For Reel

Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
September 6, 2012, 12:21 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: W.S. Van Dyke

Trader Horn, MGM’s game-changing spectacle of 1931, paved the way for action adventures of its type. Famed for shooting extensively on location in Africa, the picture was largely a photographed safari, with its characters often stopping to admire creatures in shots that certainly would have excited the audiences of the time. With leftover footage from the project, the studio sought the possibility of a sequel, or even a picture that teamed the titular Horn with Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan character. What eventually amounted was one of the most iconic of all adventure films and the first of its lengthy series: Tarzan the Ape Man. Johnny Weissmuller, a multi-gold medalist at the Olympics, plays the hero, an unpredictable, shamelessly sexualized adonis who gets physical with lions as much as he does with Maureen O’Sullivan’s Jane. The set pieces are spectacular (including an elephant stampede in the conclusion) and, unlike Trader Horn, they are well-integrated into the narrative rather than serving as the occasional diversion. Still, the production feels quite plain, perhaps due to O’Sullivan’s relentlessly-shrieking characterization, and one can’t help but compare it to King Vidor’s Bird of Paradise from RKO in the same year, which had a better sense of the rhythms of this type of sensationalized exotic living (that picture featuring a gender reversal, with Joel McCrea as the civilized man and Dolores del Rio as the native woman).

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