Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Salvation Army Greenwith : The Mouse that Roared.

Last Sunday night I was a part of a joint experience that made me feel proud to be the Corps Officer (minister) of the Salvation Army Greenwith Corps. It was the welcome of our new state leaders and our music group was asked to  lead a segment of the worship time. You see word had got around that we had a group that was sounding great and we were prepared to live up to the reputation.
The Greenwith Salvation Army Corps (church) is a a very young congregation. It began nearly 20 years ago when the Golden Grove Salvation Army decided to plant a congregation in the new neighbouring development of Greenwith. Plans became realities, and soon a young and vibrant new expression of the international Salvation Army was starting to blossom amongst the recently cleared plots and rows of shiny new federation style houses. The first stage of their independence started with the arrival of the first set of officers, Lieutenants Peter and Heather Ellis. At first they met in a kindergarten and then a school library and eventually their own church building. Like most communities they've had their ups and downs and many people have come and gone from their number. However they have soldiered on, and in spite of some rough patches in the last few years, things are on the up. Several years ago they were averaging numbers in the the low twenties now it's in the mid thirties and growing. 50 regular attenders is the immediate goal, last Sunday we had 48. Our Sunday school is at the stage where we need to get a second teacher and financially things have improved. Greenwith Salvo's is starting to blossom again.......... and then came the invitation for the worship group to perform at the welcome of our new state leaders, Lieutenant Colonel's Ron and Robyn Clinch, the very people who instigated the planting of Greenwith Corps all those years ago. With out hesitation I said yes and then hoped like crazy that the musicians would be available. As it turned out they weren't, we had singers but our drummer and our keyboard/rock-band-in-a-box/all round sonic wizard weren't available. However soon schedules were cleared and we had one of our musos, our keyboard wizard, flying back in on the day and good to go.
Our rehearsals were hit and miss around every ones busy schedules but soon we had a solid vocal section and some killer harmonies. With six vocalists and one musician, things finally came together with the addition of what I call our touring band, to fellow officers, stationed elsewhere who've helped us out before on drums and bass.

Our new state leaders are installed.

Sunday was a crazy day of church, rehearsals, pickups and more rehearsals, but soon our moment came. As we took to the platform, I looked along the line of singers. A few years ago only half these people were at Greenwith. They were good faithful people who held the music group together faithfully when many others had moved on. Now we stood in front of hundreds of people, strong and confident and about to roar, Greenwith Salvos, the mouse, was about to roar. We knew people had to see our new God given confidence and we gave it the best we had. And it was good, very good. After wards I talked to some of the faithful, who'd been singing during the tough times and said, 'Did you ever think that you'd be singing here?' The answer was no, but here they were, having just sung with the Greenwith Worship Band in front of hundreds of people................. and they rocked!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Tarzan the Fearless: Hollywood Classic

It's amazing how ones memories of a movie can be influenced by the events surrounding it. .I remember with almost magical clarity the night I went to see Star Wars as five year old. I remember vividly some of the events around the time I first saw Superman the Movie. A similar experience for me was the first time I saw Tarzan the Fearless. I was about 11 years old and headed with my mother to the local video shop to hire a movie for the evening. As I walked around the aisles I remember walking up to the nostalgia section to see if they had any Tarzan films. There amongst the VHS tapes of films like Gone with the Wind, Shane and Casablanca was a collection of tapes with pictures of  Oscar statuettes on the front, printed in brown on thick buff paper, giving the cover a sepia look. The series was titled Hollywood Classics or something similar and there amongst the various ancient titles was Tarzan the Fearless starring Larry 'Buster' Crabbe. To my eleven year old Tarzan fan eyes this was gold. I loved Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers and here was the 'King of the Serials' playing the Lord of the Jungle, and who, according to the blurb on the cover, was the most handsome man to play the role....and the cover said Hollywood Classics so the movie must have been important. I got home and set myself down to watch this cinematic relic from a bygone era. Soon the movie began to roll and the title Tarzan the Fearless came on the screen, only to be followed by the words 'Story by Edgar Rice Burroughs'.  This film must be certainly be important. As a Tarzan fan that had recently started reading the books there was one thing that I would be looking for. Would Tarzan's true identity of John Clayton, Lord Greystoke be mentioned, as it was in Burroughs stories. As I settled in with such questions in mind I became drawn in to this creaky, ancient movie from the dawn of sound. I was impressed by the age of this movie, it seemed prehistoric, with its flickering black and white images and scratchy sound track and long periods of silence with out back ground music. It was then that a very important message flashed onto the screen.  
'The world wide popularity of the "TARZAN" stories
has prompted the Author to tell, now for the first time,
a new story of the Ape-man's strangest and most romantic adventures.'
Tarzan (Larry 'Buster' Crabbe) with Mary's father,
Dr Brooks (E. Alyn Warren)
I knew this movie was important. It came from the 'Author' himself. it was new information about Tarzan's strangest and most romantic adventure. This was like opening an ancient tome to discover lost lore from antiquity. No wonder this was a 'Hollywood Classic. Before I knew it, there he was, Tarzan, swinging spectacularly across the screen, letting rip with a very different version of the victory cry of the bull ape as described by Burroughs in his books. The action had started and my eleven year old eyes were glued. There were familiar things, apes (chimps and a gorilla), Tantor the elephant, certain characters, however here their names were all different. Most importantly Jane went by the name 'Mary'. Maybe she was a Mary-Jane after all. And most importantly Tarzan was also an English Lord, although here he was Lord Greyfriar rather than Greystoke (maybe he had another title as well or maybe it was a typo......and did he have a scotch terrier called Bobby?). I learnt new things, that there was a lost city called Zar, that Tarzan had a cave as well as a tree house, and that there was a £10,000 pound reward for confirmation of Tarzan, Lord Greyfriar's, death. This film was a treasure trove of archaic Tarzan law and after all the trials and tribulations of Tarzan's 'strangest and most romantic adventure' were over there was the classic final scene of chimps, (one presumably Cheeta), a gorilla and Tantor the elephant, dancing to the song "Call of Tarzan", playing on Dr Brooks' record player. This was a film to remember, an important 'Hollywood Classic' in the Tarzan film series, an ancient cinematic epic from the time when Edgar Rice Burroughs walked among us.
As the years went by I learnt that Tarzan the Fearless was one of the lesser entries in the Tarzan series and other than using his Tarzan character, wasn't written by Edgar Rice Burroughs at all but Basil Dickey and George H Plympton, a prolific duo of movie serial writers.  In fact it was a movie cobbled together from a cheapy 12 part serial of the same name that no longer exists in it's entirety. I expect that the other films in the now obviously cheap Hollywood Classic VHS range were probably a collection of poverty row  B westerns and crime thrillers that became classic for their age rather than there popularity or critical success. But for me Tarzan the Fearless  will ever be remembered as a true classic, the one chance to see Larry 'Buster' Crabbe as the 'most handsome Tarzan of them all' (not counting his other performances as Kaspa, Thun'da and Junga, all Tarzan inspired clones).
In fact today Tarzan the Fearless lives permanently on my iphone and when life is tough, my heart is heavy, my mind is weary and I long to return to those savage jungle days of yore, I just press the app icon and I'm there to experience again one of Tarzan's 'strangest and most romantic adventures'.

Tarzan in conference with Cheeta

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Revenge of Tarzan's Revenge (part 3)

When producer Sol Lesser brought out his follow up to Tarzan the Fearless (1933), the new project, Tarzan's Revenge (1937) was in many ways a remake of MGM's Tarzan the Apeman, itself a loose adaption of the original Tarzan novel, Tarzan of the Apes (1912) that was first adapted for the screen in 1918. The basic stories of the two films is similar, a father, a daughter and her potential love interest enter the African jungle in search fortune and glory, come across Tarzan who rescues the daughter and her family from various jungle perils. In the process of this, the potential love interest becomes jealous of Tarzan and tries to protect the girl from the wild man, to whom she is increasing attracted. After one final rescue from a hostile force in the jungle, the girl stays with Tarzan in the jungle, while the main romantic rival and any other survivors of the party return to civilisation with their primary mission accomplished. Aside from these basic narrative similarities some of which can be found in the original novel, these two movies are vastly different in tone, the latter reflecting the general shift of the MGM productions away from adult movies to more family oriented affair.

Tarzan the Apeman is a film that is quite grim in many aspects. We see Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) come to Africa from England to join her father, James Parker (C Aubrey Smith). Here she meets Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton), her father's partner, who is attracted to her and who could be the leading man if the story did not have another more masculine character waiting in the wings. She joins her father and Holt in an expedition to scale the mysterious Mutia Escarpment in an effort to find the legendary Elephant's Graveyard. Here they run foul of a tribe of pygmies/dwarfs and eventually come across Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller), who is very taken with Jane and saves her from the pygmy attack. Eventually Parker and Holt find Jane, one of Tarzan's ape friends is shot and killed, Tarzan is injured by Holt. To make things worse Jane, her father, Holt and their party are captured by the pygmies and thrown into a pit containing a hideous vicious gorilla. However Tarzan saves the day and rescues the three white protagonists, the remaining native bearers having perished at the hands of the gorilla. Now Tarzan, Holt, Jane, and her mortally wounded father finally arrive at the elephants burial ground in time for James Parker to see the treasure he'd travelled so far to find. Fittingly, this old man of the jungle passes away in the elephants graveyard, joining with the other jungle dead. Soon Holt is heading back to civilisation with his treasure of ivory and Jane is staying with Tarzan.

In many ways Tarzan the Apeman is a tragic story. Although the romantic leads survive, so much pain is experience along the way. Jane comes to the jungle seeking to be reunited with her father, only to lose him. James Parker, climbs the Mutia escarpment to find a new life but discovers only death. Holt seeks to win Jane's affections by protecting her but manages to push her away even further into the arms of Tarzan. Tarzan is injured by Holt and loses a member of his ape tribe. The seemingly expendable native bearers all meet horrible ends in various ways. No one is left untouched by tragedy and sadness. However in the end Jane finds family in the arms of Tarzan and Holt heads off to organise the recovery of the ivory, which brings a note of hope for the future of all the surviving characters.

In stark contrast to this film is Tarzan's Revenge. Here the tone of the movie is completely different. Instead of a lonely Jane coming to Africa seeking family, this movie has Eleanor Reed (Eleanor Holm) coming to Africa with her family, father Roger, mother Penny  (Tarzan's first mother-in-law), fiance Neville and their man servant Jigger (Corbet Morris). It is a  holiday/expedition by a wealthy American family seeking to capture rare animals to take back to America for a zoo. The mood is light and fun, with much of the dialogue full of light comedic banter, as the various family members involve themselves in games of verbal one upmanship. The performances by the Reed family are comedic, even Eleanor's, as they trek through the wilds of Africa like fish out of water. They are not the hardened explorers of Apeman but tourists continually inadvertently walking into danger; nearly causing elephant stampedes, stealing lion cubs and attracting the attention of the mother and falling for tales of imaginary 'white crocodiles'. They even manage to upset the local jungle sheik, Ben Alleu Bey (C Henry Gordon) on the boat before even setting foot in the jungle. It is this latter event that causes the sheik to notice Eleanor and begin to hatch a plan to make her part of his harem.

Eleanor first comes across Tarzan (Glenn Morris) when she falls into a marsh while walking through the jungle with Nevin. In a funny turn of events, Nevin goes for help, Tarzan pulls Eleanor out of the marsh only to push her back in after a shoulder slapping match that ensues when she objects to him touching the mud on her leg quizzically. It's a farcical moment that is a far cry from the more brutal kidnapping and inspection that Jane initially receives at the hands of Weissmuller's Tarzan. In Morris' Tarzan we see the gentle jungle joker that Weissmuller's Tarzan would eventually evolve into as his series progressed into more family oriented fair.

One reoccurring gag in Revenge is the idea held by Eleanor's family, that Tarzan is a figment of Eleanor's imagination. For much of the film they are unaware that Tarzan is watching over them and frustrating their efforts to capture and keep wild game. It's after he releases the captured animals that they realise the truth of his existence, Nevin decides Tarzan needs dealing with and Eleanor begins her romance with him, as Tarzan carries her off into the jungle for some tree top cuddling and a spot of swimming.

Secretly leading the safari towards the palace of Ben Alleu Bey is Olaf (Joe Sawyer), the Reed's jungle guide, who has been employed by the villain to deliver Eleanor into his hands and into his harem. This he does successfully. Instead of the final peril that galvanises Tarzan as the hero to the safari coming from a threat that is totally alien and savage (pygmies that kidnap and offer their victims into the lethal arms of a hideous wild beast), the threat here has followed and lured them into the jungle, is surrounded by luxury and instead of offering its captive to a wild animal, puts on what is probably the first dance number in a Tarzan movie.

As in Apeman, Cheeta, having witnessed the kidnapping of Eleanor, informs Tarzan and he comes to the rescue, saving the safari from Ben Alleu Bey's men and storming the palace. It must be said that between the two Tarzan's, Weissmuller has the greater screen presence and acting ability, however Morris looks the part and his Tarzan truly comes to life in the action scenes. One of the best examples is when Tarzan runs into the court of the sheik, picks up Eleanor under his arm with seemingly effortless ease and runs out with her. Unlike Weissmuller, his horde of elephants and bigger budget, Morris' Tarzan saves the day single handedly, cutting the rope bridge from Ben Alleu Bey's palace to ensure his and Eleanor's escape.

The finale of Revenge sees Eleanor's family intact, mother approved fiance and all, leaving Africa with their load of captured animals. As it was with Holt in Apeman, it is clear that Eleanor has chosen Tarzan over Nevin and intends to stay in the jungle with him. Now Nevin, spurred on by Eleanor's mother, finally takes a shot at Tarzan, only to be quickly overcome by the apeman. Eleanor is leaving her family to be with Tarzan, not because there are none left but because she chooses to, and if not with her mother's blessing, her father's. The tragic and serious approach  of Apeman is eschewed, dance number and all, towards a more light and comedic approach in Revenge. The journey into the mysterious escarpment populated by brutal natives who seek to destroy all outsiders is exchanged for a family safari into the jungle populated ultimately by another group of people that want to make Eleanor apart of their family, whether she likes it or not.

The approach of Tarzan's Revenge is similar to many modern action films that take a tongue and cheek approach to action adventure. The seriousness of the threat and the action is tempered by ongoing comedy amongst the main protagonists. Later films of the of the MGM series pick up on the family element of Revenge, and with the introduction of Boy, the more adult elements of the series disappear in favour of a more family oriented approach. However the tongue and cheek approach of Revenge wouldn't be seen again in the series until Tarzan in Manhattan (1989), when trying to reintroduce Tarzan to a modern television audience and taking stylistic cues from the successful Crocodile Dundee film series.

Although heavily influenced by the MGM series, Sol Lesser's second low budget foray into the world of ERB's apeman, Tarzan's Revenge, is a movie that has a distinct voice of it's own and prefigures some of the directions the main series would take in the coming years. Although in some ways it is an inferior and smaller movie to the cinema classics of the early MGM series, it is a fun, 'feel good' film that is light and entertaining, presenting a more family oriented Tarzan.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Revenge of Tarzan's Revenge (Part 2)

In 1938 producer Sol Lesser bought out his next sojourne into the world of Tarzan, Tarzan's Revenge. One of the benefits of feeding off the success of the bigger budget MGM Tarzan films was that certain successful elements could be taken from that series and put into these lower budget films. Examples of this was the portrayal of Tarzan as a generally non verbal character, the inclusion of Cheeta, Tarzan's chimpanzee side kick who never appeared in the books of Burroughs but who first appeared in Tarzan the Apeman (1932) and Tarzan's distinctive yell which, although having it's roots in the books, became embodied in the studio manufactured call featured in the MGM movies and forever after copied by school boys swinging on ropes into rivers. In both Tarzan the Fearless and Tarzan's Revenge, Tarzan is generally non verbal, has an unnamed chimpanzee side kick that viewers familiar with the MGM series assume is Cheeta, as well a cry that is reminescent of, though simpler than, that featured in the MGM series. Although each has a continuity outside of the MGM movies story line, both Tarzan the Fearless and Tarzan's Revenge fit well into MGM's conception of the character. This stands in contrast to Burrough's own cinematic production of Tarzan, The New Adventures of Tarzan (1933), which, although also featuring a chimpanzee side kick named Nkima, based on a monkey character in the novels, presents Tarzan as being a well spoken  and educated  English Lord who has a yell taken from the Tarzan radio show, a yell very different from the MGM version and featuring a word from Burrough's fictional ape language, tarmangani (white ape). If Burroughs sought to bring his character to the screen authentically, Lesser's version of Tarzan  was designed to go with the cinematic flow created by the MGM talky Tarzan films that had proven so popular with the cinema going audience of the 1930's.

If the MGM movies featured the Olympian Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, Lesser's Tarzan's Revenge, in traditional showman style, would present not one but two Olympic gold medalists, decathlete Glenn Morris as Tarzan and Swimmer Eleanor Holm not as Jane but as Eleanor. Lesser believed that Eleanor Holm was so well known by the public that they would never accept her as anyone else but Eleanor. When writing this over seventy years later, this seems ironic because my knowledge of Eleanor Holm comes not from her Olympic achievements but from her portrayal as Tarzan's mate. Surrounding the two inexperience leads, Lesser placed capable B movie director David Ross Lederman, an experienced cast of character actors,  Oscar winning film editor Gene Milford, a script that doesn't  take itself too seriously by Robert Lee Johnson and a romantic and energetic score made up of original and stock music. What comes out of this combination is a film that is in many ways an unofficial remake of Tarzan the Apeman, itself a loose adaption of the original novel. However it is a very different movie than the 1932 original and inspite of the elements borrowed from MGM, is not a carbon copy of the Weismuller series.(to be continued).