GUEST POST – Classic Flix Review: Tarzan, The Ape Man (1932)

I was channel surfing last weekend and came upon this scene in the middle of a Tarzan movie on TCM that made me stop in my tracks:

Tarzan movies were usual fare on a Saturday morning when I was a kid, but the scene where Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) suddenly becomes enamored with her jungle-man captor shed a whole new light on the original Tarzan movies now that I’m all grown up! Jane is feisty, very much has a mind of her own, and is starting to warm up to Tarzan in a big way. (Johnny Weissmuller, who won five Olympic gold medals in swimming in two Olympics: 1924 Paris and 1928 Amsterdam, won the role out of 150 other Tarzan wanna-be’s). And after seeing that scene, I completely fell for him too!

The synopsis on the Netflix DVD sleeve makes me chuckle with delight: “In Tarzan the Ape Man, jungle visitor Jane is abducted by Tarzan and his ape cohorts and develops an elephant-sized crush on the muscled vine swinger.” No kidding. And I love the way he has her slung over his shoulder on the DVD cover, with Cheeta looking on. I mean, come on!Where can see you see ANYTHING this kitschy and politically incorrect anymore?!
Of course, the white hunters reining superior over the African natives seem very out-of-place, and the elephant stampedes are amateur by today’s standards, but I was struck by how timeless the attraction between Tarzan and Jane was. There are some disturbing parts that would NEVER fly in films today, such as the blatant disregard of African lives and the cruel treatment of some animals: thank goodness we are much the wiser now. You’ll just have to wince and bear it to get past those scenes. The plot is classic adventure romance (think Indiana Jones).
Another movie in the series that was also included on the same DVD, Tarzan Escapes, is even better than the first, and it shows quite a bit more of Tarzan and Jane’s relationship and how it grows. Go to my YouTube channel to see all five clips I’ve added from these two films.
Tarzan the Ape Man was shot at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Malibu Creek State Park and the MGM Studios backlot. Along with these locations, what looks to be documentary footage was actually shot on location in Africa for the 1931 film Trader Horn and was the first film ever to be shot on that continent. Several authentic scenes were borrowed from Trader Horn for use in Tarzan the Ape Man. Not coincidentally, W.S. Van Dyke was the director for both films.

This was a delightfully nostalgic trip to the past. The movies were so good (mostly in terms of the story and chemistry between Tarzan and Jane, both Weissmuller and Sullivan are excellent in their parts), I plan on seeing more of the series. If you can tolerate a roughly cut, campy adventure set in the African jungle with an unusually striking romance at it’s heart, get busy and see these films.

Well readers, have you seen this film? If so, what did you think?