Reviewing sequels can be hard – especially old ones. There’s always that issue that back then, filmmakers didn’t seem to be all that bothered about coming up with new adventures and plot lines to keep their franchises fresh – and I’m not just talking about the countless superhero movies we have now, or the sheer glut of slasher clones we got in the early 80’s, or the majority of every sci-fi monster flicks that spooled through a projector in the 50’s.
By the early 40’s, Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan were on their fifth Tarzan movie in about nine years and, despite some slight wrinkles here and there (somehow the introduction of adopted son Boy didn’t manage to change the template much at all) the series had used pretty much the exact same plot virtually every time; and while the box office was still healthy, creatively things were getting stale as the jungle lord’s loin cloth. Could this fifth entry into Tarzan’s relentless release schedule possibly have anything new to add?
The feral family unit of Tarzan, Jane and Boy are still living in domestic bliss while using the jungle and everything in it as their own personal Barbie Dream House -they even have a fucking makeshift fridge for their caviar for god’s sake. Tarzan and Hane are still very much in love while Boy still thinks it’s a good idea to torment other animals with the mischievous Cheeta like a couple of budding bullies who feel like they could bloom into a couple of Serengeti serial killers at any minute. The impish lil’ shit nearly gets some biblical comeuppance in the form an angry tribe who think Boy is the cause of the deadly illness that is sweeping through their village and rationally surmise that burning him at the stake is the best way to combat it.
However, boy is saved at the last minute by an expedition loaded with white dudes with moustaches and while it’s purpose is one of science, one of their number, the caddish Medford, is obviously here to make his fortune and starts sizing up all the precious untapped resources he sees around him.
Pressing the naive Boy on the secrets of the jungle, Medford discovers that somewhere in Tarzan’s kingdom is a mountain-full of gold whose location is only known to the vine-swinging yodeler and so he concocts a plan with some of his like-minded cohorts to trick, cajole and outright force the info out of his hosts by any means necessary.
Will Tarzan manage to thwart this plan from these greedy outsiders in time – he should, he’s pretty much seen it four times before – and will the last act interference of yet another savage tribe of sadists finally throw him off his family saving game?
While Tarzan’s Secret Treasure follows a strict adherence to the exact template we’ve already seen numerous times, if I’d never actually seen a Tarzan movie in my life before this one I actually would rate it as a rollicking four-star adventure masterpiece of the golden age. As an all-rounder of containing every single aspect of what you’d expect from a classic Tarzan movie it actually can’t be beat: Tarzan does his usual thing with vigorous style, Jane is still the warm voice of reason and it contains all the usual Cheeta hijinks we’ve come to expect like the chattering chimp getting utterly shitfaced on booze, getting vigorously shook by her ankles to stop her choking on a gold nugget or having her screeching form catapulted across a gorge by an elephant powered catapult.
The movie even introduces a new character in the form of Tumbo, a native child who Boy befriends (no doubt to help him further terrorise the animals in the surrounding area) as some way to probably atone for the shoddy treatment of the series’ African characters up to this point but it predictably falls flat by having the character basically stand on the sidelines for most of the film and have an Irish comedy character called O’Doul Tuscan regrettably use a racial slur as a term of endearment for the kid. Swing and a miss, 1941…
However, adding to the general feel of a greatest hits package is the fact that even though Secret Treasure is mostly well put together, it still has the unfortunate habit of recycling old footage (that crocodile wrestling footage has been replayed more fucking times than that scene from Only Fools And Horses where Del Boy falls through the open bar hatch…) and relying on random animal attacks that have nothing to do with the plot to ramp up the action.
With all that being said, Tarzan’s Secret Treasure manages to pull out a blinder of an action sequence in the final act which actually puts a neat spin on the overworked “elephants stampede through evil native village” trope by having it happen this time in crocodile infested waters. As the (white) cast are carried off in numerous flimsy looking boats, Tarzan, featuring lungs cast from pure iron, swims through a gauntlet of spears that sploosh all around him as he overturns the tribe’s craft one by one, while using a wall of pachyderms to swarm the river to cover his tracks. In the utter chaos where characters are drowned, trampled then drowned and eaten by crocodiles while wishing they’d drowned, you openly wonder how the hell anyone wasn’t out and out killed during filming as the copious use of real elephants just looks insanely dangerous for anyone hired to splash around in their path – all I can say is that I hope the studio had a good health plan – or lawyers more predatory than the crocodiles… Either way, it adds up to a genuinely exciting climax, but further frustrates matters by being a rock solid Tarzan entry that for three quarters of it’s running time shows an utter lack of interest in any originality whatsoever.
If you fancy diving into the old Tarzan classics but aren’t interested in where you’d start, then Tarzan’s Secret Treasure is as perfect as Johnny Weissmuller’s run gets, but if you watch them in order (like I’ve been doing) it’s revealed as the entertaining carbon copy it actually is and unfortunately loses a lot of it’s enjoyment because of it.
Hardly a bundle in the jungle, then – but unfortunately originality is a thin on the ground in this movie as moustachioed white men in safari hats who aren’t collossal pieces of shit.