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Tarzan looks like a real hero of the '90's here, not only stopping illegal
ivory poaching but upholding human rights by foiling some latter-day slave
trading. This time it's one of those curiously light-skinned tribes that
inhabit Central Africa in some of his movies.
The film's title is something of a misnomer. The nominal she-devil here is Monique van Vooren, who sponsors the poachers, but she's a pussycat compared to Raymond Burr, full into his "heavy" role. This was the last time around as Tarzan for Lex Barker, no reason to shed any tears, though admittedly the character isn't one you can do a whole lot with. Joyce Mackenzie was the fourth actress in a row to give a single performance as Jane, and she does an OK job. There are some nice scenes of domestic bliss with the happy couple in this movie. All in all this is just another Tarzan flick, not so great, a little better than most. But you always knew what you were getting with these movies.
TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL (RKO Radio, 1953), directed by Kurt Neumann,
stars Lex Barker making his fifth and final screen appearance as Edgar
Rice Burrough's lord of the jungle. As the writers of the series
attempt new ideas with their screenplays, and gearing to another
direction from its previous efforts, for the first time since TARZAN
ESCAPES (MGM, 1936) starring Johnny Weissmuller, does the fearless
Tarzan allow himself to become the victim, losing his savage fight to
overpower the villains, who, in this production, are strong enough to
gather more attention than to the main characters. While the title
reads like a horror movie, giving indication of Tarzan matches wits
with Dracula's daughter, the woman in question is a princess compared
to the male hunters she supervises, particularly one enacted by Raymond
Burr only a few years before changing his frequent bad guy image to
prosecuting attorney in TVs long running series, "Perry Mason"
The story begins with routine everyday life as Tarzan (Lex Barker), his companion, Jane (Joyce McKenzie), and pet Cheta, find peace and tranquility in their jungle habitat until ivory poachers, Lyra (Monique Van Vooren), Fidel (Tom Conway), Vargo (Raymond Burr), Maka (Robert Bice), and others enter the scene. They want Tarzan to round up a large heard of elephants for them. Naturally, Tarzan refuses, so Lyra, leader of the expedition, attempts to persuade the lawman of the jungle by having Jane kidnapped. As the hunters carry out her plan, a struggle ensues, starting off a fire that burns down the tree-house. As Jane makes her escape, she is injured, left in a semi-conscious state, roaming about the jungle to face the dangers of the wild, including a crocodile and deadly snake before she is taken in and cared for by a native tribe. As for Tarzan, he returns to find his home burned and Jane gone. Believing Jane has perished in the fire, he becomes despaired. Not caring what happens now, he allows himself to be captured by Lyra's men, chained like a slave, held prisoner in a cottage, submitted to whippings (with limited scars of his torso), and when all else fails, extreme measures are used by having his arms tied above his head onto a wooden-like door frame structure. The angry Vargo tells Tarzan that if he doesn't do what they want, he'll hang there "until he rots." At this point the nearly unconscious Tarzan continues to be the prisoner, making no attempt whatsoever to save himself.
The problem with the Lex Barker's "Tarzan" series is the lack of consistency from one film to another. After succeeding Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, Barker never played opposite the same Jane twice. He inherited Brenda Joyce in his initial role in TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN (1949), followed by Vanessa Brown, Virginia Huston, Dorothy Hart and finally Joyce McKenzie. Second problem is having the much younger Barker, who looks very educated, to not be more articulate. In fact, in his last as Tarzan, he has fewer lines than ever before. Those familiar with the Barker/Tarzan series might ask themselves, "whatever became of their adopted son, Joey?" introduced by Tommy Carlton in TARZAN'S SAVAGE FURY (1952). Characters simply come and go, and while Cheta remains, Tarzan and Jane are once more childless. A few years later, Tarzan would go it alone, with Jane written out of the stories, forever absent with no explanation.
While the proposed title, TARZAN MEETS THE VAMPIRE, is a misnomer, TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL is even more misleading. As for the scenario, which finds Tarzan enslaved, it's at times unpleasant, especially witnessing an action hero who never loses to become weakened while submitted to torture. At any rate, TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL which runs at 76 minutes, does have its moments of interest, but not enough for excitement purposes. It may not the best nor the worst in the series, but its action relies mostly on suspense, whether or not Tarzan will be able to regain his strength, free himself from his captivity and do what's traditionally expected of him other than his ape calls.
TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL, which has never been distributed on video cassette or DVD, did become one of a whole series of Tarzan adventures from 1934 to 1968 to be presented on American Movie Classics cable channel (1997-2001). In spite of the weakness in the scenario, which might have been the reason for Lex Barker to surrender his loincloth, Tarzan, like Ian Fleming's James Bond, due to its popularity, would continue to hit the theater screens for many years to come, performed each decade by different actors. Next chapter: TARZAN HIDDEN JUNGLE (RKO, 1955) starring Gordon Scott. (**1/2)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
My fellow-reviewers have commented that the "She-Devil" in the title is
a misnomer, and that the lady in question is far less of a "devil" than
her two male flunkies--one of whom, wonderfully played by Raymond Burr,
is easily the most frightening, hateful, detestable villain you'll ever
encounter in any film, period. But emphasizing this point too much will
entirely miss the point of the film.
It is, after all, the "she-devil" who concocts the horrible idea of robbing Tarzan of his power by robbing him of his love. What man, however evil or intelligent, would ever be able to think of that? I refer you to the earlier and more celebrated film "Tarzan and His Mate": in the earlier film, a white hunter launches an evil plot against Tarzan's life, but that scheme is child's play in comparison with this one.
As in "Tarzan and His Mate", the jungle man and defender of animals is opposed by callous ivory hunting white men. "Whenever I am close enough to the elephants - the finest ivory in the world - Poof! Tarzan, he calls them away!", says one of them.
We hear no such useless whining from the boss lady. She knows what Tarzan lives for and she knows where to hit him. Consequently, she comes closer to destroying him than any of his other (usually male) enemies ever could. And she doesn't need to do the overt evil; she gets her male flunkies to do it for her. She knows that Tarzan is above all a man of love, and her scheme is simplicity itself: make him think his love Jane is dead, thus breaking his spirit. Then, as a climax, reveal to him that she's alive, and make a deal: call the elephants for us, and the two of you are free. Is that a she-devil or not? You bet!
Tarzan, of course, outsmarts her; his famous quick mind returns in a flash when he sees Jane alive. "Tarzan call elephants", he says, doing such a good imitation of a broken man that the viewer is totally fooled along with the ivory hunters. Then he has an enclosure built (to attract the elephants into) and says to the native attendants, "Tarzan say when close gates." The native gives him a dirty look, as if to say, "Yeah, 'Tarzan say when close gates'! Cop-out!" Tarzan calls the elephants, and when they're stampeding toward the gates he yells out, "Close gates!" and the camp is stampeded. The ivory hunters are presumably killed as Tarzan rescues Jane and rides off with her on an obliging elephant. The ending is magnificently happy.
The earlier "Tarzan and His Mate" is best seen in a double feature with "Tarzan and the She-Devil." The earlier film, a lyrical celebration of Tarzan's life with Jane, features a fellow named Holt, an old flame of Jane's. Holt has apparently killed the ape-man and made it look like an accident. Armed with this false report, he woos Jane into agreeing to accompanying him back to "civilization." (It goes without saying that Holt is an ivory hunter, and that his style is greatly cramped by Tarzan's presence.) As those who have seen the earlier film will recall, Jane's interest in Holt and in "civilization" disappear when she realizes that Tarzan is very much alive.
Well, "Tarzan and the She-Devil" pursues a rather interesting and similar angle. Here, the plot against Tarzan is ten times more evil than anything Holt or any other man could have come up with in a million years. Women, as also men, can be good or not so good. But the female of the species bears the more watching.
For the fifth and final Tarzan film starring Lex Barker it was not only
back to the RKO back lot, but back to the old days when the natives
that Tarzan was helping were not even black. In fact Tarzan spends most
of the time in chains because he's broken hearted because he thinks the
villains have killed Jane.
Jane is played here by Joyce McKenzie and the trio of villains are Tom Conway, Raymond Burr, and Monique Van Vooren, the last being the she-devil in the title. No black magic does she use, simply some feminine wiles and an appeal to Tarzan that since Jane is dead, he can best help by making sure that her two male conspirators don't go too hard on the natives they've enslaved, especially Raymond Burr who is on a power kick.
The trio is after ivory and they've captured a whole tribe of to do their heavy work as ivory hunting legal or not requires a lot of help.
But as we know from many a Tarzan film in the past, the elephants are among his best jungle friends and they help out a lot in rescuing Jane and the natives and Tarzan later in typical elephant fashion. Of course the elephants are also acting on their own rational self interest since they have no desire to wind up piano keys.
RKO did the first film with Gordon Scott as Tarzan and then bid adieu to the Tarzan franchise. With Scott the series began to get a bit more realistic in the plots and also reflected the new Africa emerging in the Sixties. Tarzan And The She-Devil is a piece of high camp, but that's about the only way it can be enjoyed.
Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953)
** (out of 4)
Lex Barker's fifth and final time playing Tarzan is a rather strange one. In the film, ivory poachers (Monique Van Vooren, Raymond Burr) are wanting Tarzan to help him but when he refuses they try a different method. Poor Tarzan thinks that Jane (Joyce McKenzie) has been burned to death so in his depressed state he doesn't fight off the poachers when they capture him. They plan on forcing him to help but what Tarzan doesn't know is that Jane's still alive. TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL has been called the very worse Tarzan from a major studio outside the Bo Derek version but I think that's a tad bit harsh. There's no question that it appears Barker was bored with the material and there's no question that we get one stupid scene after another but at the same time there are still a few decent elements here. I think the best thing going for the film is the performance by Raymond Burr. Everyone will always remember him for playing Perry Mason but he was a terrific villain and if you're unfamiliar with his bad guy roles you'd be doing yourself a favor by checking them out. He does a terrific job here playing the cool, laid back jerk who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Burr just has a certain snake-like quality about him and you can't help but see he's having a ball being as bad as he can. Van Vooren is also quite good as the leader of the poachers who isn't afraid to use a wink to get her way. McKenzie, the fifth person to play Jane in this five film series, isn't all that memorable but then again her screen time is very limited. Barker turns in his worse performance as the ape man as you can tell he's bored out of his mind and it's easy to see he's not too interested in anything that's going on. The story itself is a rather weak one and the ivory poachers thing had been done before and put to much better use. When it's all said and done, this is perhaps the worst of the Barker films but the supporting characters keep the film going. Without then I might have agreed that it's one of the worst films out there but the villains are good enough to where "B" movie fans might want to check this out (after they view the classic MGM Tarzan films of course).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***SPOILERS*** Lex Barker in his final role as Tarzan the Ape Man is
kidnapped and tortured by a gang of Ivory poacher's lead by She-Devil
Lyra, Monique Van Vooren, and held hostage by them. That's until he can
bellow out his famous bull elephant, not ape, call to get the local
heard of elephants to meekly get into line to have their precious ivory
tusks amputated by the pouches. It's after Tarzan's luxury's
tree-house, that didn't have fire insurance, in the jungle was burned
down by the pouches with his wife Jayne, Joyce Mackenzie, and pet
monkey Cheetah possibly perishing in the flames Tarzan felt that he had
nothing to live for. And even welcomed death at the hands of his
kidnappers lead by a whale like Vargo, Raymond Burr, who tried to get
him to play along, by getting the elephants to turn themselves in, with
It's when both Jane and Cheetah showed up alive that Tarzan agreed to give the bull elephant call only to have the elephants stampeded their intended killers into chopped meat not go quietly to their death. With Vargo getting the worst of it being crushed alive when the roof, of his headquarters, came crushing down on him. As for She-Devil Lyra she ended up getting hers not from the stampeding elephants but from her wimpy butter-fingered husband Fidel, Tom Conway,who in trying to prevent from getting trampled shot her , by accident, instead before the charging and out of control elephants did a number on him.
Raymond Burr just back after staring in his last jungle film "Bride of the Gorilla" where he played the gorilla was excellent here as Vergo the 275 pound heavy who liked to throw his weight around and ended up getting a lot more weight, in being trampled to death, thrown at him instead. It was 4 years later after shedding some 75 to 100 pounds that a slimmed down looking Burr got the role as TV's Perry Mason that not only turned him, who up until then was always playing villains, not only into a good guy but also a TV icon and legend as well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Thankfully this was Lex Barker's last Tarzan film. Discarding clichéd Cold War leanings and Eastern European villains in the stories, the routine plot of "Tarzan and the She-Devil" turned its attention to hot-blooded Europeans with similar greedy motivations, this time for profits from ivory trading, including three mean Mediterranean males and one Belgian woman. But as Jane's mishaps are central to the plot, the enterprise turns too mellow and becomes more melodramatic than the previous entries that showed the Greystokes' domestic life. In the story Jane is abused, lost in the jungle, kidnapped and imprisoned, and in the proceedings the Greystokes' tree house is set on fire, so there was a need to introduce before romantic images and dialogues between Tarzan and Jane that in the end seem too ludicrous and out of place. On top of that Monique van Vooren's character (a Belgian business woman called Lyra) becomes too soft to be one of cinema's unforgettable she-devils (think of Ona Munson in "The Shanghai Gesture", Gale Sondergaard in "The Spider Woman", or Mari Blanchard in "She Devil", for example). Directed by Kurt Neumann (a veteran in Burroughs land, having directed Johnny Weissmuller in "Tarzan and the Amazons", "Tarzan and the Leopard Woman" and "Tarzan and the Huntress") the film still has high entertainment values to keep our attention. As Neumann went on to direct "She Devil", "Kronos" and the original "The Fly", Lex Barker became a superstar in European adventure films, made two movies with Cuban H-Bomb Chelo Alonso, appeared in Fellini's "La dolce vita" with Anika Ekberg and De Sica's "Woman Times Seven" with Shirley MacLaine, and lived happily ever after married to Miss Spain 1961, until his death in 1973.
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