In Tarzan and the Great River, everyone’s favourite jungle man continues his globetrotting adventures as he heads south from Mexico and the Valley of Gold to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This is the sixth Tarzan film by producer Sy Weintraub and once again he uses great locals as backdrops for these adventures.
This outing finds Tarzan (Mike Henry) flying to Brazil at the behest of an old friend The Professor (Paulo Gracindo), who works at the Rio de Janeiro Zoo. It seems a nasty Jaguar Death Cult is making trouble upriver beyond Marakeet and The Professor would like Tarzan to look into it. The head of this Jaguar Cult is Barcuma (Rafer Johnson) who leads his followers on raids against villages up and down the river; burning, killing and recruiting or enslaving all they come across. The cult’s trademark weapon is a club topped with a jaguar claw that is dipped in poison. All the investigators they have sent into the area have never returned. The Professor tells Tarzan that, “You are the only man I know who can track down this terror, the one man who can find Barcuma and crush him.”
Before Tarzan sets off on his investigation he tours the zoo and I’m disturbed to report that Tarzan apparently donated a bunch of animals including his chimpanzee pal Cheeta to the Rio de Janeiro Zoo. I just can’t see Tarzan being the sort of person who would be okay with caging wild animals in a zoo.
While Tarzan is visiting with his lion friend Baron, and I’m assuming spending much of his time explaining to Baron how living in a concrete enclosure is so much better than the jungle, all the animals suddenly go crazy. Tarzan senses that something is amiss and runs back to the zoo’s head office only to find The Professor dead, killed by the Jaguar Cult club.
So not only does Tarzan have to investigate this dangerous cult, but he now has to avenge the death of his friend. My only question is, why in the hell was the curator of a zoo in charge of investigating jungle death cults? I’m not sure how law enforcement works in Brazil but I doubt this kind of thing is handled by zookeepers. Man of Action Tarzan worries not about these kinds of things and races off to save the day but not before changing into his trademark loincloth and freeing Baron and Cheeta so they can be his jungle back-up. I guess a lion and a chimpanzee may turn out helpful, though they actually don’t do much of anything in this movie, they certainly aren’t ideal conversationalist so we are introduced to a riverboat crew consisting of Captain Sam Bishop (Jan Murray) and his partner and youthful ward Pepe (Manuel Padilla Jr.) who you may recognize played Ramel in Tarzan and the City of Gold.
Tarzan saves the two from a group of cultists in a pretty awesome display of hand-to-hand combat including standard fisticuffs and a little jujitsu. Captain Bishop agrees to take Tarzan upriver “free of charge” because not only is it nice to have the added protection of Tarzan but he was also going that way anyway as he is to deliver badly needed medical supplies. The medicine is for Dr. Ann Philips (Diana Millay) who needs the medicine to inoculate the Brazilian natives from a pretty nasty illness.
Barcuma gets word that a man from Africa has been sent to interfere with his operations and dispatches more cultists to take care of the Ape Man. When Tarzan and friends come across a dying native who escaped the clutches of the cult, they learn that Barcuma has those he has enslaved mining for diamonds. Captain Bishop gets it in his head that Tarzan’s mission is all about the diamonds and wants to tag along to hopefully get a piece of the action. This river trip with Bishop, Pepe and Tarzan’s menagerie results in much-attempted comedy, and sadly not much of it funny.
“My mission is to make it up into Cambodia. There’s a Green Beret Colonel up there who’s gone insane. I’m supposed to kill him.”
There is some really cool action in this movie; Tarzan swims under canoes containing cultists and tips them into the drink where they are eaten by alligators. Tarzan himself has to wrestle one of the gators and killing it with his knife, he rigs a trap with spilled gasoline in the river that he ignites with a flaming arrow that blows the crap out of a bunch of cultists, and the final fight between Tarzan and Barcuma is just fantastic.
Once again we are in the capable hands of director Robert Day, with the returning Mike Henry in his second outing as Tarzan, and though this movie does have a decent story it isn’t quite as strong as the previous film. The supporting cast of characters; the gruff but lovable captain, the cute and funny sidekick, the noble and beautiful doctor all added a little character and drama to the action but the real letdown was the bad guy; Barcuma is just your standard villainous native with absolute no personality. Almost every shot of him is the same, just him holding his club and staring off into space.
Trivia Note: The chimpanzee playing Cheeta bit Mike Henry in the jaw, requiring twenty-one stitches. Henry sued the producers for this accident and other unsafe working conditions on all three of his Tarzan films. Even worse the poor chimpanzee was destroyed.
You can find all my Tarzan movie reviews here: Tarzan at the Movies
Tarzan and the Great River (1967)
Robert Day, Sy Weintraub and Mike Henry bring us another exciting jungle adventure but with nothing really new this time out. Tarzan is still the biggest badass in the jungle but he deserves better opponents.