Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
User ReviewsReview this title
All kidding aside this is a really good adventure film of the sort that they don't make any more. The first of the MGM series, though not the first Tarzan movie, nor the only Tarzan film made during the same period (Edgar Rice Burroughs had deals with several producers) this is the film that broke box office records and spawned ten million "Me Tarzan, you Jane" jokes.
The film was made to cash in the previous years Trader Horn, a jungle picture that MGM had produced. Wanting to feed a public that wanted more as well as to make use of the hours of location footage shot for that film. The ape man was the perfect choice.
The plot has to do with Jane arriving in the jungle to see her father and then going of to find the elephant grave yard. Along the way is carried off by Tarzan and the rest is the movie. Its an exciting ride (especially if you forgive the creaky special effects and ape suits).
A perfect film for a rainy afternoon
It was in this movie, that Tarzan becomes the unintelligible, but very sexy man-ape that most cinema-goers recognize... The famous phrase "Me Tarzan, You Jane' was never spoken, but the film did include Tarzan constantly pointing to himself and then to Jane, enunciating "Tarzan - Jane."
It was in this film that Cheetah the chimpanzee made the debut... The film was an enormous success, and Weissmuller's simple native hero became the forerunner of many subsequent versions...
At the time, Johnny Weissmuller held sixty seven world records in swimming, and five Olympic gold medals. For me, he's the definitive movie Tarzan, wisely chosen for his athletic physique contrasted to that of bodybuilder types that would arguably hold sway today. Even if not a great actor, there's a naturalness to his presence in this film one might expect from someone portraying a savage.
Then there's Maureen O'Sullivan. That early scene when she first encountered her father (C. Aubrey Smith) was a bit strange, with a crying jag that went a bit over the top. There are more than a few pre-Code moments that command the viewer's attention, the first being that venture into soft porn territory when she removes her dress and washes her face. Her father rather wisely wished to excuse himself; you're just going to have to see it for yourself. By the way, the quote in my summary line was uttered by Jane Parker, but to her father, and not as you would expect, to Tarzan.
What got me hooked as a Tarzan fan back in my youth was the presence of all the wild animals, though watching today, I realize that a lot of the apes were actually men in monkey suits. There's also the issue of geographical integrity that Weissmuller's alter ego, Jungle Jim, encountered in every picture I've seen of that franchise. In this picture, Tarzan's first battle with a jungle cat brought him into contact with a jaguar, not a leopard as most viewers would suspect. Jaguars are only found in South America, so thumbs down there for authenticity. Or maybe I'm just being nit-picky.
But hey, how about that battle with the pygmy (dwarf?) natives? That was as surreal as it gets when it comes down to your standard jungle lore. That along with the knife in the eye of the gorilla brute made for some heavy action without requiring a vine swing. I'm not sure if younger viewers today can appreciate all the stuff going on here when everything produced today seems to go for all action all the time. With Tarzan, you get back to a primitive minimalism, with life and death at stake in hand to claw combat. I can just hear the gasps of 1930's era movie goers when Tarzan hit the big screen.
Finally, I can't finish this review without mention of Cheeta. Can you believe Cheeta is still alive as I write this? Weissmuller and O'Sullivan are long gone, as are all the other principals from the film. I keep checking every so often since I learned of Cheeta's longevity, but as of right now, though retired, he's still in the swing of things.
Addendum - NOTE*** Cheeta passed away on December 24th, 2011.
This movie made me feel like a young boy, craving excitement and adventure. This first installment in the MGM Tarzan movies delivers big time. Yes, the special effects and interweaving of the stock footage looks a bit dated, but remember that this film was only made three years after the first "talkie" (i.e. a sound picture, not a silent movie). There are certain techniques that obviously stem from the silent movie days. But to me, this just adds to the charm.
The animal footage is excellent. For the first time in a long time, I was actually on the edge of my seat during a movie. The CGI effects today are amazing, but they're so overdone (most of the time). The thrills and suspense in "Tarzan" are heightened, because you know everything you see is physically tangible, not an actor reacting to a green screen.
I still don't know how they did some of those scenes without anyone getting hurt. Swinging from the treetops, wrestling with lions, wrestling with leopards, being chased by wild animals--all of these things make for great entertainment and adventure.
I should also mention that the relationship between Tarzan and Jane is one of the most captivating I've ever seen in a movie. It's very understated, yet very sexy. Today, they would ruin the story by making the couple have sex after five minutes. But because the sexual chemistry is only hinted at, the entire relationship is one of Jane flirting and Tarzan pursuing. It just builds and builds. This romance actually has excitement to it. Definitely one of the best screen romances of all time.
Despite a few minor shortcomings in the special effects of the time, this is a thrilling movie. Great adventure, great excitement, great entertainment. Don't miss it!
A success? Thalberg created a legend!
Utilizing MGM's vast library of stock footage (primarily from 1931's TRADER HORN), a primordial Africa that was more pulp fiction than reality was created on the back lot, and veteran British character actor C. Aubrey Smith and 20s matinee idol (and future 'Batman' regular) Neil Hamilton were introduced, as James Parker and Harry Holt, adventurers questing after the legendary 'Elephants' Graveyard'. The arrival of Parker's daughter, Jane (O'Sullivan), a free-spirited, raven-haired beauty, complicates matters, but her stubborn refusal to lease, and confidence with the natives (shown as rear projections behind Smith and O'Sullivan) finally win the two men over, and soon the trio, accompanied by whip-induced native labor, are on safari.
When a dying porter points the way to the Escarpment, a massive 'taboo' mountainous plateau protecting the Graveyard, the party has the missing piece to the puzzle, and begin an arduous climb to the top. (How a massive mountain range could be hidden, for so long, is not explained). After losing a porter, and nearly Jane, on the steep climb, the summit is achieved, and the famous Tarzan yell (a combination yodel/howl, created by MGM's sound department), is first heard. A treacherous river crossing, featuring stock footage of hippos and crocodiles, then costs the safari more bearers, with another yell saving their lives.
All this leads up, of course, to Johnny Weissmuller's first appearance as Tarzan, observing the party from the trees. He is simply magnificent...tanned, slim, smoothly-muscled (as opposed to the brawny body builders later cast in the role) and nearly naked. He soon kidnaps Jane (he may be ignorant, but he's not dumb!), and the incredible chemistry between the pair is exhibited for the first time. While initially terrified of the savage (particularly as he pulls off her clothing parts to examine them), he doesn't 'have his way' with her, and she realizes he is far more sensitive than she'd assumed.
Holt kills the ape guarding Jane (one assumes it is Kala, ape 'mother' of Tarzan, in the ERB books), and Tarzan screams in anguish at his loss. Displaying the racism prevalent in so many 30s films, Jane tries to defend her erstwhile kidnapper to her father ("He's WHITE!"), but the two hunters aren't buying it, and soon wound Tarzan, himself. Jungle animals spirit the bleeding jungle lord away...and Jane is soon at Tarzan's side, bandaging his head, and looking lustily at the big lug! When he recovers, the pair consummate their passion (in a scene tastefully off-camera), and are swapping names ("Jane...Tarzan...Tarzan...Jane").
Tarzan returns Jane, and walks away, despite her pleas to return to civilization with them. The safari is soon captured by a height-challenged native tribe ("Are they Pygmies?" Jane asks; "They're dwarves," her father replies...uh, whatever...), and a gruesome scene ensues of the surviving members being lassoed and dropped into a pit with a giant gorilla (a not-quite convincing guy in an ape suit). Holt is knocked unconscious, Parker is mortally injured, Cheeta is tossed against a wall, and Jane swoons in the gorilla's arms (shades of KING KONG), then Tarzan busts in, to kill the ape and save them all. As the ever-available stampede of elephants mash the dwarves into pulp, Tarzan leads the dying Parker, Jane, and Holt to the 'Elephants' Graveyard', where Jane's father passes away. Holt returns to civilization (he would return in the sequel, TARZAN AND HIS MATE) and Tarzan, Jane, and a recovering Cheeta start an exciting new life together!
Yes, the story is unintentionally campy, the 'apes', and animal fights, unconvincing, and there is blatant racism throughout the film. But as sheer entertainment, Depression-era audiences were enthralled. Weissmuller and O'Sullivan conveyed the kind of eroticism that pre-Code Hollywood was notorious for (and would reach even greater heights in the sequel), the action sequences were spectacular, and a new MGM franchise was born, that would produce six more films over the next nine years.
Thalberg had again proven why he was considered the film industry's resident genius!
This was in fact the "original" of a long series of Tarzan movies starring Weissmuller and O' Sullivan that were made by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer,which in turn made Tarzan a hot commodity and its studio a Hollywood producing powerhouse of great entertainment. Dubiously faithful to the Edgar Rice Burroughs story about the humble beginnings to where Tarzan is introduced has been remade numerous times,but this is the 1932 original where Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan bring a class of style of wit to the roles and the results are absolutely brilliant from beginning to end. Then in 1934,MGM made a sequel entitled "Tarzan And His Mate" which was the second entry in the lavishly produced MGM Tarzan series. Weissmuller and O'Sullivan cohabit in an unmarried bliss before the Hays Code of the era moved them into a treehouse with twin beds. There is also the swimming scene,which until now has been restored from the original print which has been banned for years until MGM reissued this scene back into the film. The scene where Maureen O'Sullivan is swimming with Weissmuller,completely nude was in its day very noticeable and very restricted toward adult audiences. Among the challenges that they face in there private domain is against nasty white hunters,savage natives,angry elephants,hungry lions and maneating crocodiles.
"Tarzan Escapes",was the third entry in the series released in 1936. In this sequel,Jane(O'Sullivan)is tricked by evil hunters into abandoning her fairy tale life with Tarzan(Weissmuller). So the Ape Man sets out to reunite with is one true love,and as he sets out to get back with Jane,trouble ensumes. The third entry in MGM's successful Weissmuller/O'Sullivan series is still among the better Tarzan movies thanks to the leads,but the Hays Office made sure that Jane was wearing a lot more clothes this time around since this was also aimed toward adult audiences. The series from this point takes a three-year hiatus. Then in 1939,the fourth entry in MGM's Weissmuller/O'Sullivan series went toward the kiddie fare with "Tarzan Finds A Son" which was family oriented material and a little more tamer than the first two installments. However,Weissmuller and O'Sullivan returned to their roles after three years with the addition of five year-old Johnny Sheffield as "Boy". He's an orphan whose awful relatives hope he stays lost so they can collect and inheritance. Tarzan and Jane fight to adopt the tyke and when the new family are captured by a wicked tribe only an elephant stampede and Tarzan's call of the jungle can save them.
Then in 1941,after a two year hiatus,the fifth entry in the series was really standard kiddie fare with "Tarzan's Secret Treasure". Tarzan saves an expedition from a savage tribe only to be repaid by having greedy hunters hold Boy and Jane hostage. They want Tarzan's help in finding a secret cache of gold hidden in the jungle. But Tarzan doesn't take kindly to threats against his family and teaches those evil-doers a lesson they'll never forget! This one was action-packed and it does show Weissmuller doing some of his own stunts. Then,in 1942,the last and final entry in the MGM Tarzan series titled "Tarzan's New York Adventure",marked Maureen O'Sullivan's final appearance as Jane. This one is so-so adventure with some very humorous moments when Tarzan meets the big city. When Boy is kidnapped by a evil circus owner,Tarzan,Jane and Cheta head out to rescue him.Then Tarzan shows off his jungle prowless by climbing skyscrapers and diving off the Brooklyn Bridge into the East River. This final Tarzan entry for both Weissmuller and O'Sullivan showcases some very interesting cameo appearances including one which features Elmo Lincoln,the screen's first Tarzan in a cameo appearance.
After the huge success of the Tarzan films for MGM,Johnny Weissmuller continue to played The Ape Man in six more films for RKO Pictures which began in 1943 and ended in 1948,where Weissmuller's final appearance as the Ape Man concluded in "Tarzan And The Mermaids",before he would venture into a new medium---television as "Jungle Jim" in the early-1950's. He also played "Jungle Jim" in several theatrical films for Columbia Pictures. As for actress Maureen O'Sullivan,after the success of the Tarzan films,she would go on to star in several films including "The Big Clock" and "Bonzo Goes To College" opposite Ronald Reagan and so many more. As for Johnny Sheffield,he would go on to continue the role of "Boy" in five more Tarzan films with Johnny Weissmuller until 1949,when he went on to star in more than twelve features as Bomba Of The Jungle under RKO Pictures and would continue that role on television.
Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan is one of the most-filmed characters in movie history. Live action or animation, there have been tons of adaptations and they continue to this day. Well, for my money, none beats the Johnny Weissmuller series at MGM (and later RKO). They were exceptional adventure stories, sheer fun for young and old alike. Like most film series, the earlier movies in the Tarzan series are the better ones, starting with this first film.
Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller does a fantastic job as Tarzan. He was obviously cast for his looks and athleticism but he brings a sensitivity to the part that's unexpected. He plays him as a laconic man-child, innocent and peaceful until the things he cares about are threatened. That famous yell of Tarzan's is unforgettable. Maureen O'Sullivan is charming and easy to fall in love with. Her performance is so effortless and real for this period in film. She elevates every scene and makes whoever's acting opposite her give more relaxed performances, as well. She has playful and at times sizzling sexual chemistry with Weissmuller. She also has a nice familial chemistry with C. Aubrey Smith. Their scenes have an authenticity about them that is rare to see but is appreciated. The success of the early Tarzan series owes as much to Maureen's Jane as it does to Johnny's Tarzan. Neil Hamilton, an actor most will remember as Commissioner Gordon from the '60s Batman TV show, does fine playing the part of the guy in love with Jane but can't compete with the rugged but kind Tarzan.
Let's not forget this is a Pre-Code movie. Maureen appears scantily clad and even wearing a soaking wet thin dress in one scene. And, of course, Weissmuller wears nothing but a loincloth throughout. Being that it was filmed in 1932, there is some inevitable creakiness, an overuse of stock footage, and some spotty rear projection effects. But these things are minor negatives. The action scenes are great. Tarzan wrestling with an obviously stuffed leopard may seem hokey to many modern viewers, but it holds a certain quaint appeal for me. The animals are fun. Who doesn't love Cheeta? The matte painting backdrops are also nice. It's exciting romantic escapism with a good cast and solid direction from Woody 'One Take' Van Dyke. Followed by many sequels, the first of which is even better than this classic.
Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised by them: solid (though primitive) production values, a bevy of exciting action sequences, and gleeful doses of eroticism and sadism made for great (if somewhat repetitive) fun. Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O' Sullivan created a wonderful (and spontaneous) rapport and generally inhabited their roles very nicely, making them the screen's definitive incarnations of these characters.
TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934; ***1/2) edges the original slightly because of the former's (necessary) tendency towards exposition: the sequel dives straight into action (though, curiously enough, it still takes quite a bit before Tarzan makes an appearance!) but also features lecherous villainy from Paul Cavanaugh and even takes time to develop the lovable personality of Cheetah (especially in a lengthy sequence where it is beset by assorted creatures while journeying through the jungle to alert Tarzan of the [invariably] impending danger) and then, of course, there's that famous nude swimming scene! The lion-infested finale, too, is every bit as remarkable as the pygmy sequences at the climax of TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932; ***) if anything, it's even more ambitious.
It's a pity, therefore, that the special effects (once considered ground-breaking) have not withstood the test of time: innumerable back-projection shots, the conveniently-placed (and thinly-disguised) series of trapeze which allow Tarzan to swing from one tree to the other, all-too-fake snakes and alligators, the rotoscoping of lions into a scene to make them appear as if they were fighting elephants, etc. Unfortunately TARZAN AND HIS MATE (and probably all the others that follow) took a ridiculous turn by having Jane mimic the famous Tarzan cry/yodel, which I felt to be an unwise decision on the part of the studio! Still, I do look forward to the rest of the series, hoping that they're at least as entertaining (even if reviews claim production values got progressively more lavish, and thus unrealistic, and the plots cornier).
All that aside, there is some remarkable animal footage - sometimes with the actors and at other times with obvious doubles. There is a band of marauding pygmies (basically dwarves in black make-up) that has to be seen to be believed! The hardest things to take in this film though are its racism (the whites whip their black servants, and, when O'Sullivan's dad says that Tarzan has no real human feelings, O'Sullivan explodes "But he's white"!), and the rather fake animals used in certain scenes - particularly the men in ape suits. There is also some really bad rear projection. But, if you can ignore all that, there is much to enjoy and Cheeta the chimp is very cute.
But it is in the silent action sequences that the film really flies. Too often it gets bogged down in static sound sequences - and there is the usual problem with early talkies of too little music. It makes me think what a great silent film this would have been. W.S. Van Dyke was a first-rate visual director with many impressive silent films like "The Pagan" and if we could now just sit back and watch this sexy action film without talking and sound effects, just a great music score, this film could well be considered a masterpiece. But then I guess we would never have heard Tarzan's famous cry.
This was the first "Tarzan" film starring Weissmuller, O'Sullivan, and "Cheetah" the chimpanzee; and, by the time the movie ends, they are obviously "going places" (in the Tarzan film series). A handsome and muscular swimming star, Weissmuller makes a perfect Tarzan. While showing less skin, O'Sullivan give the film its considerable sex appeal; especially when she tears her dress to mop Weissmuller's brow, goes swimming, and has Tarzan tickle her feet.
Edgar Rice Burroughs' story of survival is downplayed in favor of the novel's sexual fantasy. And, it works like a charm. "Tarzan the Ape man" was not only a great Tarzan film, but also an excellent early "talkie". Of course, there is some silliness included (this was 1932). Director W.S. Van Dyke, film editors Ben Lewis and Tom Held, and photographers Harold Rosson and Clyde De Vinna excel. The film is briskly directed, tightly edited, and nicely photographed.
******** Tarzan the Ape Man (3/25/32) W.S. Van Dyke ~ Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan, Neil Hamilton, C. Aubrey Smith
As his long-time companion, Jane, Maureen O'Sullivan was perfect casting. Small and lovely, she contrasted perfectly with Weissmuller, maintaining her dignity and composure in even in the most dire of circumstances. She knew that Tarzan would always come to the rescue; that lions, apes and treasure hunters were no match for him, and yet she never took him for granted.
The first two films of the series were the best, thanks in large measure to the Production Code not having gone into effect, which caused the series to eventually become "domesticated" and family-centered. There was a randiness to the early entries that works even today, as Tarzan and Jane were, after all, a couple, and the movies don't shy away from this. The Tarzan pictures were not Politically Correct, but they're not imperialist, either, and if anything feel at times like environmental tracts on the issue of leaving the jungles (and Tarzan) alone.
It's probably best to watch the films in sequence, if possible. In the MGM period there was a degree of continuity, as one movie more or less picked up where the previous one left off. Weissmuller is more credible early on, though he's never less than good; and Miss O'Sullivan, who left the series when it changed studios, was always a huge asset. The Tarzan movies offer pure escapism of the most innocent kind. In the first film in the series we see the development of the Tarzan-Jane relationship, and there are plenty of thrills and chills along the way. The movie is obviously a back-lot production, but the use of stock footage lends it an air of authenticity. Also authentic is the rapport between Tarzan and Jane, who, in their heyday, rivaled Fred and Ginger and Nick and Nora Charles as one of the premiere couples of Hollywood's golden age.
The story begins where Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan), a young English girl, arriving in Africa where she comes to the trading post to accompany her father, Colonel James Parker (C. Aubrey Smith), and his young assistant, Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton), on an expedition in search for ivory that can be found in an elephant burial ground. After encountering near death experiences such as encountering dangerous animals, climbing large mountains and walking through narrow paths, and the fall through the deep canyon of several African native aids, the safari nearly reaches its destination until they hear the sounds of a jungle yell, followed by the disappearance of Jane. Jane, who had been whisked away by a white jungle man (Johnny Weissmuller), has taken his captive to his tree top home surrounded by apes. At first Jane is fearful of the man who calls himself "Tarzan," but in time, she calms down long enough in an attempt to teach him to speak her language. After Jane rejoins her father and Harry, Tarzan follows. Harry, who is in love with Jane, is jealous of her interest in this jungle man, and makes several attempts to get Tarzna out of the way by shooting at him, in spite of Jane's pleas. Holt's attempt only injures Tarzan, putting him out of commission for a while. Later, after Parker's safari is captured and held prisoner by a savage dwarf tribe, they find they are in great danger as they are placed into a deep pit, one by one, where they are to be sacrificed by Zumangani, a giant gorilla.
This MGM production, which consists of rear projection photography featuring African natives, stock animal footage and villages, sets the pattern for future installments to come. Aside from Tarzan's realistic approach in killing animals either for food or in self defense, certain scenes come off on a graphic level, such as the climatic scene where Tarzan comes to rescue the safari by battling with the giant gorilla, and saving himself from being torn to peaces by throwing his knife in the direction that leaves the result to become quite hideous. Other than that, TARZAN THE APE MAN doesn't disappoint when it comes to action and adventure, with Weissmuller being the ideal choice as Tarzan, who doesn't make his first screen presence until a half hour from the start of the story.
In spite of its popularity, TARZAN THE APE MAN had limited television revivals until the early 1980s when it became the first Tarzan movie of the Weissmuller series to be distributed on video cassette. It's interesting to point out that TARZAN THE APE MAN, which plays regularly on Turner Classic Movies, was the only movie in the entire long running series not to become part of the "Tarzan" package during the four year run (1997-2001) on American Movie Classics. In some certain parts of the United States, TARZAN THE APE MAN didn't play on the same TV channel along with the others, and yet this is actually part of the series but treated as an individual movie. Later displayed on DVD along with the five MGM sequels, TARZAN THE APE MAN has assured cultural status, especially with good stories, plenty of action, with Weissmuller and O'Sullivan enacting their parts to perfection. Next installment: TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934). (***)
The fuss over swimming champion Michael Phelps is nothing compared to what Johnny Weissmuller's celebrity was like. In the Roaring Twenties when each sport seemed to have an icon that became a legend, Weissmuller was that for swimming. The records he set in the Olympics stood for many years, with today's athlete conditioning methods I can only speculate what he could do today if he were alive and in his prime.
Still Louis B. Mayer was nothing if not cautious in protecting an investment in a non-actor to be a lead in a major film. He kept Weissmuller's dialog to grunts, guttural jungle utterings, and a few choice words that Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane teaches her new jungle man toy.
With tons of footage left over from MGM's African location film of Trader Horn, Tarzan The Ape Man had all the background needed to make the film look good. It's fairly obvious that when you see shots of Neil Hamilton and Maureen O'Sullivan they're shot against a background of real natives. They never got further to Africa than Toluca Lake in the shooting.
It's also obvious that Weissmuller couldn't act at all which was why he was only given grunts and dialog of one and two words. Later on he did become a competent enough actor. But quite frankly who cared when they saw him in a loin cloth.
Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane Parker comes to Africa to visit her father C. Aubrey Smith and she finds that Smith and his partner Neil Hamilton are planning an expedition into some unexplored territory in search of the fabled elephant's graveyard. A lot of loose ivory to be picked up there without the danger of actually trying to kill the beasts. Hamilton's interested in her, but when white jungle man Tarzan rescues O'Sullivan, Hamilton doesn't have a prayer.
Tarzan The Ape Man is still an exciting adventure film even to today's more sophisticated eyes. And Weissmuller and O'Sullivan's appeal as a romantic couple is timeless.
All right so they haven't got the dialog from Romeo and Juliet, who cares?
In a bid to deliver as much gratuitous animal killing, native whipping, savage pygmy action and, of course, tantalising glimpses of a partially clothed O'Sullivan as he possibly can in 100 minutes, director W.S. Van Dyke avoids explaining the origins of his title character, opting instead to open the film as Jane arrives in Africa to join her father, who is leading an expedition in search of a legendary 'elephant graveyard'. This journey into the most treacherous, untamed parts of the dark continent inevitably leads to an encounter with the athletic ape man, who naturally takes a shine to the pretty Ms. Parker and whisks her off to his treetop hideout, where she is introduced to his extended family (a few genuine apes, and lots of blokes in bad chimp costumes).
After some initial kicking and screaming, Jane calms down and realises that the wild man and his simian pals mean her no harm; unfortunately, big white hunter Harry Holt, hotheaded member of Parker's expedition and aspiring suitor to Jane, isn't so sure: when he tracks down and rescues the missing girl, he does so with guns a-blazing, killing one of Tarzan's hairy pals in the process.
A now furious ape-man seeks revenge, killing a few dispensable luggage bearers before being wounded by the trigger-happy Holt (and then attacked by a few big jungle cats). Fortunately, brave Cheetah the chimp goes for help and Jane is soon at Tarzan's side, nursing him back to health by tearing strips from her dress and gently patting his head. Once her patient is fighting fit, Jane wishes to return to her father, and so our honourable vine swinging hero reluctantly returns her to the expedition, before loping back into the undergrowth.
But when the expedition runs into trouble with a tribe of bloodthirsty munchkins, Tarzan is soon at Jane's side once again, kicking dwarf ass and leading a stampede of thundering pachyderms into the tiny terrors' village.
Weissmuller, whose entire subsequent movie career would consist of similar adventure films, puts in a superb performance—strong, heroic and fearless, yet tender and compassionate when needed; likewise, O'Sullivan is impressive as the gutsy heroine who captures the heart of Tarzan (and the attention of most of her male viewers, I should think). These strong central performances, combined with Van Dyke's spirited direction, some impressive matte paintings, and lots of stock animal footage all add up to one hell of a fun time. At times, the action might get a little too scary for younger viewers—the sight of natives being thrown into a pit with a killer gorilla (another man in a suit—but a damn freaky suit!) is disturbing—but for older fans of jungle action, the fierce and frightening moments will only add to the excitement (I consider the Tarzan films to be precursors to the gory Italian cannibal films that were popular in the 70s).
More fun can also be derived from Tarzan The Ape Man's less than perfect moments, which are full of unintentionally humorous elements that only add to the film's overall charm: the Indian elephants doctored with fake ears; Tarzan's trapeze swings thinly disguised as vines; the aforementioned shabby ape suits; and some terrible back projection that attempts to convince the audience that the studio-bound actors are actually in the wilds of Africa.
Throw in more scary native dwarfs than you could chuck a spear at, an exciting hippopotamus attack (plus a few crocs for good measure), Tarzan wrestling a lion, and Weissmuller's trademark yodel, and you have one helluva rollicking flick.
Well, let's start with the good news first:
THE GOOD - Plenty of action with a lot of wild animals on display, even if they are just stock footage. You see lion attacks, crocodiles, hippos, panthers, you name it, and you see several of the different tribes of all kinds, including pygmies (called "dwarfs" in the movie.) Since this movie was made almost 75 years ago, I can't knock any of the realism because they didn't have it in the movies that long ago. They do the best they can so you put up with actors talking in front of fake backgrounds. However, Weissmuller did a lot of action scenes and was in great shape. He and O'Sullivan make a well-built handsome couple, if there ever was one in those Golden Years of cinema.
The film has historical value (with so many sequels) in that it shows how Tarzan acquired Jane and his beginnings of learning the English language.
The BAD - From the moment "Jane Parker" is taken by Tarzan almost every scene with her is Maureen O'Sullivan in hysterics, shrieking and screaming scene after scene. It's enough to give you a headache and it ruins the film. Thankfully, she calmed down in the sequels, but not in this movie. The movie also does no favors for "The Great White Hunter" image as C. Aubrey Smith, playing Jane's father, and Neil Hamilton, as "Harry Holt," the safari guide, shoot at every animal within sight, whether the beasts is threatening or not. These people are kill- happy, particularly Smith. On another note, it's too bad there isn't anything in here explaining how Tarzan got to be in the jungle in the first place. There is no history of him in here or footage of his growing up. He's just there when Jane and the group get to a certain point in Africa.
The story is rather dim and missing key elements of continuity, but it doesn't seem to matter so much, since the main point of the film is to bring Tarzan and Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) together. There's a crusty father (C. Aubrey Smith) determined to find the elephants' graveyard, and a stalwart colonial hero, Henry Holt (Neil Hamilton) who begins well but goes downhill as the trek through the jungle shows him to be a brute, and there are perhaps a dozen expendable black porters, killed along the way by falls from cliffs, arrows of hostile tribes, crocodiles, and some sort of captive gorilla-god. There aren't any left at the end of the trip, though all the white people survive. This isn't good.
Weirdest of all is the appearance of the hostile tribethey're not pygmies, they're dwarfs, as the father explains in matter-of-fact tones. Sure enough, it's the entire stock of Hollywood small people in black make-up. Tarzan and the friendly elephants take care of them.
What is decidedly not pleasant here is the explicit racism, the profiteering and imperialist motives, and the callousness toward African human and animal life. Even Tarzan is guilty, for he dispatches several of the porters himself after Holt has shot one of his ape-friends. Jane tries to prevent Holt from shooting Tarzan by crying out, "He's White!" Not so much, according to the father, who deems Tarzan little more than an animal, and Holt sneers and glowers. And well he might, because he'd imagined Jane was his property.
There's the other fascinating thing about this movie: the attraction between the nearly-mute, beautiful ape-man and the nearly-always-speaking, beautiful "civilized" girl. It can't be anything but animal magnetism, or, rather, pure sex. Weismuller spends the whole film nearly naked, and looking pretty good, and O'Sullivan indicates her potential sexiness when she changes clothes early in the film, pausing in her silky undergarments to laugh at her father's discomfiture. By the time her clothes get torn and she goes swimming with Tarzan, her curves and general loveliness become an integral part of the story. Tarzan and Jane are fascinated by each other, and can't stop staring. Tarzan is curious and innocent and hypnotized, and Jane passes through the obligatory stage of being frightened into an appreciation of Tarzan's character, beauty, and sense of identity in and with the jungle, and at last into a happy ease in her own sensuality. This last development allows her to stay in Africa as Holt retreats on the back of a borrowed elephant.
This is a ridiculous and offensive movie, and it is also rather wonderful. The best moment, other than O'Sullivan and Weismuller at play in the water and all wet on shore, is when Jane is bandaging the wounded Tarzan's head and the young chimpanzee puts his arm around her shoulders.