Monday, November 30, 2009


1949, Warner Archive Collection, $19.95, 72m 54s, DVD-PO
Reviewed by Tim Lucas

In TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS (1945), the first of Brenda Joyce's five films as Jane, Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) was portrayed as keeping certain secrets of the jungle from his mate, including the existence of Palmyria, a lost city in a high-walled valley inhabited only by Amazon women─a curious secret to keep from one's wife. In that film, Tarzan's honor was called into question when Boy (Johnny Sheffield) pursued him there and later led a company of gold-seeking explorers behind its fiercely protected veil of secrecy; in this film, which introduced Lex Barker in his first of five Tarzan performances and bade adieu to Joyce, Tarzan is not only knowledgeable of a secret civilization residing in the uncharted Blue Valley, but aware that the legendary, presumed dead aviatrix Gloria James (Evelyn Ankers) has been living there since surviving a crash that left her co-pilot dead 20 years earlier.

When Cheta (presented here as female) discovers Gloria's journal in the never-found plane wreckage, Jane requests that Tarzan take it to the airplane service in town and have it returned to England, but he initially refuses, knowing that it would only attract the curious. But when he learns that a man has been imprisoned in Nairobi for many years, on a charge of which Gloria could clear him, Tarzan gives the diary to the tradesman Trask (DR. CYCLOPS' Albert Dekker) and pilot Dodd (IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE's Charles Grant), who recall that rewards have been offered for any information leading to the wreckage and still more if Gloria is found alive. The value of this discovery is further upped when Tarzan brings Gloria to their office, looking as though she hasn't aged in 20 years─because the people of the Blue Valley have their own personal Fountain of Youth. After clearing and freeing Douglas Jessop (Alan Napier), Gloria marries him and they return to non-specific Africa, where she shocks Jane by now looking her real age, amplified in bad Hollywood makeup terms to make her 50 look closer to 70 or 80.

Tarzan─chastised by the leopard-earmuff-wearing Siko (THE LAND UNKNOWN's Henry Brandon) for betraying his people after Trask's stooge Vredak (VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA's Henry Kulky) dies leading an exploratory team into their hidden realm─refuses to compromise himself further by guiding Gloria and Douglas back. Jane, however, suddenly recalls seeing this Blue Valley once before and, being sensitive to Gloria's vanity issues, agrees to lead the newlyweds, and protectors Trask and Dodd, to its point of entry ─ unaware of the looming dangers ahead and at her back.

Directed by Lee "Roll 'Em" Sholem ─ who helmed the follow-up TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1950) before directing most of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN's first season and two of Weissmuller's Jungle Jim adventures ─ TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN is an entertaining, if predictably schismatic and occasionally sloppy, passing-of-the-torch adventure. Barker makes a physically graceful Tarzan but the dialogue given him by screenwriters Curt Siodmak (THE WOLF MAN) and Harry Chandlee (OUR TOWN) is too educated to be spoken so brokenly, and Barker hasn't yet assumed the role sufficiently to sell it with the necessary authority. After a dozen Weissmuller films, it's also a bit dispiriting to see the tenderfooted Barker wearing slippers, even in the comfort of his own treehouse, except in those shots wherein he (or his stunt man) vine-swings through the jungle, and his only swimming scene with Jane seems curtailed, beginning with both of them already wet. Brenda Joyce, two years older than her apeman, looks a tad careworn and uncomfortably paired, and the film tries too earnestly to distract its audience from their lack of chemistry by emphasizing Cheta's monkeyshines, which begin with her getting into a box of bubble gum. (In a later scene where the chimp over-peppers a piece of meat and blazes a trail to the nearest cool drink, the sound effects people actually insert someone mumbling "gimme water" into her manic jabbering.)

This level of cartoonishness is supported by the Alex Laszlo score, which focuses on the spritely chimp even as she investigates a crashed plane replete with snake-infested skeleton, and weaves "Brahm's Lullaby" and "Rockabye Baby" into scenes of bedding down at a campsite. For all the narrative drive invested in returning Gloria to the youth she sacrificed for her husband's sake, we are not given the satisfaction of seeing it restored, that privilege being reserved for Cheta, who not only turns into a baby at the final fade, but into a different species.

Only twice does the movie tease us with reminders of the thrill or tension levels attained by earlier films in the series: Vredak's death as a flaming arrow slams into his chest and prompts dark (probably chocolate) blood to spill from his lips, and the moment when Trask dares to halt Jane's escape by firing his pistol near Cheta. Otherwise, the film is conspicuously low on thrills, with the new Tarzan never working up much of a sweat, even climbing aboard a miraculously quiet elephant to secretly trail Jane's Blue Valley expedition. Elmo Lincoln, the first screen Tarzan from 1914's TARZAN OF THE APES, is reportedly here somewhere in a cameo as a fisherman, but he's easily overlooked.

Copyrighted 1948, the film's name is given onscreen as EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS' TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN, though Burroughs wrote nothing by this title. Such possessory credit is standard with all the Sol Lesser productions. This Warner Archive Collection release is presented in the film's original 1.33:1 ratio and, though not given any digital restoration, the presentation is only fleetingly blemished and never disruptively so. This "DVD Download" is not available in stores and sold (along with the other four Lex Barker Tarzan titles) only through Warners' online Archive Collection store. The fine print on the back of the box reports "This disc is expected to play in DVD Video "Play Only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives." We experienced no problems in playing the disc in our recorders and PC drives.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

White Meat. Dark Meat. All Will Be Carved.

It's Thanksgiving Day here in the States, and if that's where you are, I hope you're too busy cooking, socializing or inbibing Wild Turkey to read this holiday update until tomorrow at the earliest. Donna is downstairs cooking pies and listening to Christmas songs, and I am upstairs in my robe, Facebooking with a sidecar of coffee and pumpkin spice doughnuts. We're having dinner tonight with a portion of Donna's ever-growing family, which has begun splintering as our nieces and nephews have started founding new families of their own with new in-laws and extended families. So the holidays are changing a bit more with each passing year, not quite as sprawling as they have been the past (could it really be?) 35 years we've been together.

VIDEO WATCHDOG 153 (with the PHANTASM cover) is in the process of being mailed out, and VW 154 is in the latter stages of production, with much of the layout done and my editorial yet to be written. The prodigious Kim Newman has provided the centerpieces (or centrepieces) of this forthcoming issue, with a thorough report about what survives of the first and second seasons of the British television phenomena THE AVENGERS (the Ian Hendry and Honor Blackman years, now available in a box set in the UK) and also a "DVD Spotlight" on MATT HELM LOUNGE, collecting the Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin... so it adds up to a Sixties Spy Special.

As for future feature plans, VARIETY's Fred Lombardi is preparing for us a full report on Lex Barker's five Tarzan films, which I intend to complement with reviews of all six Gordon Scott Tarzan pictures, including two films I've been waiting a long time to see released: TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE and TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT. All of the Barker and Scott titles are now available online from the Warner Archive Collection. I'm presently going through the Barker titles to prepare myself for the Scotts, and I may well be posting my thoughts about them here. I don't particularly miss blogging, but I miss the way that daily or at least frequent discipline kept my writing muscle toned, so there is a growing yen to be more active here.

My horror script SCARS & STRIPES, I'm told, is getting closer to pre-production, with director Ernest Dickerson having recently turned in his own draft of the script, which has introduced a number of exciting new ideas. Everything about the way this project is coming together gives me a really positive feeling about it. My film agent has decided to go into production, which leaves me without representation for ISHI, the new Native American-themed script I wrote with Diane Pfister. I have a very special feeling about that project and want to see it made, but I've been advised by friends in the industry that the best thing to do is wait for S&S to go into production, and then meet with agents who might take me on. In the meantime, I'm back to working on my script of Orson Bean's ME AND THE ORGONE, which is something I would actually like to direct myself, after which I intend to get started on writing a continuation of Irene Miracle's DAWNLAND project. I have other ideas in reserve, one of which is a contemporary rewrite or reimagining of a classic novel, which could either take the form of a novel or screenplay -- or both. I'd very much like to be writing a new novel, if only on the side, and I know I've been saying that for a long time.

That's all for now, and that's plenty... but check back in the days ahead and see what turns up. I need to start treating this blog like a gym. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Back in the Saddle

After a long interruption, and having completed all the work I need to do on VIDEO WATCHDOG 154 prior to Thanksgiving, I am back to working on my screenplay based on Orson Bean's book ME AND THE ORGONE. I had a wonderful day of getting reacquainted yesterday, adding 13 new pages, and today has already been important in other ways.

One of the reasons to write anything is arriving at that Moment of Truth when the work reveals why you were chosen, above all others, to write it. That sudden eyelock between the writer and the written in which the work communicates, on a level no one else will ever read, that it knows you far better than you know it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

First Look: VIDEO WATCHDOG #153

Another one's coming back from the printer any day now. Contents info here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Latest

It's been awhile since I've blogged anything substantial, at least in a verbal sense, so I thought I would grab some time on this lazy Monday in which to flex this somewhat atrophied muscle.

Donna and I are presently in the latter stages of preparing VIDEO WATCHDOG 153, which will contain an unusually high number of reviews (everything from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD Blu-ray to Richard Lester's THE BED SITTING ROOM to DEADGIRL), as well as an interesting feature article on the making of the 1973 regional horror film MALATESTA'S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD, including many never-before-seen, behind-the-scenes photos. For this issue, we'll be swapping out my Video WatchBlog column to include an all-DVD installment of Things From the Attic, for which there has been a lot of demand. I have also written the next issue's AVI Watchdog column myself, focusing on some of the fan-subbed delights available to the lucky members of the file-sharing website Cinemageddon.

While I was in Los Angeles recently, to promote the ISHI script I wrote with Diane Pfister and to introduce and interview Irene Miracle and Keith Emerson at the New Beverly's record-breaking INFERNO screening, I was invited by David J. Schow to participate in recording a couple of audio commentaries for Image Entertainment's release of the complete THRILLER series with Boris Karloff, scheduled for September or October of 2010. David, Ernest Dickerson and I shared the commentary duties on "The Grim Reaper" featuring William Shatner and Natalie Schafer (my favorite THRILLER episode) and "The Premature Burial" featuring Karloff himself. The sessions went really well. I'm told that other episodes will feature commentators like episode director Arthur Hiller, LOST SKELETON director Larry Blamire, filmmaker and soundtrack buff Jim Wynorski, Eighties TWILIGHT ZONE producer Alan Brennert, TWILIGHT ZONE historian Marc Scott Zicree, FANTASTIC TELEVISION author Gary Gerani, and others -- including a dozen or more by Mr. Schow, author of the justly celebrated book THE OUTER LIMITS COMPANION. The producers at Image are also trying to involve some of the surviving actors from the series for comment. Some isolated music scores are also promised. Image's THRILLER, sublicensed from Universal, promises to be the most important archival horror DVD release of next year.

As at least 750 people know, I've been spending most of the time I used to spend here over at Facebook, mostly because I crave the interaction and the exposure to my friends' thoughts and activities. Some relationships I've founded there have truly changed my life, and I seem to be much more focused on my life this year than on my work. This was probably necessary after the time and effort I've applied to this blog, the Bava book, VW and my screenwriting pursuits over the past several years, but it has also been exhausting in its own way. Now that work on the ISHI screenplay is finished, I will be returning to my script of ME AND THE ORGONE, which I abandoned back in February when the ISHI project was brought to me. There is also another script I have agreed to write, about which I'll say more when the time comes.

There are also a couple of novels I have in mind. One is a sequel to THROAT SPROCKETS, already begun, which would take the story in truly unexpected directions; the other would be a contemporary rewrite of a favorite classic novel, a mainstream effort about the changing face of human relationships. I feel so out of the habit of this kind of writing, but know that getting back to it is essential to my sense of well-being.

Also, though the contract is not yet signed, I have accepted an offer for the Italian translation rights of my 2005 novel THE BOOK OF RENFIELD: A GOSPEL OF DRACULA.

But the most exciting news at the moment is that my original horror script SCARS & STRIPES is steadily approaching production, and the producers at Livestock Entertainment have been showing me actors under consideration to play my characters, conceptual art and so forth. As I mentioned above, while in Los Angeles last month, I got to meet Ernest Dickerson, who will be directing the film, and we got along like a house on fire, sharing much the same tastes about horror films and the aesthetics of the genre. He's working on a redraft of the script now and I was excited by everything he said he would be introducing to this draft. Ernest is also preparing an in-title-only remake of RKO's LADY SCARFACE, to star Paz Vega (SEX AND LUCIA), which means he actually has two films in development at present, both with the word SCAR in the title! What are the odds?

I should also mention here that, recently, my ISHI associate Diane visited where she discovered that she was a direct descendant of Matoaka P. Powhatan (1595-1617), better known as Pochahontas. This was an amazing discovery, but a still more personal discovery awaited me when her eureka inspired me to visit this website. I found no discernible celebrities in my family tree but did learn some new things like my father's birthdate (May 22, 1926) and the circumstances of my maternal grandfather's death at age 29 (bronchial pneumonia). I was also able to trace my mother's side of the family to a John Cartwright, born 1600 in Northamptonshire who became my first ancestor to sail to America, where he died in 1666, in Virginia.

But the most startling discovery awaited me at the opposite end of the familial timber, where my mother Juanita was listed as having died on March 5 of this year, at the age of 80.

My mother and I had a difficult relationship, impossible in many ways; we were separated for most of my life, and we had been estranged for her last six years. I still don't know her cause of death, but her sister and only friend, my aunt Rosalie, is likewise listed as having died the day after, on March 6, somewhere in California, so it's possible that they were involved in an accident together. It would have been my mother's first trip to California. We are still searching for answers, even for a burial site, but Rose's daughters Kim and Susan are long since married and hidden behind married names, so I don't know where or how to reach them for further news. Donna and I have written to the house where Rose last lived, in the hope that someone in a position to answer questions will reply. I've written in more detail about my mother in the editorial of the issue now under construction, but it was such a strange, remote way to learn of her death -- oddly typical of the way things always were between us.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Important Thing is to Promote

Fabio Testi in the clutches of Romy Schneider in L'IMPORTANT C'EST D'AIMER.

This link will direct you to my review of Andrzej Zulawski's L'IMPORTANT C'EST D'AIMER ("The Important Thing Is To Love"), a film from my personal Top Ten, which appears in the November 2009 issue of SIGHT & SOUND, now on newsstands.