonder. You can see it on the actors’ faces. The cast of this film, particularly Sarah Douglas and Patrick Wayne, is good. Even when they’re not particularly good, Dana Gillespie as a scantily clad cave girl, you still like the character. The People That Time Forgot is a smoothly constructed film. There’s action, there’s humor, and there’s (a little) romance. But Wayne and Douglas are giving performances above and beyond the film (well, Douglas’ performance is beyond, Wayne’s is above though). Wayne was thirty-eight in the film, but his lack of shoulders gives him a more youthful appearance. He has an affability his father never did, there’s a pleasure in watching the hero try, not knowing whether or not the hero will succeed. Douglas–and I just looked and Superman II apparently typecast her in genre roles forever–is fantastic. She’s engaging, funny, just great. Her typecasting is unfortunate.

While the script isn’t good, it is well constructed. Connor still has his five minute set pieces, which are an odd way to make a ninety minute movie–he summarizes three days into five minutes, then has a six minute action, then some more summary–but it works well in People That Time Forgot. By the twenty minute mark, the viewer is actively engaging with the film. It’s the characters and the music and the lost world concept in that film language. The filmmakers know what buttons to press, because people have been making lost world films since… what? 1925?

Like I said before, I was very self-conscious about how much I enjoyed The People That Time Forgot, but at the end–even though two people who should kiss do not–I had to embrace the experience. It’s good. It’s not important (though it might be the setting sun of a particular type of genre film), but it’s good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Patrick Tilley, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by John Ireland and Barry Peters; music by John Scott; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark and Max Rosenberg; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Patrick Wayne (Ben McBride), Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), Sarah Douglas (Charly), Dana Gillespie (Ajor), Thorley Walters (Norfolk), Shane Rimmer (Hogan), Tony Britton (Captain Lawton), John Hallam (Chung-Sha) and David Prowse (Executioner).


At the Earth’s Core (1976, Kevin Connor)

Pinewood Studios has housed some rather impressive sets and some great films have been shot there. Reading At the Earth’s Core‘s end credits and seeing it too was shot at Pinewood… well, my respect for the studio has plummeted.

At the Earth’s Core is the second of four films directed by Kevin Connor, produced by John Dark, and starring Doug McClure (The Land That Time Forgot was the first). Taking the time period of Earth’s Core into account–Victorian England–McClure seems like a bad choice for the role, even if he is playing an American inventor. McClure spends twenty minutes in an ugly suit, then his clothes start to get torn off. He finds a new suit before the end of the film, however. But McClure isn’t the worst–which is a surprise, because he’s pretty bad–no, it’s Peter Cushing, playing the doddering inventor of a giant drill, meant to explore the interior of the planet. Cushing spends the whole film doing a doddering accent too, but it just sounds like he’s been sucking helium. These two don’t start all right and get bad, they’re terrible from the start. Still, since The Land That Time Forgot had a slow start, I stuck with Earth’s Core. Actually, I’ve been planning this festival for a while… but the film never gets bad. It’s terrible to be sure–particularly the effects, but more on those in a minute–but it never offends. It’s a strange kind of dumb.

The effects, however, are something else. At the Earth’s Core features such a collection of giant monsters, realized with such poor special effects, I can’t believe it hasn’t gotten cult status. The effects in this film are worse than those 1970s Godzilla films and those have some cult recognition. Connor, who was an interesting director on The Land That Time Forgot, is not on Earth’s Core. The entire film was shot indoors, so in addition to bad rear screen projection, Connor never opens up his shots. The whole film has a claustrophobia about it, to the point of causing discomfort.

The writing too (by Milton Subotsky) is pretty awful. It’s not just the bad pacing or the subterranean people who speak English, it’s also the lack of characterization. McClure’s character goes from being a rich failure to a heroic revolutionary, but the film doesn’t recognize a change in him is occurring.

The last shot is sort of amusing, however, and manages to leave the viewer feeling amused at him or herself for sitting through the film. So instead of the viewer laughing at the film, it laughs at the viewer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Barry Peters and John Ireland; music by Michael Vickers; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark, Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (David Innes), Peter Cushing (Dr. Abner Perry), Caroline Munro (Dia), Cy Grant (Ra), Godfrey James (Ghak), Sean Lynch (Hooja), Keith Barron (Dowsett), Helen Gill (Maisie), Anthony Verner (Gadsby), Robert Gillespie (Photographer), Michael Crane (Jubal), Bobby Parr (Sagoth Chief) and Andee Cromarty (Slave Girl).


The Land That Time Forgot (1975, Kevin Connor)

The Land That Time Forgot never achieved any sort of cult notoriety (though I’m not sure any film with dinosaurs ever has), but as a child, any video box cover promising submarines, aquatic dinosaurs, octopuses, and ape-men was golden. The film does not feature any octopuses. While I did see Land That Time Forgot as a child, it was the 1980s and it was hard to get inundated with relatively obscure 1970s British films, dinosaurs or not. The cheapo EP VHS wasn’t released until at least 1990–and around that time, I first learned of a sequel, which proved even harder to see. Even today, The Land That Time Forgot has never had a real DVD release (there was a two pack DVD, with the sequel The People That Time Forgot, available exclusively at Best Buy, but it’s disappeared with the Sony buyout of MGM).

I last watched Land That Time Forgot in late 2000, just after AMC aired it letterboxed for the first time. I remember being less than impressed and somewhat puzzled by my childhood favorite. I wasn’t even going to pursue the film again, even after I read about a German release on DVD, then I woke one morning and couldn’t remember whether or not the disc was actually available or if it had been some odd detail in a dream. I ordered it soon afterwards. And watching it again, I’m not at all sorry I did (I suppose I was much less willing to be an individual at the ripe old age of twenty-one). The film doesn’t even have traditional problems… some aspects work and others don’t, but the failing ones aren’t problems. It’s a movie about a lost world of dinosaurs. That sentence, save the first three words, is a problem.

The bad part of Land That Time Forgot is the logic. The people kill dinosaurs to identify the species. Dinosaurs not bothering them… in a longish, five minute sequence–and the poor dinosaur suffers. It’s awkward. But the film has quite a few awkward aspects–the pacing, for example, is entirely odd. The first half hour (before the titular Land ever appears) is set over two weeks in a World War I U-Boat. It’s fine enough stuff–one particularly nice scene where the U-Boat goes deeper then everyone (except Doug McClure) says it can and the crew–German and British–silently marvel at the machine and their success. They share the moment. The Land That Time Forgot is a very quiet film. Not just that sequence, but at least three others are totally quiet. Two of these scenes are in a wheat field and in a dense fog and the result is a beautiful experience, one totally unexpected in a dinosaur movie (one with bad logic too).

The special effects are pre-Empire Strikes Back (which really started the otherworldly thing) and the dinosaurs are pretty bad. The triceratops are all right. In a way, the effects have a nice simplicity. You want a flying dinosaur, well, you rig something up and coast it through the sky. The dinosaurs are nowhere near as distracting as the rear-screen projection, for example, and the volcanic chaos at the end of the film is well done. It’s excellent.

But, in addition to being genially inoffensive, The Land That Time Forgot does feature some good acting. The female lead, played by Susan Penhaligon, is useless, but it’s not her fault. Doug McClure plays the lead and, while he reminds a little of a young William Shatner, it’s not in a bad way. Some of the Brits are quite good, Keith Barron (as a Brit) and Anthony Ainley (as a German), in particular. I think John McEnery is good, but his voice was dubbed with a German actor, so it’s always hard to tell whose giving the good performance in that situation. The film’s also interesting because it eschews any sense of real history regarding British and German relations during the Great War, but doesn’t replace the Germans with the insidious variety popular since the Second World War. It’s not as good as it could be, but it’s odd enough to be interesting.

I think Leonard Maltin’s book might recommend The Land That Time Forgot for a rainy Saturday afternoon. That recommendation seems about right.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by John Ireland; music by Douglas Gamley; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), John McEnery (Captain Von Schoenvorts), Susan Penhaligon (Lisa Clayton), Keith Barron (Bradley), Anthony Ainley (Dietz), Godfrey James (Borg) and Bobby Parr (Ahm).


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