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Monday, March 17, 2008

Tarzan and His Mate

We’ve dabbled with Tarzan a bit over the years. Films featuring Gordon Scott, Elmo Lincoln and other Men of the Apes can be found three to a CD at the drugstore, and our friend John gave the kids a copy of the Filmation Tarzan cartoon from the 1970s. But this week, we decided to go for broke with Johnny Weismuller’s 1934 Tarzan and His Mate.

While there is still debate over which of the dozens of people who played Tarzan did the best job, it’s fair to say that the Weismuller films of the 30s featured the apex of Hollywood’s contribution to the jungle-man genre. And anything that happened in any Tarzan film ever, occurs twice over in Tarzan and His Mate. Did the Lord of the Jungle once wrestle an alligator? Bah! In Tarzan and His Mate, he rescues Jane from a leopard, rhino and gator in quick succession. A couple of friendly elephants ride to the rescue of Gordon Scott or Elmo Lincoln? Tarzan and His Mate features Tarzan riding at the head of herd of hundreds of pachyderms.

By the time the climax arrives, which pits headhunters and their lion allies against Tarzan and his army of chimps and elephants, the action has reached such a crazed crescendo that the sheer number of animals and battle scenes threaten to overwhelm the story. And, in a sense, they do if you’re talking about the generic central plotline which features the jungle lord outwitting ivory poachers.

But the real drama of this top-notch Hollywood production is the relationship between Tarzan and Jane, the wife he picks up (literally) in the 1932 film Tarzan the Ape Man. Maureen O’Sullivan continues her role as Tarzan’s Mrs. and every scene featuring her and Weismuller radiates not just animal passion and playfulness, but genuine, deep, abiding love. The fact that Tarzan’s communication ranges from guttural to baby-like (he lets his actions do the talking) and Jane is sophisticated and urbane only heightens the choice she made to spend her life in the jungle to be close to the man she loves.

All that said, we probably overreached with this film with regard to showing it to an eight and five year old. To give you an idea of the violence level, the body count is so high that even with a cast of hundreds (mostly natives), the names of the sole survivors at the end of the picture can be found in the film’s title. The whole bwana-native thing didn’t come up, although that’s just a matter of time.

And then there’s the erotic swim sequence in which Jane swims naked with Tarzan in an underwater ballet, with blurry water the only hat tip to modesty. For generations born after 1934 who sometimes act as though they rescued their generation from the Uptight subdivision of Squaresville, Tarzan and His Mate serves as an interesting wakeup call.

Eli Says: I liked all of the battle scenes, especially when the animals are attacking.

Who’s Pick: Dad


Dad: 4/5
Mom: 3/5
Eli: 4/5
Ben: 5/5
Total: 16/20

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some of my own favorite Tarzans simply aren't yet available on DVD, indeed they were never properly released on VHS!
For example "Tarzan goes to India" (1963) a WONDERFUL film in every way in which the Jungle Lord flies to the Punjab (seemingly in a biplane) to save a herd of elephants from the encroachments of a dam project.
It was shot in color, on location and stars Jock Mahoney who is one of the best of the lesser known Tarzan actors.
I've always thought this was a good film for kids as it has a bit of everything, stunning locations, a nice practical type plot built around a conservation problem...but try to find it!

Anyhow keep up the fine work, this blog could be big!

John Galligan