Tuesday, April 17, 2007

New Adventures of Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and the Undersea Kingdom: Part II

Jean Rogers as Dale ArdenI'm about halfway through the three serials I'm watching. Time for another check in.

The New Adventures of Tarzan has a pretty good story engine for a serial. Basically, it's just Tarzan and his group trying to catch up with the bad guy in order to recapture the explosive idol everyone wants. The bad guy's always one step ahead of Tarzan, so the story keeps moving. When it starts to slow down, simply throw in an animal attack, have Tarzan get close enough to fight the bad guy (only to have the bad guy narrowly escape), or bring back the angry natives from whom the idol was stolen in the first place.

There's a line in the credits that calls the serial "an Ashton Dearholt Expedition Picture." Ashton Dearholt was one of the producers, but you might remember from my previous post that he also plays the bad guy. The serial was shot on location in Guatemala, and all of this totally reminds me of Carl Denham in King Kong going into the jungle with his actors and camera crew to shoot his movie. Very cool.

Speaking of acting, I don't know if the actors warmed up to their parts as filming went on or if I'm just getting used to them, but they don't sound nearly as wooden to me now as they did when I started. Herman Brix is turning into an excellent Tarzan. Now that his acting sounds more natural, I can see that he's perfect for the part physically. He's probably the most handsome of the movie Tarzans of his era.

I'm falling in love with the character of Ula Vale. She continues working alongside Tarzan and his group, stepping in on multiple occasions to save someone's life, even Tarzan's. It's not hard to imagine her as the star of the series. I love that she came to Guatemala looking for her missing fiancé, and when she learned he was dead, she took some time to grieve and then committed to pitch in against the bad guy. Not out of revenge -- the villain didn't kill her fiancé -- but because it was the right thing to do. And she's been nothing but competent ever since. The last episode I watched ended with her in trouble and because I've become so invested in her, it was actually pretty chilling to watch. I don't doubt that she'll get out of it okay -- and maybe all on her own -- but I'm still a little nervous.

D'Arnot's left the plot. I think they left him to recuperate in a town somewhere along the way. It's disappointing that he was only in it long enough to get the story moving, but c'est la vie.

Flash Gordon is still my favorite of these three. The characters have spent more time with the hawkmen than I'd like (especially the annoyingly boisterous King Vultan), but it looks like that part of the story may be winding down. Overall, it's been a fun tour of Mongo as Flash gathers allies and makes enemies while running from Ming the Merciless.

I love how the story starts out with Flash and Dale's meeting by accident and then stumbling into Doctor Zarkov's mad scheme to try to stop a planet from colliding with Earth. I'd always assumed that Flash and Dale were lovers from the beginning, but we actually get to see them starting to fall for each other here, even though they don't spend that much time together. Flash is always off fighting monsters and Dale is constantly fending off marriage proposals from tyrants, but you can tell that Flash feels responsible for Dale and that she appreciates it and fears for his safety. Flash spends a lot more time with Ming's voluptuous, but selfish daughter Aura, and that only makes him appreciate Dale's selfless concern that much more. It also helps that, while Aura is certainly, um... healthy... Dale is heart-breakingly beautiful. I feel like I'm watching the development one of fiction's classic romances.

I just bought a reprint of the early Flash Gordon newspaper comic strips. I'm going to wait until I'm done with the serial before reading the strips, but from a quick flip-through it looks like the serial is following the strip pretty closely. I'm looking forward not only to reading the strips, but also checking out some of the later Flash Gordon adaptations (including the upcoming one on the Sci Fi Channel).

I go back and forth about Undersea Kingdom. Just when I relax and start having some fun with it, they throw in another cliché character or plot device. Billy the Sidekick's standing on the sidelines, mimicking Crash Corrigan's fighting moves as he tussles with the bad guys, was especially groan-inducing. Also, Billy's so in love with Crash and adventure in general that he doesn't care at all that his dad's mind has been taken over by the evil Unga Khan. That's pretty common for Undersea Kingdom. We're not supposed to think too hard about it or get anything more out of it than some thrills. It's a kids' show.

But, on the other hand, Crash is a lovable guy in a Ben Grimm sort of way, and the series does feature Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his first roles as Lon Chaney Jr. (as opposed to Creighton Chaney). So I waffle.

1 comment:

West said...

Still working my way through the post, but I find it pretty interesting that the acting quality changed over time as people settled into their parts. I also dig and am interested in the fact that the stiff acting obscured how well-suited the lead actor was for his role, but the changes, at this point in the serial, made him go from an X-level Tarzan to an X+1 level Tarzan.


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