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STUDIO: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 433 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: None
Ya like Tarzan? Ya like loincloths? Ya like Monkeys? If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, then step right up and enjoy Warner Brothers three disc box set of six Tarzan movies.
Tarzan Triumphs (1943)
Johnny Weissmuller, Johnny Sheffield, Frances Gifford, Stanly Ridges
Jane has left Tarzan and gone back to England to care for her ailing mother. In the meantime, Nazis have moved in on the vine swinger’s turf, and he’s none to happy about it.
Tarzan Triumphs was the first Tarzan film to be produced by RKO studios after they had obtained the rights from rival MGM. By the early 1940’s Metro Goldwyn Mayor was eager to get rid of the franchise for a myriad of reasons. Its main star, Johnny Weissmuller, was beginning to show his age, Maureen O’Sullivan, who after starring in six earlier Tarzan movies, had finally left the series, and, given the fact that America was right in the middle of World War 2, MGM felt that they wouldn’t be able to turn a big profit overseas due to release restrictions. But RKO restarted the series by downplaying the romance and upping the action. With Jane out of the picture, it left more room for Tarzan to fight the enemy, and by making the enemy the Nazis, it guaranteed that the studio had a villain that the American audiences would love to hate.
I was really prepared to be bored to death watching this movie. I had never read a Tarzan story or saw a Tarzan movie. I had always just gone with the basic assumption that it was just a corny old film series that had a guy that did a crazy howl. But after seeing Tarzan Triumphs, I can honestly say that it is a corny old film with a guy that has a crazy howl that definitely has its charms. It looks like there was a budget pretty close to zero on this one. The backdrops are clearly noticeable. The cliffs that Tarzan (Weissmuller) fights the bad guys on have a tendency to shake quite a bit when more than one person stands on them, and there is a huge amount of stock footage going on. Rather than this hindering the film though, it helps to draw you into its pulpy, serial-style pacing. There is no time to think about how fake the backdrops are when Weissmuller is exclaiming “Tarzan make war!” before enlisting his faithful chimp Cheetah to help him fight those dreaded Nazis.
Let’s also get this out in the open before moving on to the next five movies. If you are looking for Bogart style acting, go rent Casablanca. What you’re getting here is a nearly monosyllabic Johnny Weissmuller. There isn’t a piece of dialogue in this movie uttered by him that is more than a sentence long, if it is a sentence at all, but I would argue again that this is part of the charm of not just this movie, but all of them. Besides that, the only real acting in this movie is coming from the monkey, who steals every single scene he is in.
Tarzans Desert Mystery (1944)
Johnny Weissmuller, Johnny Sheffield, Nancy Kelly
Jane sends a letter from England urging her tree hopping hubby to collect up some special jungle plants for her in order to create a malaria fighting serum that will help the suffering English soldiers. In the meantime he meets up with a feisty female magician, fights some more Nazis, and struggles with the hardships of being a single parent.
It’s more of the same in Tarzan’s Desert Mystery, and that’s really not a bad thing. The sets are again bad. There are tons of shots that seem reused from other Tarzan films, and again, that monkey is getting the best screen time. But what I loved about this particular movie was the GIANT ANIMALS! You get giant Gila monsters, Alligators with fins glued to their backs, and a nasty Spider that gives our cast a terrible fright. It would also be of use to point out that if you are watching these movies straight through, then it is about midway through this one that you will find yourself uttering in Tarzan speak.
Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)
Johnny Weissmuller, Brenda Joyce, Johnny Sheffield
Jane’s back in town and trying to get the tree house in order while Tarzan is trying to stop some pesky archeologists from stealing artifacts from the secret city of the Amazons.
This is the slowest film of the set. That’s not to say that the other five films don’t drag on at times, but this one just does it more. The formula stays pretty much the same, with Tarzan always saving the day, but this film seems as if Tarzan is just looking for a break. He doesn’t really get into many scrapes (aside from a little gator wrestling). Combine that with the minuscule amount of dialogue in the film and there isn’t much left to go on. The one thing that this film does have over the others in the series is that it looks the prettiest. While I am not sure of the budget of these films, this one looks like they may have spent the most on it. It also goes without saying that Cheetah the chimp is hilarious in this one. Watching him almost killing everyone while trying to light a stick of dynamite is comedy gold!
Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946)
Johnny Weissmuller, Brenda Joyce, Johnny Sheffield, Acquanetta
In this entry, the mysterious Leopard cult is attacking caravans of people looking to settle down in beautiful Zambezi and it is up to Tarzan to stop them.
This pace picks up quite a bit in this entry, with Tarzan being captured by the evil Leopard Queen (Acquanetta), and Boy (Sheffield, who by this time looks to be outgrowing his name) hitting his awkward stage with the ladies. Aside from the usual things that make up an RKO era Tarzan movie (bad dialogue, shabby sets, etc…), this one is kind of special for its complete disregard of what a real African Tribal town might be like. First off, all of the tribal people are white. Second, the set for the village looks more like a Moroccan shopping center than anything that you would think to see in the heart of darkest Africa. It would have been nice to have some sort of commentary during scenes like this, to understand better if the people making these Tarzan movies were unaware of how ignorant they were being, or if they just didn’t care (I would certainly guess it’s the latter). I understand that by the time the Tarzan franchise went to RKO pictures it was solidly in the realm of the “B” picture, but saving a buck isn’t a very good excuse for totally misrepresenting a culture. That being said, this is a pretty fun entry in the series, with some good action scenes and the most satisfying finale of the series. And, although it doesn’t need to be said, Cheetah the Chimp again shines in his role.
Tarzan and the Huntress (1947)
Johnny Weissmuller, Brenda Joyce, Johnny Sheffield
Hunters from America show up on Tarzan’s turf looking to take all the animals away and sell them to zoos. As you can imagine, this aggression will not stand, and the king of the jungle takes on these trappers and teaches us all a little bit about ourselves in the process.
It’s pretty much the same recipe as the previous Tarzan movies. Tarzan enjoys his idyllic paradise. Someone comes in and starts to disrupt everything, and then Tarzan and his jungle pals take care of the problem. What makes this one stand out above the rest is that the producers took whatever made the previous films good, and put a lot more of it into this one. There is twice the cool vine swinging, tons of Tarzan’s trademark yodeling, and lions attacking cowardly hunters. And to top all of it off, some scenes look like they were actually shot outdoors and not on a Hollywood set, which is saying something for this series. Another big plus for this particular entry is that it is pretty much Cheetah the chimpanzee’s movie. He has almost as much screen time on his own than the lead characters here. He’s rescuing animals, flying around on a home made glider, getting held hostage at gunpoint, and still finding the time to learn skydiving! That chimps got natural talent!
Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)
Johnny Weissmuller, Brenda Joyce
Boy has left to go be king of his own jungle and Tarzan and Jayne are again living like newlyweds. That is until a mysterious girl gets trapped in Tarzans fishing net. Turns out this watery tart is from the hidden city of Aquatania, and she’s harbouring a secret about her towns high priest that could get her killed. It’s up to Tarzan to save the girl and rescue the lost city from the evil religious leader!
Weissmuller’s Tarzan is defenitly the “middle age” king of the jungle by this point in the series; what with the gut starting to protrude just a bit over that trademark loincloth, but he still manages to deliver his dialogue with a subtle, but heroic style that only he or an intelligent caveman could pull off. Stilted acting and an aging body aside, he still takes on the role with gusto (possibly because this movie had a lot more aquatic action in it, and Weissmuller was a champion swimmer). Tarzan and the Mermaids has a much more Polynesian feel to it. There’s a lot of singing on the beach, some halfhearted synchronized swimming, cliff diving, and even an underwater attack from a giant octopus (Weissmuller could have used a few acting tips from Bela Lugosi on how to convincingly fight a fake octopus). Sure, none of this goes anywhere in moving the plot along, but it’s a nice change of pace to see a real ocean in a film series that up until this entry, seemed bound to shooting on sets.
This box set has no extras, aside from alternate language tracks. It’s really a pity because their entertainment value could have been greatly enhanced with a commentary track from a film historian that had some knowledge about the history of the Tarzan movies. The work that Universal did with the extras for their famous monsters DVDs is a great example of the kind of added material that can be culled from all types of sources to make great supplemental material for older films. It would have been interesting for an entertainment historian to expand on how RKO dealt with the Tarzan films from an economical and production standpoint compared to how MGM handled the property. But it’s no good griping about what they could have done, because the set is out and it is bare as far as the extras go.
As a whole, I found this set of Tarzan movies to be watchable, even fairly fun at times (Cheetah the monkey really should have been given his own film series), but the lack of any documentaries or commentaries to help put the films’ history in perspective would have me passing it by on the store shelves in a heartbeat. But if you’re a Tarzan fan, then no review in the world is going to stop you from picking it up.