TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN
1949, Warner Archive Collection, $19.95, 72m 54s, DVD-PO
Reviewed by Tim Lucas
In TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS (1945), the first of Brenda Joyce's five films as Jane, Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) was portrayed as keeping certain secrets of the jungle from his mate, including the existence of Palmyria, a lost city in a high-walled valley inhabited only by Amazon women─a curious secret to keep from one's wife. In that film, Tarzan's honor was called into question when Boy (Johnny Sheffield) pursued him there and later led a company of gold-seeking explorers behind its fiercely protected veil of secrecy; in this film, which introduced Lex Barker in his first of five Tarzan performances and bade adieu to Joyce, Tarzan is not only knowledgeable of a secret civilization residing in the uncharted Blue Valley, but aware that the legendary, presumed dead aviatrix Gloria James (Evelyn Ankers) has been living there since surviving a crash that left her co-pilot dead 20 years earlier.
When Cheta (presented here as female) discovers Gloria's journal in the never-found plane wreckage, Jane requests that Tarzan take it to the airplane service in town and have it returned to England, but he initially refuses, knowing that it would only attract the curious. But when he learns that a man has been imprisoned in Nairobi for many years, on a charge of which Gloria could clear him, Tarzan gives the diary to the tradesman Trask (DR. CYCLOPS' Albert Dekker) and pilot Dodd (IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE's Charles Grant), who recall that rewards have been offered for any information leading to the wreckage and still more if Gloria is found alive. The value of this discovery is further upped when Tarzan brings Gloria to their office, looking as though she hasn't aged in 20 years─because the people of the Blue Valley have their own personal Fountain of Youth. After clearing and freeing Douglas Jessop (Alan Napier), Gloria marries him and they return to non-specific Africa, where she shocks Jane by now looking her real age, amplified in bad Hollywood makeup terms to make her 50 look closer to 70 or 80.
Tarzan─chastised by the leopard-earmuff-wearing Siko (THE LAND UNKNOWN's Henry Brandon) for betraying his people after Trask's stooge Vredak (VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA's Henry Kulky) dies leading an exploratory team into their hidden realm─refuses to compromise himself further by guiding Gloria and Douglas back. Jane, however, suddenly recalls seeing this Blue Valley once before and, being sensitive to Gloria's vanity issues, agrees to lead the newlyweds, and protectors Trask and Dodd, to its point of entry ─ unaware of the looming dangers ahead and at her back.
Directed by Lee "Roll 'Em" Sholem ─ who helmed the follow-up TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1950) before directing most of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN's first season and two of Weissmuller's Jungle Jim adventures ─ TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN is an entertaining, if predictably schismatic and occasionally sloppy, passing-of-the-torch adventure. Barker makes a physically graceful Tarzan but the dialogue given him by screenwriters Curt Siodmak (THE WOLF MAN) and Harry Chandlee (OUR TOWN) is too educated to be spoken so brokenly, and Barker hasn't yet assumed the role sufficiently to sell it with the necessary authority. After a dozen Weissmuller films, it's also a bit dispiriting to see the tenderfooted Barker wearing slippers, even in the comfort of his own treehouse, except in those shots wherein he (or his stunt man) vine-swings through the jungle, and his only swimming scene with Jane seems curtailed, beginning with both of them already wet. Brenda Joyce, two years older than her apeman, looks a tad careworn and uncomfortably paired, and the film tries too earnestly to distract its audience from their lack of chemistry by emphasizing Cheta's monkeyshines, which begin with her getting into a box of bubble gum. (In a later scene where the chimp over-peppers a piece of meat and blazes a trail to the nearest cool drink, the sound effects people actually insert someone mumbling "gimme water" into her manic jabbering.)
This level of cartoonishness is supported by the Alex Laszlo score, which focuses on the spritely chimp even as she investigates a crashed plane replete with snake-infested skeleton, and weaves "Brahm's Lullaby" and "Rockabye Baby" into scenes of bedding down at a campsite. For all the narrative drive invested in returning Gloria to the youth she sacrificed for her husband's sake, we are not given the satisfaction of seeing it restored, that privilege being reserved for Cheta, who not only turns into a baby at the final fade, but into a different species.
Only twice does the movie tease us with reminders of the thrill or tension levels attained by earlier films in the series: Vredak's death as a flaming arrow slams into his chest and prompts dark (probably chocolate) blood to spill from his lips, and the moment when Trask dares to halt Jane's escape by firing his pistol near Cheta. Otherwise, the film is conspicuously low on thrills, with the new Tarzan never working up much of a sweat, even climbing aboard a miraculously quiet elephant to secretly trail Jane's Blue Valley expedition. Elmo Lincoln, the first screen Tarzan from 1914's TARZAN OF THE APES, is reportedly here somewhere in a cameo as a fisherman, but he's easily overlooked.
Copyrighted 1948, the film's name is given onscreen as EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS' TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN, though Burroughs wrote nothing by this title. Such possessory credit is standard with all the Sol Lesser productions. This Warner Archive Collection release is presented in the film's original 1.33:1 ratio and, though not given any digital restoration, the presentation is only fleetingly blemished and never disruptively so. This "DVD Download" is not available in stores and sold (along with the other four Lex Barker Tarzan titles) only through Warners' online Archive Collection store. The fine print on the back of the box reports "This disc is expected to play in DVD Video "Play Only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives." We experienced no problems in playing the disc in our recorders and PC drives.