Tarzan (1966): The Complete Second Season DVD Review: Wither Ron Ely

As the old saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” When motion pictures first came about, nearly every literary character ever created started to appear in pictures. As radio became the norm, many a pop culture hero – from comic books to classics, and moving pictures to boot – turned into regular audio programs. Once a newfangled contraption known as television quickly started to become the new medium, many a previously-used idea was recycled and rebooted for contemporary audiences. And, while Hollywood is still utilizing the re-imagining of virtually everything already conceived all-too-heavily today – much to the chagrin of many a semi-intelligent viewer – there’s nothing quite like diving into some of the old re-imaginings of yesteryear every now and again.

The case in point for this particular instance, kids, is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immortal creation, Tarzan – a character who has been portrayed more times than that damned Doctor Who people are always trying to get me to feign an interest in. Though he had appeared in dozens of incarnations – print, film, and radio – up until the mid ’60s, it wasn’t until the NBC live-action TV series Tarzan (the first of its kind to be produced for this particular format) with actor Ron Ely that things started to change ever so slightly. While Johnny Weissmuller set the stage for all of the Tarzans that followed in his vine swings as a pidgin-speaking individual, it was Ely’s television Lord of the Apes that returned to Burroughs’ cultured, refined man who used his education in addition to his brawny, heroic charms.

NBC’s Tarzan also removed the character of Jane – which eliminated any need of that mushy kiss-kissy stuff kids didn’t want to be bored with anyway. Instead, Ely’s Tarzan cavorts about with young Jai (Manuel Padilla Jr.) in Africa (the series was filmed in the wild, untamed lands of Brazil and Mexico doubling for the Dark Continent), discovering one adventure after another with their constant chimpanzee colleague Cheeta. For this, the series’ second and final season, Ely (the only actor ever to portray Tarzan, Superman, and Doc Savage) and his child sidekick encounter such perils as killer tigers, escaped prisoners with revenge on their minds, crashed planes, amnesia, disease, and all bad juju white men cause in-general.

A small list of guest stars (and recurring regulars) this time ’round include George Kennedy, James Whitmore, real life mother and son Helen Hayes and James “Danno” MacArthur (who actually appear together as mother and son!), William Marshall (Blacula himself), Jason Evers (which officially makes it a good season), Brock Peters, James Earl Jones, Donnelly “Dutch” Rhodes, Strother Martin, Ethel Merman, Robert Loggia, Geoffrey Holder, Woody Strode, Ted Cassidy, Barbara Bouchet (oh, be still, my beating heart), Julie Harris and Maurice Evans, and even Diana Ross and The Supremes – who appear as nuns (well, you can’t say they didn’t stretch the medium back then!). Mr. Ely himself even took an opportunity to direct an episode here: “Hotel Hurricane” – which would prove to be his only directorial effort. Several of this season’s two-parters wound up being re-edited into feature-length films for distribution in cinemas during the late ’60s.

Whereas the Warner Archive Collection release the First Season of this short-lived cult (and obviously, occasionally campy) series in two individually volumes back in 2012, Tarzan: The Complete Second Season is presented here in a six-disc set that contains all 26 hour-long episodes. Presented in its original 1.37:1 TV aspect ratio with monaural English audio, the whole of the series only looks pretty good overall – though I don’t think the original film quality was overly fab-a-roo to begin with, so no complaining, folks. No extras are included with this Manufactured-on-Demand set, but the very fact those of you who grew up on the show (whether during its original broadcast run or in syndication) can relive this memory on DVD in one complete set at one low price is an excellent extra unto itself.

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Luigi Bastardo

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