ERB MOVIES OF THE 1970s

June 19, 2017
ERB MOVIES OF THE 1970s

As Phillip R. Burger pointed out in an essay included in the 2005 Bison Books reissue of Richard Lupoff’s Master Of Adventure, 1975 was a particularly good year to be a fan of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.

For one thing, it was the centennial of ERB’s birth, which meant that much attention was being paid to the author and his works. As part of the centennial celebration, Irwin Porges finally published his long-anticipated (and definitive) ERB biography, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan. The book was a massive one, with the original 820-page hardback edition measuring two inches thick and big enough to break the reader’s foot should he happen to drop it. (Ballantine Books later released a two-volume paperback edition, which is the copy I have; my father bought the original hardcover release, and years later my son Joshua found his own copy of the hardcover edition at a used bookstore during one of our family vacations.)

Also in 1975, Ballantine Books and Ace Books were still enjoying great success with the paperback reissues of Burroughs’ works that were credited with launching this “Burroughs Boom” in the first place roughly a decade earlier. Ballantine had released the latest set of new editions of the Tarzan and Mars books, while Ace was releasing a number of ERB novels - titles such as The Deputy Sheriff Of Comanche County, The Girl From Hollywood and I Am A Barbarian - in paperback for the very first time. While there had been no new Tarzan films in several years, there was talk of plans for a big-budget film based on the most famous of ERB’s great heroes. (That film - Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes - would finally be released in 1984... three years after the WORST Tarzan movie ever released, 1981’s Tarzan The Ape-Man with Bo Derek as Jane and a handful of cameo appearances by some dull clod in a loincloth that I think was supposed to be Tarzan.)

In the midst of all that year’s ERB-related excitement, a film based on one of Burroughs’ non-Tarzan works was released with relatively little fanfare. The American-International Pictures production of The Land That Time Forgot - starring Doug McClure, an actor best known for his television work in such series as The Virginian, Barbary Coast and Search - was made on a modest budget but became a decent enough success in that summer of 1975. The film - about a German U-Boat that finds its way to a remote island inhabited by dinosaurs and prehistoric ancestors to the human race - was actually a far more faithful adaptation of Burroughs’ original story than any of the Tarzan films had ever been up to that point; and despite (or perhaps because of) its crude special effects, the film provided audiences with the kind of good old-fashioned excitement there just wasn’t very much of in that era just before the release of George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977).

The Land That Time Forgot was successful enough, in fact, that its producers decided to follow it up with an adaptation of yet another ERB novel: At The Earth’s Core, the first of Burroughs’ seven-novel series set in the Inner World of Pellucidar. Doug McClure returned to play the novel’s hero, David Innes, while famed British actor Peter Cushing signed on to play Professor Abner Perry, inventor of the drilling machine that brings he and Innes to Pellucidar in the first place. Rounding out the cast (in more ways than one) was Caroline Munro, a British actress of the era who had developed a well-deserved reputation as science fiction cinema's reigning sex symbol.

Although made by the same team that was responsible for The Land That Time Forgot, At The Earth’s Core (released in 1976) was a much different film. Whereas the earlier film took its unusual story line relatively seriously, At The Earth’s Core often seems as though it is being played for laughs. (The film ends with a humorous scene of the Iron Mole erupting up through the ground just outside the White House and almost looks as if it had been filmed as part of a Monty Python sketch.) McClure seems to be having difficulty keeping a straight face much of the time, and Cushing in particular often appears to be deliberately spoofing the scientist character he had played so often in the horror films produced by England’s Hammer Studios. Meanwhile, Munro’s performance as the prehistoric maiden Dia offers sterling evidence as to why her career was far more dependent upon on her physical attributes than on her acting abilities.

The limitations of the film’s budget are more on display than had been the case in The Land That Time Forgot. The Mahars of the film are a a far cry from the hideous creatures depicted in Burroughs’ original novel; they are ridiculous to look at, seeming more suited to an episode of TV’s Sigmund And The Sea Monsters.

But despite its many flaws, At The Earth’s Core proved yet another success for its producers. It went on to be the 18th most profitable British-made film of 1976, and its spirit of adventure and campy speical effects seems over the years to have given it even more of a cult following than the superior Land That Time Forgot. Its success allowed the producers to adapt a third Burroughs novel: The People That Time Forgot, a sequel to the earlier film which cast Patrick Wayne (John Wayne’s son) as an old friend of the McClure character who puts together a rescue expedition. That film was a disappointment all the way around; unlike the first film, the screenwriters pretty much jettisoned ERB’s plot altogether and committed the unforgivable sin (in the minds of Burroughs fans, at least) of allowing McClure’s character to be found and rescued only to die anyway during the climactic battle (the character survived in the original novel).

It didn’t help that The People That Time Forgot was released around the same time as Star Wars; the groundbreaking special effects in Lucas’ masterpiece made those in People seem even more crude and unimaginative by comparison than they might have otherwise.

The People That Time Forgot was jeered by ERB fans who had enjoyed the original film, putting an end to the series. The producers and McClure reunited one last time for a non-ERB film, Warlords Of Atlantis, which many fans nonetheless consider part of the series simply because of McClure’s presence and the film’s similar “lost world” storyline. (At one time, in fact, Warlords of Atlantis and At The Earth’s Core were released together as a DVD “double feature” by MGM Home Video.)

Today, The Land That Time Forgot still holds the distinction of being the single most faithful motion picture adaptation of ANY Burroughs novel so far, while The People That Time Forgot is considered (by me, anyway) as perhaps the most disappointing of any ERB adaptations. But At The Earth’s Core is in a field by itself: tolerated by many ERB fans as an earnest but ultimately flawed attempt to bring another of the Master Of Adventure’s great worlds to life, but revered by a certain segment science fiction movie fans (along with such other films of the era as George Pal’s Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze [1975] and Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond The Stars [1980]) as a campy “pure popcorn” B-movie that for all its faults is simply a great deal of fun to watch.

As one reviewer stated: “At the Earth’s Core is well worth turning off your brain and taking a look.” I’ll second that opinion. As someone who has been a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs since the third grade, but who also enjoys a good piece of mindless entertainment every now and then, At The Earth’s Core is a great deal of fun - and for some of us that’s more than enough.. It may be silly, but what’s so wrong with that?
 

THE TARZAN NOVELS IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER

June 16, 2017

This project grew out of my son Joshua’s stated desire to read the entire run of the authorized Tarzan novels - the original series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and those ERB Inc.-sanctioned novels by Fritz Leiber, Philip José Farmer, Joe Lansdale, Will Murray and Michael S. Sanford - more or less in the order in which they take place. When Josh announced his intent, I decided to compile this chronology for the purpose of helping him and other fans who might be considering a similar reading pr...


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A NOTE FOR MY MOTHER...

May 3, 2017

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Me and my mother, Romania Sue Small, circa 1963-64.



I am told that a certain member of my family apparently did not appreciate my sharing the following story at my mother’s funeral last Friday. 


I have to admit to having been somewhat baffled by this response. Certain things being what they are, certain people being who they are, perhaps I shouldn’t have been. I don’t know. 


Everyone else seemed to appreciate the story, and had nothing b...


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31 YEARS AND COUNTING...

April 6, 2017
APRIL 5, 1986, Kankakee First Church of the Nazarene, Kankakee Illinois.


Once upon a time, a boy and a girl from opposite sides of town met and fell in love…

The year was 1978. Jimmy Carter was president; Styx and the Electric Light Orchestra were two of the biggest rock groups in the country; and nearly a year after its release, Star Wars was STILL the numbest popular movie in America.

One Sunday evening in late April of that year, a teenage boy met the girl of his dreams at church. He was a ...

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JUST A RANDOM THOUGHT...

February 22, 2017


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AN EXPERIMENT IN AUTOBIOGRAPHY...

February 17, 2017



Faster than a speeding bullet? 


Ha!! Hardly… 


More powerful than a locomotive? 


Nope. Guess again. 


Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? 


Not even on my best days back when I was young and thin and full of energy – and even if I could, I'd most likely crash on the way back down. So, wrong again - but thanks for playing.


Who am I?


This is not a question which can be answered simply, for I have worn many hats within the space of what seems to have been a relatively short sp...


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GIVE THE GIFT OF READING

December 1, 2016

I have always loved the written word – reading it, writing it, at home or at school or at the office or sitting in the back seat of one of Mom and Dad's old Volkswagens when I was a child – and it has been my great fortune to have been able to turn this love into something resembling an actual career. (Much to the surprise, I'm sure, of a certain fifth grade teacher who once made the mistake of telling me that I would never amount to anything… but that’s a discussion for another day.)...


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HAIL TO THE CHIEFS...

October 28, 2016


By this time next week it will all, at long last, be over. The American people will have spoken, and - barring any last-second temper tantrums, court challenges or some other kind of monkey wrench thrown into the works - we will know who the 45th President of the United States will be and, for better or worse, we’ll be getting our first real glimpse into what the next four years may hold for our nation.


But I don’t want to talk about the election or the candidates anymore. It’s just go...


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DID HE REALLY SAY THAT?

October 27, 2016

Something rather... disquieting, I think, would be the most appropriate word in this particular instance... occurred to me last Wednesday night as I was in front of the TV watching the latest episode in this sitcom we are rather euphemistically calling the Presidential Campaign of 2016.


I have been alive now for just shy of 53 and a half years... a little more than half a century as the eagle flies. During my lifetime, America has seen one president assassinated, another president resign, a ...


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DYLAN'S NOBEL AND "IS IT ART?"

October 14, 2016

If someone had told me while I was sitting at the breakfast table Thursday morning that I would be spending much of that day defending the decision to award Bob Dylan this year’s Nobel Prize for literature, I suspect I would have done a spit take and blew Raisin Bran all over the room…


Every year when the Nobels are announced, there is always at least one recipient who becomes the subject of some form of controversy. This year that recipient was Mr. Dylan; a lot of people agreed with the...


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About Me


John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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