Director: Robert Day
Starring: Mike Henry | Jan Murray | Manuel Padilla Jr. | Diana Millay | Rafer Johnson
Based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs
I remember watching Tarzan and the Great River on television as a child and really enjoying, but watching it all these years later – while I admit still enjoyed for nostalgia reasons – it comes of as rather juvenile and sluggishly paced in places.
It was made in 1967 when spymania still had some legs in it (1965 was the peak), so Mike Henry’s Tarzan is a suited and booted globe-trotting trouble shooter – not quite a Bondian superspy but certainly a jet-setting man-of-the world. The film begins with Tarzan arriving in Rio (cue grainy stock footage of a jet airliner coming in to land). Soon after he finds himself at the home of an old friend he refers to as the ‘Professor’. What the Professor’s actual job is, is never fully explained. It would appear he is some kind of civic leader, because, as he explains to Tarzan, he is concerned that jaguar cult tribe – under the control of a powerful leader named Barcuna (Rafer Johnson) – have been raiding other villages. Barcuna’s men kill some of the villagers but also take many of them as slaves to work in what I guess is a diamond mine. We never see the mine, only the slaves working in the river.
Wherever Barcuna’s men go, they leave their calling card – a staff with a jaguar’s clawed foot on the end. Tarzan agrees to head into the jungle to investigate. But before he does so, he has one chore to attend to – and that is to visit with his animal friends. Let me explain this the best I can, as it is extremely contrived. The Professor also appears to be the zookeeper in Rio, and some time back, Tarzan donated a menagerie of African animals to the zoo. The featured creatures happen to be Cheetah – the chimpanzee (one of the chimps on this film was put down after it bit Mike Henry on the chin); and Baron – the Lion. While Tarzan is getting reacquainted with his ani-pals, one of the jaguar cult sneaks into the Professor’s office and strikes him down with a jaguar clawed staff.
The Professor’s murder only strengthens Tarzan’s resolve. He ditches the suit for a loincloth, and with Cheetah and Baron by his side, he races off into the jungle to find the jaguar cult and stop the killing.
During the journey he comes across a steam boat captain (Jan Murray) and his first mate – a boy named Pepe (Manuel Padilla Jr. who would later play Jai in the Ron Ely Tarzan television series). They are traveling up river to deliver medical supplies to Dr. Anne Philips (Diana Millay) who is stationed at Keema village. After rescuing the Captain and Pepe from attack, Tarzan and his ani-pals board the boat and head up river – a journey that will ultimately lead to a confrontation with Barcuna.
Tarzan and the Great River features a large amount of stock footage – possibly lifted from previous Tarzan movies – and what makes it all the more obvious, is that it appears to be African stock footage. As far as I’m aware, there are no hippos in the Amazon River.
One thing that amuses me is the film poster featured at the top of this post. It may be hard to make out, but if you look carefully, it showcases three setpieces that a viewer could reasonably expect to be in the movie. The first proclaims, “TARZAN… kills the ferocious jaguar barehanded!” It doesn’t happen. Tarzan wrestles a lion and an alligator, but no jaguars. Next it says, “TARZAN… trapped by the erupting volcano!” Sorry folks, no volcanoes in the film either. A native village is burned to the ground, but there’s no lava, or raining hellfire and brimstone. Lastly, “TARZAN… plunges into the raging rapids from which no man ever returned!” Yep, you guessed it, there are no rapids in the film. I don’t know whether the poster is simply a classic piece of exploitation or – as I mentioned earlier – when Henry was bitten by the chimp, maybe the production was delayed to such an extent that sequences were cut from the story. The cynic in me likes to be believe it is purely exploitation.
So that’s Tarazan and the Great River. Not one of the greats – but it should amuse kids and those with a bent for nostalgia.