TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD
(US - 1966)
Directed by Robert Day. Written by Clair Huffaker. Cast: Mike Henry, David Opatoshu, Manuel Padilla Jr, Nancy Kovack, Don Megowan, Enrique Lucero, Edwardo Noriega, Carlos Rivas. (Unrated, 90 mins)
TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD was the first of three films in former NFL linebacker Mike Henry's little-loved tenure as the iconic character. Henry stepped into the role after Jock Mahoney's ill-fated two-film stint in TARZAN GOES TO INDIA (1962) and TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES (1963). While on location in Thailand shooting the lavish THREE CHALLENGES, Mahoney came down with malaria, dysentery, dengue fever, and pneumonia. He became so deathly ill that his 50 lb weight loss and haggard, sickly appearance in some sections of the movie contrasted too sharply with his muscular, healthy look in scenes that were shot early in the production, making his illness a glaring distraction to moviegoers. A remarkably tough Mahoney (a veteran Hollywood stuntman-turned-actor and stepfather of Sally Field at the time he was playing Tarzan) somehow managed to finish the film but it took him nearly two years to fully recover and he gave no consideration to returning to the role. Henry became the new Tarzan after just-retired New York Giants RB Frank Gifford turned it down, opting to go into broadcasting instead of acting. Henry, himself a recent NFL retiree after seven-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Rams, made for a dull Tarzan, though his physique is arguably the most impressive of any actor to portray the Lord of the Apes, certainly better than those late 1940s entries when an over-40 Johnny Weissmuller was visibly holding in his gut. Henry, a longtime buddy of Burt Reynolds, would fare better in a supporting role in THE LONGEST YARD and as Jackie Gleason's dim-witted son in the SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT movies, but VALLEY OF GOLD, helmed by TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES director Robert Day, is generally regarded as the best of his three Tarzan outings, shot back-to-back in 1965 but released from 1966 to 1968. Obviously inspired by the global James Bond phenomenon, this series reboot--which could just as easily be titled TARZAN 007--takes a while to get the hero in his customary loincloth after he's introduced arriving in contemporary Mexico City by helicopter, sporting a suit and carrying a briefcase before he's ambushed in a shootout at the Plaza de Toros bullfighting arena (this is a mostly cheap-looking film, but all the money was spent on some impressive location shooting in Mexico City and Acapulco; the climax takes place at the famed Teotihuacan ruins) where he offs his assailant by rolling a giant promotional Coke bottle over him. The main plot involves megalomaniacal Bond-esque villain Vinero (David Opatoshu)--with the mandatory hulking, Oddjob-style henchman in the form of Mr. Train (Don Megowan)--hunting down young Ramel (Manuel Padilla, Jr), a local village boy who knows the location of the mythical Valley of Gold, home to untold riches and treasure.
Closer in spirit to 007 than Tarzan (starting with the jazzy score and the DR. NO-looking opening credits), VALLEY OF GOLD also has Vinero offing his nemeses with gimmicky bombs hidden inside small articles of jewelry, like exploding rings and necklaces. It's all pretty silly (Tarzan even commandeers a tank at one point), and other than the location work, it looks really chintzy, especially with some badly integrated stock footage of wildlife used for reaction shots to the constant antics of Tarzan's sidekick Dinky the Chimp, apparently filling in for a vacationing Cheeta (starting with 1959's TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE, the Jane character was dropped from the franchise). Henry reportedly hated playing Tarzan--a sentiment probably not helped when a returning Dinky bit him on the chin while shooting the next film, 1967's TARZAN AND THE GREAT RIVER, leading to surgery on Henry's face and the rambunctious Dinky being euthanized and a new chimp brought in--and by the time VALLEY OF GOLD hit screens in 1966, he had three TARZANs in the can (TARZAN AND THE JUNGLE BOY finally hit theaters in 1968, three years after it was shot) and walked away, bailing on a TARZAN television series he'd committed to earlier. Ron Ely ended up starring in TARZAN, which aired on NBC from 1966 to 1968, with several episodes edited into a couple of new quickie cash-grab movies. Henry would be the last big-screen Tarzan until Miles O'Keeffe was cast in 1981's TARZAN THE APE MAN.