Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Overlooked Films: The Son of Tarzan (1920)

After rereading and reviewing this fourth novel in the Tarzan series (that's HERE), I decided to poke around and see what Hollywood had done with the book. This is it - a 15-chapter serial made way back in 1920, when the story was only four years old.

I haven't seen this one, so I'll just be looking at what posters and pics I can find, and make guesses about how they relate to the book.

Our story begins on Jungle Island, off the coast of Africa, where nudity is apparently acceptable.

This geek, I assume, is Alexis Paulvitch, second-banana villain of The Beasts of Tarzan, who, due to his evil deeds in that tale, was stranded on the island for ten years. The actor in the ape suit, I assume, is playing Akut, who's been missing his pal Tarzan for lo, these many years.

Akut is mighty smart ape, so Paulvitch takes him to London for a stage show. But Paulvitch, by nature a mean S.O.B., is no pleasure to work for.

Cut to stately Greystoke Manor, where ten-year-old Jack Clayton has been kept in the dark about his pop's ape man days. Jack is strangely obsessed with all things African and anthropoid. Denied permission to see the Akut show, he sneaks out and goes anyway.

Paulvitch acts up one too many times, and Akut kills him. Jack decides to escort Akut back to Africa. On the ship, Akut kills another evil human. I'm not sure which killing this poster portrays, but the result is that Jack is stranded in Africa with no money and no I.D.

Jack eventually goes native and changes his name to Korak, which is apese for "Killer." Enter Meriem, stolen when very young from her French aristocrat father by an evil Sheik. After years of torment, Korak spirits her away to a life of fun and games with his pal Akut.

In the book, Korak becomes sexually aware when Meriem is kidnapped by a bull ape with a gleam in his eye. After kicking the ape's butt, Korak gets a similar gleam. Meriem, though, is still too young for that birds-and-bees stuff. Apparently our movie Meriem blooms sooner.

So, unlike the young couple in the book, their movie counterparts begin a jungle romance.

But - and you had to know this was coming - Meriem is snatched by evildoers, and after being rescued from a couple of fates-worse-than-death, she ends up as a guest on the Greystoke Ranch. Poor Korak believes her dead until he spots her out riding with a snooty English dude. In the book, our pure-hearted hero realizes that a now-sophisticated babe like her could never go for a dirty ape man like him, and resolves to help her find happiness with her new (apparent) love. Not so in the movie, where hatred fills his heart.

In the book, the unlucky gent at left would likely be the evil hunter who has those fate-worse-than-death designs on Meriem. But because the movie takes place in a parallel African universe, it might just as easily be her horse-riding partner.

This scene is straight out of the book, and was considered important enough to grace the dust jacket of the first edition (see that HERE). The evil Sheik returns to cause more trouble, catches Korak, and plans to burn him at the stake. Luckily, Tantor the elephant storms in, yanks the stake out of the ground and carries Korak away. Unluckily, Tantor is too dumb to free him, and too pig-headed to allow anyone else to do it, so the junior ape man is carted around for a couple more chapters until Tarzan saves the day.

Tarzan, in his third big-screen appearance, is portrayed by a guy in a bad wig named P. Dempsey Tabler. He soon retired from acting and made a fortune in the advertising business.

Korak, in this first big-screen appearance is portrayed (in adult form) by Hawaiian actor Kamuela C. Searle. Legend has it that Searle died during the filming of Chapter 15, when the elephant dropped the stake and crushed him to death. That tale may be slightly exaggerated, since Searle was uncrushed enough to make a film the following year for Cecille B. DeMille. Searle's brother insisted he died of cancer in 1924.

More Overlooked Films (many of which the reviewers have actually seen) are featured at Sweet Freedom.


Cap'n Bob said...

Check out the poster photo for Chapter 6. We used to call that "copping a feel."

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