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H. Bruce Humberstone
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Tarzan is joined by a reporter and her fiance on a journey to find a boy who was abandoned in the jungle six years earlier. The search party must also battle an evil native, who is out to kill the boy and take over as chief of his brother's tribe.Written by
Marty McKee <email@example.com>
TARZAN AND THE JUNGLE BOY (Paramount, 1968), directed by Robert Gordon, may not be the best nor the worst in this long running series based on the Edgar Rice Burrough's created character, but no doubt one of the weakest. Though the premise is basically a good one, using two subplots for the price of one, this Tarzan adventure stands apart for having more plot elements than unrelated segments leading to high adventure.
Starting off traditionally in 1960s style where prologue precedes opening credits, the initial three minutes sets upon a famed geologist named Carl Brunik, who, after stumbling upon mineral deposits, packs up his supplies into his canoe where his seven-year-old son, Erik, and pet baby leopard are seen sleeping under a blanket. While heading down the rapids, Brunik loses control of the canoe that flips over. Father drowns while boy and leopard mysteriously disappear from view. After the slow motion title credits superimposing over the image of Tarzan running about or swinging on the vine and other scenes to take place for the upcoming 99 minutes, the plot resumes, moving forward six years. Myrna Claudel (Aliza Gur), a photographic journalist, and Ken Matson (Ron Gans), her associate, parachute from a private airplane through the trees of the African jungle. They are soon met by Tarzan (Mike Henry), and his pet chimpanzee, Cheta. Myrna asks for the Lord of the Jungle to guide them through Zanuga territory in hope of finding a missing boy. Based on a photo they've acquired taken by a oil company stationed there, they've come to the conclusion the son of the late geologist is very much alive, having miraculously survived the jungle with a leopard as his only companion. Naturally, Tarzan takes to the assignment. Second portion of the story involves brother against brother competing for leadership of the Zagunda tribe. Buhara (Edward Johnson), friend of Tarzan, is kept from tribal leadership by being abducted, left to die by his evil brother Nagambi (Rafer Johnson), while tied to the ground onto four extended pillars in the view of hungry lions at a distance. After Tarzan finds jungle boy (Steven Bond), known to many as Jukaro, "boy of the trees," Myrna and Ken are captured and become hostages to be sacrificed under Nagambi's rule.
While the basic element is on the search of a missing boy, the second premise lifted from the Bible's "Cain and Abel" is actually better. Steve Bond, makes an agreeable jungle boy. Appearing 27 minutes from the start of the movie, he has limited scenes to himself, one worthy of mention is his method of hunting and survival. Boy doesn't meet Tarzan until the film is nearly over. Almost instantly, Tarzan and Erik form a certain bonding in the father and son mode, even taking time out for fun and games by having boy dive into the river from Tarzan's shoulders. Leisurely paced to a degree, TARZAN AND THE JUNGLE BOY greatly benefits from rich color photography from Panavision, as well as fine scenery and authentic jungle locales of Brazil in place rather than its true setting of Africa.
While previous Tarzan actors were far from great actors, Henry, the latest and most muscular ape man since Gordon Scott a decade earlier, enacts his role in calm, low-key style, often speaking with little expression. Categorized as bad acting, Henry, in his third and final attempt in the role for which he is most identified, gives some impression of being bored in some spots. With the writers bringing Tarzan more down to earth and being more relevant towards the sixties, this latest Tarzan is definitely not the same character as presented in decades past. Tarzan's background very much parallels that to the jungle boy. A prime example of this is found during one of their one-on-one talks. Tarzan briefly mentions as being an orphan of the jungle himself, taken to civilization, and making his decision of returning to the Africa after reaching manhood. Though there's not a mention of he being Lord Greystoke as depicted in the Tarzan stories, there's a clue of he being educated in city schools before resuming his lifestyle of a jungle man.
Having come a long way since the titled character's introduction in TARZAN OF THE APES (1918) featuring Elmo Lincoln, and dozens more Tarzan's since then, TARZAN AND THE JUNGLE BOY marks the end of the trail. Frequently shown in many commercial TV stations on "Tarzan Theater" since the 1970s, TARZAN AND THE JUNGLE BOY did play part of the cable TV generation on American Movie Classics (1997-2000) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: November 12, 2011). Though this closed the annual or biannual theatrical release of Tarzan adventures since the 1940s, Tarzan was then on call for a TV series (1966-1969) starring Ron Ely for NBC that certainly kept the legend alive regardless of which actor plays him. (** loin-cloths)
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