Arts

Cult Movie: Tarzan's Greatest Adventure a jungle-bound gem waiting to be rediscovered

Gordon Scott (right) as the jungle's most famous hero in Tarzan's Greatest Adventure
Ralph McLean

Tarzan's Greatest Adventure

TARZAN took on almost 30 cinematic adventures between 1932 and 1967. That's a whole lot of wobbly jungle sets, throat-shredding tribal roars and unconvincing rubber crocodiles to grapple with by anyone's standards.

If we're honest, not every one of those films was a cinematic masterpiece either. Leaving aside the occasional gem like MGM's 1932 game-changer Tarzan The Ape Man, most of those Saturday morning potboilers were weak to say the least, mostly consisting of our musclebound main man swinging lifelessly through the trees, swopping bland domestic patter with his better half that traditionally centred around such sparkling exchanges as "Me Tarzan, you Jane" and trying not to throttle that irritating chimp that was always getting under his feet.

Tarzan's Greatest Adventure from 1959 is the exception to the rule, however. Starring Gordon Scott in the lead role of chief vine swinger and shot in glorious over-saturated 1950's colour, it's got a verve and stylishness that truly sets it apart from the junk in the jungle.

Producer Sy Weintraub picked up the rights to the Tarzan franchise with this little beauty and without doubt saved the brand from extinction. Here's the plot: A group of nasty mercenaries, all dressed up to look like natives, raid an African village to get supplies for an attack they're planning on a nearby diamond mine. When good old Tarzan finds out his old nemesis Slade is the leader of the gang, he sets off to stop them in their tracks.

There's much to love here from the fresh take on Tarzan that Scott offers – he's dynamic and determined where others had been listless and one dimensional – to the mostly European crew including director John Guillermin (whose later work included The Towering Inferno) and brilliant actors like Anthony Quayle and Niall McGinnis, who never appeared in a movie that he didn't elevate with his performance.

Quayle is particularly good as the evil Slade and there's even an early appearance on screen for a young Sean Connery, who impresses hugely as an Irish thug called O'Bannion.

Rumour has it, he impressed Weintraub so much with his gritty athleticism that the producer tried to offer him the lead role for the next jungle-bound adventure. Connery had to turn it down though as he was preparing for his career-defining role as Bond.

The action rattles along at an impressive pace throughout and there's a ruthless, almost nasty, side to the mercenaries' actions that raise the film well and truly out of the traditional Tarzan world of sanitised violence and all that aforementioned rubber crocodile wrestling.

This feels much more adult in its themes and aimed well away from the traditional pre-teen audience that mostly flocked to the latest adventures of the bare chested, treehouse frequenting avenger.

Baddies are dispatched via all manner of unpleasant deaths from hanging to quicksand and Guillermin doesn't mind leaving the boot in when the going gets tough. The result is a 1950s cult gem just waiting to be rediscovered.

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