Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Hercules and Tarzan

Before I'm ready to give up on the Thanksgiving theme of the last few days, I decided I needed to devote a short entry to a couple of my boyhood fantasy heroes whose movies might have been shown over the holiday weekend back in the day:

HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1961)--This is one of the more well-regarded sword and sandal epics of the 60's. Mario Bava, who later made a name for himself in horror films, directed this atmospheric entry in the Hercules series. Reg Park plays the strongman who ventures into the Underworld to save the life of Princess Deianira, who is trapped in a state between life and death. Christopher Lee plays the villain, the evil Lyco, who attempts to engage in vampire-like behavior as he's been promised eternal life if he partakes of the blood of the princess. Herc has Theseus, a bleach-blond beach boy, as his sidekick; he gets into trouble because he can't leave the ladies alone. Also along for some lame comic relief is the nerdy Telemachus. While they're all aboveground, the proceedings are about par for the course for this kind of movie: bad dubbing, cheap effects (involving lots of boulder-throwing), and lots of episodic action involving Hercules getting everyone else out of hot water. But the Underworld is nicely photographed in deep shades of blue and green, even if the effects (including a very silly stone giant clearly made of cardboard) sometimes leave something to be desired. The widescreen version on DVD is 100 times better than the faded pan and scan versions one usually runs across. We never really get to see Lee get vampiric, but he looks younger, stronger, and more robustly evil than he ever did in most of his Hammer movies.

TARZAN THE APE MAN (1959)--Clearly the producers of this remake of the classic 1932 Johnny Weissmuller adventure film had a burning question to answer here: what if Tarzan had been a blond frat boy with a little baby fat on his face, but a killer surfer torso? Denny Miller, who plays Tarzan, was in fact a UCLA basketball star when MGM signed him to an acting contract. Miller is not very good here, not even managing to do very convincing vine swinging, but to be fair, he is hardly the worst thing in the movie. In fact, the word "inept" does not do this production justice. Much of the film consists of badly matched stock footage of animals in Africa, and badly tinted scenes of Weissmuller from the original film. The crocodile fight involves some footage from TARZAN AND HIS MATE that has been not only tinted but ridiculously sped up. It's difficult to pick a most ludicrous moment, but it might be Tarzan fighting a leopard that, for the most part, is clearly a giant stuffed toy (think Bela Lugosi and the rubber octopus in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER), and close-ups of its face show a very non-scary puppet. All the characters are fairly despicable, even Joanna Barnes as Jane who whines constantly about not having enough money to catch a man back in London. (Barnes played spoiled rich girl Gloria Upson in AUNTIE MAME and Jane might well be Gloria a few years after graduation.) My guilty pleasure admission: I had a bit of a crush on Miller when I was a teenager after I saw pictures of him in a book on movie Tarzans. I was glad to finally see this, but I can't in all honesty recommend it to any other living soul over the age of 12. Even the chimp is strictly B-talent.

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