Tarzan's Greatest Adventure

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Tarzan's Greatest Adventure
Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (movie poster).jpg
Directed by John Guillermin
Written by Bernie Giler
John Guillermin
Story by Les Crutchfield
Based onCharacters created
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Produced by Sy Weintraub
Harvey Hayutin
Starring Gordon Scott
Anthony Quayle
Sara Shane
Niall MacGinnis
Sean Connery
Scilla Gabel
Cinematography Ted Scaife
Edited by Bert Rule
Music by Douglas Gamley
Solar Films
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • July 8, 1959 (1959-07-08)(New York City)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$750,000 [1]
Box office$1 million (est. US/Canada rentals) [2]

Tarzan's Greatest Adventure is a 1959 Eastmancolor adventure film directed by John Guillermin, produced by Sy Weintraub and Harvey Hayutin, and written by Les Crutchfield, based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. With a strong supporting cast that included Anthony Quayle and Sean Connery, and a focus on action and suspense, the film won critical praise as a Tarzan film that appealed to adults as well as children.


The film features a literate Tarzan portrayed by Gordon Scott. The character of Jane, Tarzan's wife, does not appear and is not mentioned. At one point, Tarzan briefly romances a female character, suggesting that he is a loner, not a family man. Cheeta, Tarzan's chimp companion in many films, appears only a few times near the start of the film, and the kind of comic relief that Cheeta represents is generally absent from the film. [3]


During the night the village of Mantu is raided for its supply of dynamite by what appear to be black Africans. The village doctor and radio operator interrupt the robbery and are fatally shot. Before dying, the radio operator gasps, "Slade" over the shortwave radio.

The next morning, Tarzan is awakened by African drums that alert him to something wrong. He arrives at Mantu, where a funeral is held for the fallen villagers. British police inspector Colonel Sundley informs Tarzan of the previous raid and that root dye was found. This leads Tarzan to believe that the robbers were "white men painted black" rather than black Africans. Tarzan meets Angie, a self-absorbed American model and pilot. Tarzan knows her manager, Sanchez, and immediately dislikes her manner. However Angie does tell him that she overheard the name "Slade" on her airplane radio. Tarzan remembers a "Slade" as "a man with a passion to kill"; a ruthless criminal who once sacrificed three men rather than lose the hunt for a prized rogue elephant.

After dropping off his pet chimpanzee Cheeta at his tree-house, Tarzan heads up river by canoe to catch Slade and his gang. Along the way Tarzan sees Angie's plane. She taunts him with low flyovers. But her Cesna engine stalls, and Angie crashes into the river. Tarzan saves her from a crocodile but thereafter can't leave her stranded, so he continues the hunt with Angie alongside.

Meanwhile, Slade and his quartet of thieves (consisting of the sullen ex-con Dino, the drunkard O'Bannion, an implied ex-Nazi Kreiger, and Slade's Italian girlfriend, Toni) continue by riverboat towards what is revealed to be a secret diamond mine. The dynamite was stolen for excavating the gems. When their riverboat malfunctions the thieves begin to quarrel among themselves, allowing Tarzan and Angie to catch up. O'Bannion's teases Dino to the point of Dino trying to kill him. But during a chase, Dino stumbles into quicksand and drowns. The criminals find their boat riddled with arrows, a signal that Tarzan has tracked them down. Slade and O'Bannion disembark, while Kreiger hurls dynamite at Tarzan, wounding him. Tarzan manages to kill O'Bannion, but Slade closes in. With Slade gone, Kreiger believes he can coerce Toni into telling him where the diamond mine is and tries to eliminate Slade. Slade survives Kreiger's attempt, pummels him into submission, and continues with Toni towards the mine.

Tarzan's injuries require Angie to tend to him, she comforts him and then risks her life to steal medical supplies from Slade's anchored boat. Angie is captured by Slade, who uses her to lure Tarzan into a trap. With Slade absent, Kreiger sees another chance, he frees Angie and tells her to inform Tarzan where they are. Toni overhears Kreiger and flees to warn Slade, but she accidentally falls to her death through the trap door pit meant for Tarzan. Kreiger convinces Slade that Toni was frightened by a passing lion, and the men continue toward the diamond mine. Once inside, Kreiger confirms that it is a mother lode of diamonds. However Slade is more interested in killing Tarzan than in the gems. Kreiger tries to push Slade down a pit to his death and almost succeeds, but Slade survives. He confronts Kreiger, who offers him all the diamonds he has so far collected if he will let him go, but Slade is unmoved and drops Kreiger down the pit to his death.

Tarzan is nursed back to health by Angie, and they engage in an off-screen romance. Afterwards, Tarzan continues to be obsessed with capturing Slade, much to the displeasure of Angie. "Why don't you just leave him to the jungle?" she argues. Tarzan replies, "this is where I belong", explaining further that to allow Slade to escape would endanger everyone. He thanks Angie for her help, then grabs a vine and swings away for a final confrontation with Slade.

From high atop a river bluff, Slade fires rifle shots that intentionally miss Tarzan but allows him to know where Slade is. Tarzan scales the sheer bluff, setting up the final melee both men long for. At first Slade gets the upper hand by lassoing Tarzan with his wire noose. But eventually Tarzan's superior strength and endurance wins out, and Tarzan pushes Slade over the edge of the cliff onto the rocks below.

Tarzan bellows his famous yell, runs to a pool, and gazes upon his reflection triumphantly. The sound of Slade's riverboat distracts Tarzan. He hurries to the cliff again, only this time to see Angie below, steering the boat back to Mantu. Tarzan hesitates, considering joining her. But he looks back at the jungle, realizes that's where he belongs, and returns instead to his tree-house and Cheeta.


Production notes

The Tarzan films had been produced by Sol Lesser since Tarzan Triumphs (1943). In April 1958 Lesser sold his company, including the rights to the Tarzan films, to Sy Weintraub for a reported $3.5 million. [4] [5]

Gordon Scott had played Tarzan for the four previous films in the series under Lesser: Tarzan's Hidden Jungle (1955), Tarzan and the Lost Safari (1957), Tarzan and the Trappers (1958), and Tarzan's Fight for Life (1958). In July 1958 he announced he would not return as Tarzan, refusing to sign an exclusive contract. Weintraub said he would find a new Tarzan. [6]

In September 1958 Weintraub announced he had signed a two picture deal with Paramount Pictures to make two Tarzan films. The films would be shot on location and the first one would be called Tarzan's World Adventure. [7] They were still looking for an actor to replace Scott. [8] In October the producers announced Theodore B. Sillis had signed to direct. [9] In November Hedda Hopper reported that Weintraub, unable to find a new Tarzan, has signed a seven year deal with Scott to play the role. [10] [11]

The producer decided to make a different style of film. Tarzan's Greatest Adventure would present a grittier, more realistic Tarzan. A loner who could be as savage as his opponents, but could also speak eloquently and politely to allies. Tarzan would also be made vulnerable and not as invincible as previous incarnations. [12]

"Tarzan has grown up," said Scott in 1959. "I speak clearly understandable, everyday English." [13] He also said "Lesser saw Tarzan as part of a family unit, but if you read Burroughs' books, the bastard [Greystoke] really knew what to do. I always wanted to play it with some scars on me; he used to battle the bull apes, you know, and get a couple of lumps. I wanted to pursue that, but they wouldn't buy it. It may seem like a minor thing, but those minor things really add up." [14]

This vision of Tarzan heralded a new direction for the character and the series. He became more like the original Edgar Rice Burroughs creation (that is, articulate and intuitive) and even occasionally traveled abroad to make other wilderness regions safe—as in Tarzan Goes to India (1962) and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966).

Filming started 9 February 1959. [15] The film was shot on location in Kenya and at Shepperton Studios in London. Stock safari footage was used to portray wildlife, especially animal attacks. [12] Paramount did a deal with Sol Lesser Productions with a guarantee of $600,000 in turn for the releasing rights; the deal also gave Paramount 50% of the ownership of the negative. The film cost $750,000. Paramount agreed to pay for prints and advertising. [1]

John Guillermin later said "For a short schedule, fairly low-budget picture, the whole affair really got me quite excited." [16]

Scott said "Connery was marvelous... He and I had some good giggles, when we got back to Shepperton. They wanted to use him in the next Tarzan, even though he gets killed in this one because he was very good. He said OK. but he had to do this thing for [producers Albert] Broccoli and [Harry] Saltzman — and that was Dr. No . We couldn't touch him after that." [14]

While the film was being made, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made their own Tarzan film, Tarzan, the Ape Man (1959). They were able to do this because they retained remake rights for the 1932 film of the same name. [17]


FilmInk called it "a masterpiece in the series, the best Tarzan film since Tarzan and His Mate (1934), and perhaps the most remarkable “turnaround of a franchise” in Hollywood history... the leap in quality after what had been over a decade of steady decline is remarkable." [18]

Gordon Scott stayed for one more Tarzan film, Tarzan the Magnificent (1960), before being replaced by Jock Mahoney in Tarzan Goes to India (1962) which was also directed by Guillermin.

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  1. 1 2 "Lesser Firm Guarantee On 'Tarzan' $600,000; Made in Kenya at 750G's". Variety. 3 June 1959. p. 3. Retrieved 16 June 2019 via Archive.org.
  2. "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. The AFI Catalog of Feature Films:..Tarzan's Greatest Adventure Retrieved March 13, 2016
  4. SOL LESSER SELLS FILM STOCK TO TV: Production Control Passes to Weintraub for $3,500,000 -- Child Actress Cast By THOMAS M. PRYORSpecial to The New York Times.3 Apr 1958: 24.
  5. Sol Lesser Productions Sold to New York Man Los Angeles Times 3 Apr 1958: 2.
  6. FILMLAND EVENTS: Gordon Scott Steps Out of Tarzan Role Los Angeles Times 9 July 1958: 17.
  7. Skelton Will Star in Musical Revue: David Rose Also Set for Show at Ritz; Tarzan Goes Big-Time Scott, John L. Los Angeles Times 23 Sep 1958: 23.
  8. STUDIO SEARCHING FOR NEW TARZAN: Lesser Needs Replacement for Gordon Scott -- Skouras Returns to Fox Lot By THOMAS M. PRYORSpecial to The New York Times. 23 Sep 1958: 37.
  9. FILM EVENTS: Cobb Plans 'Idiot' for Broadway Los Angeles Times 17 Oct 1958: B8.
  10. Looking at Hollywood: Seeks Joanne Woodward for 'The Dud Avocado' Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 26 Nov 1958: a2.
  11. ACTORS WILL VOTE ON A SINGLE UNION: Screen Guild Gets Proposal to Merge All Performers Into an Over-All Group By THOMAS M. PRYORSpecial to The New York Times]26 Nov 1958: 26.
  12. 1 2 "Tarzan Gets Haircut: 'Adult' Jungle Films". Variety. 27 May 1950. p. 1.
  13. 11TH OF THE LINE SAYS, 'I, TARZAN': Gordon Scott, Newest King of the Apes, Is Genteel and Grammatical By MURRAY SCHUMACHSpecial to The New York Times. 23 Apr 1959: 27.
  14. 1 2 Warren, Bill (February 1993). "Tarzan the Magnificent". Starlog. p. 30.
  15. SPIEGEL NEARING A PACT ON MOVIE: Producer Seeks Mankiewicz to Direct Williams Work -- O'Hara Novel Wanted By THOMAS M. PRYORSpecial to The New York Times. 2 Feb 1959: 22.
  16. Goldman, Lowell (November 1990). "Lord of Disaster". Starlog. p. 59.
  17. HOLLYWOOD DOSSIER: Cukor's Western Style -- 'Tarzan' Entries By THOMAS McDONALDHOLLYWOOD. New York Times 29 Mar 1959: X7.
  18. Vagg, Stephen (17 November 2020). "John Guillermin: Action Man". FilmInk.