|Love story: Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan|
Rita Parker (Benita Hume of Suzy) and her brother, Eric (William Henry of The Thin Man), come to Africa to see if they can importune their cousin, Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan), to come back with them to London, citing a complicated will that needs her attention. Rita and Eric hire Captain Fry (John Buckler) to take them into the dangerous territory where Jane resides with Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller), but he turns out to be an evil character who has sinister ulterior motives. Warned to watch out for the tribe of Bogonis, the group discover that an even more savage tribe is intent on killing everyone. For much of its length Tarzan Escapes is more of a cuddly domestic romance detailing Jane's idyllic life with her lover, Tarzan, but in the final quarter there is plenty of action. Reportedly Tarzan Escapes was considered too gruesome in its original form to be released and there was lots of re-shooting. When Jane and Tarzan take a swim as they did in Tarzan and His Mate, Jane now wears clothing. Although some bat monsters have been edited out of the film, there is a disturbing scene when one poor native is tied to two trees and then drawn and quartered, which is made clear if not graphically depicted (which makes one wonder what the 1936 censors thought of as "gruesome.") Late in the picture the group must escape through a cave that is filled with lakes of lava and gator-sized lizard monsters. One of the most interesting characters is Rawlins (Herbert Mundin of Charlie Chan's Secret), whose first sight of Tarzan has him falling in a faint, although the two eventually become buddies. Rawlins later shows his bravery in trying to save the Ape Man's life, and pays a sad price for it. Of course, all of the victims, black or white, are forgotten by the end of the movie. O'Sullivan and Weissmuller make the most of their rather sensual romantic sequences, which are quite well-acted, and the other performances are all adroit. A scene with Tarzan killing a giant crocodile is lifted almost entirely from Tarzan and His Mate. In this picture, our favorite chimp -- now spelled "Cheetah" -- is female. Cheetah mischievously -- or bitchily -- places a little doe on a log and sets the animal adrift, necessitating Tarzan's rescuing the deer from said crocodile.
I wondered why I wasn't more familiar with John Buckler, who is quite good as the nasty Captain Fry, and discovered -- as is, sadly, often the case -- that Buckler died at age thirty after finishing this picture. He and his father, Hugh Buckler, also an actor, were in a car that skidded into the water in Malibu Lake, CA. Both drowned.
Verdict: Absorbing Tarzan epic. ***.