I gotta admit, I'm a sucker for jungle B-movies, and if they're Tarzan adventures, all the better. Two of them make up a double-feature DVD put out by the Roan Group, TARZAN THE FEARLESS (1933), and TARZAN'S REVENGE (1938). Produced by B-journeyman Sol Lesser, both films are good, old-fashioned jungle romps with one viewer requirement, and that's to sit back and enjoy.
TARZAN THE FEARLESS is the better of the two, with a fairly interesting plot. Originally a 12 part serial, all that exists is a feature version that's been floating around in public domain VHS and DVD transfers for years. Based on an original story by Edgar Rice Burroughs and directed by Robert F. Hill, TARZAN THE FEARLESS stars Olympic swimming champion turned actor Buster Crabbe as the famed ape-man. Crabbe, who went on to immortalize Flash Gordon in three serials for Universal, dons a leopard-skin loincloth and makes a pretty good Tarzan too, albeit an inarticulate one. But hey, that's part of the fun of the character. The important thing is he handles himself well in the action scenes. The story concerns a fortune hunter (Philo McCollough) out to kill Tarzan so he could claim a large reward. He and his accomplice (Matthew Betz) accompany a professor (E. Alyn Warren), his daughter (Jacqueline Wells) and her boyfriend (Edward Woods) on a safari to search for a treasure in emeralds that's guarded by the ancient tribe of Zar.
Since this was edited down from a serial, the continuity is understandably a little choppy in spots. The acting is appropriately melodramatic, with occasional unintentional humor such as when the villain is dying and he moans, "I was wrong Mary, trying to win you... by being a rotter!" Also, Matthew Betz's idea of acting tough consists of constantly hitching up his pants and spitting. Cute and sexy Jacqueline Wells has a brief, pre-code skinny dipping scene wearing a very skimpy slip. The music score is a patchwork of original and stock compositions heard in other low-budget productions from the era. If TARZAN THE FEARLESS seems somewhat pedestrian in style, it nonetheless retains a certain charm that I find entertaining. For some reason, the simplicity of the parting scene between Edward Woods and Jacqueline Wells has always stood out in my mind. After Woods is turned down in favor of Tarzan, he gives Wells this sarcastic little "so long" salute and walks off, dejected.
Even though The Roan Group's DVD transfer of TARZAN THE FEARLESS is from the same source print used by other distributors, the sharpness and contrast looks better here. It's splicy to be sure with some hiss and pop in the audio, but this is the best version available.
Directed by D. Ross Lederman, TARZAN'S REVENGE (1938) is also a Burroughs tale about a hunting safari consisting of a young girl (Eleanor Holm, another Olympic swimming champion), her parents (George Barbier, Hedda Hopper), and ineffectual fiancee (George Meeker). An evil sheik (C. Henry Gordon) kidnaps the girl to add to his harem, leaving Tarzan (Glenn Morris, yet another swimming champ) to save the day. This film contains a little more humor for its own sake than TARZAN THE FEARLESS, and runs almost 20 minutes shorter. Morris is passable as Tarzan, and his jungle cry is the same one used for Buster Crabbe in the earlier film. Eleanor Holm is pretty as Tarzan's girlfriend, and both she and Morris get a chance to display their diving and swimming skills. Holm also plays her role with a tongue in cheek quality that's largely responsible for the light hearted tone of the film. There's not much action until the ending, then things really come alive physically and visually when Tarzan sets out to rescue everyone from the sheik. The climax takes place on an elaborate palace set, complete with dancing harem girls and a host of feather plumed natives. Once again the music score is a mixture of original and stock tunes, with even a passage from WHITE ZOMBIE (UA, 1932) thrown in.
The print of TARZAN'S REVENGE is, like the other movie on this disc, a little beat up but better than you'll find elsewhere.
Bonus features include an episode each from two Republic serials, RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON (1951), and THE UNDERSEA KINGDOM (1936).
If you're looking for some vine swinging fun, pick up this affordable double feature and don't expect more than what these films were made to deliver - you'll enjoy them all the more for it.