Tonight a grave crime has occurred: early in the morning, a band of outlaws approached this African settlement disguised as natives although each one of them was white, and set about stealing explosives and other equipment with a goal of taking them to a diamond mine only their leader, Slade (Anthony Quayle), knew the location of. But in their haste to get away, three men were killed in cold blood, though the radio operator had the chance to gasp the word "Slade" into the microphone before he expired. Tarzan (Gordon Scott) knows that name very well...
For once the bombastic title was no exaggeration as for many Tarzan cultists, this really was the famous character's greatest adventure, on film at any rate. After Scott had appeared in a few desperately low rent pictures in this series, it was taken over by producer Sy Weintraub, who had his own ideas about the direction this should go in: basically, make the jungle hero appeal to adults again. To that end, he hired director John Guillermin who had the same ideas, and together they finally made a Tarzan film both Scott and the franchise's fans could be proud of.
Although these films were still very much in the shadow of Johnny Weissmuller's interpetation of the role, as any Tarzan movie is even today, the different method of trying the adventure paid great dividends: imagine how thrilling it must have been to settle down at the time to watch yet another cheap and cheesy Ape Man effort and be confronted with something genuinely exciting and not afraid to present the violence on the screen not seen probably since Weissmuller's Tarzan Escapes back in the thirties. The notion of a gritty reboot may have become something of a self-parody for these jaded times, but back then it was truly fresh.
Scott was still playing a man of few words, but what he did say he made count in a plotline that was more akin to one of the tough Anthony Mann Westerns made with James Stewart the star, yet if those were intentionally jarring with Stewart's nice guy image, with Scott, a bodybuilder and a fine figure of a man, his capacity to not only defend himself but use force to attack was more appropriate to his technique. The fact that this Tarzan was as much a part of the wild jungle as he was a civilising influence was not lost on the audience, as an intriguing moral arises where he sets out after Slade not really for revenge, but more to put a stop to him claiming future victims.
That more grownup mood meant an almost macabre tone to the inevitable deaths as Slade's party of evildoers meet their maker in variously gruesome ways. Among that party was a pre-fame Sean Connery, illustrating he could have made quite a career playing nasty pieces of work rather than the heroes he often found himself typecast in come that star-making James Bond role. But with characters sinking into quicksand (left with one arm frozen above the surface, a neatly grim touch) or falling into a pit full of spikes meant for Tarzan, there was a bloodthirsty feel to much of the plot that made it particularly tense as you were not sure how far the filmmakers would go. Without Jane (Cheeta is there, but significantly left behind), Tarzan gets love interest in Sara Shane's pilot, who acts as our witness to the mayhem and learns sobering lessons about human nature. An excellent instalment in the series, you were advised to look to this to see what a classic character Tarzan could be. Music by Douglas Gamley.