Jane is back! With the franchise’s move from MGM to RKO the series has had to do without the awesome Maureen O’Sullivan, explaining Jane’s absence with her being back in London helping with the war effort, but now she’s back…kind of. Jane may have returned to the jungle but not in the form of Mrs. Sullivan, but that of Brenda Joyce who will make five appearances as Jane.
The movie opens with Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and Boy (Johnny Sheffield) preparing to raft down the river to pick up Jane (Brenda Joyce) at the trading post in Randini. For those familiar with the series may wonder how one rafts from atop the Mutai Escarpment where Tarzan, Jane and Boy live, but this series apparently either forgot that’s where they lived, or just didn’t care to explain their move to just down the river from civilization. While poling down the river they spot what looks like a flock of really lost Canadian Geese, and Tarzan says that Boy is now old enough to come hunting here and that once they get Jane home he will bring boy back for some good jungle fun ie killing stuff. While Tarzan, Boy and Cheeta raft to meet the returning Jane, their trip is interrupted by a woman’s scream.
Turns out not to be Jane but a beautiful women running for her life from a couple of leopards and a black panther. The girl leaps off a high rock to escape the claws of the panther just as Tarzan dispatches it with a well thrown knife. The girl is Athena (Shirley O’Hara) an Amazon from the lost city of Palmyria, and because her ankle was injured in her flight from the panther Tarzan offers to take her home. Boy wants to come along but Tarzan orders him to return to the raft and wait. Which of course means Boy will immediately disregard those orders and follow Tarzan.
The city of Palmyria is ruled by an ancient Amazon Queen (Maria Ouspenskaya) who we first see praying before the statue of a Sun God as she goes over the God’s sacred decree that all intruders must forfeit their lives. With Tarzan entering the city carrying the injured Athena we immediately assume we’re going to get some Tarzan versus Amazonian warrior action, we are sadly misled. Just as Athena starts to beg for Tarzan’s life the Queen tells her, “You need not plead for Tarzan. He is our friend.” Oh, so that’s good…I guess. Wouldn’t want to front load the movie with too much action. The Queen gives Athena grief for disobeying the Sun God’s decree that no one should ever leave or enter this city. Tarzan states, “Queen make wise laws. Girl will obey.” Athena only wished to see what lies beyond the mountains, but fuck natural curiosity, just stay home and make babies. And just what right does Tarzan have for saying that this girl will obey, is he her dad or something?
Question: Just why are these Amazons worshiping a male deity anyways? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for them to pray to the likes of Artemis or Athena and not Apollo?
So Tarzan is allowed to go on his merry way and return to Boy. They make it to Randini to meet Jane’s boat without further adventures, fight with a croc not withstanding, and it’s there that we are treated to a heartfelt reunion between Jane and Tarzan. Unfortunately she has not returned alone, but with her on the boat were a group of scientists led by Sir Guy Henderson (Henry Stephenson), an old friend of her father. They have come to Africa to study some of the northern tribes, but when they spot a gold bracelet that Cheeta had lifted off Athena, (Cheeta being kleptomaniac menace remains consistent) they’re goals shift.
Sir Guy recognizes the symbol on the bracelet as to having come from an ancient missing tribe, and is conned into ditching his original purpose of coming to Africa for “Fortune and glory.” He’s is helped along on with this decision by Bannister (Barton MacLane) the Randini trading post manager, who has never met a thing he couldn’t exploit. Bannister assures them that no native guide will be able to find this lost city, only Tarzan could lead them there. When Tarzan sees the bracelet he takes it and ignores all questions about where it came from. “Jane come with Tarzan,” he curtly says and leaves.
Sir Guy beseeches Jane to convince Tarzan to help them, “In the name of science.” That she actually tries, and then gives Tarzan the stink eye when he refuses, is all kinds of bullshit. When has white men exploring here ever led to anything but disaster? Boy is shown the wonders of telescopes, binoculars and microscopes by these new friends, and so he is also angry at Tarzan for not helping them. He also has forgotten that back in Tarzan’s Secret Treasure “friends” wanting gold led to him and Jane being kidnapped. So when Tarzan offers to take Boy on the hunting trip he promised earlier, and the snotty kid refuses to go. Tarzan get’s a bit pissed at Boy’s impertinence and he snaps Boy’s bow and quiver in half, and takes off to hunt alone. This of course leads to Boy sneaking off to meet up with the expedition, and volunteers to lead them to Palmyria.
When they enter the seemingly deserted city a gong is heard and soon they are surrounded by bow and spear wielding Amazons. They are ushered before the Queen where they are told that intruders are to be put to death. Sir Guy does some smooth talking and convinces the Queen that they are not intruders but men of science, anxious to study the ways and culture of Palmyria, and even orders all the men to give up their guns to prove their peaceful intent. When asked about the dangers of them telling the world of Palmyria’s existence he ensures her that, “If we are allowed to leave peacefully no word of what we have shall be passed to a living soul.” He must be from one of those weird branches of science where they learn something and then never tell anybody about it.
Trivia Note: Henry Stephenson, who plays Sir Guy here, previously played Sir Thomas Lancing in Tarzan Finds a Son.
The Queen agrees to spare their lives, but with one tiny stipulation, “You will never leave Palmyria. A place will be found for you among the men who toil in our quarries.” What…what? This Amazon society have enslaved men, who toil away in rock quarries, and Tarzan is okay with this? I’m not sure who we are supposed to be siding with in this movie. We have Sir Guy who is all for the noble expanse of knowledge, then there is Bannister who is all about greed, and then we have the Amazons who keep their own people forever trapped in this valley, away from the influence of the outside world, and they also have enslaved the male populace to work in quarries.
Boy enlists the aid of Athena in their escape, she does owe her life to Tarzan, but she stupidly tells the men where their guns were put. Worse is the fact that the guns were stored in the temple’s treasure room, and even Guy’s fellow scientist succumb to power of greed when facing such wealth. Sir Guy tries to prevent them from loading up with treasure but he is easily dispatched by Bannister. With Sir Guy dead Bannister takes charge and pressgangs Boy into helping carry some of the loot, but when Athena gets in the way she catches a knife in the back. Of course Bannister isn’t one of those “Make sure their dead” kind of people so he doesn’t notice the dying Athena crawl to the gong and sound the alarm. The ensuing fight is the only real action in this movie (I don’t count crocodiles fights as that’s more pest control than action in these films), but at least it’s some good action.
Where has Tarzan been during all this you may ask? Well he was of course off hunting, and presumably sulking, while Jane wandered around calling out, “Boy!” Until a tree fell on her, that is. Tarzan finds her just before a lion makes a meal of her, and he brings her back to the treehouse. While nursing her back to health Cheeta shows up and informs Tarzan on what is going on with Boy. He rushes into action and encounters Bannister and Anders (Don Douglas), the only two that managed to escape Palmyria by dynamiting the rock bridge that connected the lost city to the outside world. Tarzan chases them into a mud pit and stoically watches them sink to their deaths.
Meanwhile Boy, the only other surviving member of the expedition, is brought before the Queen and is sentenced to death, but just before he is going to down a chalice of poison Tarzan shows up with some of the stolen treasure and calls out, “Boy!” And then it cuts back to the treehouse, and them returning to Jane. No Tarzan kicking Amazon ass for them attempting to murder his son and we never do see these enslaved men in the quarries, so I guess they’re still fucked. The ending is so abrupt it catches you completely off guard. One minute we have a pitched battle between asshole explorers and bloodthirsty Amazons, Tarzan showing up to rescue his son, but then we suddenly have a comic epilogue of Cheeta dynamiting the river to get a fish. It’s like we’re missing a reel or something.
It’s nice to see Jane back but for all she added to the story she may has well have stayed back in England, but even Tarzan doesn’t do much as it’s really Boy who moves the “plot” forward. Tarzan is once again relegated to passive reactor, only getting involved if it’s a direct personal threat or if he’s bored. Director Kurt Neumann doesn’t managed to get any momentum going in Tarzan and the Amazons, and with so little action it even makes the short 76 minutes running time seem long.
You can find all my Tarzan movie reviews here: Tarzan at the Movies
Film grad who spends most his time trying to catch up on his "To Watch" pile of movies.