When I was a kid, one of the local TV stations showed Tarzan movies every Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. I was a faithful viewer and watched many of them over and over again, especially the Johnny Weissmuller movies. One Tarzan film that I didn’t like at all was TARZAN AND THE GREEN GODDESS, starring somebody called Bruce Bennett as the Ape Man. To a Weissmuller fan who had never read any of Burroughs’ novels, almost everything about TARZAN AND THE GREEN GODDESS was wrong. Bennett’s Tarzan wore clothes, spoke perfect English, and hung around with a chimpanzee called Nkima. Where was Cheetah? And the story took place in Guatemala, for goodness sake, instead of Africa. What were they thinking when they made this one?
Well, now I know, of course, that TARZAN AND THE GREEN GODDESS was the edited-down, feature version of the serial THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN, starring Herman Brix, who later went by the screen name Bruce Bennett. And the things I hated as a kid about Brix’s portrayal of Tarzan now don’t bother me at all, since I know that was the way Burroughs actually wrote the character.
To get the serial’s weaknesses out of the way first: the pace is glacial, the acting is uniformly bad, the script includes chapter after chapter of mostly pointless running around the Guatemalan jungle, and the production values are cheap even by the standards of the day. The lack of a musical score except over the opening and closing credits also hurts the film.
Now for the things I liked about it. Herman Brix is no great shakes as an actor at this stage of his career (he improved some in later years) but he looks just fine in the part, as both the civilized Lord Greystoke and the Ape Man. The only thing I didn’t like about his performance is the awful yell he does. He’s supposed to be yelling “Mangani”, which is reasonable since that was Burroughs’ name for the race of great apes that raised Tarzan, but it just doesn’t sound right to me. Some of the action scenes are fairly well done, and there’s some unintentional humor when Tarzan battles a group of Guatemalan ninjas, for want of a better word, who wear outfits that bear a marked resemblance to KKK robes, only made from black cloth instead of white. The filmmakers save the best stuff almost for last, in the penultimate chapter that takes place mostly on a sailing ship caught at sea in a bad storm. There are some really nice back-lit shots of Tarzan battling the villainous ship’s captain in the pouring rain. The final chapter itself is bizarrely anti-climactic, as the scene shifts to Greystoke Manor in England, where there’s a party going on and for some reason Tarzan and everyone else are dressed in gypsy outfits. Several flashbacks recap the high points of the story (it doesn’t take long), and then it all wraps up without any further action.
This probably makes the serial sound a little worse than it really is. I enjoyed it and am glad to have seen the whole thing after watching the shorter version as a kid.
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