|In picture from the Saturday Evening Post Edgar Rice Burroughs reads Tarzan|
-The series of silent films that ran from 1918 until the beginning of the sound era
-The series that began with the Johnnie Weissmuller films at MGM that ran all the way into the late 1960’s and the Ron Ely TV series
-The “sanctioned” films that are not in either series (including one by Edgar Rice Burroughs himself)-most were based on rights Burroughs wished he didn’t sell
-The later films from the 1970’s until now
-Lastly there are the rip offs/knock offs and unsanctioned films that the Burroughs estate has tried to hunt down and destroy.
Beginning tomorrow we are going to look at all of the Tarzan films in the MGM sequence of films. The series ran from 1931 until 1968 when it sputtered out. There have been other Tarzan films before and since, and even during the run, but the bulk of the films are the 28 film series that started with TARZAN THE APEMAN and ended with TARZAN AND THE JUGLE BOY.
Why are we doing it? Beyond the obvious answer that I wanted to watch the films? Because no one really talks about the films much. Actually most people talk about the early Weissmuller films, but no one seriously considers the other films in the series. Having gone through all the films I completely understand why that is, some of them are good but aren’t really memorable. The series went on because of the early films made such an impression and the action sequences tended to be fun enough that the mediocre films were tolerated until the next year came and a good one came out. The key thing here is that there are some really good films here that most people are completely ignoring.
To be honest I probably should have aimed to cover the whole history of Tarzan but that’s a lot of films, probably more than you realize since there were a good number of silent films made, a good number of films made since this series ended , plus because Burroughs made some weird deals there are competing pictures. Most of the competing films arose out of film contracts in the silent era that carried over into sound. And then there is the case of the Herman Brix serial/films which were made because Burroughs wanted Tarzan the right way on the big screen so he made the film himself. Basically it was his property so he could do what he wanted. And of course there are the rip off and homages as well...and if you add them up it's probably over a hundred films
The one thing that most people don’t realize is that the Tarzan for most of his years on the screen was not as Burroughs wrote him. Once he got out of the jungle and once he interacted with people he was a well-spoken individual who dressed like people. It wasn’t until TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE in 1959 (28 years into the series) that Tarzan dropped the pigeon English and spoke normally in the movies. If you want to really see what Burroughs was getting at, see GREYSTOKE the Christopher Lambert headed film where he is a goes from ape to man.
Having gone through the whole series I’m kind of amazed that the films kept being made on the schedule they did of roughly one every year. I'm guessing the early RKO produced ones before the first widescreen color ones were produced just to fill double bills. Yes some are good, but some are really bland and cookie cutter like with long sections killing time.
But I’m getting ahead of myself-talking about the films out of context isn’t helpful, which is why I’m going to stop babbling here and turn you ever to 29 days of Tarzan films. Read the reviews and then watch some of the films. I’m planning on writing a piece to close this out so hopefully at the end we can have a discussion.
For the record out of the 28 films in the series that started at MGM there is probably only three bad films, There is probably another three or four truly great films and the rest fall in between. Pretty much all of them are enjoyable on their own terms.
And an FYI- some of the posts that follow are reposts of reviews of pieces that ran a while ago. It was purely a time saver on my part
Someone made a film of 10 hours of paint drying
A film about Laurel and Hardy is coming
Bad New Yorker cartoon captions
Stephen Furst said the problem with the Oscars isn't racism but laziness- no one is watching the films
New York Attorney General investigating ticketing fees
The Curse of Pooh
Sundance should have been hits
You might have been able to out run a t-rex
People with a local pub are happier
Stalin was interested in peoples excrement
Was THE HAPPENING not a serious film
For the three of you curious about how many films I see in a year the total for January is over 100 features and thirty or so shorts.