Monday, September 22, 2014

TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD


Coca-Cola was big in Mexico City in the mid-1960s. Really big. Huge. How do I know this? Because there's an action sequence early on in TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD (1966) that takes place at a bullfighting stadium that is covered in billboards all sporting the Coke logo. There's even a giant Coke bottle that Tarzan (Mike Henry) topples and sends tumbling down the rows of the stadium where it smashes into and kills a sniper.

That bullfight arena scene has a low-rent James Bond feel to it. Tarzan, newly arrived in Mexico City, is garbed in suit and tie, there's a Cadillac convertible and several high powered automatic weapons used in this attempt to kill the ape man. After the assassination attempt, Tarzan gets a briefing from Mexican law enforcement officials that includes another Bond type plot gimmick: an exploding Rolex watch.

What does all of this hugger mugger at the beginning of the film have to do with anything? Not much as it turns out but that's pretty par for the course in this low budget B movie that tried to reinvent Tarzan as a Bond-style, globe trotting adventurer. Both the screenplay (Clair Huffaker) and direction (Robert Day) are slap dash although Mike Henry does make a fairly good Tarzan. He's tall, dark, handsome and magnificently muscled, all of which are prerequisites for playing the Lord of the Jungle.

I recall seeing TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD when it was first released in the summer of 1966. It played a double bill (anybody remember those?) with the Japanese giant-monster epic FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. I loved the way cool one-sheet pictured above. I loved both movies. I was ten-years-old. It was my Golden Age.

I watched TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD for the first time since 1966 yesterday. It wasn't near as good as I remember it but I still dig the one-sheet, which is another sterling example of selling the sizzle not the steak. The story brings Tarzan to Mexico in an effort to find the fabled lost valley of gold and protect it from the rapacious Augustus Vinero (David Opatoshu) and his deadly line of explosive jewelry.

The lovely Nancy (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS)  Kovack is along for the ride for no discernible reason other than that an attractive woman of some kind is needed since Tarzan's mate, Jane, is not in the film (or ever mentioned). Kovack was a last minute replacement for Sharon Tate (who appeared with Henry in several pre-production publicity stills). But there's no spark, no chemistry between Kovack and Henry. Sure, a romance would have slowed things down in what is essentially a kids' action/adventure film but there is a distinct lack of attraction between the two.

Vinero's hulking right-hand man is played by the ginormous Don Megowan, who memorably played the "Gill Man" in THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956), the third and final film in Universal's CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON series. He's a big, bald brute and if a Thor movie had been made in the 1960s, he would have made a perfect Absorbing Man (or Executioner). Megowan and Henry square off in a short and clumsily staged fight scene at the climax of the film. It's a pity and a waste of two impressive physical specimens. A bigger budget, a better script and a more imaginative director could have delivered a knock-down, slob-knocker of a fight between these men.

Filmed entirely on location in Mexico, TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD cannot rise above some severe limitations behind the camera. Cheapskate producer Sy Weintraub took over the Tarzan film franchise in 1958 and delivered his first Tarzan film, TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE in 1959. He hired Henry (whose NFL career lasted from 1958 to 1964, with first the Pittsburgh Steelers and then the Los Angeles Rams) to star in three Tarzan films: TARZAN AND THE GREAT RIVER, TARZAN AND THE JUNGLE BOY and VALLEY OF GOLD. With the film series at an end, Weintraub decided to turn Tarzan into a weekly television series that would utilize the Mexican locations and production crew from VALLEY. Henry was offered the part but he declined. The role went to Ron Ely and the series lasted two seasons (1966-1968) on NBC TV. Ely's co-star on the series was young Manuel Padilla Jr. (from VALLEY) as Jai. Makes you wonder. Who the hell was Manuel Padilla, Sr.?

Mike Henry went on to co-star with Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason in the enormously popular SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT films. He wasn't a great actor by any means but I thought he made a serviceable Tarzan. There was a novelization of the film released, written by science fiction/fantasy/horror author Fritz Leiber. It was the first authorized Tarzan novel by anyone other than Tarzan's creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

 TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD is for die-hard Tarzan fans only.

 Or anyone who saw it when they were ten and wants to relive an afternoon from their childhood.

2 comments:

  1. Johnny Weissmuller IS Tarzan, as Sean Connery IS James Bond. 'nuff said.

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  2. I saw this on the same double bill back in the day. I think the Coke bottle scene stuck with me the most. It is a shame about that final fight scene. There's even a speed-up effect used at a couple of points as they roll about.

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