Thursday, April 26, 2012


I was paging through Leonard Maltin's 2012 Movie Guide when I had a wild idea. What if I put the number of pages in the book - 1,643 - into a computer and had the computer pick a random page and then pick a random entry from that page. I would then seek that movie out, watch it, and offer my observations. Fun? You bet!

Tarzan's Hidden Jungle - 1955
An RKO Release
Directed by Harold Shuster
Cast: Gordon Scott, Vera Miles, Peter Van Eyck, Jack Elam.

I base my enjoyment of Tarzan movies - they used to run every Sunday afternoon on local TV when I was a kid - on how entertaining Cheta the chimpanzee is. This chimp in Tarzan's Hidden Jungle has a pedigree. He was  known as Zippy, a frequent guest on 1950s television with a recurring stint on The Howdy Doody Show and his own comic book.

                                            Tarzan , Chetah (Zippy), and Jane, uh - Vera.

As far as acting monkeys go, he's only OK. He's a pathetic ham in front of the camera. He constantly glances at the director/camera while performing a stunt as if saying, "Like this? Is this OK? When do I get my banana?".

Gordon Scott (1926 - 2007) plays Tarzan, his first movie role and the first of five consecutive films starring him as Tarzan, two of which became the largest grossing Tarzan movies at that time. If we are to believe the Hollywood publicity machine of the 1950s, he was discovered while working as a lifeguard at The Sahara Hotel and Casino in Vegas in 1953. Probably as he watched Lana Turner swim by. He is an adequate Tarzan, not quite Johnny Weismuller and a bit vacant in the acting department.  After his time as Tarzan he moved to Italy where he starred in several sandal and sand epic Herculean advenure films.

This glossy black and white film is significant in casting Vera Miles in her first major role. She played Janet Leigh's sister in Hitchcock's Psycho, but I remeber her best in a great turn as the bitchy wife who wraps her car around a tree in 1961's Back Street. She was a frequent presence in movies and network TV until her retirement in 1995. She brings Tarzan's Hidden Jungle up to a status it doesn't really deserve and her time in front of the camera as the jungle oppressed heroine helps the film breeze by. She currently resides in California and refuses to act again or grant interviews.

Gordon Scott and Vera Miles married during the production of this film. The marriage lasted five long Hollywood years.

In Tarzan's Hidden Jungle, unscrupulous animal poachers, posing as documentary filmmakers, led by renowned veteran actor Jack Elam (1920 - 2003), con their way into the animal kingdom of the Sukulu African tribe by befriending a mercenery jungle doctor played by Peter Van Eyck (1911 - 1969) and his assistant, Miles. Their objective is to shoot up as many jungle critters as they can.

It's a competent small scale Tarzan movie filmed on a Hollywood jungle set that looks like the future home of Gilligan's Island.  It's got the obligatory killer crocodiles, coiling cobras, rampaging elephants, man-eating lions, and - most kids' favorite part of a Tarzan movie - deadly quicksand! It even has the dark skinned native African tribesman, played by a Hollywood actor, who screams real good when he's being eaten alive.

                              Gordon Scott as Tarzan, right and Lion, left, square off for ferocious fight
                                                          in Tarzan's Hidden Jungle

Tarzan sails through the jungle on his trademark vines, swims like an Olympian, wrestles ferocious lions, rounds up the animal kingdom with his traditional call, and nurses a baby elephant back to health. All in a jungle afternoon.

It's no surprise when Chetah steals Vera Miles clothes as she's taking a naked dip in the lagoon. What's a Tarzan movie without a naked dip in the lagoon? Tarzan, the dumb mug, only laughs. She is later chased through the jungle by every imaginable creature on the continent. She rips her safari suit in the process and offers a bit of leg for the duration of the film.

                 Vera Miles rests after an exhausting day in the jungle in "Tarzan's Hidden Jungle".

It's a short 73 minute film. I personally could have withstood a few more rounds in the lion pit or another dip in the quicksand.

The best thing about it is Vera Miles. The next best thing about it is the fur, feather and tooth camolflague jungle masks worn by the natives which look like the genuine articles.

Gordon Scott (Tarzan), center, with friends in Italy in 1960s. You just know they called him "Gordy".

Favorite Quote: The leader of the global poaching operation drives into camp on his jeep to place an order with his subordinates. He says: "I want two thousand barrels of animal fat, a hundred lion skins, two hundred antelope heads and three tons of ivory delivered to Narobi in ten days.".

2nd Favorite Quote: From Vera Miles as she recognizes a friend of Tarzan: "Isn't that Tarzan's baby elephant?".