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Warner Home Video presents
The Tarzan Collection (Tarzan the Ape Man / Tarzan and His Mate / Tarzan Escapes / Tarzan Finds a Son! / Tarzan's Secret Treasure / Tarzan's New York Adventure) (1932-1942)

"AAAHHHHOOOHHHHAAHHHHH..."
- Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: June 06, 2004

Stars: Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan
Other Stars: John Sheffield, Cheeta, Neil Hamilton, Forrester Harvey, Paul Cavanagh, John Buckler, C. Aubrey Smith, Herbert Mundin, Berita Hume, William Henry, Nathan Curry, Dardy Jones, Ian Hunter, Frieda Inescort, Henry Stephenson, Henry Wilcoxon, Morton Lowry, Laraine Day, Barry Fitzgerald, Reginald Owen, Tom Conway, Philip Dorn, Cordell Hickman, Charles Bickford, Paul Kelly, Chill Wills, Virginia Grey, Cy Kendall, Russell Hicks
Director: Richard Thorpe, W.S. Van Dyke, Cedric Gibbons, Jack Conway

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adventurous action and violence, sexually suggestive dialogue, a sustained scene of nudity in Tarzan and His Mate)
Run Time: 07h:47m:08s
Release Date: June 08, 2004
UPC: 012569599529
Genre: adventure


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B-BB- B

DVD Review

The greatest mystery in MGM's classic Johnny Weissmuller-Maureen O'Sullivan Tarzan series isn't how the two of them managed to live with such prosperity in the jungle. It's how they shave. Not one frame in any of the movies features a speck of facial hair on Tarzan, nor leg hair on Jane, nor armpit hair on either of them. Really, how do they do it? Whatever the trick is, it's all part of the wonderful magic that only the grand old Hollywood studio system could provide. Thanks to Warner Bros., the best collection of Tarzan adventures ever to grace the screen is now available to own in an appetizing boxed set.



"I wish you'd knock before entering my boudoir." -Jane Parker (Maureen O'Sullivan)

Tarzan the Ape Man
1932
(01h:40m:03s)

After venturing into Africa with 1931's Trader Horn, W.S. Van Dyke makes a return trip to uncover Edgar Rice Burroughs' beloved lord of the apes, Tarzan. The cinema is familiar ground for Burroughs' character, having been featured in numerous silents, but now Tarzan gets the opportunity to howl out in his first full talking picture!

James Parker (C. Aubrey Smith) and his friend, Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton), run a general store in Central Africa, where it is rumored that the elephants have a secret graveyard that contains a million pounds of ivory. But of course, nobody has ever seen the graveyard because it is held sacred by savage cannibal tribes who will kill any safari that attempts to find the treasure. Like the brave men they are, this does not deter Parker and Holt, who have a chance to make more money than any man would dare dream. There's just one hitch: Parker's daughter, Jane (the fair Maureen O'Sullivan), has unexpectedly arrived in Africa and is insisting that she join the safari.

Now the smart thing would be to leave the innocent, naïve girl behind, but what fun would that be? Jane's youthful optimism and zest for Africa's jungles are just what the movie needs to sustain the story's opening before the "great white ape" arrives. When Tarzan (five-time Olympic gold medallist Johnny Weissmuller) does finally arrive on screen, the movie is a quarter of the way over, but the fun is just beginning. The men are reluctant to embrace this wild man with the bizarre howl that sounds more akin to Swiss yodelers than African animals. Tarzan looms above the safari with his good friend Cheeta (at times played by a real monkey and at others played by a guy in an ape suit), but when the local Ubangi tribe attacks them, Jane gets lost in the shuffle and is only saved by Tarzan's quick action. He whisks her off to his tree house, where the two play out the parts of reluctant lovers.

Contrary to popular belief, the line "Me Tarzan, you Jane" is never once uttered. Instead, Tarzan barely speaks, which is a good thing. Weissmuller is undoubtedly one of the premier athletes of the last century, spawning from a time when individuals accomplished amazing physical feats without the aid of steroids. But what he is not is an actor. His skills are purely physical, and Tarzan is the role he was born to play. Weissmuller, perhaps inadvertently, gives the best portrayal of Tarzan in screen history precisely because he is physical. Tarzan is a primitive man, more ape than human. Complimenting Tarzan's ape-like qualities is Jane, who has never been more adorable or lustful than here in O'Sullivan's marvelously understated performance. The two actors have undeniable chemistry, with Weissmuller's great physicality and O'Sullivan's nuanced portrayal combining to make a great love story.

The love story is astonishingly suggestive, particularly in Tarzan and Jane's little bathing sequence that begins with the two bickering, but ends with the two ready for...well, you know. Indeed sex is not discussed in this movie (it's a good thing too—after all, Jane's dad has a gun), but what is referenced with the blocking of actors and Jane's dialogue is far more erotic. But, let's get to the meat of the matter: Tarzan fighting lions and natives.

Lest you readers think this movie is all about Tarzan and Jane, there's plenty of excitement for all. Without spoiling any of the movie's groundbreaking action scenes, let it be said that all of them work quite effectively in creating jolly fun at the movies. W.S. Van Dyke, better known today for his comedic direction of The Thin Man, strikes just the right notes (especially during the crocodile river scene), using editing to conceal the primitive special effects. Of course, that's what this is all about, right? The script offers no substantial themes about civilization, it's just an excuse for a competent and professional ensemble of craftsman and artists to create great escapist entertainment for audiences to enjoy well after the movie was released. On that level, this movie is a gigantic success.



"But, darling, I have to put on clothes. There are other people here and they'd think I was immodest." -Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan)

Tarzan and His Mate
1934
(01h:43m:57s)

Sequels are rarely superior to their predecessor, especially when the original is as much fun as W.S. Van Dyke's Tarzan the Ape Man. However, when watching Tarzan and His Mate, Van Dyke's movie doesn't seem to be as much fun as it used to. It now appears to have been the setup, and this Tarzan adventure is the punchline.

The on-screen duo of Weissmuller and O'Sullivan continues in this bigger and more risqué installment. So risqué, in fact, that the original director (Cedric Gibbons, MGM's legendary art department head) was replaced after three weeks with veteran Jack Conway (who goes uncredited here). The steam still sizzles decades after the movie's premiere, with Jane wearing a two-piece jungle bikini for the most part. For the most part, that is, because she and hubby Tarzan take a joy swim in the nude. Oh, yes, all is there for the audience to see (well, except for Tarzan). Breasts, butt, and even...um, Jane's frontal area get the big screen treatment. How MGM was able to sneak this out (eventually the Hays Office removed the scene completely) is flabbergasting to say the least.

Oh, wait, that's right! There's a movie here, not just an "immodest" swim scene. Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton), the longtime friend of Jane's father that was introduced in the previous movie, is returning to the jungle with his scavenger friend, the cruel and greedy Martin Arlington (Paul Cavanagh). They're on the hunt for the elephant graveyard and its piles of ivory. But there's one catch: they need Tarzan to lead the way—and he isn't too keen on the idea of grave robbing. Sound like a good ride that promises adventure and double-crosses? It is, and so much more.

Tarzan and His Mate plays like Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it is far more daring than anything in Spielberg's blockbuster masterpiece is. Aside from the nude scene and the sexually suggestive dialogue, Jane is a strong woman. She doesn't have Tarzan's strength to kill crocodiles with nothing but a knife, but she is one of the most feisty and intelligent heroines ever thrown into a jungle. Her vine swinging has come quite along way since the last movie and she vigorously holds off an army of lions. That's right, an army of lions. There's also an army of elephants and some amazing matte paintings. The technical accomplishments and special effects are impressive even to this day, though modern viewers will easily spot the techniques employed to create the exhilarating action sequences. It may not seem so to today's audiences, but the camera work present here is quite daring and kinetic for its time. However, the story and its telling are too fun for anybody to really care.

Adding to the movie's daring qualities is the fact that Jane and Tarzan, properly speaking, have never been properly married, yet still live together (though they refer to each other as husband and wife—perhaps Cheeta is a Justice of the Peace). Another great aspect of this installment in the Tarzan series is its thematic content. The script hits on Burroughs' themes of civilization destroying the individual's strength, suggesting the need for mankind to embrace and make peace with its animal qualities. Obviously, such themes are not deeply explored and do not provide serious food for thought, but it's enough to make this adventure movie just a little more substantive. In essence, Tarzan and His Mate is a classic.



"How shall I tell you, darling? I love Tarzan, ewani. Tarzan is Jane's love. Like the stars over the night, like the air to breathe. Tarzan makes me alive, but Eric and Rita are my friends. Friends, like rain at the end of the summer, like wind moving the tops of the jungle. I am yours. You are mine, ewani. But I must help Rita, she is my friend." -Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan)

Tarzan Escapes
1936
(01h:29m:17s)

Perhaps if Tarzan Escapes was the first Weissmuller-O'Sullivan escapade it would play a lot better, but after the daring Tarzan and His Mate it plays like a mild Tarzan-esque howl. The adventure doesn't offer us anything new, we just get the same stuff that the previous movies gave us. Some of the footage from the earlier installments (such as when Tarzan kills the giant crocodile) is again used here, which just about sums up the whole outing. It's got the goods, but none of the heart.

A new safari is under way in the African jungle, but this time the quest isn't for the elephant graveyard. Rita and Eric Parker (Berita Hume and William Henry, respectively) are cousins to Jane and stand to inherit a fortune, but they have to get Jane to sign a paper that will transfer the money from her to them. Luckily for them, Jane is sure to give them the money (she has to be; after all, why else would they venture on such a dangerous trip?). Rita and Eric hire a famed hunter, Captain Fry (John Buckler), and his lackey, the befuddled Rawlins (Herbert Mundin), to show them the way to Tarzan.

As usual, the local tribes are still touchy about the sacred land in which Tarzan and Jane dwell. (Here's a thought: Maybe Tarzan and Jane—who keep getting company, despite being unable to communicate with the rest of the world—should move to a less hostile region of the jungle.) Conveniently for the safari, Captain Fry is actually planning on capturing Tarzan and bringing him back to England as a circus act, which prompts him to strike a deal with the cannibal Hymandi tribe. The Hymandi want Tarzan out of the area, and Fry agrees to take him in exchange for safe passage. This deal is all hush-hush of course, because Fry also intends to give Rita, Eric, and Jane to the Hymandi as a gift. Perhaps he would change his mind about Jane, if she would slip back into her bikini outfit from Tarzan and His Mate (evidently her moral scruples have become more conservative, since she is now sporting a jungle dress).

As you can guess, Tarzan becomes wise to the plan, fights his way out of captivity with the help of Cheeta and his animal friends, and the climax features an army of elephants (would it be a Tarzan movie without the elephant army?). The problem with this installment in the series isn't that it fails to entertain, but that it is just becoming by-the-numbers. The sense of adventure is gone, which might be partly Richard Thorpe's fault. Thorpe takes over the directing helm of the series with Tarzan Escapes, but his vision seems to be content with the accomplishments made by Van Dyke, Gibbons, and Conway.

Thorpe does bring some new elements to the series. Comedic relief is used well with Rawlins and the ape Cheeta, but it's not enough to make up for the script's lack of originality. The emphasis, under Thorpe's direction, has shifted away from Tarzan and Jane. Instead, the heart of the movie lies in the impressive sets designed by Cedric Gibbons (though Tarzan and Jane's home is a bit too Swiss Family Robinson, to be honest). Tarzan Escapes just goes to show that spectacle alone cannot make a movie good.



"We've got to let them take him. If we love Boy, we've got to let him go." -Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan)

Tarzan Finds a Son!
1939
(01h:22m:04s)

You read the title right, Tarzan finds a son, he doesn't actually have a son. Whew! Jane must still have a steady supply of contraceptives lying around the jungle paradise home she and Tarzan made. Of course, the house is so spacious that it's about time those two start a family, even if the child is not rightfully theirs.

The child's true identity is that of the Lancing family, who must be wealthy since they are flying in a private plane as the movie begins. Mr. and Mrs. Lancing (Morton Lowry and Laraine Day, respectively) have a spell of bad luck when their pilot flies into some bad air that ultimately causes them to crash in a rather well-staged scene that employs miniatures with great results. The baby survives the crash and is rescued by apes and, eventually, Tarzan's comrade, Cheeta. That Cheeta must be one smart monkey, because it knows to take the baby to Tarzan and Jane, where it will be adopted.

Oh, how rude! Referring to a baby as "it" is frightfully unacceptable; the baby's name is Boy (well, at least after Tarzan gets his way). There's just one hiccup: the Lancing family returns. Sir Thomas (Henry Stephenson) and his nephew Austin (Ian Hunter) have come looking for survivors of the plane crash (five years have passed, which raises the question about how truly invested Thomas and Austin are in finding their relatives alive). Austin and his wife, the woman with no first name played by Frieda Inescort, actually have good reason to not find their doomed relatives: if Boy's parents are dead, Austin stands to inherit the entire estate of Greystoke.

It doesn't take long for the Lancings to come across Tarzan, Jane, and Boy (who now, age 5, is played by John Sheffield), but none of them initially suspects the dark little secret that Jane hides from them. Eventually, however, Austin and Thomas realize that the boy is their own flesh and blood. At this point Austin becomes cold-blooded in a character metamorphosis that could only occur in a Hollywood movie, wanting to take Boy back so that he will be the legal guardian of Boy and still get the money at all costs. The Lancings find a sympathetic ear with Jane, but Tarzan refuses. Of course, what fun would it be if the Lancings just went along with Tarzan's wishes?

After a disappointing debut with the Tarzan series, Thorpe has returned to make his second installment and takes us for a fun ride. The emphasis has switched away from the sets and back to the characters, giving some very nice personal moments (especially in the scenes containing Henry Stephenson's Sir Thomas). However, there is a burden of uncreativity throughout most of the movie, which bogs down an otherwise fine distraction for a rainy day.



"You may be a monster to the local inhabitants, but you're just another lizard to O'Doul." -Dennis O'Doul (Barry Fitzgerald)

Tarzan's Secret Treasure
1941
(01h:21m:08s)

Boy's struck gold! That little rascal has found plenty of gold nuggets just lying around in the pond that he has been swimming in all his life. I guess the question then is, why didn't Jane every notice any of these golden nuggets? No matter, it's not important and any thinking that occurs during Tarzan's Secret Adventure will only hurt the viewing experience.

The lure of gold is irresistible to Boy, who dreams of buying an airplane (though how he would be able to comprehend such a thing is beyond...Wait! No thinking, remember?). While Boy dreams of gold, there is a group of scientific explorers travelling through the area, under the direction of Professor Elliott (Reginald Owen). Unlike the previous explorers that have roamed into Tarzan's neck of the woods, these guys are on the level. They even save Boy from certain death when yet another savage tribe captures him. And the lovable O'Doul, played by the wonderful character actor Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way), introduces Tarzan to whiskey. Say, where's Jane in all of this? Well, unfortunately, the emphasis of this movie does not involve Jane anywhere near enough. There was a time when Jane was the true star of these movies, now the focus is on the action sequences.

Just as the audience begins to think that this group of explores will not present a problem for Tarzan and his family, two of the men, Vandermeer (Philip Dunn) and Medford (Tom Conway), learn about the gold and become greedy. Remember, don't start thinking. Just because there is potential that the script will make a good point about the danger of money corrupting individuals doesn't mean that you should start expecting a theme to develop. Soon Vandermeer and Medford take over the expedition and threaten to kill Boy and Jane unless Tarzan shows them where all of the gold is. Thankfully, Tarzan has the help of Cheeta and O'Doul (you do know that Irishmen are great in the deep jungles of Africa, right?) and they save the day in an incredible river chase that shows off Weissmuller's Olympic stroke with some great editing and superb use of sound to create suspense.

Tarzan's Secret Treasure does present a problem for the viewer, however. Despite a great climax and Fitzgerald's hilarious performance, there's nothing new. Admittedly, the fifth installment in a series tends to be less adventurous, but does it have to follow the same formula as all of its predecessors? The director is, once again, Richard Thorpe, and his lack of originality and ideas for what to do with the character and legend of Tarzan are now beginning to strain on the entertainment factor that has made the Tarzan movies so enjoyable. Perhaps it's time that Hollywood leaves Tarzan and company alone.



"Wise man need little." -Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller)

Tarzan's New York Adventure
1942
(01h:10m:39s)

King Kong isn't the only mystery of Africa that can run a muck in Manhattan. With the sixth and final installment in the Weissmuller-O'Sullivan Tarzan series, the lord of the apes leaves his kingdom to find Boy after a group of circus workers steal him while trapping lions. It's been a while since the series focused on the pairing of Weissmuller and O'Sullivan, becoming distracted with convoluted dangers involving Boy that necessitate Tarzan save him. Thankfully, Tarzan's New York Adventure returns to the on-screen duo that got this party started.

The movie's plot is basically just one big excuse for yet another Tarzan adventure. The lion tamer, Manchester Mountford (Chill Wills), and the lion hunter, Buck (Charles Bickford), see Boy's impressive talent for speaking with elephants in order to make them do neat tricks. These elephants are quite an extraordinary prop in the movie, making the chimp Cheeta's antics a bit dated. When the dreaded Jaconi tribe attacks the men and Boy, they escape by plane and head to New York. Tarzan, having nearly been killed in the Jaconi attack, returns to Jane (by the way, Maureen O'Sullivan's Jane is looking more and more like Donna Reed as opposed to a jungle woman) without Boy. They're only way to get Boy back is to follow him to New York. Jane finally returns to civilization, to rediscover that it is indeed the true jungle of the world and that Tarzan's frank honesty is the best thing she could ever have hoped for. And so the story goes, with Tarzan wreaking havoc on New York's night club scene and judicial process, all while putting a foil to the evil circus' plans to exploit Boy.

The plot is complete nonsense, but the physical strength of Weissmuller is put to good use here. In the previous three installments to the series, Weissmuller got loss in the shuffle. We were seeing his Tarzan accomplish physical feats that had already been accomplished. Here, Tarzan jumps off of the Brooklyn Bridge and swings like Spider-Man across New York skyscrapers. Are these stunts remarkably different from the other movies? No, not really, but the background settings and the intercutting of New York's onlookers makes for a joyous, albeit stupid, ride. It's not perfect, but it's a decent bow for the best Tarzan and Jane to grace the screen.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The age of the early installments in the series shows in these nonanamorphic transfers, preserving the original aspect ratios of 1.33:1. Tarzan the Ape Man is by far the worst visual presentation in the bunch. Scratches and dirt are very noticeable, with print defects permeating the entire movie. Some shimmering is present, but not enough to create a distraction. Over all blacks are well preserved (though night scenes are sometimes a little iffy), and the black-and-white contrast is consistent.

Tarzan and His Mate is certainly the most daring of the series visually. Yet the transfer, although a significant step up from Tarzan the Ape Man, still suffers from print defects and missing frames (especially during the swim scene). Night scenes do not come off well, but day scenes have a surprising amount of detail and texture that create a pleasant viewing experience that properly showcase the jungle.

Tarzan Escapes and Tarzan Finds a Son! both suffer from print defects and scratches, but they are less noticeable and less frequent than before. The transfers of these two movies is sharper and has far more consistent grayscales. The improvement of the footage shot on set does make it easier, however, to distinguish between the production's material and the stock footage used to capture Africa's landscape.

The final two movies in the series, Tarzan's Secret Treasure and Tarzan's New York Adventure, are the highlights of this set. New York Adventure is slightly better, with more depth and detail being evident. Each of them has occasional scratches and print defects, but contrast is strong and the black-and-white photography looks nice.

The overall package here is a mix bag, with each transfer getting better than the one that preceded it (a sure sign that the age of the source material is partly responsible for the problems present). Considering that the series is roughly 70 year old, Warner has done as much as can be expected.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchno


Audio Transfer Review: Each movie is presented with newly cleaned mono tracks in both English and French. Obviously, this will irritate home theater enthusiasts who want 5.1 tracks, but it's good to see that Warner is continuing their efforts in film preservation by releasing these movies as they originally premiered. The sound comes exclusively from the center speaker, and each mix is of roughly the same quality. Dialogue is easy to understand and the sounds of tribes beating drums comes through nicely. You'll be hard pressed to find many mono tracks that sound better than this.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 149 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
6 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: While the first three discs have two movies apiece, the fourth disc is reserved exclusively for extra features. Unfortunately, Warner put Tarzan and His Mate on the second disc and Tarzan Escapes on the first disc, which flips the two's chronology. In the interest of seeing the series as it evolved, watch Tarzan and His Mate after Tarzan the Ape Man. Each of the first three discs has a main menu without music where you choose one of the two movies. The individual menus for the six features have the main musical theme playing and an option to go to the other movie's menu.

As for the fourth disc, there are three featurettes. First is Schnarzan the Conqueror!!! (02m:20s), staring Jimmy Durante in an old parody of the Tarzan series. It's interesting to see what used to pass as parody, but even the skits on Saturday Night Live are more clever. Next is MGM on Location: Johnny Weissmuller (10m:55s) with old footage from the making of Tarzan Escapes. No significant information is revealed about the making of the movie, but you do get to see some of the behind-the-scenes antics of Johnny Weissmuller and John Sheffield. The featurette is narrated because the footage was shot on an old Super-8 camera. Finally, there is a short comedy called Rodeo Dough featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Roy Rogers, and other famous stars of the 1930s. It's about a pair of girls (Sally Payne and Mary Treen) hitchhiking across the country and getting stuck at a rodeo. Also provided on this set is the trailer for each of the Tarzan movies and an animated teaser for Tarzan Escapes (combining for a total runtime of 17m:47s).

The highlight of the special features is the new full-length documentary, Tarzan: Silver Screen King of the Jungle (01h:19m:54s), which was co-produced by Turner Classic Movies. Film historians Rudy Behlmer and Robert Osborne are interviewed, as are Johnny Weissmuller, Jr., Burroughs historian Scott Tracey Griffin, and Maureen O'Sullivan (though hers is not new to this documentary). The documentary combines interviews with set stills and clips from the movies. A great deal of time is granted towards Burroughs and the silent film versions of Tarzan. Behlmer appears to be the expert on the Weissmuller-O'Sullivan series, providing a wealth of information about MGM's designs for the franchise and the commercial success of the films. Some interesting stories are revealed, such as Cheeta hating O'Sullivan and there being two different versions filmed of Tarzan Escapes (the original was never released and is believed to be lost).

The features provided here are not as outstanding as other sets of Warner special editions, but there certainly worth a look.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Warner continues their fine work of preserving classic movies with The Tarzan Collection. By no means is the series as a whole something to behold, but it is good fun with a consistent sense of escapism that survives the defects of the series. It does contain one of the best adventure movies of all time with Tarzan and His Mate. Inexplicably, Warner has not presented the series in its correct chronological order. Leaving that aside, the packaging is quite nice with original poster art under each of the discs, the new documentary made for this release is informative, and the presentation of the six features is solid enough to merit a purchase from any serious film buff.

 


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