Today’s Trillion $ Movie, Swamp Fire, pits two screen Tarzans — Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe — as Cajun rivals vying for the affections of the same girl (played by Carol Thurston) in the Louisiana Bayou. Crabbe plays the villainous heavy, while Weissmuller is the neurotic hero. He’s a veteran returned from service in WWII, damaged by having lost a ship he skippered.
This low-budget, 1946 meller-drama was the first time Weissmuller ever played a role where he got to wear civilian clothes as opposed to a loin cloth, and also the first time he had full lines of dialogue to recite. He needed the breather from playing Tarzan. By this point in his career, Weissmuller was beginning to hit the bourbon hard — a trait that might make him believable as a Cajun, but less so as the ape-man Tarzan.
Removed from the jungle or not, he still wrestles an alligator, engages in fisticuffs with Crabbe, smooches a couple of hotties, saves the day during a shipwreck and battles a monstrous swamp fire. There’s more than enough back-story and action to make this a decent-enough, solid B-movie. There’s even a lively cat fight between Thurston (later seen with Weissmuller in Jungle Jim) and a rich dame (Virginia Grey) making goo-goo eyes at her man. Paramount Pictures distributed the 69-minute feature, but the two Dollar Bills — William H. Pine and William C. Thomas — created it on Hollywood’s Poverty Row.
Enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie from the vaults of YouTube.
Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, The New Adventures of Tarzan, celebrates an important milestone. It was exactly 100 years ago, in October of 1912, that Edgar Rice Burroughs published Tarzan of the Apes — the first of Burroughs’ more than two dozen novels recounting legends of the fearless hero, born a British lord, but marooned in Africa at a young age and raised in the jungles by the Mangani Tribe of Great Apes.
Trim and athletic, handsome and tan, courageous and loyal to a fault, a defender of women and children, blessed with the ability to communicate with animals and master any human language in a matter of days, Tarzan quickly became one of the most popular pulp fiction idols the world over. The visionary Burroughs built a lucrative franchise around Tarzan. The feral super-hero not only appeared in Burroughs’ novels, but also serialized magazine stories, films, radio plays, comic books and comic strips.
Unfortunately, owing to copyright restrictions, none of the classic Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies made by MGM can be viewed in their entirety online. Burroughs personally produced The New Adventures of Tarzan in 1935, hoping it would prove as popular as the MGM releases and he could keep more of the profits himself. He also was motivated by another desire — to present a Tarzan who more closely embodied the Tarzan from his books: Intelligent, capable of speaking in complete sentences, and noble in character, befitting his bloodlines as John Clayton, Earl Greystoke. Did Burroughs succeed? Yes and no.
Herman Brix and Ula Holt
As played by Olympic shotput Silver medalist Herman Brix, the Tarzan from New Adventures is every bit as buff and virile as Johnny Weissmuller’s, as well as being more literate and well-rounded. But Brix was stiffer in delivering his lines (and his signature yell), and Burroughs’ indie production team didn’t have nearly the same budgetary or technical resources as MGM, so New Adventures wasn’t quite the financial windfall that Burroughs intended. The film you’ll see here is actually a much condensed version of the original, which was shown in a 12-chapter serial form, cumulatively lasting more than four hours. As such, there are some gaping plot continuity issues, but never mind the story: Sit back and soak up the barnstorming action as Tarzan wrestles lions, jaguars, panthers, alligators and scores of Mayan natives.
How, you might ask, did Mayan natives land in Africa? They didn’t. Instead, Tarzan goes to Central America to help find a lost friend and to retrieve the Green Goddess, a talisman full of priceless jewels as well as a vial of the most explosive compound known in the world. Filming took place on location in Guatemala.
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Two sidenotes: 1. Brix got over his shyness in front of the camera, and went on to act in 147 films under the pseudonym Bruce Bennett. Most notably, he starred in Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Mildred Pierce. 2. Ashton Dearholt, who plays the villain Ragland, fell in love on the set with Ula Holt, who portrays the heroine Ula Vale. One complication: He was married at the time to former actress Florence Gilbert. She divorced Dearholt upon learning of his affair, and who should she remarry but Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.
Here is the infamous nude swimming scene from Tarzan and His Mate. The MGM film came out in 1934, just ahead of the Hollywood Production Code, which banned any subsequent scandalous displays of this ilk. Maureen O’Sullivan played Jane opposite Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan, but she refused to go skinny dipping: The lithe beauty appearing here is body-double Josephine McKimm.
ARVE Error: need id and provider
And no remembrance of Tarzan would be complete without paying homage to Cheetah, who outlived Weissmuller by a good 25 years, dying in 2011 at the ripe old age of 80 — the longest living chimpanzee in captivity. Wonder if his well-known taste for alcohol contributed to his longevity.
The jungle adventure, East of Borneo, is today’s Trillion Dollar Movie. This 1931 film has been largely forgotten, overshadowed by King Kong, the Tarzan movies, Island of Lost Souls, The Most Dangerous Game and other escapist jungle fare that Hollywood created in the early years of the Depression.
Prince Hashim (Georges Renavent) woos stunner Linda Randolph (Rose Hobart)
That’s unfortunate, because East of Borneo is well worth watching. It’s not as epic as King Kong or as tightly scripted as The Most Dangerous Game, but the wild animal thrills rival any from the Tarzan flicks. Witness the scene of a condemned prisoner forced to swim in a lagoon crawling with ravenous, flailing crocodiles. This was before CGI, so these humongous crocodiles were real, and altogether terrifying. Director George Melford filmed the perils with such realism that he came to be typecast, following this assignment with East of Java as well as Jungle Menace and Jungle Terror.
The tale takes a little while to pick up speed, but stick with it — the second half rocks, including a magnificent volcano eruption that rains down fire and brimstone on the jungle kingdom of Marudu. That’s where an alcoholic doctor played by Charles Bickford has gone to lick his wounds, after mistakenly presuming that his wife (Rose Hobart from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) has been cheating on him. She tracks him down, hoping to patch up their estranged marriage, but he wants nothing to do with her. Of course, he has a change of heart after Marudu’s impervious and Sorbonne-educated rajah, Prince Hashim (Georges Renavent), starts making a play for his woman. The jealous doctor snarls, “White women are bad enough in their own environment, but when you get them into the jungle…”
It’s a little melodramatic by today’s standards, but not so much to be relegated to the scrapheap. One side note: The servant girl Neila is portrayed by Lupita Tovar, fresh off her appearance in the Spanish-language version of Dracula, directed by Melford and filmed at nights on the same set as the Bela Lugosi version. This Mexican-born beauty, the mother of actress Susan Kohner, is still alive and kicking, having celebrated her 102nd birthday earlier this year. Enjoy, and do return next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.