Tarzan Goes to India/Tarzan’s Three Challenges
1962, 1963 / 2:35:1 / 88 Min., 92 Min. / Street Date – January 29, 2019
Starring Jock Mahoney, Simi Garewal, Woody Strode
Cinematography by Paul Beeson, Edward Scaife
Directed by John Guillermin, Robert Day
Jane Goodall fell for Tarzan at an early age – ‘he married the wrong Jane’ she said, half joking. A confirmed tree-hugger, the King of the Apes would seem to be a perfect match for the nature loving primatologist – even though the greater part of Tarzan’s big screen career played out in backlot jungles rather than the real thing.
Producer Sy Weintraub rectified that situation with Tarzan Goes to India and Tarzan’s Three Challenges – both sleekly made widescreen entertainments that put the jungle lord in his proper element. Made on location in India and Thailand, the films are a non-stop parade of cliffhanging serial thrills that revel in the raw beauty of the countryside and its untamed inhabitants – man and beast.
Tarzan Goes to India was director John Guillermin’s second go-round with Edgar Burroughs’s noble savage – his first was Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, a revenge thriller with a Freudian slant starring former lifeguard Gordon Scott. For Guillermin’s Far East outing the aptly named “Jock” Mahoney assumed the loin-cloth, his lanky frame standing in dramatic contrast to Scott’s gym-rat beefcake.
Mahoney’s rangy physique made him one of the more plausible incarnations of the legendary ape man – he looked like he dined on nuts and berries, not power bars and milkshakes. Apart from their workout routines, Mahoney followed Scott’s template for the enduring hero – the solitary wanderlust and unshakeably moral approach to the land and the intruders who would defile it.
Tarzan arrives in India at the behest of Princess Kamara, a benevolent monarch whose homeland is under siege by land-grabbing contractors with ominous plans for the forest and three hundred elephants of the valley. He’s joined by Jai, a chattery little hotshot who handles a sky scraping pachyderm named Gajendrah with the aplomb of a circus pro.
Together they descend into enemy territory, a looming construction site with perilously high cliffs – beware the unlucky worker who puts the wrong foot forward. The man in charge is O’Hara, a cut-throat engineer indifferent to the damage he’s doing but the real snake in the tall grass is the head engineer played by Leo Gordon, a malevolent bully who delights in his own cruelty (Don Siegel described the actor/screenwriter as “the scariest man I have ever met”).
Tarzan is aided and abetted by an agreeable band of Bollywood actors including the doe-eyed but determined Simi Garewal as the Princess and Feroz Khan as her not-so-secret admirer. Guillermin himself was an underrated pro at this kind of proficient matinee fodder – his subtle yet graceful use of the frame adds extra intrigue to the chest-pounding action scenes and exotic settings – traits that served him well in 1973’s Shaft in Africa and his encounter with the real King of the Apes, 1976’s King Kong.
Weintraub‘s scenic tour continued in the following year’s Tarzan’s Three Challenges – the story is both a quest and a test in the manner of the ancient Greeks set in the Edenic forests of Thailand.
For the director Robert Day variety was the spice of cinematic life, equally at home with a funereal farce like The Green Man and historical horror like Corridors of Blood. He too had a Tarzan film already under his belt, Tarzan the Magnificent, a catch and kill chase film with John Carradine and future vine-swinger Mahoney as the most villainous members of a deadly crime family.
Tarzan is in Bangkok to protect a young prince from his crown-grabbing uncle Gishi Khan, played by the rock-ribbed Woody Strode – still in Spartacus-like condition with muscles more sediment than flesh, the actor was a formidable foe with an ominously invincible aura.
As part of his audition for the village elders, Tarzan must prove his heroic bona fides and those labors are positively Herculean – most likely influenced by the Olympic-sized struggles of Steve Reeves in his then popular muscleman bashes. An archery contest, a tug of war betwixt two oxen and a dangerous dance involving a rope bridge and boiling oil are among the kinds of hazards usually glimpsed in illustrations for Man’s Life magazine.
Those feats became all the more impressive when Mahoney contracted dysentery and pneumonia during filming, dropping nearly 45 pounds from his already angular frame. The actor’s emaciated appearance added an unexpectedly heroic dimension to his back-breaking tussles with the glowering Strode.
Both films are worthy additions to Tarzan’s legend, combining the pleasures of myth-making derring-do and an intoxicating whiff of the green earth in its unblemished state. In the years since Tarzan came to save the day, Thailand faced a real life tragedy, wracked by forest clearing, intemperate logging and a spike in demands for exotic animals. Fortunately in 1975 the Thai government began an effort to revitalize their jungles. Along with the simple fun these movies offer, they’re a somber reminder of what once was.
Kudos to Warner Archives, these latest Blu ray releases look spectacular. British pros Paul Beeson and Edward Scaife respectively handled the cinematography on India and Three Challenges. Each specialized in outdoor excitement – Beeson was the cameraman for Africa, Texas Style while Scaife worked on The African Queen and Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure. Warner Archives does them proud.