Tarzan’s Magic Fountain is the first of the Lex Barker Tarzan movies after Johnny Weissmuller retired from the role – Weissmuller had portrayed the Ape Man for twelve films, so it’s not surprising he would get tired of it – Maureen O’Sullivan who portrayed Jane left the series four films earlier, and had replaced by Brenda Joyce, who also plays Jane in this film, but who in turn was then replaced by Vanessa Brown in Tarzan and the Slave Girl a year later.
Produced by Sol Lesser these films are much in keeping with the Weissmuller films – as they rely almost completely on studio backlot sets, stock footage and a formulaic script – but this is not to say they are bad films, it’s just something one has to adjust to when sitting down to watch one of these movies.
In this outing we start with Cheeta and her ape pals finding an old cigarette case, which piques Jane’s curiosity, and has her sending them all back into the jungle to where they found it. They find the remains of a crashed airplane, and its skeletonized pilot, as well as a journal belonging to a famous aviatrix named Gloria James (Evelyn Ankers), who went missing over twenty years ago. The journal reveals that the plane had run into bad weather and was icing up badly – I’m not sure how icing up over the jungles of Africa works, but sure – and Gloria had decided to bail out, while her co-pilot decided to take his chances with the plane.
Jane wants Tarzan to take the journal to the nearest outpost, so that it can be sent back to England, but Tarzan is reluctant to do this. He doesn’t tell Jane why he feels this is a bad idea not when he can be just hanging around the jungle doing nothing – but later when he discovers that Gloria James is the one person that can prove the innocence a man named Douglas Jessup (Alan Napier), who has been rotting in jail for twenty years, he moves into action.
It turns out that Gloria is far from dead – she has been living all this time in Blue Valley, a hidden city which consists of a lost people who have discovered a fountain of youth – but because a man’s freedom is at stake the High Elder agree to let Tarzan guide Gloria out of the mountain valley. Jane is quite surprised when Tarzan brings home the missing aviatrix, who hasn’t seemed to have aged a day in her twenty lost years in the jungle, and Tarzan keeps mum on the subject, but when two traders named Mr. Trask (Albert Dekker) and Mr. Dodd (Charles Drake) see the impossibly young Gloria, the wheels in their heads spin towards dreams of fortune and glory. Trask hires a local bully – one who Tarzan beats up routinely – to take a safari into the jungle, and find the secret of her youthful appearance.
Seems that the residents on the Blue Valley are not keen on visitors, and Tarzan’s silence on the matter has to do with his promise never to reveal the location of the valley to outsiders. The way in is guarded by locals armed with a large crossbow – that fire flaming arrows – and only people approved by the High Elder are allowed passage. Amongst the Blue Valley residents is a hothead who thinks Tarzan has betrayed them, and he wants to kill the Ape Man. Of course we know Tarzan would never do such a thing, but the evidence is certainly against him. This begs the question, “How then did this bozo, and his safari, ever find their way to the valley entrance?” Trask somehow managed to point his henchman in exactly the right direction, with absolutely no evidence as to where Gloria came from, other than “Somewhere in the jungle…that a-way.”
That this movie is blatantly ripping off elements from the movie Lost Horizons is one thing, but what is worse is that they never bothered to remotely develop what they stole. The people of Shangri-La…sorry, I mean Blue Valley have no more personality than the flora and fauna that Tarzan and Jane traipse passed. They are nice enough to let Gloria leave to help a wronged man, and when being away ages her rapidly they allow her and her new hubby Jessup to return and get rejuvenated, but aside from the couple of malcontents that want to burn Tarzan’s eyes out they just seem to stand around being immortal, with no thought to motivations.
The movie does have some fun moments – the aforementioned repeated casual beatings of the local jerk, a flash flood in a ravine that almost drowns Jane and friends, and Cheeta saving the day by causing an avalanche to kill Tarzan’s enemies – all add to the excitement. And I’ll say this, it’s usually the Cheeta the chimpanzee stuff that annoys me the most in these films, but in this outing I actually found the very well trained chimps to be effectively funny. Though the ending “stinger” is rather lame, where Cheeta drinks some of the magic water from the fountain and is turned into a baby, but of a completely different species…with a tail!
First time director Lee Sholem does a serviceable job, and Lex Barker as Tarzan does fine in what is a fairly thankless part, as the whole “Secret of the Valley” thing keeps him out of the way for too much of the films running time. I do like Brenda Joyce as Jane, and it’s a shame she didn’t continue on, but I do have a problem with the title as it’s not Tarzan’s Magic Fountain, for he does not own it, the film should have been titled Tarzan and the Magic Fountain, or to be more honest Tarzan Goes to Shangri-La. On the plus side such magical youth giving elixirs is more in keeping with the fantasy elements from the Burroughs books, than what we ever saw in any of the Johnny Weissmuller movies.
You can find all my Tarzan movie reviews here: Tarzan at the Movies
Tarzan’s Magic Fountain
Movie Rank - 6/10
This film has good action, a nice collection of character actors, and a legitimately decent Tarzan making this entry well worth a watch.