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Lex Barker Tackles Tarzan … Part 2

If you haven’t already noticed, Barker had now starred in three films as the famed character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and in each film a different actress had portrayed Jane. That trend would continue with the fourth and the fifth film giving him a total of five different leading ladies. Up next in his fourth swing around the back lot was Dorothy Hart. Though Lex had this to say about his role as Tarzan, the end of his reign as the Lord of the Jungle was fast approaching.

“If my muscles hold up and my waistline keeps down, I can play Tarzan till I’m fifty.”

Tarzan’s Savage Fury (1952)

tarzans-savage-fury-one-sheet

When a certain relative to Lord Greystoke is murdered in the jungles of Africa, an impostor takes his place in the form of another one of those faces you’ve seen time after time, Patric Knowles. This sets the plot in motion though before we get too far into things, Barker’s Tarzan will have to save an orphaned white boy, much like himself from becoming alligator bait gone wrong. Yes the local natives are tying young boys to a rope and dragging them across the river to attract gators. Reminds me of a song from Country Music Entertainer/Actor Jerry Reed called Amos Moses.

Now everybody blamed his old man.
For makin’ him mean as a snake.
When Amos Moses was a boy his Daddy would use him for alligator bait.
Tie a rope around his waist and throw him in the swamp.
Alligator bait in the Louisiana Bayou.

This whole episode results in another one of those famed Tarzan vs. Alligator fights where despite the death roll, the Gator gets the worst via the knife.

The youngster is played by Tommy Carlton who looks up to the Ape Man and Tarzan quickly takes a shine to the youngster bringing him back to the tree house and Jane as played by Miss Hart. The boy tells Tarzan he’s an American orphan whose parents were killed in a lion attack while doing missionary work. American? Not according to the sound logic of Tarzan. “Boy speak English…… Boy English!” Hard to argue with that.

Before bringing the lad home, we’re introduced to Jane as she pines for her man to Cheetah the chimp, “Six whole days, that’s a long time Cheetah.” I’ll leave the effects of that line to you but have to wonder what those young lads were thinking in darkened theaters circa 1952. If my mind is in the gutter, just come out and say so.

knowles-in-tarzan

Once Knowles and his Russian pal, Charles Korvin turn up, Jane welcomes them like family into the tree fort/home while Tarzan is as wary as ever of strangers. Supposed relatives or not. His back goes up when Knowles presents to him a book talking of riches untold in diamonds belonging to a far off native people. He quickly gets Jane on his side in telling of the good these gems can do for her homeland of England. Never mind that Korvin is there with a rather heavy Russian accent. Spies are about in darkest Africa.

A journey through dense jungle will ensue with rivers, rafting and hippos. Not to forget the danger of lion pits and people who are not what they seem. And thankfully, the comedy parade given to us by Cheetah.

barker-and-carlton

This fourth film in the Lex Barker series was directed by Cyril Endfield and sticks to the usual formula associated with the series. The young Johnny Sheffield wanna be, Carlton never appeared in another film according to IMDB, making this his one and only screen credit. Once again, the RKO “B” unit under producer Sol Lesser delivers a fun film for the double feature crowd.

Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953)

tarzan she devil

When news that ivory hunters Raymond Burr and Tom Conway under the guidance and rule of sultry Monique Van Vooren have set out to slaughter a herd consisting of hundreds of elephants, Lex Barker’s final go around as Tarzan will lead to death and destruction for those who would harm the animals that he seeks to protect.

burr-in-tarzan

Always a fan favorite when it comes to nasty characters before Perry Mason entered his life, Burr once again plays it mean as a Safari hunter with a whip. He’s a slave driver who isn’t above leaving a fallen man to die where he lays after being worked to exhaustion. His partners are Conaway and Miss Van Vooren. In order to move the fortune in ivory they plan on harvesting, they’ll need men to carry it. When a local village tribe doesn’t eagerly volunteer, the trio enslave them. This will surely bring down upon them the wrath of Tarzan.

When Barker and his all new Jane for this fifth outing, Joyce MacKenzie are introduced, it’s a time for frolicking and love in the early morn. Cheetah supplies the customary comedic relief when he’s sent out to harvest some eggs for breaky. This brings him in contact with a rather large breed of bird, the Ostrich. Shortly thereafter, the women of the village seek Tarzan’s help in freeing their men from captivity. Burr’s mean streak is sure to welcome the chance to tangle with the Jungle King as it’s hinted at that they have crossed paths previously.

tarzan-and-cheetah-egg

When Tarzan first tangles with setting the men free, he winds up in a fight to the death with one of Van Vooren’s muscle bound slavers. The scene is very reminiscent of a Roman Gladiator sequence and Van Vooren of a Roman lady getting a sexual charge out of the two men fighting to the death. She quickly casts a lustful gaze at the winner. It’s an uneasy meeting this first time and as Tarzan points out to Jane concerning the She-Devil and women in general, “mind of woman like wind ….. blow this way….. that way.”  

In a pinch, the trio of baddies force the hand of Tarzan when they capture him hoping to use force to get him to call in the herd of elephants to a newly built fortress where they can easily harvest the ivory. He isn’t giving in but when they hold Jane captive and threaten her life…….

This final film for Lex was directed by Kurt Neumann, a man who had already directed three of the later Weissmuller outings as Tarzan. His most famous film is probably the 1958 horror classic, The Fly. Before he took over from brother George as The Falcon, Tom Conway had tangled with Tarzan back in 1941’s Tarzan’s Secret Treasure when Weissmuller still ruled the backlot jungle.

tarzan-and-the-she-devil-1953-2

Supposedly, Barker would have been content to carry on in the role but was unwilling to sign any long term contract to carry on swinging thru the trees and producer Lesser would move on to signing Gordon Scott. Barker easily transitioned into other genres including the western before moving on to Europe for a succession of films made abroad including titles like 24 Hours to Kill.

To wrap up this festival of Barker outings as Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, I will say that he’s far better than the films in general. By the time that these adventures were put before the camera, the series was playing itself out as they are really just a continuation of the downward spiral that the Weissmuller films were on. I’d say that the next actor in the role, Scott was handed some better scripts to work with overall than poor Lex. Barker was also in the unenviable position at the time as the actor who was replacing Weissmuller who had been playing the role since 1932, clearly making it his own and to this day continues to do so for film buffs. As enjoyable as these B’s are, it’s too bad that Barker didn’t appear in a definitive outing. As it is, they are all fairly interchangeable and less then memorable. Yet still utterly watchable and in the end, that’s good enough for me as I frequently revisit the Tarzan series from Weissmuller of ’32 to Mike Henry in the mid 60’s.

tarzan-and-the-she-devil_01

Lastly a quick comment on the fact that Tarzan really was a super hero of his day in cinemas. He has a great quote in one these features that I’d like to think we could all learn something from today more than ever…… “no guns, no war.”

That’s about as political as I get out here living my life happily in Canada.

4 Comments »

  1. Nice sentiments to round off this little retrospective.
    I think your overall assessment about the inherent watchability of the movies, even when the overall quality could sometimes have been a bit better, is spot on.

  2. Thanks for the two-day primer on the Lex Barker versions of the Tarzan films! And six whole days without Tarzan? Trust me, I don’t think Jane is worried about the lawn not being mowed…

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