Friday 18 May 2018

Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)

Tarzan the Ape Man was the first of the MGM Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan (although there had been plenty of previous Tarzan movies going back as early as 1918). Tarzan the Ape Man was a major hit and spawned numerous sequels. The MGM Tarzan movies defined the character for several generations of movie-goers.

There are some crucial differences between Tarzan as played by Johnny Weissmuller and the Tarzan of the novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs (starting with Tarzan of the Apes in 1914). The Burroughs version of Tarzan is not an illiterate child of the jungle. Although raised by apes he has acquired an education from books. He belongs to both civilised society and to ape society. Someone at MGM decided that their Tarzan would be more popular if they quietly dropped the civilised side of the character. Given the enormous success enjoyed by the films it may well be that it was the right decision although it is a pity that so much of the complexity of the character is lost.

The movie begins with James Parker (C. Aubrey Smith) and Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) hoping to get out of Africa, but they intend to leave the continent as rich men. Their plan is to find the legendary elephants’ graveyard where a fortune in ivory awaits them. The problem is that no-one knows the location of this graveyard and there’s no point in asking the natives since all the tribes are united on one point - anyone who knows the location must die. Parker and Holt however have quite accidentally stumbled upon a very promising lead.

They set off into the jungle with one unexpected additional member in their party. Parker’s daughter Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) has just arrived in Africa and insists on joining the expedition.

It takes a very long time for Tarzan to make his appearance in Tarzan the Ape Man. This means of course that the audience is eagerly looking forward to his entrance and when he does arrive he does so in some style.

By the time Tarzan appears the expedition has already encountered some formidable obstacles and dangers. The crossing of the river on rafts, the river being infested with hundreds of angry hippos and a few hungry crocodiles as well, is a superb action-adventure set-piece.

Tarzan and Jane meet under somewhat informal circumstances - he kidnaps her and carries her off to his treetop lair. Jane spends the rest of the movie hurtling back and forth between her old life with her father and her new life with Tarzan.

In this movie Tarzan encounters European civilisation for the first time and the encounter does not go at all smoothly. In fact it’s close to open war. Harry Holt’s hotheadedness is a major contributing factor. Harry likes to shoot things and he tends to do so without giving it a second thought. This does not endear him to Tarzan, especially on those occasions when Tarzan is the target.

Tarzan’s encounter with Jane proceeds much more satisfactorily. Tarzan can’t talk but that’s OK because Jane does enough talking for both of them. In fact she does as much talking as a dozen normal people. This girl just never stops talking, although she and Tarzan also seem to manage pretty well with certain non-verbal forms of communication.

There’s plenty of action with an endless supply of marauding lions and leopards and Tarzan getting chased (and very nearly caught) by crocodiles plus of course there are the much-feared murderous dwarves. Not pygmies, we are distinctly told that these are dwarves not pygmies. And they have some nasty plans for Jane’s father and for Harry Holt.

The director was W.S. Van Dyke, more renowned for his efficiency than his brilliance but he handles the action pretty well. There is of course a great deal of stock footage, and some process shots that are amusing in their outrageous obviousness.

This movie is available on DVD but I caught it on cable TV so I can’t tell you anything about the quality of the DVDs. The TV print I saw was in reasonably good condition.

This film is of course very very politically incorrect. It’s also plenty of fun (strange how politically incorrect movies do tend to be fun). There’s adventure and there’s romance. Tarzan and His Mate followed two years later and is even better (and it ups the eroticism very significantly).

Tarzan the Ape Man is important historically in that it established the formula for most of the countless Tarzan movies that would follow and it’[s worth seeing it for its own sake. Recommended.

Friday 4 May 2018

The Killer Likes Candy (1968)

The Killer Likes Candy (Un killer per sua maestà) is a 1968 French-Italian-West German eurospy movie.

It starts out promisingly, with a harmless priest feeding the pigeons in a Roman piazza but as we will soon discover he is no priest. He is a very high-priced assassin.

His target is the King of Kafiristan, Kafiristan being somewhere in central Asia. The Americans want Kafiristan’s oil and to get it they need to keep the king alive and that’s the job assigned to CIA agent Mark Stone.

The assassin is Oscar Snell, ex-Gestapo agent and reputedly the best hitman in Europe. Snell’s weakness is that he loves candy. That’s not really a weakness, but he does a habit of leaving candy wrappers lying about thus providing a useful clue for anyone trying to track him down.

Kerwin Mathews plays Stone as a typical square-jawed American eurospy hero, albeit one who takes his espionage duties fairly seriously. It’s not exactly a riveting performance but he handles the action scenes pretty well. He naturally has a sidekick, Costa (Venantino Venantini), who naturally provides comic relief.

While Stone is a rather dour hero Oscar Snell is a much more interesting villain. We feel right from the start that he’s dangerous even though he keeps himself very much under control. He’s a lone wolf villain and he likes being an assassin. At times one can’t help feeling sorry for him - his plans for killing the king are sound enough but they just keep misfiring.

This movie lacks the outrageous plot elements that are usually associated with the eurospy genre, and it’s also notably lacking in gadgetry. In fact plotwise it’s a very straightforward suspense thriller, with the assassin hunting the king and Mark Stone hunting the assassin.

It might sound a bit dull but it isn’t. There’s a lot of action and the action scenes are stylish and exciting. Rather than one-on-one fistfights we get extended all-in brawls in interesting settings - the fight among the statuary in the Orsini Gardens, the fight in the meat-packing plant and the fight among the barrels in the warehouse are all exceptionally well executed. And the fights are, by the standards of 1968, pretty full-blooded.

Stylistically this movie perhaps has more in common with the hard-edged eurocrime thrillers of the late 60s and early 70s than with the classic mid-60s eurospy genre, or at least that’s the direction in which it’s heading. Even with its moments of comic relief this is a fairly serious movie and it’s a eurospy movie with virtually no traces of camp. The action is what matters and that’s what the movie concentrates on.

There are some bikini-clad girls of course, although not quite as many as are usually found in this genre. And Costa certainly pursues the ladies with enthusiasm, and with a certain amount of success. Mark Stone is not so much into womanising although there is a glamorous lady doctor on hand to provide a love interest.

The Killer Likes Candy was released by Code Red as part of a spy movie DVD double-feature. It’s paired with a reasonably entertaining heist movie from the Philippines called Stoney (AKA Surabaya Conspiracy).

If you’re a fan of eurospy movies then you know that you have to be grateful for what you get. There aren’t many such films available on DVD and those that are available are very rarely in their correct aspect ratios and image quality is usually dubious. Sadly that’s the case with The Killer Likes Candy. It’s an awful pan-and-scanned print, but the chances of this movie ever getting a decent DVD release are pretty much zero. If you want to see the movie then this is probably as good as it’s ever going to get.

The Killer Likes Candy doesn’t deliver the over-the-top fun you generally hope for in a eurospy feature but it does deliver some decent suspense and some fine action sequences. The DVD transfer is definitely problematic but the movie is still worth seeing and is still recommended.