Action Adventure movies

APPOINTMENT IN HONDURAS. RKO, 1953. Glenn Ford, Ann Sheridan, Zachary Scott, Rodolfo Acosta, Jack Elam, Ric Roman, Rico Alaniz. Director: Jacques Tourneur.

   Mostly a mediocre film, I regret to report. Perhaps I was expecting more, which sometimes happens. Glenn Ford plays a passenger on a ship making its way along the eastern coast of Central America. He’s a man on a mission, a mission that needs his presence (an whatever is in his money belt) in Honduras, where a revolution has just taken place. When the captain of the boat refuses to make landfall, Ford releases a gang of prisoners on board, and in return they take a married couple on the ship along as hostages.

   The couple (Ann Sheridan and Zachary Scott) are married but not happily so. He is a weak man but also a wealthy one. As we discover as the movie goes along, we gradually realize that she was aware of his first quality when she married him, but the second one compensated for that flaw considerably.

   Until she meets Glenn Ford. As this group of very disparate strangers makes their way through the jungle, complete with pythons, pumas and tiger fish, more than a fight for survival is going on. You’d think that a steamy romance would ensue, but as a romance, it’s not all that steamy. Glenn Ford was a master at portraying a man with something simmering inside, and so it is here, and we get the feeling that his mission is more important to him than whatever Ann Sheridan would like to have develop between the two of them.

   Do you know, I don’t think I knew that Ann Sheridan had red hair before. Why, when she was younger, did they always seem to cast her in black-and-white movies? One of the great unsolved mysteries of the film world.

   I am also not a big fan of Jacques Tourneur. I’m sure that this is not one of the films that made his reputation, but even in his best-known films, while I find the stories extremely well filmed and choreographed, I find the movies themselves do not often make a coherent whole. So it is here. There’s a lot of mystery going on, and there isn’t. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it does to me.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:

UNTAMED MISTRESS. Howco/Joseph Brenner Associates, 1956. Allan Nixon, Jacqueline Fontaine, John Martin and Cliff Taylor. Written, produced and directed by Ron Ormond.

   This is planned as the first in a series of reviews that will include Untamed Women and Love Slaves of the Amazon, but we shall see ….

   Meanwhile, if you’ve never heard of Ron Ormond, the auteur of Untamed Mistress, there are some very entertaining articles about him on the web. Suffice it to say here that he was a vaudeville magician turned huckster, who turned filmmaker when he hooked up with Lash LaRue after PRC folded, propagating the Lash mystique in eleven ultra-cheap westerns between 1948 and 1952. Ormond branched out into Sci-Fi with Mesa of Lost Women in 1953, then hit the Southern Drive-In Big-Time with the jungle-fantasy/soft-porn Untamed Mistress.

   There’s an interesting defense of this film on IMDb (written by Ormond’s son, I think) citing the fact that Mistress packed drive-ins throughout the South. As I got into the movie, it was easy to see why, but more on that later; the origins of Untamed Mistress constitute a story all their own.

   It seems Ormond got into some sort of partnership with Howco, and emerged with rights to a movie called The Black Panther, starring Sabu — most of the rights, anyway; he just couldn’t use any of the scenes with Sabu actually in them.

   So with about 20 minutes of jungle movie to make a feature from, Ormond next acquired some non-professional footage of someone’s trip to Africa. It didn’t really match the other film, and there was no thematic relationship between the two, but hey: one was a jungle movie and the other was shot in Africa, wasn’t it?

   It was enough for a filmmaker of Ormond’s unique talents. He got a few actors together (including Allan Nixon, whose real life was every bit as chaotic as this film, and a good deal more interesting) and cobbled together a story about two brothers (Nixon and John Martin) who mount a smallish expedition to solve the mystery of Velda (Jacqueline Fontaine) Martin’s intended bride, who may have a Gorilla for an ex-husband.

   And here we see one of the reasons for Untamed’s success: Ormond’s advertising all but promised savage sex, and for its time this was a pretty daring item, mainly because the filmed-in-Africa footage was mostly of topless women dancing about in tribal rituals. And yes, in the 1950s, in the South, you could get away with this if the women were black. In fact, for a scene depicting home life in the “Gorilla Colony” Ormond simply hired three African-American strippers and had them dance around in front of a few men in bad gorilla suits.

   Okay, so in terms of Plot, we’ve got about 20 minutes of story about a maharajah on safari who can’t find any game because all the local fauna are under the protection of a mysterious Jungle Lord called Sabu, who never actually comes into the movie at all. The scene shifts (uncomfortably) the Maharajah is attacked by a gorilla and rescued by Velda, the mysterious jungle girl who looks a lot like Jane Russell in The Outlaw. The scene shifts again, the maharajah, now old and dying, issues a warning about Velda being irresistibly drawn to the Apes, and passes on a cursed jewel and a shrunken head that flies — no kidding.

   Next we get another 20 minutes of the mini-expedition walking around and around the same trees in the woods behind somebody’s back yard, occasionally stopping to react to mismatched stock footage, the whole thing narrated voice-over by Nixon in a valiant but futile attempt to tie it all together. Eventually the stock footage segues into about 20 minutes of breast-bouncing before we get back to the story and find Velda has got herself carried off by gorillas while we were ogling the local talent. Our heroes charge off to the rescue and find a whole tribe of gorillas and their wiling brides.

   I have to say the ending of this surprised me. It isn’t particularly good, and it was probably the result of simply running out of film, but it did startle me out of a state of slack-jawed disbelief. For the rest, Untamed Mistress is a joy for lovers of Old-Fashioned Bad Movies, and fans of this dubious genre shouldn’t miss it.

   This is one for the books. This is Steve. Two days after my son Jonathan wrote up a review of this movie, I received an email from Dan Stumpf containing his comments on the same films. So here you are. Two reviews of Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, totally independently of each other, two for the price of one. I’ll let Dan go first.

TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE. Paramount, 1959. Gordon Scott, Anthony Quayle, Sara Shane, Niall MacGinnis, Sean Connery, Al Mulock and Scilla Gabel. Written by Berne Giler and John Guillermin. Directed by John Guillermin.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:

   Well maybe it is.

   I recall vividly and pleasantly seeing this as a kid when it first came out, and realizing even then that it had almost everything anyone could want in a Tarzan picture: quicksand, alligators (or were they crocodiles?) spiders, fights, vine-swinging and the Tarzan yell, as stirring in its own way as the Lone Ranger theme music. The only serious omission was a guy in a gorilla suit, but producer Sy Weintraub was going for a more Adult approach (if you can call any Tarzan movie “adult”) and, perhaps wisely, decided to dispense with the gorilla-fighting.

   The result is a tougher fantasy, less pre-adolescent and more … well, more adolescent if you will. Greatest even includes obvious lust from the bad guys for their boss’s sexy mistress and a discreet fade-out when Tarzan and the heroine embrace in the jungle. The action is considerably grittier here, with some memorably grisly death scenes, but the main distinction of Greatest is the time it takes with the bad guys.

   Said nasties are played by a cast worth taking the time for. Anthony Quayle and Niall MacGinnis were both in Olivier’s Hamlet ten years earlier; Al Mulock is less well known perhaps, but I remember him fondly as the bad guy who gets the first close-up in The Good the Bad & the Ugly; and Sean Connery….

   … well that makes for another interesting footnote: At one point in this movie Connery is cheerfully hunting down Tarzan in the jungle, and our hero is almost undone when a tarantula starts crawling up his leg. A few years later, Connery was promoted to Tarantula-Turf in Dr. No. Such are the vagaries of movie heroism.

    Director John Guillermin (who did my favorite PI flick of the 1960s, PJ) handles all this with speed and economy, pausing just long enough for the moments of character development without slackening the pace, and gracing the action scenes with fast tracking shots and evocative angles. Best of all, he seems to have a real feel for the Tarzan ethos: a man of few words and much courage; a man basically civilized but given to savage cries of challenge and triumph. In short, the Lord of the Jungle, perfectly evoked in a colorful package.


   If any action movie is deserving of critical reappraisal and a reintroduction to movie fans, it’s Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, a truly gripping feature from start to finish. Directed by John Guillermin, this grim and violent Tarzan film isn’t kids’ stuff. Filmed in glorious Eastman Color and on location in Africa, Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure has far more in common with the gritty, taut Westerns of auteurs Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann, than it does with the earlier black and white, filmed on set, Tarzan programmers.

   Now I’ll be the first one to admit that muscleman Gordon Scott wasn’t the finest of actors and that his portrayal of a noticeably more loquacious Ape Man is certainly adequate and gets the job done, but is hardly ranked among the greatest acting moments in cinema.

   But it works, for Scott’s Tarzan is effective as a brooding, strong silent type. With a bit more vocabulary and a hat and a gun belt, could have easily blended in quite nicely in a dusty Old West frontier town. He’s the type of man you could imagine getting caught up in a range war. There’s a lot less “man of the jungle” in this celluloid rendition of Tarzan than in those clunky, if not charming and innocent, RKO movies starring Lex Barker as the eponymous title character.

   The plot is elegant in its simplicity. Our protagonist, sans Jane (who isn’t featured in the movie at all, let alone mentioned), takes to his canoe and sets out after a gang of criminals responsible for murder and the theft of explosives. The outlaw gang is living on a houseboat and heading upriver to an abandoned mine in the hopes of finding diamonds and striking it rich.

   Helming this outfit of misfits and lowlifes is a dangerous sociopath named Slade (an exceptionally well cast Anthony Quayle). Among his henchmen are Dino, a former convict (Al Mulock); O’Bannion, a jovial trigger-happy scoundrel (a pre-James Bond Sean Connery); and Kruger, a serpentine Dutch diamond expert of dubious loyalty (Niall MacGinnis). Along for the ride – literally – is Toni, a sunbathing beauty (Italian actress Scilla Gabel).

   Like all criminals, and particularly like those stuck together in cramped quarters, this group is prone to not only mischief, but also toward turning on one another. Some of the movies most memorable scenes involve the fall out of one or more of the criminal group betraying another member in ways both big and small.

   As time goes on, Tarzan’s pursuit of the gang becomes less about these particular criminals and more about his need to enforce his own personal code of honor. He realizes that the outlaws need to be eradicated from his jungle home, for if they were to stay, they’d taint it with their presence.

   In many ways, the movie is less an adventure yarn and more about Tarzan’s psychological quest to rid his home of these unwelcome intruders. Romance and levity play little part in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, a visually bright but emotionally dark film that seems to affirm Burke’s notion, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Suffice it to say, Tarzan chooses to not do nothing. And then some.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         

THE YELLOW ONE. CCC Filmkunst, Germany, 1964. Originally released in West Germany as Der Schut; also released in the US as The Shoot and Yellow Devil. Lex Barker, Maria Versini, Rolf Wolter, Rik Battlaglia, Marianne Hold, Friedrich von Ledebur, Pierre Fromont, Dusan Janicijevic, Dieter Borsche, Chris Howland. Screenplay Georg Marischka and (uncredited) Robert Siodmak, based on the novel by Karl May. Directed by Robert Siodmak.

   If you ever wondered what a Lone Ranger movie set in the Balkans would be like this Old Eastern is your movie. Lex Barker, who played beloved German author Karl May’s hero, Old Surehand, in a series of Westerns about Apache chief Winnetou with Pierre Brice, sails for the old world and the Balkans here as Old Surehand’s Middle Eastern incarnation (it’s the same character) Kara Ben Nemsi (variously Karl the German or Karl Blackbeard) author May’s stand in.

   Based on the last of a five novel sequence that began with In The Desert and known as the Oriental Odyssey (yes, I know it isn’t what we mean by the Orient and the term Oriental is considered derogatory today), Der Schut or The Shoot and sometimes The Yellow One, brings to a close Kara Ben Nemsi’s sojourn through the Ottoman Empire with an action-packed fight to the death with a master criminal known as der Shut who he has seen traces of throughout his Mid East adventures.

   Nirwan (Rik Battaglia) a wealthy merchant approaches Sir David Lindsey (Dieter Borsche) and his man Archie (Chris Howland) on Sir David’s yacht when he makes port in Albania to ask his help to rescue journalist Henri Galingre (Pierre Fromont) held captive by der Schut and help the interior region of the Skipetars, Albanian Muslims, escape the oppressive reign of terror of the mysterious kidnaper der Schut, and naturally Sir David turns to his friend Kara Ben Nemsi and hadji Halef (Lex Barker and Rolf Wolter), his servant, to join the quest.

   The comical Sir David and his servant are recurring characters in the novels who at various times either complicate the action or inadvertently help things along depending on their level of incompetence.

   Karl May was a beloved German storyteller who survived tragedy and a criminal past to write uplifting books that became beloved young adult literature. His Winnetou and Old Surehand books inspired Indian Clubs like the Boy Scouts that popped up all over Europe, and his admirers include as diverse a readership as Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Herman Hesse, Henrik Siekiewicz (the great Polish national novelist, author of Quo Vadis and his own attempt at a Karl May book Into The Desert) and Adolph Hitler.

   May’s philosophy can be found in his autobiography and in his allegorical novel Ardijistan and Djistan but shines through in his avatar, the moral and stalwart Kara Ben Nemsi/Old Surehand who can best be described as a cross between Superman, James Bond, Indiana Jones, the Lone Ranger, Davy Crockett, and Jesus Christ.

   Kara Ben Nemsi first appeared in German cinema in the silent era then again in the late thirties and the nineteen fifties, and again in the sixties with two outings starring Lex Barker and Rolf Wolter, this and Durch Wilde der Kurdistan. There was also a serialized German television series adapting the Kara Ben Nemsi novels, some episodes of which can be seen in German on YouTube. May’s books certainly contributed to the popularity of Eastern themes in German popular literature and cinema that includes the original Kismet, Joe May’s serial The Indian Tomb, and Fritz Lang’s dyptich remaking the serial in 1958.

   Wolter also appeared with Barker in two non Winnetou Westerns based on May’s works (and reviewed here) all directed by Robert Siodmak (Phantom Lady, The Spiral Staircase) brother of writer Curt Siodmak (Donovan’s Brain and the screenplay for The Wolfman) who, like Fritz Lang, returned to his homeland late in his career. Wolter was a popular character actor perhaps best known here for his role in Cabaret as Lisa Minneli and Michael York’s clueless fellow boarder who represented the German’s people failure to comprehend what was happening in their country.

   Kara Ben Nemsi and Halef are joined by Omar (Dusan Janicijevc) whose wife Tschita (Maria Versini) has been kidnaped by der Schut and by the wife of kidnaped Henri Galigre, Annette (Marianne Hold) in their quest, hampered by the fact der Schut knows they are coming and has laid traps for them along the way.

   Kara and Halef free a village from the heavy hand of der Schut’s man the Mubarek (Friedrich von Neidbhur, Queequeg in John Huston’s Moby Dick, a nobleman who liked to dabble in acting), and in typical Karl May plotting style, just about all of the heroes are captured and escape multiple times learning a bit here and there as they go and trimming down the numbers of the opposition. Whatever aspirations the books may have the plotting is pure pulp adventure revealing their origins as serialized novels.

   Like the Winnetou films these are handsome productions shot on location in gorgeous widescreen color with large casts and numerous well done set pieces that here vary from being ambushed from above on a barge, an attack by an escaped bear, being dragged behind a fleeing wagon, trapped in a burning house surrounded by the enemy, hand to hand combat, daring escapes, speeding horses, the cavalry coming to the rescue, well at least the Turkish cavalry, and Kara Ben Nemsi and Halef’s deadly marksmanship, though you might question why the film needs quite so much comic relief (Halef, Sir David, and the servant Archie) and notice almost exactly the same actors are in all the Barker films (Battaglia must have tired of being killed by Barker after four outings) and Old Albania looks a lot like the Old West.

   Barker, not the most expressive of actors, even gets a dramatic scene where he weeps when his beloved horse is killed before he walks off into the sunset, I suppose to return to the Old West and Winnetou (though the latter is killed in the books). At least some of the books carry Kara/Old Surehand around the world in adventures though those were never filmed. Anyway it is one of the few times you will see Barker exhibit any emotion in a film other than stalwart heroics are mild bemusement save for his outing as Q Patrick’s Peter Duluth in The Female Fiends.

   This one does exist in a dubbed English version though the German version available on YouTube is free and a fine handsome print. Once you know the plot you won’t miss a lot since the story is pretty straight forward right down to der Schut’s jealous wife who helps Tschita escape. My German is atrocious and it has been years since I read the book, but I had no problem following the plot or what was being said.

   This is old-fashioned movie making, a Western with burnooses instead of war feathers and turbans and fez rather than buckskins and ten gallon hats. The cast is competent, the action well choreographed, cinematography and direction both well above the average, and the Saturday matinee style plot well executed. It’s actually quite a bit of fun, though I still haven’t quite figured out what the Lone Ranger and Tonto were in Albania for in the first place.


HERO AND THE TERROR. Golan-Globus Productions/Cannon Films, 1988. Chuck Norris, Brynn Thayer, Steve James, Jack O’Halloran, Jeffrey Kramer, Ron O’Neal. Based on the novel by Michael Blodgett. Director: William Tannen.

   Chuck Norris shows his sensitive side in this somewhat effective, although hardly outstanding, Cannon Films thriller. Indeed, there’s enough suspense in Hero and The Terror to keep the viewer engaged with what turns out to be a rather formulaic story about a cop determined to stop a deranged serial killer.

   Norris portrays Danny O’Brien, a Los Angeles cop nicknamed “Hero.” O’Brien, who is as much a brooder as a fighter, is haunted by nightmares stemming from the time in which he successfully apprehended a notorious serial killer named Sam Moon (Jack O’Halloran). Moon, who doesn’t speak a word in the entire movie, is known as “The Terror.” And it’s not difficult to understand why. He’s less of a serial killer in the cop drama sense than some sort of hulking, supernatural evil. What are his motivations? We never learn.

   Time has passed and O’Brien is now in a relationship with his therapist, Kay (Brynn Thayer) and trying to move on with his life. But reality intrudes and intrudes hard. Turns out that The Terror might have successfully escaped from a mental institution and resumed his nefarious activities. So it’s up to O’Brien to once and for all exercise his demons and to stop The Terror. There aren’t too many surprises in this story, but it’s kind of mindless fun to see Norris shed his ultra tough guy persona for a little while.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF

TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT. Paramount, US/UK, 1960. Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney, Betta St. John, John Carradine, Lionel Jeffries. Written by Berne Giler and Robert Day, based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs Director: Robert Day.

   Basically a Western transposed to Africa, with Gordon Scott instead of Randolph, but fun in its way.

   The Tarzan of Magnificent isn’t the solipsistic jungle man of the early Tarzan films, but more like a Lone Ranger of the bush, going about rescuing folks and catching evildoers, and the plot gets moving when Tarzan (Gordon Scott) captures killer Coy Banton (Jock Mahoney) of the notorious Banton Gang, and tries to bring him to justice, as they say. The Lord of the Apes gets his prisoner to a smallish village, but it seems everyone there has seen High Noon and refuses to help him for fear of reprisal from the Banton Gang, which is headed by patriarch John Carradine, in the manner of Lee J. Cobb in Man of the West.

   Nothing daunted, Tarzan decides to escort his prisoner across the prairie –er— I mean through the jungle, knowing the gang will be dogging his heels and accompanied by a disparate group of hangers-on: shades of Ride Lonesome, or maybe The Naked Spur. There’s some interesting cross-cutting between the good guys and the baddies as the characters try to work out their personal issues along the way, sundry encounters with the local fauna, and a would-be dramatic bit where one of Tarzan’s party turns out to be an ex-doctor who rallies himself to save a life — Stagecoach, anyone?

   All this of course is just filler leading up to the final confrontation between Tarzan and Coy Banton, and when that moment finally arrives, it doesn’t disappoint; we get a lengthy, brutal and highly entertaining hand-to-hand battle between the protagonists across jungle, rocks, waterfalls and what-have-you, and while the outcome is never in doubt, the players and their stuntmen make it well worth your time.

   By and large however, Tarzan the Magnificent isn’t in the same league as any classic western; it’s a nice try and something a bit different, but the writing and directing just ain’t there. And as for the acting…. Well one doesn’t go to Tarzan movies for the acting, but Lionel Jeffries does well in an unrewarding role, Jock Mahoney projects a virile menace, and John Carradine is his reliable self. I just couldn’t help wishing Gordon Scott had a little less dialogue.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

TREASURE ISLAND. National General Pictures, US, 1972. Filmed in Spain with a Spanish crew. Orson Welles, Kim Burfield, Lionel Stander, Walter Slezak, Ángel del Pozo, Rik Battaglia. Directors: Andrea Bianchi (as Andrew White), John Hough (English language version), Antonio Margheriti.

   I had somewhat high hopes for Treasure Island, but I probably should have known better. It’s probably one of Orson Welles’ least known films and it’s most certainty that way for a reason. Produced by Harry Alan Towers, this somewhat genial, but ultimately unsatisfying adventure yarn based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel features the legendary Welles as Long John Silver.

   Welles, whose pirate voice may or may not have been dubbed by another actor, grunts and slurs his way through this plodding affair. Even Walter Slezak, who ordinarily is a standout actor, falls somewhat flat – pun intended, if you’ve seen the movie – as Squire Trelawney.

   Young actor Kim Burfield, who portrays Jim Hawkins, is somewhat more of a presence, portraying the narrator/protagonist with wide- eyed charm and glee. Jim’s sense of wonder and excitement is, at the end of the day, what propels this somewhat tired affair. But to no avail. Overall, the movie leaves the viewer with the distinct impression that at another time, with another director, Welles really could have thrived and shined as the legendary fictional pirate cook.

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