Here’s a film with a troubled history. Screenwriter Robert Towne had his name taken off it and replaced with that of his dog, P H Vazak, who subsequently got nominated for an Oscar. Andie MacDowell’s voice was dubbed by Glenn Close. But it’s a surprisingly well-remembered movie, despite not being a big success.
Just before the film starts, there’s a ten second clip of Les Dawson.
Then recording switches to the BBC1 logo and the movie. Right away, you get the sense that the epic vistas in the film might not be being preserved in this broadcast.
This is the full 4:3 frame – I’ve not cropped any of the visible picture. This is how it was broadcast. Unfortunately, the film isn’t available on any of the streaming sites I use, so I can’t compare it with a better transfer, but I’m fairly sure it didn’t look like this in cinemas.
Weirdly, they went for a letterbox for the main titles, so I don’t know why the opening logo was so badly treated.
The TV reception on this recording is fairly bad too, with lots of ghosting.
The true star of Greystoke is Rick Baker, who did all of the ape makeup and suits. It’s all brilliant, and the only flaws come from having to have human-shaped performers inside. Mostly it gets away with it by having them crouching, so the proportions aren’t so noticeable, but occasionally you can tell it’s a bloke in a suit, albeit a beautifully made suit.
Apart from a brief prologue showing Tarzan’s parents going on their expedition, and introducing Ralph Richardson as the grandfather, the first half hour of the film is wordless. The young Tarzan is played by several young actors as he grows up around the apes, and all dialogue is grunts and shrieks. It’s a lot like 2001’s Dawn of Man sequence.
Then, another western expedition appears, led by Ian Holm sporting the most ludicrous accent since the rude French knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s a Belgian accent, which might explain it, and for all I know, it might be spot on, but it sounds silly. However, Holm is a bit of a badass. When the group is attacked by locals with bows and arrows, the rest of them either die or run, but he stands firm, and it shot in the back with an arrow.
Rather than dying, he has to take out the arrow, but it’s barbed, so to remove it he pushes it through his whole abdomen and removes it from the front.
It’s Holm who discovers the now adult Tarzan, now played by the then new Christopher Lambert, and he teaches him to speak, which handily explains Lambert’s gallic accent.
Watching the film again, I’m reminded why I didn’t much like it the first time. It’s populated almost entirely by horrible people. Holm and Tarzan’s grandfather Ralph Richardson are about the only people here you can like. Everyone else is a bog-standard upper class twit, painting colonial Britain in the worst possible light. Whilst this might be historically accurate, it doesn’t make it easy to enjoy the film.
It doesn’t really perk up until Tarzan (which he’s never called in the film, but which is his name, so there) is returned to England, where he unnerves everybody, and generally doesn’t fit in. Only MacDowell’s Jane and Richardson’s grandfather seem to even like him.
Ralph Richardson suffers the oddest character death I’ve seen in a while. Earlier in the film, apropos of nothing, he tells Tarzan that he used to enjoy going down the long stairs of the house on a tea tray. And later in the film, during a dinner party, he leaves the guests and decides he’d like to try it again one more time which, for a man of his advancing years, is a very bad idea indeed. This is, I believe, the only example in cinema of Chekov’s Tea Tray.
In a slightly unlikely piece of symmetry, during the opening of the Greystoke wing of the Natural History Museum, Tarzan find his ape father locked in a cage in a back room, and frees him to gambol around the Albert memorial, before the old ape is shot dead by a guardsman, because it’s just not on to have apes climbing trees in polite society.
Having lost both father figures, Tarzan decides to return to Africa. Jane doesn’t go with him, so we are denied the sight of Andie MacDowell in a fur bikini a la Raquel Welch.
It’s a brave attempt to do a serious Tarzan film, but I think that seriousness somehow misses the pulp origins of the story, and a much more popular film could have been made of Tarzan swinging around the rooftops of London solving crimes, or something.
This is why I don’t work in Hollywood.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 12th July 1991 – 21:30
After the film, there’s a trailer for Murder In Eden.
Then, the start of a movie, Dying Room Only. It’s written by Richard Matheson, so it might be good. But there’s only abut 20 minutes of it here.
Underneath this recording is an older recording – some football or other. It is Christmas, though.
There’s maybe 15 minutes of this before the tape ends.