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  Tarzana the Wild Girl Sexy Safari
Year: 1969
Director: Guido Malatesta
Stars: Femi Benussi, Ken Clark, Franca Polesello, Beryl Cunningham, Franco Ressel, Raf Baldassare, Andrea Aureli, Alfred Thomas, Furio Meniconi, Gualtiero Isnenghi, Udo Adinolfi, Fortunato Arena, Antoinetta Fiorito
Genre: Sex, Trash, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Orphaned after a plane crash in Africa, topless jungle queen Tarzana (babelicious Femi Benussi) lives happily with her animal friends unaware that back in Swinging London her wealthy grandfather Lord Donovan (Gualtiero Isnenghi) is determined to bring her home. To that end Lord Donovan's glamorous niece Doris (Franca Polsello) hires rugged adventurer Glen Shipper (Ken Clark) to lead a well-armed search party. While the safari team explore the jungle, tangling with wild beasts and hostile natives, Tarzana grows increasingly curious about the interlopers unaware that scheming relative Groder (Franco Ressel) aims to inherit her fortune by having her killed.

For some reason in the late Sixties European exploitation filmmakers started cranking out movies with sexy jungle girls. Future giallo queen Edwige Fenech played Samoa, Queen of the Jungle (1968), little-known Asian actress Mei Chen was Luana, the Girl Tarzan (1968) and fetching Kitty Swann reprised her jungle queen several times in both Virgin of the Jungle (1967) and Gungala the Black Panther Girl (1968), the latter directed by future Cannibal Holocaust (1979) creator Ruggero Deodato, as well as two Tarzan films opposite Steve Hawkes. With their emphasis on eroticism as much as action, the sexy jungle girl films actually drew less from the Tarzan movies than Liane the White Jungle Goddess (1956). That German-made film became a phenomenon across Europe, spawning several sequels although Tarzana the Wild Girl does steal a few plot points from the Johnny Weismuller classic Tarzan Escapes (1936).

Tonally however it is closer to Carry On Up the Jungle (1970), albeit perhaps unintentionally. Though the cast, including seasoned Eurospy action man Ken Clark, star of the 077 movies such as Mission Bloody Mary (1965), play the corny melodrama with deadpan seriousness the film lurches from one campy, ridiculous scene to another. The explorers traipse around the jungle blasting every living thing in sight, Doris cosies up to hunky Glen inflaming Tarzana's curiosity about this thing called love while native guide Kamala (Beryl Cunningham, another Euro-cult staple) sends sleazy secondary villain Fred (Raf Baldassare) into a sexual frenzy with her provocative dancing. It is the old colonial chestnut about the jungle stirring 'primitive' passions in 'civilized' Europeans although at this stage still closer to Mogambo (1953) than the excesses of Emannuelle and the Cannibals (1977). Eventually, the sight of Doris bathing under a waterfall turns frustrated Fred into a wannabe rapist until Glen gives him a sound thrashing. All watched with doe-eyed befuddlement by sexy Tarzana who disappointingly, despite ample screen time, does not really do that much. She swings on vines of course, rides an elephant and happily manages to perform some heroics in the lively climax but those hoping for kick-ass jungle girl action and not just eye-candy will be disappointed. This is a sexist Italian film after all. Though the script flirts with racism by having all the African characters submit to Glen, even calling him master, it is worthy of appreciation that the white hero behaves honorably to all the natives, always respectful and never patronizing.

Despite a silly plot that suggests filmmakers with only vague memories of the original Tarzan were making this up as they went along, Tarzana the Wild Girl is campy fun. Guido Malatesta, a veteran of the sword and sandal genre who died a year after this was released, was seemingly intent solely on contriving any excuse for the viewer to gawp at how drop-dead gorgeous Femi Benussi looks naked. In which case, mission accomplished. Benussi was one of the great beauties of Italian exploitation cinema and could act when called on to do so. In most cases however, especially her numerous giallo roles e.g. The Killer Must Kill Again (1975) and Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975) she was only required to get naked and die. Somehow she managed to make these victim roles into memorable moments and had great fun in a later run of sex comedies. She is quite captivating in Tarzana, embodying the film's odd mix off innocence and prurience with its almost Disney-like scenes of her cavorting with cuddly animals while topless of course. In a surreal note of semi-bestiality all the animals seem to respond to Tarzana's sexiness: elephants trumpet an equivalent of a wolf-whistle as she saunters by, big cats swoon, and in the goofiest moment her panting chimpanzee sidekick (dubbed by a human!) dissuades Tarzana from wearing clothes. One smile from Femi turns the fiercest jungle predator into a purring kitten whom she nuzzles naked on a fur rug. Frankly, it is the most believable thing in the film. Femi Benussi would reprise her role as the sexy jungle queen in the livelier Three Supermen in the Jungle (1970).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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