Wednesday, December 02, 2009

TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL reviewed

TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL
1950, Warner Archive Collection, $19.95, 73m 52s, DVD-PO
By Tim Lucas

In the second of Lex Barker's Tarzan films, the Lord of the Apes swings to the rescue as the onset of a crippling disease compels the last surviving males of Lionia (who wear leopard-patterned headgear and other wardrobe familiar from the later Bert I. Gordon film THE MAGIC SWORD) to abduct women to repopulate their race. Tarzan enlists the aid of a kindly doctor (Arthur Shields, downplaying his Irish accent for a change) who prepares a serum to cure the affliction, but the vial gets lost along the way when Tarzan learns that Jane (Vanessa Brown) and the doctor's sexpot nurse Lola (Denise Darcel) have joined the list of abductees.


When Lola responds to the rough manhandling of chief abductor Sengo (Tony Caruso, above left) by scarring his face, he puts his own vanity before the survival of his people and attempts to entomb her and Jane alive in the crypt of their recently deceased King. Thanks to Cheta and alcoholic adventurer Neil (Robert Alda, third-billed in a negligible part), the serum is recovered in time to save the young son of Lionia's Prince (THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY's Hurd Hatfield, miscast as a devoted family man, albeit with no wife in sight) and the women are freed, with Lola only too happy to stay behind to wiggle her way into the tiara of Lionia's late princess.

Despite a weaker script, principally written by former Laurel & Hardy writer Arnold Belgard (BLOCK-HEADS), it is a considerable tribute to the abilities of director Lee Sholem that his second and last Tarzan picture takes notice of all the flaws and faults of its predecessor and ensures that none are repeated. Lex Barker is here considerably more at home in the role of Tarzan, losing his slippers, leaping dynamically over cameras like a born athlete, and tackling its many physical tasks with invigorating zest. This is also the first series entry to depict Tarzan as a skilled bowman, a trait that would become particularly essential to Gordon Scott's later portrayal. A magically regrown Cheta, now either male or sapphically mating with a female chimp named Coco (left behind in a tender farewell scene), is given only one comedic indulgence after draining a whiskey bottle, stumbling about in slow-motion for awhile but thereafter becoming a valuable aid to the hero in times of trouble. The simplistic story is given some interesting density in the middle with the introduction of a group of Nagasi tribesmen, who are able to merge with, and act lethally from, the jungle environment in the manner of African ninjas.


It is one of the curiosities, and weaknesses, of the Lex Barker Tarzan series that each of the five films presents him opposite a different Jane. In this entry, Jane is played by the Austrian-born Vanessa Brown, eleven years the junior of Brenda Joyce but with a wholesome, spirited quality that suggests a spunky, doe-eyed kid sister rather than a wife or lover. She might have had improved chemistry with Barker, but the plot separates them for most of the running time, and any opportunity she may have had to communicate her own nimble sex appeal is thwarted by scenes constantly throwing her up against French brickhouse fireball Denise Darcel, who loses a silly catfight with Tarzan's second-in-command but nevertheless steals the film as the sly yet uninhibited Lola.

Photographed by Russell Harlan (TARZAN'S DESERT MYSTERY) the year before he shot THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD for this film's editor Christian Nyby, TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL sometimes has a wonderfully silvery nitrate look, though the shots incorporating
opticals and dissolves are sometimes comparatively coarse in appearance. The sequence of the ascent to Lionia makes use of some excellent trick matte shots, comparable to those in TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN. The Warner Archive Collection presentation is framed in the original 1.33:1 ratio and, aside from some early scratching around the RKO logo, is even more spotless than their rendering of the previous film in this series.

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