A helicopter lands in the playboy paradise of Acapulco bringing a ruggedly mysterious gentleman in a tailored suit (Mike Henry). Driven through the gleaming city, to his surprise the chauffeur pulls into a bullfighting arena where a sniper lies in wait. But our resourceful action hero outwits and eliminates the hired killers before contacting the police. They welcome Tarzan, lord of the jungle, who has come to, woah, wait a minute. Tarzan? In a suit? In Acapulco? Shooting guns? Are you sure that's not James Bond?
Nope, it's definitely Tarzan. By 1966 the global influence of the James Bond film series was all but inescapable. Hence producer Sy Weintraub, who on taking over the series restored the jungle hero back to creator Edgar Rice Burroughs' original concept of a thoughtful, articulate adventurer at ease in both the wilderness and modern civilization, tried to mould new Tarzan Mike Henry into a James Bond-like hero. Not that Tarzan and the Valley of Gold had our hero suddenly sip vodka martinis, shag exotic women or fire quips after dispatching bad guys. Mind you he does go against an international super-criminal named Vinaro (David Opatoshu) obsessed with gold. Oh, and Vinaro has a bald henchman named Mr. Train (Don Megowan) who grapples with Tarzan in a lively finale set amidst an albeit ancient Aztec gold vault, just to underscore those Goldfinger (1964) parallels. Heck, the pop art opening credits set to a jazzy score by Van Alexander resemble the titles from Dr. No (1962).
Tarzan purists need not worry. After the tense, exciting opening sniper sequence (wherein Tarzan dispatches his opponent with, believe it or not, a giant Coca Cola bottle that wittily establishes the film's modernity) director Robert Day abandons the gleaming skycrapers and busy motorways of the city for a more conventional jungle setting along with a more conventional story. The plot sees Tarzan summoned by an old friend after Vinaro kidnaps plucky ten-year-old Ramel (Manuel Padilla Jr.) whom he believes can lead him to the lost city of gold. Pitted against Vinaro's private army of tanks and machinegun-toting mercenaries, Tarzan reverts back to his loincloth. He brings along a lion called Major, a leopard called Bianco and comedy relief chimpanzee Dickie (what, no Cheetah?), though poor old Bianco bites the dust early on. Scripter Clair Huffaker, more at home with westerns, concocts a curious though not unappealing mix of Disneyesque animal antics, jarring violence (we open with Tarzan's friends brutally gunned down) and Bondian intrigue along with the usual Tarzan tropes.
After such an offbeat start the return to conventional jungle antics suggests, disappointingly, the intro was only conceived as a cute gimmick. However the film does develop themes established in Weintraub's earlier Tarzan films. Chiefly the hero's deftness with both jungle survival tactics and modern technology but his difficulty in getting other natives to adapt. Here the chief of the lost city rather foolishly locks Tarzan in the vault rather than let him fight Vinaro and break their pacifist traditions. Vinaro's 'ironic' comeuppance means Tarzan never really gets to pit his wits against the chief adversary. However we do get to see him let loose with a heavy machinegun almost like Rambo. Happily Tarzan's most effective weapon is his good old jungle ingenuity. Former American pro-footballer Mike Henry certainly looks the part either in a loincloth or suit though his mid-western accent suggests this Tarzan has not spent that much time in Africa. As an actor he is not the greatest at emoting but his paternal, caring action hero is charismatic, affable and more than capable. After hanging up his loincloth, Henry went on to play the villain opposing John Wayne in Howard Hawks' final western Rio Lobo (1970) yet is probably best known for playing Jackie Gleason's dim-witted deputy and son in Smokey and the Bandit (1977). No Jane in this Tarzan movie although Nancy Kovack – in a role intended for Sharon Tate who shot some stills with Mike Henry – adds a touch of glamour as Sophia, Vinaro's much-victimized but nice girlfriend. At one point the cad utilizes her as a reluctant suicide bomber indulging a fondness for exploding jewelry. Tarzan would return in Tarzan and the Great River (1967).