Tarzan The Ape Man (1932) Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Based on the famous novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, this 1932 film is a little odd and at times awkward. Nevertheless, MGM later released two remakes of the film. Among other studios, it was the first of 12 Tarzan films. There were also several silent era Tarzan films stretching back to 1918.
It tells the story of a pair of British adventurers traveling to Africa in search of the mysterious elephant burial grounds so they can bring home their precious ivory. The encounter natives of Africa, in a somewhat racially insensitive portrayal, as well as trials in the jungles like wild elephants and crossing rivers filled with crocodiles and hippopotamuses. The leader’s daughter, Jane (played by Maureen O’Sullivan), is abducted by a strange jungle dweller and his ape friends. She quickly develops a strong romantic relationship with the strange man called Tarzan (played by Austro-Hungarian athlete Johnny Weissmuller). When Jane is reunited with her father, she longs for Tarzan to go home to London with her, but he returns to the jungle. As Jane and her party make their way out of the jungle they are captured by a group of native dwarves who take them back to a tribal camp. At the last moment, Tarzan appears and rescues them by trampling their camp with a herd of elephants. Unfortunately Jane’s father dies. Rather than return to London she decides to stay in the jungle with Tarzan. The film closes with a scene of the two standing together on a rock overlooking the jungle.
The film was mostly shot on set at MGM, or else in regions surrounding Los Angeles, CA. It was a box office success in its heyday. The film popularized the famous Tarzan “yodel” that was actually created by MGM’s sound department. Tarzan was played by Johnny Weissmuller, the famous Olympic swimmer, who went on to play Tarzan in several more sequels.
Tarzan is a good film, though it is too long and at times awkward and clumsily put together. Though some scenes are worth a good watch, such as the first interactions between Tarzan and Jane or the scenes of wild “African” animals. The next sequel to be made was Tarzan And His Mate in 1934, though it was a box office disappointment.