TARZAN’S SAVAGE FURY (RKO Radio, 1952), directed by Cyril Enfield, is an acceptable entry to the long running jungle adventure series starring Lex Barker in his fourth go-round as Edgar Rice Burrough’s legendary King of the Jungle. Not since the early silent screen adaptations has Tarzan’s background ever been depicted, least of all his relation to the Greystoke family of England, how he was orphaned, raised by apes to become jungle man of Africa. Aside from revealing more about Tarzan’s family history, this edition makes several attempts in recapturing the fun and excitement to the more popular “Tarzan” MGM editions (1932-1942) starring Johnny Weissmuller, notably its presentation of an orphaned boy as its latest addition. Filling in the void formerly enacted nine times by Johnny Sheffield as Boy, Tommy Carlton gets his screen credit introduction as the latest junior Tarzan. Though not quite a remake or even a rehash to Sheffield’s debut of TARZAN FINDS A SON (1939), it starts off that way, then shifting over a different direction taken from TARZAN’S SECRET TREASURE (1941).
With the plot development bearing two separate stories before connecting to a basic formula, the opening first brings forth Lord Oliver Greystoke (Lex Barker) on an expedition locating his long lost cousin, Tarzan. Moments later he is shot and killed by the evil Rokov (Charles Korvin), letting his weakling associate, Edwards (Patric Knowles), to assume Greystoke’s identity. Next comes Tarzan (Lex Barker) and his pet chimpanzee, Cheta, on their venture home after six days away from Jane (Dorothy Hart). It’s never fully explained where Tarzan has been during that time. Maybe on his vacation from marriage or settling some business deal with Edgar Rice Burroughs. Shortly after-wards Tarzan witnesses abusive native tribes using boys as crocodile bait. As Joey Martin (Tommy Carlton), a white boy, comes close to a crocodile attack, Tarzan swims to his rescue. Learning Joey to be the son of American missionaries, recently killed, Tarzan, an orphan himself, takes Joey along with him. Before returning to the tree house and Jane, Joey, wanting to become jungle man like Tarzan, is shown methods of jungle survival and how to conquer his fear when approached by dangerous animals such as lions. After Joey becomes an established member of the Tarzan family, a safari consisting of Rokov and “Greystoke” enter the scene. Rokov, a magician, gains their confidence showing off some magic tricks while Tarzan’s “cousin” presents the diary written by Tarzan’s father dating back to 1922-23, explaining how Tarzan’s missionary parents lived among the Wazuri tribe when he was a little boy. Because of the tribes richness in diamonds, Rokov wants Tarzan to lead him over to their village so to obtain and use those diamonds for the good of England’s military safety. Thanks to Jane’s insistence, Tarzan, at the same time tracking down his roots to where he lived as a boy, heads the expedition on a long and prosperous journey through mountains and desert before facing both a deadly tribe and the truth behind Rokov’s mission.
Often dismissed as a lesser entry to the Lex Barker entries, mainly due to some slow pacing by the midway point, TARZAN’S SAVAGE FURY does resume its usual doses of action and adventure through the stock footage and/or rear projection screening of wild animals, cannibal attacks, the traditional good versus evil theme and the climatic Tarzan yell. Charles Korvin, the accented talking villain, is one not to reckon and stops at nothing to get what he wants. After killing a tribal leader and doing away with “Greystoke,” Korvin’s Rokov manages to trap Tarzan to where he lies helpless with heavy rock resting on his back while only a few feet above a pit of hungry lions below. As for Jane and Joey, they face dangers of their own as they are held prisoners of an angry tribe some distance away.
Lex Barker resumes his role in the usual manner, with an added bonus briefly playing Lord Greystoke for its prologue. One notable drawback to the Barker series is its constant changing of actresses playing Jane. Dorothy Hart ranks one of the finer and prettier substitutes thus far. Featured in one piece jungle attire and dark hair down to her shoulders, looking very much the way Maureen O’Sullivan was presented in the MGM days, Hart speaks softly in the manner of Donna Reed, but most importantly, not impossible to dislike. With prior screen roles to her credit, this was Hart’s only venture as Tarzan’s mate. Tommy Carlton, age 10 or so, in fine physical build and hair always perfectly in place, acquires enough camera close-ups to assure enough attention as Tarzan’s newest “boy.” Interestingly, his character would not return in future installments, thus, adding further contradictions to this series. With such a promising start of the hero worshiping youngster alongside the legendary Tarzan, Carlton’s character is suddenly reduced to limited viewing, seen mostly in the background before reminding viewers of his existence before the film’s fadeout.
TARZAN’S SAVAGE FURY, along with others in the series that played on commercial television as part of “Tarzan Theater,” did get cable TV exposure in later years, first on American Movie Classics (1997-2000) and later on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere, July 23, 2011). Never distributed to video cassette, this and other Lex Barker editions were later placed onto DVD by the TCM Archive Collection. Regardless of pros and cons, TARZAN’S SAVAGE FURY should make satisfying viewing for fans of the series. Next installment: TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL. (**1/2)