Thursday, February 22, 2007

Review: Tarzan and His Mate

I never did come back and post again about Tarzan the Tiger, but that's because my opinion of it never really changed from what it was three episodes in. Except that maybe I appreciated Jane's legs more and more as it went along.

There was one scene where Jane took everything off and went for a swim and even though she was always shot too far away to ogle properly, I found myself wondering how they got away with that in 1929. Naive me, thinking that nudity was some kind of issue in the late '20s/early '30s. I hadn't seen Tarzan and His Mate yet.

I didn't know it going in, but the Jane-swimming-naked scene in Tarzan and His Mate is infamous. According to the IMDb, it was shot three different ways (with Jane fully clothed, topless, and completely naked), but all the versions were originally removed due to pressure from religious groups. Nothing new under the sun, eh? Anyway, the nudie version is what's on DVD, though it's Josephine McKim, an Olympic gold medal swimmer, and not O'Sullivan who's actually in the water.

I like how Tarzan and His Mate is a true sequel to Tarzan, the Ape Man. Another preconceived notion I've had about the Weissmuller films -- probably due to my sporadically catching them out of order on TV over the years -- is that they're purely episodic in nature and don't cross-reference each other. That might be true of the later films (or not), but TaHM picks up where TtAM left off, only a year later. Neil Hamilton (who would later play Commissioner Gordon to Adam West's Batman), Jane's initial love interest in the first movie, has returned to the jungle to collect all that ivory they found last time. And if he can talk Jane into coming back home with him, so much the better. Complicating matters is the fact that he's brought along his major investor, a cold-hearted cad who's sunk all of his finances into the venture and has also taken a shine to Jane. Can't really blame him.

There's a lot to love about this movie. Some of the special effects are unbelievable. I've spent a goodly amount of time trying to figure out how they shot a scene in which a native is killed without actually killing the actor involved. Another scene that I've mostly figured out involves Tarzan's wrestling an enourmous crocodile. I know it's a fake croc, but there are moments in the fight where I honestly couldn't tell how they were doing it. It's as convincing as most modern CGI.

Not that all the effects are awesome. As in the first Weissmuller film, you can still see the trapeze bars that Tarzan uses to swing on, and the Asian elephants they used still have fake ears to make them look African. Some of the animals are obviously fake -- especially a lot of the apes that Tarzan hangs out with -- and there's also a lot of rear screen projection going on. But that's the kind of stuff that I expect from a '30s adventure movie. The fact that they were still able to fool me on a couple of scenes is remarkable.

About the only thing I didn't care for in the movie was Jane's jungle yell. I guess it makes some kind of sense internally to the series that she have one to go along with Tarzan's, but it sounds so shrill and silly that I cringed everytime she used it.

But everything else is great. I even like Cheetah in it, and I've always found her (always thought she was a boy, but not according to Jane in this movie) to be an annoying sidekick, but she's really charming and heroic here. And that final scene! I won't spoil the specifics, but the idea of having ivory poachers battling natives in the midst of a pride of clawing, biting lions is something to make Grant Morrison jealous. Then you add a herd of elephants to the war and my head explodes.


West said...

Damn, but you make this stuff sound good.

Whodathunkit? I'm actually interested in checking out a Tarzan flick.

Michael May said...

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts about any aspect of them, but especially regarding the depiction of the African characters.

While Tarzan the Ape Man was pretty narrow in its view of native people, I thought that Tarzan and His Mate did a pretty good job of depicting the various tribes as being diverse. That is, each tribe the poachers encounter has its own motivations and way of doing things. The tribe at the end can actually be seen as heroic from a certain point of view, even though their methods are brutal.

And I really like that it's not taken for granted that the white guys -- the poachers -- are automatically the heroes. Tarzan's the real hero of course, but the other white characters are greedy and more savage in a way than the natives they encounter.

The African man who the poachers have hired to lead the other bearers in the safari is actually the most heroic character in the movie, maybe even more so than Tarzan. I meant to mention him in my review, but forgot.

Anyway, if you watch Tarzan and His Mate, definitely let me know what you think.

West said...

The depictions of the Africans sound pretty impressive for the early, EARLY 20th century.

I'll letcha know if/when I check'em out.


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