Tarzan's Savage Fury
John "Bridge" Martin
A Film Review and Synopsis slightly revised from its original appearance in the Edgardemain section of ERBapa #41, Spring 1994
With names like Waziri, Rokov and Greystoke, could this movie be based on an ERB book? (Nah!)
When I saw in the TV Guide that "Tarzan's Savage Fury" was on one day in 1994, I fired up the VCR and made sure it captured the moment. To my recollection, I had never seen a Lex Barker Tarzan film. This one came out in 1952, when I would have been about eight years old. I remember having gone to see Tarzan movies when I was young, but I can't remember much about them, other than Cheeta jumping up and down.
Following the traditional RKO opening, with lightning bolts shooting from a radio tower atop the globe, we see two white man wading through the jungle. One of these white hunters wears a dark scarf with white polka dots. His name is Greystoke. The other has a leopard skin hatband, and his name sounds a lot like Rokoff, although David Fury, in his fine book, "Kings of the Jungle," tells us it is spelled "Rokov."
Different spelling or not, this "Rokov" is as bad as the one who appears in the books. He gives Greystoke first shot at a lion; but, while Greystoke is taking aim, Rokov plugs him in the back, making Greystoke a meal for the lion.
The evil Rokov returns to his camp, shouting that Greystoke has been killed by a lion. This gets rid of the native bearers, who go after the lion for vengeance. Now alone in the camp with the only other white man, a bloke named Edwards, Rokov tells Edwards what he's done, then goes through Greystoke's papers and calls up his conspirator, Randini, on the short-wave radio to tell him that Plan A is out and Plan B is in. We'll probably never know what Plan A was. In fact, in a movie like this one, we're never quite sure what Plan B is, either!
Rokov tells Edwards he must pretend to be Greystoke; Edwards isn't thrilled with the idea but he doesn't have a lot of options.
Rokov smiles at Edwards: "From the Bourgoise to the British aristocracy in one jump," he sneers, "or should I say, one bullet."
Now the scene changes and there falls on our ears the sound of "funny chimp music" alternating with "beautiful morning in the jungle" music. We see Lex Barker decked out as Tarzan, lounging in the forest, and Cheeta cavorting around. It's wake-up time in the jungle. We see a black Sheetah watching the scene hungrily. We see Tantor prowling. Tarzan swings. Hippos yawn. Monkeys play.
As Tarzan moves through the trees, he comes upon a scene so interesting he has to stop and watch. Some natives are fishing for crocodiles. The bait is young boys of the tribe who, with ropes around their waists, swim out into the river to attract the attention of a croc. Once they have succeeded, they swim madly for shore, the grownups hauling in the rope. When the duped croc gets close enough to shore, he's stuck with several native spears.
But there is a small white boy among the dark natives and he shouts, "You'll catch the big one with me." A bit frightened at his own bravado, he nonetheless swims toward the biggest croc, who is happy to give chase.
As fate would have it, his rope snags on a tree limb in the water and he would have become croc food if not for Tarzan, who dives into the water and attacks the reptile from behind, killing the behemoth.
"Don't use boys for bait," Tarzan tells the natives. He tosses a couple of the grownups into the water to underscore his point, but no crocs come for them.
The boy's name is Joseph Martin and his mother and father died in the jungle; he has drifted from tribe to tribe. Tarzan decides to take him to the mission but it isn't too long before he decides to take him home to Jane instead.
Cheeta goes ahead to tell Jane company is coming while Tarzan and Joey amble through the jungle. A lion is encountered and Joey panics, because his parents died at the claws of lions. Tarzan tells Joey to face his fear and Tarzan begins staring down the lion. We get a closeup of Tarzan's eyes not unlike the closeup of George Reeves' eyes whenever he was set to use his x-ray vision on TV's "Superman."
At Tarzan's prodding, Joey tells Numa, "Oongowa," thus causing the lion to leave. "Oongowa" is once again proven to be the most useful word in the jungle.
They catch a vine to the treehouse and Jane briefly plays aloof, since Tarzan has been gone six days. It isn't too long, though, before Tarzan and Jane are in a clinch, but Joey breaks it up.
Ominous music suddenly sounds and the scene switches to a shot of Rokov's safari plodding through the jungle and we are reminded that the idyllic life of Tarzan and family will soon be disrupted. Then it's back to a jungle swim scene with Tarzan and Jane cuddling in the water while Joey amuses himself with the chimps.
At last the safari arrives and Jane is excited but Tarzan appears dour. Do his jungle-trained nostrils smell trouble? Edwards, now using the name Oliver Greystoke, is in bad shape and has to be carried into the treehouse by Tarzan. Oliver remarks that it's a stupendous honor being carried up a tall tree by a 10th Earl."
After supper, Rokov amuses the group by demonstrating his talents as an amateur magician. Jane is delighted but Tarzan does not appear to be impressed. When Rokov pulls a coin from Joey's ear and then makes it (the coin, not the ear) disappear, it's too much for Tarzan. He grabs Rokov's wrist and turns his hand over to expose the hiding place of the vanished coin. Rokov seems to take his exposure good-naturedly, commenting that it's difficult to fool the "jungle beast."
The chimp then steals Oliver's passport and he goes into a panic because, of course, there's a photo of the real Greystoke in it. Tarzan rescues the passport and hands it back without looking at it.
Rokov then produces a diary written by Tarzan's father, Lord Greystoke, in 1922-32 (obviously not a date that would find favor among Tarzan chronologists). The diary tells of meeting the Waziri who have hoards of uncut diamonds lying around. The elder Greystoke had removed the geographical references from the diary to prevent greedy people like Rokov from going there and plundering the Waziri treasure. So, Rokov must con Tarzan into leading him there (Tarzan, it seems, visited the Waziri with his father when he was a little boy -- ERB never told us about that!!!).
Jane, of course, is a lot easier to con than Tarzan. Rokov tells her the diamonds are needed to help fund England's defense in the war. Tarzan "not remember" way to Waziri but Jane helps him remember by pointing out that England without weapons is like Tarzan without knife.
Even though "Waziri people kill all who enter their land," the safari takes off, and tramps past several animals who appear to be on the same stage with the actors instead of being spliced in later. They walk past a friendly tantor, slip under a tree limb on which are perched some beautiful birds, and go under another limb dominated by a black panther. Tarzan keeps an eye on the panther while the safari goes under the tree, just to keep it honest.
Next up is a rhino which, according to Fury in his book, was back-projected onto a screen with Tarzan standing in front of the screen and appearing to face down the rhino and make it back off. Pretty well-done scene.
Tarzan races ahead and when the safari finally catches up he, with the aid of some elephants, has built several log rafts for crossing a river. On the way across, Rokov panics and shoots a hippo, causing the angry animal to dump the occupants off a raft, drawing the crocs. One safari bearer becomes croc food.
On the other side, Tarzan handles Rokov roughly, calling him a "stupid fool." (Tarzan still speaks Dick-and-Jane English but he's got some appropriate epithets in his vocabulary). Rokov twice tries to walk away while Tarzan is talking to him but you don't just walk away when the Lord of the Jungle is talking to you and so Tarzan knocks him down each time.
At camp that night, they contemplate the high mountains they must cross. The next day, they make the dangerous mountain trek and, for a change of pace in the typical Tarzan movie, no native falls off a cliff enroute. The scene switches to the desert; Tarzan scouts for water and at last leads them to an oasis where all swim, except the dirty Rokov, who gets only his feet and hands wet.
The chimp steals Oliver's passport again and this time is more successful, hiding it in a hollow log.
Next action is capture of all but Tarzan by cannibals, and along the way Oliver is wounded by a spear. Tarzan comes to the rescue, swinging from a vine to knock the cannibals down and starting a jungle fight, followed by a jungle chase.
The Waziri intervene and the cannibals scatter, but now the Waziri are in charge and these are not the friendly folks from ERB's books.
As they hold the party captive, the leader of the Waziri band, distinguished by a likeness of Woody Woodpecker on his head, reaches out and caresses Jane's cheek. For a Tarzan fan, this has got to be the most unlikely scene in the movie, because Tarzan reacts in no way whatsoever to this advance upon his woman. He doesn't lunge for the chief, snarl, or even growl or scowl. Nothing.
In the village, drums resound and the witch doctor rants and shakes bones. Tarzan reminds the Waziri he was there as a boy with his father and an old friendly-looking native remembers. Miraculously, he also remembers how to speak the near-perfect English that the senior Greystoke taught him.
Meanwhile, the witch doctor has decided to kill all the safari's blacks by tieing them, one-by-one, onto the lower half of a giant wooden crocodile's mouth. Once the helpless victim is so secured, on the "tongue" as it were, the idea is for the top half of the croc's mouth, armed with several sharp, wooden stakes, to come crashing down, transfixing the terrified captive. But Tarzan and the old guy come back in time and make the witch doctor stop. Rokov decides to "handle this" and tries flattery with the chief, but it gets him nowhere. The old guy reminds the chief who Tarzan's father was and the chief says he wants Tarzan and the old guy to go find the "good book" that Tarzan's father had, as a sign of good faith.
Rokov sees the Waziri diamond stash but about that time the chimp produces the passport of out thin air and shows it to Jane. She realizes she's been duped and warns Rokov and Edwards that "Tarzan will kill you."
Rokov uses his radio to signal Randini again and then announces that "I take complete command." He yells from the hut for the natives to assemble, then quickly stuffs his pockets with props and leaps into the crowd for the magic show of his life. As the witch doctor watches in amazement, Rokof pulls fireballs from his pockets, then begins plucking the large wire hoops the Waziri have about their necks and mysteriously linking them together. He grabs a cloth and spreads it on a drum and when he pulls it off...live baby chicks. This is magic indeed, as it's hard to see how Rokov could have had all that in his pockets. No wonder the natives were impressed!!
Rokov and Oliver-Edwards begin raiding the diamond hut but the witch doctor walks in on them. No problem for Rokov the Great. He makes a diamond disappear then reappear in a skull hanging from the witch doctor's belt. When the fellow bends over for a closer look, Rokov stabs him. Edwards rushes to the hut where Jane is, apologizes for being a crook, cad, scoundrel, etc...and then leaves with a bag of loot. Jane sends Joey to find Tarzan.
Rokov joins Edwarsd and they slink off into the jungle. Meanwhile, Tarzan and the old guy come to the jungle hut once occupied by young Tarzan and his long-dead parents. There they find the good book, wrapped in oilskin. (Funny the chief never thought to look there for the good book!) From its size and shiny gloss on the edge of its pages, it appears to be The Holy Bible.
Meanwhile, Joey charges through the jungle but the chimp suddenly goes wild. No wonder. A giant python is in a tree over the trail, it's head hanging down and undulating back and forth. Joey screws up his courage, swallows the lump in his throat, and runs under the tree unmolested.
Edwards collapses under the weight of the diamonds in his bag and Rokov calls up Randini, who is sitting in a plane on a rough jungle airfield, with his co-pilot. Edwards is feverish, incoherent. He begins ranting for his passport. Rokov hears the roar of lions and notes there is a convenient lion pit nearby. Never one to waste a good lion, Rokov tells Edwards: "I'll give you another passport," leads him to the lion pit, and throws him in.
About that time, Tarzan comes along and Rokov tells him Edwards needs help. As Tarzan looks into the pit, Rokov misses a great opportunity to just give Tarzan a little shove. But ever the coward, he waits until Tarzan has climbed a vine halfway down into the pit and then shoots the vine in half.
Back at the village, the body of the witch doctor is found and there's no one left to take out the Waziri anger on but Jane. They come for her at the hut and she bravely goes with her captors to a fate no worse than death.
Tarzan had landed on a ledge, safe from the lions, but was knocked unconscious by the fall. He wakes up, but in his groginess, reaches up and dislodges a huge boulder, which falls on his back, pinning him down. He tries doing pushups with the rock on his back, but he can hardly move it. Joey arrives within earshot but finds his path blocked by a lion, Knowing he must help Tarzan, he stands his ground and tells the lion "Oongowa." Once again, the magic word works and Joey helps Tarzan get free.
Will Tarzan be in time to save Jane? It doesn't look like it, because he has to stop and deal with Rokov. He slugs him a few times and then throws him into the lion pit.
Tarzan grabs the Waziri diamonds and heads back to the village while the chimp discovers Rokov's radio and begins chattering into the mike.
The Waziri chief is about to give the signal to dispatch Jane in the giant crocodile jaws, but suddenly he hears the Tarzan yell as, into the village bursts, not Tarzan, but the old guy, carrying the good book. Tarzan is close on his heels with the Waziri family jewels.
The old guy presents the good book to the chief. Tarzan sets down the diamonds and scoops up Jane.
Cut to the chimp again, chattering into the microphone while two guys in an airplane try to understand him. "He is crazy," says one. "Did you say left?" Cheeta chatters more and the pilot turns left, into a mountain, where the plane crashes and burns; the chimp applauds.
At the Waziri village, the chief has made two piles of diamonds and asks if the good book says it is better to give than to receive. Jane says it does say that and the chief says one pile of diamonds is for Tarzan and the other for "him," whoever "him" is. He probably meant Joey, but as the movie comes to an end we see Cheeta starting to stuff diamonds into a pouch.
The title of this movie, "Tarzan's Savage Fury," was a bit of a come-on. Sure, Tarzan showed some fury at various times, but I think the word "Savage" calls for a whole lot more carnage. Just call me bloodthirsty!
A more accurate title might have been "Tarzan Finds Another Son" or "Tarzan and the Waziri Diamonds."