Jun 22, 2013

Tim Tyler's Luck: Gay Boy and Pirate in the Jungle

The results of the poll are in, and there were lots of votes for 1940s and before, but not many for the 1990s and 2000s.  That doesn't really match my blog traffick:

Mae West, gay icon of the 1930s -- 33 hits
Zoey 101, Disney channel teencom of the 1990s --  330 hits

But ok, we can start with Tim Tyler's Luck.

It began in 1928 as a humorous comic strip about a young teenager living in an orphanage, where he was burdened by bad luck.  The gag-a-day humor ended when he met an older boy, Spud, and they decided to set out on the road together.  Eventually they grew into young adults and settled in Africa, where they spent many decades hunting down poachers, finding lost civilizations, being captured by cannibals, and squashing tribal rebellions, all the while ignoring the occasional savage princess or girl reporter.  They endured through 1996, the last of the old-style teenage homoromances hidden away in the comics sections of a dwindling number of small-town newspapers.    

In the movie serial version of Tim Tyler’s Luck (1937), Frankie Thomas plays Tim Tyler, but his partner Spud (Billy Benedict), is virtually absent, appearing only in the first chapter.  Instead, Tim travels through Darkest Africa alone.  He is heavily feminized by the camera, jaunting through the bush with a sweater tied around his neck as if he just stepped off a tennis court.  He is rescued more often than rescuing, participating in the vague euphemisms for sexual assault usually reserved for damsels in distress: he is carried off, kicking and screaming, twice.

When he strips down to his underwear to swim in a lagoon, a movie convention usually intended to divest young ladies of their clothes, a crocodile attacks, but lest the homoerotic implication become too obvious, a friendly panther, not Tarzan, rushes to the rescue.

There's a girl, but no hetero-romance.  Instead, the gay subtext comes when a bearded French-accented pirate, Lazarre (Earle Douglas) carries Tim off into the bush, screaming and arms-flailing like the young ladies who are always being abducted out of their bedchambers in these serials.  Tim talks Lazarre out of his dastardly plans and rehabilitates him into an ally.  For the rest of the serial, Lazarre provides comic relief with pretensions of cowardice while risking his life to save Tim over and over (the boy needs a lot of saving).

One wonders why director Ford Beebe didn’t let Spud tag along on the adventure and take charge of the comic relief instead of Lazarre.  Allowing  Tim to meet and rehabilitate the pirate certainly adds to the dramatic potential of the series; however, it also inadvertently reflects the sudden intensity of love at first sight.

The bond between the brash, working-class pirate and the fey sophisticate tennis player replicates the tough-sissy gender polarization of Freddie Bartholomew and Jimmy Lydon in Tom Brown's School Days,  but with a more overt erotic subtext.  Tim and Lazarre’s scenes are peppered with full-body hugs and sly innuendos: “We can’t leave until daybreak.  You will stay here with me tonight.”   And they do not participate in the heteronormative conclusion: evidently they plan to stay together forever.

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