Tarzan The Ape Man (1932) Johnny Weissmuller

 Tarzan The Ape Man (1932)

     "Tarzan the Ape Man" is a 1932 Pre-Code American action adventure film featuring Edgar Rice Burroughs' famous jungle hero Tarzan and starring Johnny Weissmuller, Neil Hamilton, C. Aubrey Smith and Maureen O'Sullivan. The film is loosely based on Burroughs' novel Tarzan of the Apes, with the dialogue written by Ivor Novello. The film was directed by W. S. Van Dyke. It was remade twice, first in 1959 and later in 1981.


     English trader James Parker and his partner, Harry Holt, are about to embark on a journey beyond the Mutia Escarpment, where a fabled ivory-rich elephants' graveyard lies, when James's daughter Jane arrives from England. After a tearful reunion with her father, Jane, who says she is "through with civilization" and prefers to be a savage, insists on joining the expedition on its dangerous trek in search of an ivory deposit worth eleven million dollars. Though James is reluctant to let his daughter accompany them, he eventually allows her to go when a smitten Harry sides with her. Before they leave, James tells his daughter about the legend surrounding the burial site, and warns her that the natives consider the place sacred and taboo and that all who so much as look at it are put to death by tribal witchmen. James's account of the legend soon proves true when a native, crazy with fear after having seen the burial ground, runs into their camp to take refuge from the brutal Ubangi tribe and then mysteriously dies. When the expedition party finally arrives at the wall of the Mutia Escarpment, they are forced to scale its narrow precipice, which proves too narrow for one of the men, who falls to his death. Jane also loses her footing, but she is pulled back by a rope. After coming to a resting point, the expedition party is bewildered by an ape call they hear in the distance that is distinctly human-like. They soon meet the source of the sound when Tarzan uses his jungle call to save them from an attack by threatening hippopotami. Tarzan, who understands no language, then carries the screaming Jane to his treetop home, where she gradually loses her fear of him and the apes who live in the trees. Later, while Tarzan has left Jane to search for food, Harry and James rescue her, but not before Harry shoots an ape that he believes is a threat to Jane. Tarzan witnesses the killing and follows the expedition to take revenge on them. After drowning one of James's African guides, Tarzan recaptures Jane and then, with the help of an elephant, engages an attacking lion in a fight. The elephant carries the defeated and unconscious Tarzan to safety and then calls Tarzan's apes to summon Jane. Jane arrives in time to bandage the wounded ape man, and the two share a romantic swim in a nearby river. Later, from her treetop vantage point, Jane sees her ailing father fall down and decides that she must go to him. Tarzan, hurt by Jane's departure, flees into the jungle. Soon after he leaves, the expedition is surrounded by a large number of pygmies, who abduct the hunters and take them downriver to their camp. Along the way, Jane sees Cheetah, Tarzan's chimpanzee friend, and sends the animal for help. While the pygmies make a cruel game out of sacrificing Harry, James and Jane to a ferocious beast in a pit, Tarzan arrives with a herd of elephants, and Jane and her party are freed. Jane, her father, Tarzan and Harry ride away from the camp on the backs of elephants, and though James discovers that his elephant is dying, he insists on staying on him in the hope that the animal will lead him to the sacred burial site. The elephant leads James to the site, but as soon as he sets his eyes on the grave, he dies. After saying goodbye to Harry, Jane is reunited with Tarzan and Cheetah and remains with them.


     Despite the many different Tarzans who have graced the screen, from the silent Elmo Lincoln to the decidedly contemporary Christopher Lambert, there is only one Tarzan in the eyes of true film lovers - Johnny Weissmuller. When the 28-year-old Olympic swimmer took on the role of Tarzan, the Ape Man for MGM in 1932, he became a Hollywood anomaly, the only star to build his career almost entirely around a single role. His popularity also helped make MGM's backlot epic the definitive Tarzan film.

Originally, MGM executives planned to feature Tarzan in a sequel to their popular 1931 adventure Trader Horn, the first sound film to feature extensive location footage shot in Africa. In fact, the studio had so much location footage left over after making Trader Horn that they were looking for another story that would let them use it. Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs' general manager suggested teaming the heroic Trader Horn with Tarzan, so MGM picked up the rights. Then they decided to focus on Tarzan alone.

The studio considered several candidates for the title role, including Clark Gable, Joel McCrea, Charles Bickford and two future Tarzans, Olympic swimming champion Buster Crabbe and the gold-medallist in the shot put, Herman Brix (later known as Bruce Bennett). Then they found Weissmuller. The swimming star had won five gold medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, in addition to 67 world and 52 national titles. He had broken 174 individual records, including every freestyle record from the 100 yards to the half-mile. There was only one problem. He was under exclusive contract to model BVD underwear. To win Weissmuller's release, MGM had to work out a deal for their top stars - from Greta Garbo to Marie Dressler - to appear in BVD ads.

For a while, it was just as hard to cast Tarzan's mate, Jane. They couldn't find anybody with the right combination of sophistication and innocence until casting received a photo of a young Irish actress named Maureen O'Sullivan. They immediately signed her to a long-term contract, and she made her MGM debut in Tarzan, the Ape Man.

The stock footage was added to location work shot in the then-undeveloped Toluca Lake region north of Los Angeles, where the only delay was caused when two trained rhinos being used in the film were given a bath in the lake and refused to leave. Sound technicians created the famed Tarzan yell by amplifying and repeating Weissmuller's voice. They even played parts of his yell backwards to get the right effect. The result was so distinctive it turned up in Tarzan films for almost 50 years.

Tarzan, the Ape Man was a huge hit, bringing in almost $1 million in profits, leading MGM to feature Weissmuller and O'Sullivan in five sequels. Ironically, Edgar Rice Burroughs, the character's creator, was not happy with the MGM version, which turned his cultured British lord of the jungle into a monosyllabic ape man. Others have derided the film for its depiction of native Africans as bloodthirsty savages, its cheesy man-in-a-gorilla suit monster and the rampant sexuality of Tarzan's relationship with Jane, which was frowned upon by religious groups. Yet, if anything, these are all part of the mix that has made the film an enduring classic.

ORIGINAL MOVIE REVIEW From The New York Times Published March 28, 1932
Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932)
March 28, 1932

Johnny Weissmuller, Crack Swimmer Makes His Film Debut as a Wild Man of the Jungle.

Published: March 28, 1932

   Youngsters home from school yesterday found the Capitol a lively place, with all sorts of thrills in the picture "Tarzan, the Ape Man," and Johnny Weissmuller as the hero, a so-called ape man; lions and leopards as villains, apes for comedy relief, and elephants that aroused one's sympathy and admiration.
It is a cleverly photographed film and, although some adults may doubt that Mr. Weissmuller kills two lions and a leopard with a knife after a prolonged struggle, there is good enough camera trickery for lads and lassies and mayhap a few parents to believe that Johnny Weissmuller took his life in his hands when he agreed to act in this jungle feature.
     Another player who has a rough time is Maureen O'Sullivan, who plays Jane Parker, the heroine of this pictorial transcription of Edgar Rice Burroughs's tale. Miss O'Sullivan is snatched from the ground and carried by Tarzan to his abode in the trees. Tarzan, being on excellent terms with apes whose lingo he appears to know, warns these beasts that the white girl is not to be killed or harmed. At least one presumes this, for, ape man or not, he falls in love with Jane and she with him. His vocabulary of English is as limited as that of a dog, and therefore it is all the more amusing when the girl, after trying to teach the jungle man to say "You" and "Me," asks him to let her see the color of his eyes. But she appreciates that Tarzan cannot understand her and so she, in spite of being a captive for the second time, coolly suggests that he knock when he enters her boudoir.
     The scenes wherein Tarzan swings from tree to tree and takes a high dive into a lake are done most effectively. He makes a peculiar cry, a noise like blowing on a comb covered with paper, when he requires assistance. The elephants are usually an the qui vive and they lumber along to Tarzan and help him or his friends.
This fantastic affair is filmed with a sense of humor. W. S. Van Dyke, producer of "Trader Horn," was at the helm in the making of this tale, in which Harry Holt, Jane, James Parker, Jane's father, and others are bent on trying to find the legendary spot known as "Elephants' burial ground," where there is supposed to be millions of dollars' worth of ivory. Whether there is or not matters little, for old Parker, played by C. Aubrey Smith, never lives to tell, and Jane elects to stay in the jungle with Tarzan, who, it might be said, is an apt pupil in learning to talk English as time goes on. It is to be construed that he who seeks the ivory will meet his end before he can get his men to dig up the tusks. Perhaps it is the curse of the elephants.
     As a side issue here there are a number of hippopotamuses who take great pride in  extending their cavernous mouths. Mr. Van Dyke probably brought some of the pictures of the wild beasts back from his trip to Africa, but through crafty ideas and neat photography Messrs. Aubrey Smith, Neil Hamilton, who appears as Henry Holt; Maureen O'Sullivan and others find themselves, or their shadows, in the midst of Africa. And besides lions, leopards and what not, there are also dwarfed blacks and real savages, some of them with amazing decorations on their physiognomies.
     Mr. Weissmuller does good work as Tarzan and Miss O'Sullivan is alert as Jane. Mr. Aubrey Smith makes the most of his part.

TARZAN, THE APE MAN, an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's story; directed by W. S. Van Dyke; produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. At the Capitol. 
Harry Holt . . . . . Neil Hamilton 
Jane Parker . . . . . Maureen O'Sullivan 
James Parker . . . . . C. Aubrey Smith 
Mrs. Cutten . . . . . Doris Lloyd 
Beamish . . . . . Forrester Harvey 
Riano . . . . . Ivory Williams 
Tarzan . . . . . John Weissmuller

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