Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
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Critic Reviews for Tarzan the Ape Man
Very vine, er...fine Weismuller, his first, with sexy O'Sullivan Jane.
First and rawest of the Weismuller Tarzans
The first feature-length talking version of the Tarzan series, and the best in the series.
Audience Reviews for Tarzan the Ape Man
Meh. The original Tarzan has some historical appeal and watching it can be fun in a campy way, but it just didn't click with me, despite reminding me of the classic 'King Kong' in a few ways. The white man goes to the unknown, forbidden jungle in search of treasure. The natives jump around and dance to sacrificial rites. The explorers have no qualms about blowing things away with their guns, in this case, hippopotamuses, not dinosaurs. The young woman along for the adventure falls into the hands of a powerful being who can take care of her. Tarzan, like Kong, has to fight and kill other wild creatures that threaten them. They want to bring him back to civilization, but here is it where it diverges: Tarzan has the choice, and declines, and Jane has fallen in love with him, and wants to stay.
Olympic champion Johnny Weissmuller was a great choice for Tarzan (my understanding is that Clark Gable was also considered ... yikes), and Maureen O'Sullivan has great chemistry with him, so what's the trouble? I ask myself, does the movie hold up? The worst of the scenes has the explorers very noticeably standing in front of stock footage of African tribesmen in the background. Ugh. The best has Tarzan battling a lion in what looks real, and we know it's not CGI. There are scenes that drag on, dashing through the jungle and bellowing his famous cry in places he could not possibly have done, such as when he's swimming, and O'Sullivan shrieking 'Tarzan' gets quickly jarring to the ears. There are other scenes that surprise us, like Jane falling off a cliff face shortly after a native has; the difference, she's on a rope, whereas his death is treated simply as property loss, with no recognition that he was a human being. We see the African porters whipped on more than one occasion to keep up. We cringe as we hear Jane trying to stop the others from shooting Tarzan by yelling "He's White!" The racism is certainly one of the film's problems, and is more than a little off-putting. The other is the plot, which isn't all that exciting, and I began looking forward to the movie ending about halfway through. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood. Maybe I would have preferred the sequel, where it sounds like the sex and violence was ratcheted up a notch. I don't know. Just, meh.
I thought I'd seen this before, but after watching it again, I'm not sure I've ever seen it in its entirety. I've read the first 6 books in the series, albeit many years ago, and I have to say I enjoyed them much more than this film. Naturally, the mentality of the greedy white expedition leaders sickened me. If it moves, shoot it! It reminded me so much of the redneck, hillbilly mentality of humans today. If it moves, shoot it, then drink some beers! Unfortunately, one of them managed to make it out of the jungle, while every single one of their well whipped, dark skinned pack mules got wasted. I also had to laugh at them acting in front of a screen playing a film as if they were right there. Even for 1932, I thought that was shoddy. The meat of the film was entertaining enough, with some action, a small bit of suspense, a bunch of sadistic pygmies and even some wild, white monkey romance. It was also nice to watch a film with just a touch of dialogue in my native Swahili. I guess it's all the senseless animal slaughtering that left such a bad taste in my mouth. Oh, and since when are there trapezes hanging in the trees in Africa? Ehh, extra half star 'cause it's fucking Tarzan!
The first of the famous Tarzan series starring Johnny Weissmuller is a decent movie...it isn't great, but it is decent. I liked both Weissmuller and O'Sullivan, but the pacing leaves something to be desired.
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