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Monday, January 02, 2017

Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

Last summer, after seeing the latest Tarzan film, I thought I'd take another look at the film I consider to be the best Tarzan movie. That was in August, and the DVD has sat on my TV stand since then. I finally got around to seeing it. While Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes didn't move me as much seeing it a second time, I still think it holds the crown.

Tarzan, up to then, had been in mothballs, either as a TV show or the lamentable Bo Derek version. In 1984, Hugh Hudson, fresh off his success from Chariots of Fire, directed this film, which claims to be accurate to Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, but only to a point. The beginning is much the same--an Englishman and his wife travel to Africa, have a baby, but are beset by disease and pesky apes and die. A female ape's baby has died, so she adopts the white baby as her own.

From there, things take a decided turn. Yes, the young boy grows up raised by apes, but he does not teach himself to read as in the book, nor does he meet Jane Porter there. ((I'm also still puzzled why he doesn't have a long beard and when and why he decided to wear a loincloth). Instead he is rescued by a Belgian explorer (Ian Holm), after Tarzan (the name is never spoken in this film--how could he have a name raised by apes?) saves his life from spear-throwing natives (the once concession to Tarzan film cliches--the angry natives). Holm teaches him some English and convinces him to return home to his family, which at this point is his dotty old grandfather, Ralph Richardson (in his last role, and Oscar-nominated).

There he meets Jane, Richardson's American ward, and they fall in love, but he realizes he doesn't belong in this world and goes back, sans Jane.

So this Tarzan film is less about swinging on vines and being king of the jungle (he can mimic any animal, but doesn't have a yell or command elephants), and is instead about finding one's place in the universe. Tarzan, played broodingly by Christopher Lambert, looks good in a suit, but can't get all the niceties down, like eating soup without a spoon or crawling around on the rooftops. It's an interesting commentary on nature vs. nurture--are we who are born to, or who we are raised by. Greystoke takes the latter view.

The film is the only Tarzan film to receive Oscar nominations, and one of the nominees is a dog. Robert Towne, who wrote the script, was removed as director, and in anger, removed his name from the script and substituted his dog's name, P.H. Vazak. As far as anyone knows, that is the only dog to receive an Academy Award nomination. In another bit of indignity, Andie MacDowell as Jane was dubbed over by Glenn Close (supposedly because of MacDowell's Southern accent) which MacDowell didn't appreciate, and thought would end her acting career.

A career that did sputter out was Hudson's. After two well-received films he made Revolution, with Al Pacino, which was a huge bomb, and Hudson has not been an A-list, or even a C-list, director since.

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