TARZAN COLLECTION (WARNER HOME VIDEO)
THE CHARLIE CHAN CHANTOLOGY COLLECTION (M.G.M HOME ENTERTAINMENT)
Warner's terrific TARZAN COLLECTION features all six of the Johnny Weissmuller-Maureen O'Sullivan M.G.M. Tarzan features, including the original uncut pre-Code versions of the first two, TARZAN THE APE MAN and TARZAN AND HIS MATE, both of which were heavily censored on all subsequent theatrical reissues.
The first one, TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932) is, even by contemporary standards, a deliriously entertaining introduction to the character as embodied by charismatic Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller. What's most surprising, however, about this initial TARZAN venture is how raw and sensual it is, a fact that contributes to its still enormous appeal, and prevents this 1932 adventure from seeming even remotely dated.
As good as TARZAN THE APE MAN is, it pales when compared to the second in the series, TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934), which I consider to be one of the greatest jungle adventures ever filmed. Emboldened by the massive success of the earlier film, M.G.M. threw caution (and megabucks!) to the wind, and in the process created a film that packs so much violent action and incident into its compact 93 minute running time that it takes one's breath away. The mortality rate is fantastic, and make no mistake about it, this is without question the sexiest of the series, a fact that becomes even more apparent when one looks at the four Code-plagued TARZAN's that followed.
In TARZAN ESCAPES (1936), the onerous effect of the Production Code's rigidly ridiculous standards becomes instantly clear: severely toned-down violence and complete elimination of anything remotely risque dominate what is certainly the best of the post-Code TARZAN series, but it is difficult not to express disappointment at the newly-chaste outfits of the the vibrantly alluring O'Sullivan.
TARZAN FINDS A SON! (1939) continues to steer the series on its increasingly antiseptic course, and, for me at least, this is the weakest of the series, as the addition of a son severely dilutes the appeal of these films, though TARZAN'S SECRET TREASURE (1941) has enough fast-moving action to partially compensate for this continuing weakness, and while many consider TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE (1942) the lamest of the M.G.M. series, the outlandish extent of its loony improbability imbues this film with a certain energy lacking in the previous two outings.
For purposes of this review I compared the transfer of each dvd title with the corresponding title in the laser-disc set and there clearly is no comparison. All of the laserdiscs' problems (a soft, bland and occasionally mushy image) have been corrected for this full-screen black and white dvd set, in which the sharpness and grey scale have been dramatically improved. TARZAN THE APE MAN is in the roughest shape, as it exhibits a certain amount of grain, but the transfer overall is better than acceptable, and all the subsequent transfers, while clearly not full-scale restorations, look quite good indeed. The monaural sound is clear and distortion-free.
M.G.M's release of six of the Monogram Charlie Chan films in a beautiful and tastefully designed box set becomes all the more gratifying when one remembers the Fox Movie Channel's disgraceful decision last year to cancel showings of their own restored CHAN films due to strident pressure from so-called minority groups, who among other things, objected to the fact that non-Chinese actors (Warner Oland and Sidney Toler) were portraying the great Chinese detective. My advice to these groups: get over it! Countless great performances, such as Spencer Tracy as a Portugese fisherman (CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS), Anthony Quinn (ZORBA THE GREEK), Paul Muni and Marlon Brando (JUAREZ, VIVA ZAPATA) would be expunged from sight if these fanatics had their way, and the fact that M.G.M. saw fit to release these films in completely uncut form speaks well of them indeed.
The fact that these six titles (CHARLIE CHAN IN THE SECRET SERVICE, THE CHINESE CAT, THE JADE MASK, MEETING AT MIDNIGHT, THE SCARLET CLUE, and THE SHANGHAI COBRA) are clearly ultra-low budget Monogram mysteries doesn't detract from their quaint charm one iota. Quite the contrary. The very slap-dash nature of these films is downright ingratiating, and endlessly amusing.
A far greater mystery than any contained in all six films is how M.G.M managed to come up with such uniformly excellent full-screen black and white transfers for such relatively obscure material. Each transfer is sharp and dirt and distortion free, and the hiss-free monaural sound is more than up to the job.(They equalled this accomplishment last year with their similarly fine transfer for Anthony Mann's great HE WALKED BY NIGHT.)
An affectionate doff of the cap to M.G.M. for not bowing to potential pressure and allowing these films to be seen in their original form. And in such good shape.
-- DICK DINMAN