Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller
TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932). Director: W. S. Van Dyke.

James Parker (C. Aubrey Smith), his daughter Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan), and Parker's associate Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) are in Africa trying to find the mystical elephants' graveyard where valuable ivory can be appropriated. They find a treacherous way past a certain escarpment, encountering a horde of hippos and hungry gators, then eventually come afoul of a group of mean dwarfs. Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) doesn't put in an appearance until 23 minutes into the running time, and naturally helps save the day when Jane and the others are lowered by rope into a pit with a huge and violent ape. While he could never be considered a great actor, Weissmuller's pantomiming in this is highly effective, getting across both his primitive aspects as well as a charming shyness towards Jane. The movie reveals absolutely nothing of Tarzan's background, and doesn't follow the plot of Burroughs' first novel except for the business with Tarzan swinging away with a frightened but mesmerized Jane in his arms. The film reveals its incredible racism in at least one scene, when a native porter falls to his death from a horrifying cliff and Holt wonders first what was in the man's packs, and then says "poor devil." Tarzan never actually says "Me Tarzan, You Jane" but keeps repeating "Tarzan, Jane" as he taps her on the shoulder over and over again, revealing his sense of humor. O'Sullivan [Payment Deferred] gives a good performance, although she does get so whiny at times you wish Tarzan would throw her out of a tree. Smith [Little Lord Fauntleroy] and Hamilton are okay -- the only time I ever really liked Hamilton was when he played Commissioner Gordon on Batman -- and Cheetah, of course, is absolutely wonderful. At one point Tarzan murders a poor native guide as retaliation for Hamilton shooting one of the ape man's pets! A bit slow-paced at times. This was not the first movie to feature Tarzan, but it led into a long series with Weissmuller [Jungle Jim] and then other actors. Tarzan of the Apes must have been pretty strong stuff in 1932, although it was probably eclipsed the following year by King Kong.

Verdict: Compelling if uneven fantasy. ***.

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