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?

15 thoughts on “GUEST POST – Classic Flix Review: Tarzan, The Ape Man (1932)

  1. Ted S.

    I’ve heard of this film but never seen it. In fact, I’ve never seen any of the Tarzan films, even the Disney cartoon one. I heard they’re planning to do a modern day version soon.

    1. PrairieGirl

      Hi Ted, I really enjoyed the Disney Tarzan, especially because the song You’ll be in My Heart from the movie won an Oscar. LOVE that song. But you must check out at least one of the classic Tarzan’s, I guarantee you’ll have a strong reaction, one way or the other ;-D

    2. Oh really Ted? Did you hear that recently? I just heard about the new, supposedly darker remake of Peter Pan, too. Man, Hollywood is really running out of original ideas!!

  2. Oooh, lovely to see our Prairie Girl doing a review 🙂
    I’ve seen the film a few times as a kid since it’s a classic, but I don’t remember it much.

    1. PrairieGirl

      Hey Dezzy, so glad to see you enjoy my work too. Oh, you must have another look at Tarzan now that you’re all grown up!

  3. Funk

    Wow, thank you for taking me back in time, I haven’t seen these since I was kid in the 60’s, and looks like I’m going to have to re-watch these again, sounds like a good Saturday afternoon matinee. Of all the remakes that has been going the last number of years, I’m surprised Tarzan has not been up on the big screen yet.

    1. PrairieGirl

      You’re welcome, Funk. And I have to thank Turner Classic Movies for showing me a glimpse so I could relive them too, just like you. Well, I have my doubts if any remake could match the originals, you certainly can’t clone Johnny W, but it’d be interesting to see someone give it a try.

  4. I am with Ted, I haven’t seen any of these classics, although I have heard of them.

    Nice write up PrairieGirl I very much enjoyed the read.

    Now how to i type the Tarzan scream.




    1. PrairieGirl

      Hi Custard, glad you enjoyed. The films brought back such a great kick for me. And they are suitable for your kids too, they would especially love the chimp Cheeta.

  5. Vince

    aah I finally got to reading your sweet review – I read the Edgar Rice Burroughs books when I was a kid and really loved the old Weismuller and O’Sullivan movies! It was probably the closest in story until Greystoke came out in the 80s (very good also). Thanks for sharing your love of the ol’ classic!

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