The synopsis below is not based on viewing the serial as a whole, but
rather the 75-minutes film cobbled together from the serial in the late
1950's, which unfortunately seems to be the only version of the serial in
existence today. But there is still hope that the serial as a whole will
resurface one of these days ...
... searching for her father Dr Brooks (E.Allyn Waren), Mary
(Jacqueline Wells) and her fiancÚ Bob (Edward Woods) have embarked on an
expedition to the African jungle. What they don't know though is that
their guides Nick (Matthew Betz) & Jeff (Philo McCullough) are a
couple of crooks who are after the emeralds her father is said to have
found, and after the 10.000 Pounds promised to the one who can give
conclusive proof of Tarzan's (Buster Crabbe) death.
But Tarzan of course is everything but dead, & soon he finds
himself a new pastime saving Mary, first from a crocodile, then the
crooked guides, white slavers, natives, you name it ...
Before long, Nick tries to pull a fast one even on his partner in crime
Jeff, but is killed by a lion as a form of divine justice.
Eventually, Mary, Bob & Jeff find a map to the kingdom of Zar,
where Brooks is believed to be held ... but soon enough they are captured
by the natives of Zar nad prepared to be fed to the lions ... only Tarzan
can save them now - again -, & of course he does. But Jeff makes the
fatal mistake to steal an emerald - the biggest in the world he claims -
from the idol of Zar, which makes the High Priest (Mischa Auer) &
Priestess (Carlotta Monti) rather angry, & soon they order all
white men in the jungle to be captured - but what's worse, Tarzan has
fallen into some animal trap, is almost killed by a lion, & is
therefore unable to help his friends when they are recaptured by the
Zarians. & after he has found the emerald on Jeff, the High Priest
prepares to kill him, Mary, Bob and Doc Brooks, & only Bob is clever
enough to buy them all free in exchange for a map leading to Zar ...
Once free again, it's time for the final battle between Jeff &
Tarzan - who has since been saved from his animal trap by his friends the
elephant & the chimpanzee. Of course, Tarzan wins, & Jeff is
accidently shot by his own pistol. But he has still breath enough to show
remorse for his past sins.
To pass any kind of judgement on this serial after only seeing the
feature version is next to impossible. Reports on the serial as a whole
show the omittance of quite some (supposedly) impressive scenes as well as
the toning down of the more erotically charged elements of the serial in
person of the High Priestess (who is only seen twice briefly in the
feature, while in the serial she herself once comments on her curvey,
scantily clad figure "A woman is never unarmed").
What can be said though is that Buster Crabbe (like Johnny Weissmuller
a professional swimmer before his acting career) makes a convincing
Tarzan, even if his leotard briefs are ridiculously, well, brief, however
apart from him, Tarzan the Fearless does not stand comparison with MGM's
Tarzan the Ape Man from
the previous year, the film the serial was made to cash in on. Due to
budgetary reasons, the serial just did not have the gloss of the MGM-picture,
but at least in parts that's made up by typical serial-inventiveness: In
an interview, Buster Crabbe commented on the fact that the serial could
only afford one lion, which was toothless - which allowed of course for
some impressive & violent man-vs-lion fights you just couldn't have
with a dentally equipped lion. Another thing is the Zarian costumes, sets
& props, which added some exotic value to the production (which never
once left California for its African jungle sets), all of which were
leftovers from Cecil B.DeMille productions from the silent era.
In all, even the feature version is not bad, & while it will
probably not be able to compete on a quality level with Tarzan
the Ape Man, should the serial in its entirity ever vome out, it's
definitely worth a look.
Producer Sol Lesser by the way seems to have been obsessed with
bringing Tarzan to the screen, he made another rival Tarzan
to MGM in 1938,
Tarzan's Revenge starring
Glenn Morris, before taking over reigns of the Weissmuller-Tarzan-series
when it moved from MGM