The company arrived in Africa just before winter set in. The chimps wouldn't perform, so Cheetah's part had to be cut. The area around Mount Kenya was so cloudy that Lex Barker's tan disappeared and he had to use body makeup. The first time Barker showed up in a loin cloth the native extras burst out laughing. See more »
TARZAN'S PERIL (RKO Radio, 1951) directed by Byron Haskin, the third of five installments starring Lex Barker as Edgar Rice Burrough's most celebrated jungle hero, is, by far, the most prestigious project to date. An improvement over the previous two entries, thanks to some authentic location filming in Africa where much of the Tarzan stories takes place, and the casting of George Macready as the most sinister villain thus far, ranking this possibly the best in the Barker series. Aside from location sequences mixed with the studio jungle sets, TARZAN'S PERIL was reportedly intended to become the first in the series to be lensed in color, something that never happened, at least for now anyway.
Rather than the traditional opening focusing on Tarzan, Jane and/ or Cheta's daily activities, which turns up 16 plus minutes into the story, TARZAN'S PERIL opens with a native celebration in British East Africa as Melmendi (Dorothy Dandridge) is made queen of the Ashuba tribe. Commissioner Peters (Alan Napier), about to retire after thirty years of service, witnesses the event with his soon-to-be replacement, Connors (Edward Ashley). King Bulam (Frederick O'Neal), a brutal chief of the Yorango tribe, comes to propose marriage to Melmendi, but is refused. Later, the pounding of drums brings forth a message that Radijack (George Macready), a ruthless slaver and gunrunner, has escaped prison and somewhere in the jungle. Assisted by Doctor Herbert Trask (Douglas Fowley) and Andrews (Glenn Anders) as his henchmen, Radijack intends on bringing in a load of illegal rifles to the natives. As Peters and Connors approach Trask to inspect their hidden items, Radijack makes his surprise attack by shooting them. During their journey climbing a cliff, Radijack arranges for Andrews to meet with an accident that handicaps him with a broken leg. Being left there to die, Andrews crawls through dangerous territory before grabbing gold onto a log and floating down the river. While canoing with Jane (Virginia Huston), Tarzan (Lex Barker) foresees danger and rescues Andrews from a crocodile attack. Taking the injured hunter to a doctor, Tarzan, having learned from Andrews of the killing of his friend, Peters, and Radijack's evil intentions, Tarzan swings into action to stop Radijack from supplying the Yorango tribe with guns to attack the peaceful Ashuba tribe. By doing so, Tarzan faces some perils of his own almost in the manner of a weekly chaptered serial.
Making every attempt on bettering this long running series to a point of recalling some highly entertaining adventure made famous by Johnny Weissmuller during his days at MGM, the strength to TARZAN'S PERIL rests on well developed screenplay by Samuel Newman and Francis Swann with enough action to hold one's interest. Although routinely made, much of it is presented in the manner with some originality. George Macready, as mentioned earlier, gives a standout performance as the villain. Aside from putting other characters to permanent rest, his intention on doing the same to Tarzan finds the jungle hero subdued by his native followers, only to somewhat finish him off by having him thrown into water rapids to plunge down from a high waterfall. Other dangers faced by Tarzan is one where he's entrapped inside spider-like arms of man-eating plants, a similar situation earlier used in Weissmuller's TARZAN'S DESERT MYSTERY (1943), plus his encounter with a giant poisonous snake that nearly takes Cheta. There's also interesting casting of Dorothy Dandridge as the African tribal queen, shortly before achieving immortality for her leading roles as her Academy Award nomination in CARMEN JONES (20th Century-Fox, 1954), and PORGY AND BESS (Samuel Goldwyn, 1959) opposite Sidney Poitier. As with her screen career, Dandridge's role comes short yet essential to the plot.
The weakness to TARZAN'S PERIL once again falls upon the Jane character, this time enacted by the blondish but average acting Virginia Huston. Aside from her short 1950s style haircut and noticeable facial makeup in the Virginia Mayo mode, her Jane character isn't dressed in traditional jungle dress tog but white animal skins resembling that of an Esther Williams bathing suit. Unlike previous efforts where Jane takes part in Tarzan's adventures, this time Tarzan says, "Jane, go home," leaving Tarzan to fulfill his mission alone with Cheta, his chimpanzee, along for the ride. Jane, being off screen for a long stretch, does reappear, doing housework in her tree house before being face to face with a deadly visitor.
While no masterpiece, TARZAN'S PERIL comes close to becoming 79 minutes of non-stop action, making whatever weaknesses that take place to be overlooked or forgiven. Never distributed to video cassette, TARZAN'S PERIL, formerly broadcast on American Movie Classics prior to 2000, and finally Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: July 16, 2011), has become available on DVD through Turner Home Entertainment. With more "Tarzan" adventures in the horizon, and the slow faze out of Jane before the end of the decade, the next installment in the series is TARZAN'S SAVAGE FURY (1952). (*** drums).
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