Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tarzan Escapes

I liked the first two Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies so much that I was sure I'd also enjoy the third, Tarzan Escapes. Not so much though.

The plot's pretty simple, but that's not the problem. The plots were simple in Tarzan, the Ape Man and Tarzan and His Mate too. In this one, a couple of Jane's cousins have come to the jungle to bring her back to England so she can claim an inheritance that they hope to share. They're not as mercenary as that makes them sound; they really do love Jane. Unfortunately, they hire an unscrupulous guide to help find her, but don't realize that his motivation for doing so is to capture Tarzan and show him off as an exhibition.

There are a couple of cool parts in the film. Tarzan immediately dislikes the guide and there's a nice tension between the two of them through the movie. You get the sense that Tarzan's starting to learn his lesson about civilized folk and their disregard for the jungle. But even better than that is the fancy treehouse that Tarzan and Jane have built. It's very Swiss Family Robinsion, but long before Disney made that film. Putting aside for a second that it means Jane is domesticating Tarzan, it's an undeniably cool place to live.

But I can't leave Tarzan's domestication aside for too long, because that's one of the big problems I have with Tarzan Escapes. The Weissmuller films obviously take a very different approach from the Burroughs novels and that's okay, but I'm starting to not like how they're portraying the Ape Man. It was fine for a while that he could only speak in grunts and monosyllables, but by the time Tarzan Escapes rolls around, he's been with Jane for a while and you'd think that an intelligent person would've picked up more English. He hasn't though, and I'm guessing that he doesn't for the rest of the series.

It makes Tarzan look stupid. Jane talks to him more like a pet or a child than her husband. You never doubt that she loves him or that the jungle is exactly where she wants to be, so it's not like she's being condescending. She genuinely struggles to communicate with him, like she's not sure that he understands. And frankly, neither are we. Tarzan should be a guy who's very presence communicates with you on a primal level and lets you know that you do not want to mess with him. Bad things may happen to him, and it's okay to empathize with him when they do, but he's not supposed to be an object of pity like a defenseless kid who gets picked on at the playground.

Another problem I have with Tarzan Escapes is that they re-use a bunch of footage from Tarzan and His Mate. Not just shots of Tarzan swinging through the jungle or stock footage of animals, but whole battle sequences and fight scenes. You definitely get the idea that MGM realized it had a hit property and figured it could just hack out whatever and still make money. They even frumped up Jane's costume into a one-piece mini-skirt.

At least they spent some dough on the treehouse.

1 comment:

JoeKinski said...

The skirt would be the difference between pre-Code Tarzan and post-Code Tarzan. And you have pretty much hit the wall when it comes to Weismuller Tarzan ... the rest of them are like that .. particularly after Boy shows up. You now need to switch gears to the 50s Lex Barker or Gordon Scott, see if you like them, and from there the late 60s Mike Henry (whom I like a lot, but is repalced by ...) Ron Ely on the tv show...


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