Friday, 22 February 2013

Tarzan the Fearless: Hollywood Classic

It's amazing how ones memories of a movie can be influenced by the events surrounding it. .I remember with almost magical clarity the night I went to see Star Wars as five year old. I remember vividly some of the events around the time I first saw Superman the Movie. A similar experience for me was the first time I saw Tarzan the Fearless. I was about 11 years old and headed with my mother to the local video shop to hire a movie for the evening. As I walked around the aisles I remember walking up to the nostalgia section to see if they had any Tarzan films. There amongst the VHS tapes of films like Gone with the Wind, Shane and Casablanca was a collection of tapes with pictures of  Oscar statuettes on the front, printed in brown on thick buff paper, giving the cover a sepia look. The series was titled Hollywood Classics or something similar and there amongst the various ancient titles was Tarzan the Fearless starring Larry 'Buster' Crabbe. To my eleven year old Tarzan fan eyes this was gold. I loved Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers and here was the 'King of the Serials' playing the Lord of the Jungle, and who, according to the blurb on the cover, was the most handsome man to play the role....and the cover said Hollywood Classics so the movie must have been important. I got home and set myself down to watch this cinematic relic from a bygone era. Soon the movie began to roll and the title Tarzan the Fearless came on the screen, only to be followed by the words 'Story by Edgar Rice Burroughs'.  This film must be certainly be important. As a Tarzan fan that had recently started reading the books there was one thing that I would be looking for. Would Tarzan's true identity of John Clayton, Lord Greystoke be mentioned, as it was in Burroughs stories. As I settled in with such questions in mind I became drawn in to this creaky, ancient movie from the dawn of sound. I was impressed by the age of this movie, it seemed prehistoric, with its flickering black and white images and scratchy sound track and long periods of silence with out back ground music. It was then that a very important message flashed onto the screen.  
'The world wide popularity of the "TARZAN" stories
has prompted the Author to tell, now for the first time,
a new story of the Ape-man's strangest and most romantic adventures.'
Tarzan (Larry 'Buster' Crabbe) with Mary's father,
Dr Brooks (E. Alyn Warren)
I knew this movie was important. It came from the 'Author' himself. it was new information about Tarzan's strangest and most romantic adventure. This was like opening an ancient tome to discover lost lore from antiquity. No wonder this was a 'Hollywood Classic. Before I knew it, there he was, Tarzan, swinging spectacularly across the screen, letting rip with a very different version of the victory cry of the bull ape as described by Burroughs in his books. The action had started and my eleven year old eyes were glued. There were familiar things, apes (chimps and a gorilla), Tantor the elephant, certain characters, however here their names were all different. Most importantly Jane went by the name 'Mary'. Maybe she was a Mary-Jane after all. And most importantly Tarzan was also an English Lord, although here he was Lord Greyfriar rather than Greystoke (maybe he had another title as well or maybe it was a typo......and did he have a scotch terrier called Bobby?). I learnt new things, that there was a lost city called Zar, that Tarzan had a cave as well as a tree house, and that there was a £10,000 pound reward for confirmation of Tarzan, Lord Greyfriar's, death. This film was a treasure trove of archaic Tarzan law and after all the trials and tribulations of Tarzan's 'strangest and most romantic adventure' were over there was the classic final scene of chimps, (one presumably Cheeta), a gorilla and Tantor the elephant, dancing to the song "Call of Tarzan", playing on Dr Brooks' record player. This was a film to remember, an important 'Hollywood Classic' in the Tarzan film series, an ancient cinematic epic from the time when Edgar Rice Burroughs walked among us.
As the years went by I learnt that Tarzan the Fearless was one of the lesser entries in the Tarzan series and other than using his Tarzan character, wasn't written by Edgar Rice Burroughs at all but Basil Dickey and George H Plympton, a prolific duo of movie serial writers.  In fact it was a movie cobbled together from a cheapy 12 part serial of the same name that no longer exists in it's entirety. I expect that the other films in the now obviously cheap Hollywood Classic VHS range were probably a collection of poverty row  B westerns and crime thrillers that became classic for their age rather than there popularity or critical success. But for me Tarzan the Fearless  will ever be remembered as a true classic, the one chance to see Larry 'Buster' Crabbe as the 'most handsome Tarzan of them all' (not counting his other performances as Kaspa, Thun'da and Junga, all Tarzan inspired clones).
In fact today Tarzan the Fearless lives permanently on my iphone and when life is tough, my heart is heavy, my mind is weary and I long to return to those savage jungle days of yore, I just press the app icon and I'm there to experience again one of Tarzan's 'strangest and most romantic adventures'.


Tarzan in conference with Cheeta