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Volume 7556

ERBzine Silver Screen Series Presents
(TV Movie 1989)
Part II: Review Section


Review by by Charles Mento
“How can I help?”
“Put your clothes on.”

TV Movie from 1989 and it feels like that year in all its glory. There’s a 21 Jumpstreet Canadian feel to this movie and while I’m sure some of it was filmed in NYC, most of it doesn’t feel like NY at all. The basic plot is mostly here:

What’s first to notice here is that the first few scenes in Africa (probably not filmed there, either) are quite good and okay, though I could have done with Tarzan crying out something other than, “MAMA!” when he finds Kala killed by hunters who leave behind a clue. I don’t understand, frankly, did they leave their jeep behind? There’s also a card with a hotel matchbook in the jeep and a cigarette or cigar that Tarzan smells which helps him locate the villain of the piece and the company he owns.

I’m of the sort that feels that Tarzan belongs in the jungle, mostly. I mean one of the best Tarzan movies is TARZAN’S NEW YORK ADVENTURE but that is mostly because the other Tarzan films are, steadfastly, set in the jungles and surrounding areas, mostly and the contrast helps keep that movie feel fresh. The other thing is, frankly, the actors in NYA: Weissmuller, O’Sullivan, Johnny and the “guests” make this movie feel emotionally involving, fresh, and urgent. And it all works. Tarzan jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge, for Pete’s sake! O’Sullivan is the best Jane ever, too.

But enough about what worked about that movie. This, resoundingly, doesn’t work as well, if at all. I mean I had to stop about 50 minutes in to take a break. It’s not terrible and it could have been far worse. It is entertaining.

The best thing about this IS Joe Lara. Joe knows he’s in a Tarzan movie. And he looks like Tarzan and has a presence that I’m not sure he had in his Tarzan TV show, some eight years from this. Frankly again, if the makers of this were going to make a Tarzan show with Joe in peak condition as Tarzan, 1989 and 1990 were probably the time to do it and start it. I’m not sure he’s as in as good a condition in EPIC ADVENTURES, or as good a Tarzan as he is here. I mean in every scene, he commands attention and in most scenes, he has that special something that Weissmuller had where he felt in control at all times. He’s not quite as good as Johnny but…he’s close. We hear the Tarzan yell at least twice in the first 50 minutes, one of those diving out of a detention building window after he rips off the bars! He also stripped down to loin cloth and high boots in the cell. BTW in the first scene in the jungle he dives into the water and emerges with some kind of footwear which vanishes as he moves toward the land. Cheetah’s quite good here, too.

If Joe knows he’s in a Tarzan movie, even a TV movie, and follows suit (and he’s in a suit in a few scenes, too and looks good in and out of it BTW) accordingly, the other actors do not. Kim Crosby is acceptable as a heroine but she seems to be acting in what she thinks is a romance sitcom dramedy along the lines of ALL IN THE FAMILY with prerequisite NY accent as a Jane who drives a taxi (remember those?). She puts her hands on Tarzan’s shoulders and chest while he stares at her, as if he knows what that means. He might as his African friend Joseph brought him books to read (and which he, amazingly quotes and believe it or not, that works, too).

In fact, no one seems to be acting in the same movie as Lara. A Tarzan movie. Tony Curtis, who is engaging enough in everything else he’s in, isn’t really an actor as much as a force of nature and a presence. I’m just not sure he was right for THIS movie and plays it as if he’s in a BATMAN 1966-68 campy episode. Part of the blame here is the script which gives him (unless he ad libbed the entire thing?) wise cracking lines and dialog that indicates he is the comic relief. Not all of the lines fail but most of it feels forced and “acted” rather than realistic. Then again, a few years earlier in 84 (?), GREYSTOKE was all realistic and horribly boring. Nevertheless, Curtis is okay here but definitely not in the same film as either Lara or Crosby, who plays Jane. The trio have almost no rapport with each other or anyone else, although Lara seems to have a rapport with Jan Michael Vincent who plays BB Brightmore who kidnaps animals for profit and has Cheetah kidnapped, probably done personally and had Kala killed.

I’ve always loved Vincent, who played THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE, a Tarzan like character who is more innocent and in a Disney comedy. Vincent always handled himself well in whatever role he was in. He and Tarzan do not meet in the first 50 minutes and he’s in it briefly for that amount of time but he seems to give off the impression that the movie is about him and he’s the main character which is fine for a villain and as a villain would think. He woos Jane who seems almost too comfortable liking him, even if the character is supposed to be faking it. Vincent is probably the second best thing about this next to Lara’s excellent Tarzan.

Another uncomfortable thing is the tone. What is this? Tony Curtis as Jane’s father Archimedes (yes, Archie as in Archie Bunker) SHOOTS and kills a guard at BB’s estate costume party. Well, he and Tarzan broke into an area of the estate that housed captured and experimented on animals, some of them dead (that Tarzan smelled). So, it’s not at the party. For that “at party” scene, Jane sneaks away, and somehow BB doesn’t notice (is BB a disguised version of Clyde Beatty or Frank Buck? See my AFRICA SCREAMS review for more on these two disgusting men), and then she lights Roman candles, launching them into the party…innocent people (?) maybe at risk? It doesn’t exactly make me like Jane. If I were at that party, I’d hunt her down and arrest her for the police!

Point is: there’s one horrific scene where Archie (who calls Cheetah Chiquita) finds a dead chimp (at least I think it is a chimp) and there’s quite a lot of gore seen briefly. It’s not a shot I believe was needed. Curtis is capable of playing it so that we didn’t have to see that. On other hand, sometimes what we don’t see might make us think up something in our minds that’s even worse. It’s uncomfortable in the light of the frivolous tone of the rest of the movie, or some of the movie. In light of Curtis’s one liners and flippant, sarcastic tone and his, at first, hatred of this more than half naked (let’s face it: HOT!) man in his daughter’s apartment, and then his brotherly (fatherly?) bonding with him as Tarzan compliments Archie and agrees with him. I DO love that Tarzan goes to the costume party AS Tarzan. It’s one ironic bit that might escape audiences but it’s fun and interesting…in that bit.

The movie is not really edgy…except in that gore scene but it doesn’t really work as the tone keeps changing. Tarzan encounters what looks like a gang outside Jane’s apartment. He has to life the leader by his neck to get them to stop harassing him and Jane. They have a pet dog that they signal as an “attack dog”---a lab if that CAN be an attack dog. We never get to see Tarzan’s reaction to the dog or the dog’s reaction to Tarzan. Later, the idiots break into Jane’s bedroom, only to be de-weaponed by Tarzan who takes one of their knives (his had to be left with Joseph in Africa because it wouldn’t be allowed on the plane). Most of this rings …well, not true, except, again, for Lara’s acting which is full on powerful in control Tarzan. And he sits at Jane’s broken front door (Archie did it) to guard her all night, which is charming. There’s little sense of urgency in most of the movie despite a plot that COULD call for it.

Tarzan does get Cheetah back and fights some of the guards but is shot and that’s where I left the movie for a bit. Which I suppose is a cliffhanger of sorts.

Again, I’m not sorry I watched this but it’s a very uneven movie for the first half. More later…

Tarzan mentions harisha from the Forest of the Skree. Skree might mean wild cat.

There seems to be some confusion about where Tarzan got shot. At first, when rising after being shot (?!), Tarzan’s upper right shoulder seems to have a bullet hole in it. When they emerge from the “hot” limo, Tarzan is holding his bloodied LEFT arm (the upper side bicep!) and inside the hole is on his left bicep on the side, still. Archie seems to work on that side. THEN, while Tarzan has a boring flashback to his plane crash as a child, his parents and Kala included in the memories, we see his right arm is okay in the bed. Jane uses a small washcloth to wet down his forehead and we see the right arm is still okay. Morning: Tarzan’s RIGHT arm is now bandaged and there is a bit of blood where the bullet hole was on his RIGHT ARM!

Wasn’t anyone watching continuity during filming?

During breakfast (after a rather unfunny scene of Cheetah and Archie watching TV), Tarzan has…the bandage on his left arm!?

When Jane asks, Archie tells her he saw a dead chimp with the top of his head cut open and his brains removed.

Tarzan growls at Brutus, the dog of the gang that stole the limo (Archie wanted them to), which stops the dog from chasing Cheetah.

They leave. Archie infiltrates a Brightmore building to get papers he thinks will incriminate BB. Jane and Cheetah are back home. Tarzan arrives, “I found a building with a jungle inside.” He has flowers for lunch. Jane and Cheetah went to a second hand book store on the way home. She’s found this in a book:

Greystoke—the hereditary title of the Clayton line going back to the 13th century in the reign of Henry the 3rd.

BB orders a hench man to make sure Archie has an accident. They found his job’s address on his ID. The henchman rigs the stove and light switch to cause an explosion in a shocking scene. We might think Archie is dead after the blast launches out a window as seen from the outside.

Impressively, Tarzan climbs up the elevator shaft to get to Archie and gets him out where the firemen could not. How did he get him down if the stairs were blocked by fire? Tarzan looks as if he’s struggling to hold Archie once he gets outside but through it all, Lara looks fantastic, to be honest.

At the hospital, a Dr. Racborn seems to indicate Archie is in a coma.

Tarzan’s left arm now seems wrapped in what looks like a strip off his loin cloth.

The gang is worried about Archie and are sorry about what happened to him and are now nice to Jane.

In what starts out as a calm sequence, Tarzan tries to talk to two policemen who spot him after he leaves the crime scene of Archie’s office, finding a cigar (of the henchman) and after Cheetah finds the info (a roll of film) Archie hid in his car about Brightmore. The sequence turns awful when Cheetah steals the police car, Tarzan pushes two cops away from him, and jumps into the car AND then Cheetah drives away! It crashes and Tarzan tells the gang that he learned to drive from Cheetah. They take the police car away.

The film has info about shipments. On the 15th (tomorrow), 200 more apes are being shipped in.

BB has Jane, who walked in through the front door. He’s also aware Tarzan is on the grounds. Tarzan uses a rope to string up one guard and his knife to stop the henchman, who killed Kala and kidnapped Cheetah earlier and who blew up Archie’s office. The knife seems to go into his heart and kill him.

BB explains his plans to Tarzan: he will take the brains of one primate and feed them to another, distilling them (?) and hopes it will make the living primate smarter? BB is almost calm in his villainy and frankly, though I like Jan Michael Vincent, here, he’s too calm and borderline boring.

While the two men talk, BB seemingly more interested in Tarzan than Jane, Jane attempts to communicate with the two Doberman dogs BB has guarding her. Tarzan told her earlier humans can do this. There is also a man guarding Jane.

A stare from Tarzan causes one dog to start chewing the ropes off Jane’s wrists.

BB’s process will have gene splicing and protein manipulation. He wants to extend the process to humans and will need human brain cells. The two of them will be the first.

A chimp jumps on one of the scientists (bio engineer) and distracts BB and the guard so Jane and Tarzan attack the guard and BB. Tarzan uses the word, “Freeze.”  In the escape, two chimps hug each other and it’s very cute.

Jane and Tarzan run. Cheetah, from the trophy room, brings them a bow and arrow. One of BB’s men has shocking white hair (a wig?). Tarzan uses a rope to trap one hunter and that hunter shoots another by accident. As he hunts them, BB orders a helicopter to put a light on Jane and Tarzan; he wants that “long haired primate” for himself. He uses a gun to fire explosive blasts at them. Cheetah climbs the tie of the man hanging upside down. Using the man’s fallen rifle, Jane blasts the light from the copter. Tarzan fires an arrow into the driver of BB’s jeep. Then he fires a flaming arrow into a box of live ammo to blow the jeep up.

During a struggle with a gun, Jane gets it but Tarzan says, “No, I want him to have a fair fight.”

Tarzan picks BB up bodily and dumps him and steps on him, then beats his chest and ….what was that? The Tarzan yell would have been appropriate here. Or were they trying to develop a new Tarzan yell/grunt, straining (to go the bathroom?) whatever that was? If so, they failed. Lara grunts “AAHHHHHHH uhhhh.” It so doesn’t work in a number of scenes that do not work.

BB says, “You know. Best hunt I ever had,” as policemen take him away.

The animals will be returned to the jungle. Tarzan wants to return to the jungle also. “There is less fighting in the jungle. Things are at peace.”

When Jane sees her father’s bed vacant, she says it was all her fault….only it wasn’t. He’s alive and out of a coma and in a wheelchair.

The gang leader drives Tarzan to the office. The gang leaders says something about Africa, “Say hello to Africa.” This makes us think Tarzan is returning to Africa. Tarzan says, “Right on.” The gang leaders says that’s a little dated. Tarzan goes into the office where Jane is redoing the sign on the door window, adding her name or rather, “…and daughter,”  to it as partner with her father, detectives. Joseph is meeting the animals in Africa. Tarzan IS flying home and has tickets for him and Cheetah. Tarzan gives Jane his mother’s pearls which she tried on earlier. She kisses him and he returns the kiss.

“The earth ever move when you swinging on your vines back home?”

“Not like that.”

To add to the embarrassment, Archie beats his chest in the office and does some kind of Tarzan yell. Gosh.

Archie offers Tarzan a job and he says, “All right, I’ll stay.” Lamely. Archie will give Cheetah (who he still calls Chiquita) all the peanuts he can eat.

Cheetah hugs Archie. Jane hugs Tarzan. They laugh.

Not sure what to make of this. It has some nice action sequences, but more often than not, embarrassing scenes that just do not work. The gang is not tense at all and not realistic at all either. Are they allies? Are they threats? Both? The violence is unevenly placed in a movie that sometimes seems like a parody and sometimes a satire comedy?

Lara makes a great Tarzan but this script is mostly lame. The ideas present aren’t terrible but just sort of thrown together and thrown at us, the audience haphazardly.

It’s easy to see why this was not given a green light for a series. It’s fairly unengaging. In a way not ONE Wolf Larson episode is worse than this, ditto the Ron Ely episodes. Even when those didn’t make sense or were boring (never Ely’s), they still had that special something TARZAN almost always has unless it’s not working and Tarzan in a New York setting that looks like Canada just really does NOT work. This didn’t work in a way that almost every other TARZAN tv show episode and movie did work. It’s not a comedy or funny; the adventure isn’t that action filled enough; the tension not kept up throughout; the gore and violece feels wrong too and that’s just wrong in a Tarzan movie…where violence is the order of the day in ANY Tarzan. The music is bright and cheerful but also sometimes goofy and comedic.

And Curtis is often terrible. And this is probably the most unlikely Jane there is and the actress is just okay. Cheetah shines until he steals a car but he’s cute nevertheless. The best thing about this is Joe Lara, who would make an excellent Tarzan at that time in the right kind of series. I’m not sure he ever got that chance, sadly. We shall examine that in TARZAN: THE EPIC ADVENTURES, for better or worse!

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