Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927)

Something different this week, readers. Since Tarzan and the Golden Lion celebrates the unshatterable bond between man and beast, I decided to share this week’s reviewing duties with a beast very close to my heart: my pet Howler Monkey, Emmett (see photo). Special thanks to Anne, ace stenographer and a woman fluently bilingual in English and Howlese, who captured Emmett’s comments as well as my own, and graciously transcribed them all. ‘{}’ indicates her direct translation from Howlese.

Chris: OK Emmett, tonight’s film is Tarzan and the Golden Lion. Any predictions?

Emmett: {A silent movie again? You’ve got a 52-inch plasma TV. Up In the Air has been out for months. I want to see Up In the Air.}

Chris: I bet this one’ll be bad.

Emmett: {I want to see George Clooney.}

Chris: A few interesting facts about this film, Emmett: it was produced while Edgar Rice Burroughs was still alive. In fact, James Pierce, who plays Tarzan, later married Rice’s daughter. And her name was Jane!

Emmett: {How bourgeois.}

Chris: Here’s the credits, upfront as always. Robert Boulder’s got a small part in this, apparently.

Emmett: {He delivered a memorable performance in Beyond the Rocks (1922).}

Chris: And, Boris Karloff? HE’S in this? Wonder who he plays? One of the British villains, I guess.

Emmett: {This is set in Africa, right? You know he’s in blackface.}

Chris: He’s great; I hope he’s one of the British villains….Oh, ugh. This print is terrible. It looks like it’s underwater.

Emmett: {Public domain is your portal to quality.}

Chris: You can see Pierce clearly enough, though. Big guy for the time. Maybe too much makeup for the jungle, but… wow, that lion’s really well-trained. I expected someone in a lion suit, or at least stock footage of one, but he’s right in the actor’s faces. This must have been a dangerous shoot.

Emmett: {Of course, you forget my mother was killed by a lion. The minute a silent movie starts, your empathy vanishes.}

Chris: This movie’s cheesy, but it isn’t cheap. Look at all the extras in this fire-fight: Everyone’s in full native regalia and there’s smoke everywhere. On one side we’ve got Tarzan, his wife (Dorothy Dunbar), his sister Betty (Edna Murphy), and Jab, his faithful lion. And about a hundred warriors. On the other side, Esteban Miranda, evil white plunderer (Frederick Peters)—he’s a pretty big dude himself. And his sidekick (Boulder), and their, um, native collaborator, Awaza.

Emmett: {Played by Boris Karloff.}

Chris: Esteban’s forces have been routed! But he’ll be back, Emmett. And indeed, here he is again: skulking around outside Tarzan’s home, eavesdropping on a story told by Tarzan’s guest, a former prisoner of a mountain tribe that mines priceless diamonds.

Emmett: {’Indeed,’ ‘skulking,’ ‘priceless diamonds’… people will think you’re talking like this because you know you’ll be transcribed later. But you really DO talk like this.}

Chris: Esteban’s being driven off by Jab! Good lion! But the villain’s heard enough. He’s going to send an expedition to raid that diamond mine.

Emmett: {It’s thanks to diamonds that I’m an orphan. Again you forget. My mother sought to steal a diamond for me, to provide me with a nest-egg after Father was sentenced to the Zoo. But she didn’t count on a lion guarding the jewels. Oh why, Mother!? Why did you presume to burgle the Raj!? Oh, *sob.*}

Chris: Esteban’s crew captured Betty and the old man! They’re headed to the mountains!


Chris: Emmett! Shh! I’m trying to concentrate here. It looks like this new tribe worships the sun. They’re led by another group of whites, called the Sons of the Sun. ‘Sons of the Pun,’ more like it!

Emmett: {Oh shut up.}

Chris: Actually, they’re not all white. The high priest looks Asian, and he’s enormous. And hey, another lion!

Emmett: {What?}

Chris: ‘Numa the Lion,’ says the title card. He guards the diamonds, I guess.

Emmett: {Ahh! What a cruel blow!}

Chris: This could be really good, Emmett. We could get Jab versus Numa! Lion versus lion! It’s not like Tarzan’s done anything but stand there and pose the whole time. I’m jazzed for this.

Emmett: {’Lion fight’? The lion is clearly playing a duel-role, you idiot. I can’t believe you’d make me watch this.}

Chris: I mean, I’ve seen better movies, better preserved, but you can’t fault this one for pacing. The box says 57 minutes—that should be just right.

Emmett: {You’re a callous man. After everything I’ve sacrificed for you—haven’t I always kept up our ruse? You know Howler Monkeys are illegal to own within city limits! Don’t I always call for mates under the cover of construction noise? Which explains why I don’t have a mate.}

Chris: Betty’s now a captive of the High Priest. She’s to be sacrificed to the lion! That’s a pretty sexy dress, actually. Nice peacock plume headdress. She looks like Stripper Maria Robot from Metropolis (1927). Ohh, Numa’s swatting at her! Where’s Jab?

Emmett: {I’ll get you for this. I’ll defecate in your cereal. You’ll think it’s raisins. You never pay attention to those things.}

Chris: C’mon Jab! I—what?

Emmett: {Tarzan!}

Chris: What the hell? Tarzan just speared Numa!

Emmett: {Yes!}

Chris: That’s bullshit! He didn’t do a thing all movie, then he swings down on a rope and runs through the lion before Jab can even enter the room? No lion fight?

Emmett: {Primates: one. Felines: zee-roh! I feel better.}

Chris: Well, that’s it. Kind of a let-down, eh Emmett? No león y león climactic showdown. But otherwise, a passable way to spend an hour.

Emmett: {Whatever. I’m the only New World Monkey with trichromatic colour vision, and you make me watch black-and-white movies. I’m still going to poop in your food, just once, to keep things even-steven.}

Chris: And look at the time now, Emmett. Let’s eat! Anne, you ready to eat?

Anne the Stenographer: Got a bit more typing to do here, Chris. Start without me.

Where to find Tarzan and the Golden Lion:
Tarzan and the Golden Lion is available on DVD from Alpha Video Classics (only $5.99 plus shipping and handling!). Alpha distributes public domain titles, and they don’t do much restoration, so you get what you pay for—in this case, a blurry print with a generic and ill-matched score. The key with Alpha is to watch only their obscure titles, like this one. If you find an Alpha release of, say, Nosferatu, or The Birth of a Nation, you can find it somewhere else, too, and probably in much better shape.


  1. Just stumbled on this whilst looking for something totally different (rugby programmes - don't ask!) but as a massive fan of Tarzan this made me laugh. Thank you, Richard.