Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Arguably the best Tarzan film ever, this is the second in the long running series from MGM that starred Johnny Weissmuller. This is also one of the greatest adventure films ever made. There is a level of maturity and drama that isn’t found in any of the other films. Part of the reason is that the film came just before the production code was strictly enforced and forced the dumbing down of many movies.

As usual I’m getting ahead of myself, let me start again

After MGM spent a fortune to send a crew to film Trader Horn in the wilds of Africa, they realized that they had way too much footage. They had shot SO much material that the footage would be used for decades afterward. They needed to find a way to use some of the footage. Eventually they decided to make a film version of Tarzan Of The Apes, based upon the first of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books. The film was a huge hit and a sequel was required. (It should be pointed out that Burroughs knew he had a hot property years before and was farming the character out to various producers, including himself, in order to make "competeing" films simply because the demand was there)

The second film has Jane and Tarzan living idyllically until another expedition comes into the jungle, looking for not only the elephant’s burial ground but also for Jane, since leading the expedition is Jane’s old beau who’s hoping to win her back. Picking up a year or so after Tarzan The Ape Man, Neil Hamilton's Holt has asked a rich friend to finance a safari back to the elephant's graveyard to collect ivory. His friend arrives also carrying dresses and perfumes that Holt hopes to use to win Jane back from Tarzan. Before they can leave Holt finds his map stolen and it becomes a mad dash to try and capture a competing expedition. When they finally overtake the thieves, they find the whole party dead and themselves surrounded. They have no choice but to fight their way out and soon find they are out of the frying pan and into the fire. Eventually Tarzan and Jane show up and everyone is off on even more adventures.

Other than the safari to Tarzan's escarpment there is almost nothing that makes this your typical cliched Tarzan film. There is no tree house, no weird inventions, no cleaned up Tarzan. I mention this because the films that followed this one pretty much fell into lockstep with a set number of things that you had to have; intruders, jungle color, inventions in the tree house, danger (but not too much), and conservative clothing.

Tarzan And His Mate has none of that. There is real danger, there is real violence, and most amazing the clothing is revealing. This film was actually made with a full frontal nude swim sequence, which was put back into the film when Ted Turner bought the film library. Actually Turner had the film restored completely since the film had been severely cut down over the years, beginning with requests from the Hays Office (a precursor to today's Motion Picture Association Of America ratings system).

If you hate the "me Tarzan you Jane" cliche see this movie because none of that is in this film. That sort of thing really started in earnest in the next film, Tarzan Escapes (which some people say is the best one; I find it a dull retread hampered by the fact that it had to be reshot a couple of times because it was much too violent...but that's another film). Tarzan And His Mate is a more realistic sort of film where Tarzan is more mute, and more halting in his speech. He's a more real character (as real as he could be).

Actually this is just a great, great film. It's a film where they got everything right. The movies had managed to figure out how to tell a story like this with sound (the first film, while very good, is a bit stilted from the limitations of sound shooting). It's made by adults who didn't talk down to the audience. The emotion between Tarzan and Jane is real. There is a respect. Jane doesn't talk down to him or treat him like a child. There is danger, adventure, and the there is a real cost to what happens. People die. I say that because after this film many of the characters are cliche stock characters; here characters like Holt are real people.

You need to see this film. It's a masterpiece. It's one of the greatest films that Hollywood ever turned out.

This is available in the US in a collection of the first six Tarzan films* with Johnny Weissmuller. These all co-star Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane. It also has an excellent 90 minute documentary on the making of the films. The set is worth picking up because of this film, the documentary, and most of the other films (as I said I find Tarzan Escapes clunky).

A must see, this film will blow your socks off.

*- I need to point out that who ever put the set together did a serious disservice to the buyer since the films, which are presented two to a disc, have the first four films out of order. with the first and third films on the first DVD and the second and fourth films on the second DVD. If you pick up the set try and watch them in order since the story does move from film to film.

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