Last month, in La Antigua, Guatemala, I went to an exhibit of historic photographs where Elizabeth Bell, was to (in Spanish) give an introduction. My Spanish is iffy but I have a great fondness of beautiful La Antigua and Guatemala, so I was looking forward to seeing early photographs of that ancient city long before it became the tourist destination and world community retirement center it is now. Imagine my surprise when the Professor proposed to start the presentation with a movie: Tarzan and the Green Goddess, the 1938 production staring Bruce Bennett. Tarzan? Really? To understand the connection you can check it out for yourself on YouTube (use image above as link). It’s posted there in full length and for free.
As it turns out the film was shot in Guatemala, with many of the Mayan Temple scenes completed in the various Antigua church ruins, which are the result of earthquake and volcanic activity from several centuries back. As accessible as Mayan ruins in Guatemala are now, one can only imagine how inaccessible they must have been at that time when Hollywood came calling upon them. In addition to the many shots of buildings still identifiable to visitors today to that one time Capital of Central America, Tarzan chases the bad guys through miles and miles of wonderful, healthy Guatemalan jungle. The monkeys, birds, and crocodiles are natives. The lions, rhinos, and elephants among other obviously African natives we shall have to put down to artistic license.
In addition to an eighty-year look back at Antigua in particular and Guatemala in general I enjoyed Tarzan as played by Bruce Bennett (still using his birth name Herman Brix at the time). Our hero was a tall, fit, handsome man who in my opinion looked better in his loincloth than Johnny Weissmuller. If only Tarzan had not consistently jumped singled handed into increasingly large crowds of villains, not ever coming out of it all that well. He gets beat up a lot. Of course we have to understand that the film directed by Edward Kull, is really a combination of the 1935 serial episodes cut together. There’s a cliffhanger crisis every five to ten minutes.
There are a number of uncredited writers and producers that worked on the film including Edgar Rice Burroughs himself. As far as the acting goes it’s not bad for a serial. And the plot, well, it’s exactly what one expects: secret codes, a silly sidekick, and a beautiful woman who frankly does not seem to find herself in peril nearly as much as the over confident hero. I would love to know how she is racing through the jungle one moment wearing tipica (native dress) with not so much as a bolso (purse), and in the next scene is dressed like any well-heeled 1930s damsel ready for a sea cruise. More of that artistic license I suppose.
If you are a Tarzan fan you will enjoy this piece of quaint escapism. Of course, Bennett’s yell doesn’t meet up to Carol Burnett’s, but them none of them do. And, did I mention, Bruce Bennett looks really good in that loincloth?