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Key terms: archetype; animus/anima; superhero; the comic book; erotic love; death; symbolic loss of the erotic object; displacement
The film critic Roger Ebert is responsible for having formulated the first principle of the Film Studies branch of Tarzanology; paraphrased, it is that while most Tarzan films are mediocre, the idea of Tarzan was, and remains, a great one. Yet, the sheer 'survival power' of a fictional character that has clearly withstood a barrage of films of un-even quality — 'Tarzan has always had phenomenal box-office appeal'1 — would strongly suggest that the 'great idea' of Tarzan is not reducible to cinematic terms. The multiplicity of the films and the mass replication of Tarzan cinematic imagery and references — the source from which most people know of the character and employ when imagining him — indicate that the films are actually drawing a sustaining power, measured through sheer repetition, from something else that originates within a broader and non-cinematic source but that is easily translatable into cinematic imagery.
Films are dreams. The structure of the film is identical to that of the dream, as both operate to create an effect through the endless recombinations of fictitious images that generate tremendous emotional power through their symbolic importance for the viewer/dreamer. Like dreams, films are primarily visual events and, since dreams ‘serve the purpose of compensation’2, the film constitutes the collective 'staging' or acting out of some longed-for event, situation or condition. The medium of Film is Dream, but its coinage is Desire. Therefore, every film is in some sense a fantasy. This convergence between Dream and Fantasy is the basis of why such an imperfect medium has such a powerful collective hold on us; Film is where we are actually able to see our fantasies. It is also why films easily lend themselves to psychoanalytic study. The emotionally most powerful films, like the emotionally most powerful dreams, are those that most successfully — that is, the most potently — convey the realization of the most emotionally powerful of fantasies, eros, or the erotic. The success of film — and, in particular, of the commercial success of the film industry — cannot be separated from its ability to 'service' fantasy through the visually derived mode of dream-like/symbolical re-presentation. Walt Morton argues, correctly in my opinion, that the basis of the cinematically specific representation of Tarzan is an essentially narcissistic/erotic one.Pleasure "developed through narcissism and the constitution of the ego, comes from narcissistic identification with the image seen … as the spectator identifies with the main white protagonist [his screen surrogate] the power of the male protagonist coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence.” In other words, a large part of the male audience enjoys a narcissistic identification with the power-fantasy suggested by Tarzan's strength and command of nature.Morton goes on, however, to make an extremely revealing observation.This desire to experience a fantasy of greater power can be seen in children, who regularly adopt 'roles' of superheros, adults, sports figures and royalty in their play. In adults, such fantasy is usually repressed, but film entertainment provides a vehicle for re-activating these fantasies.3Of the various examples that Morton provides, only the first one, the 'superhero', interests me. As has been mentioned too many times to count, the superhero constitutes a re-working of the Jungian concept of the archetype within the domain of popular culture, most notably the comic book and film, both of which possess a very specific and detailed imaginary. According to Jung, the ‘basis of our mind’, in both its individual and collective dimensions, is an 'immensely old psyche' that is populated by a multitude of 'archaic remnants' known as 'archetypes, or ‘primordial images'. These archetypal images are the expressive medium of the 'instincts', 'physiological urges’ that[A]lso manifest themselves in fantasies and often reveal themselves only by symbolic images. These manifestations are what I call the archetypes. They are without known origin; and they reproduce themselves in any time or in any part of the world—even where transmission by direct descent or ‘cross-fertilization’ must be ruled out.4If Film, as the universal purveyor of visual fantasy, acts as the collective 'projection' of the archetypal imaginary, then the formidable emotional power of cinema, in many ways an extremely simple and imperfect medium, is explained. Like dreams, films, even 'poor' ones, 'work'; that is, in a self-conscious manner — and, in general, the better the film the more self-aware is the process — they serve as a collective externalisation of the instinctual 'fantasy manifestation function' that universally operates on both the unconscious and pre-conscious levels.5
Individual archetypal representations, symbols, or images are divided into two groups, the masculine animus, and the feminine anima. These animae form a central element of what Jung identified as the 'process of individuation, the developmental progression that underlies the ‘arrangement and pattern' of our individual and our collective dream lives. The animae are divided into four hierarchical rankings, each rank or class corresponding to one of the developmental stages of the psyche6. In Marie-Louise Franz's essay, 'The Process of Individuation', contained in Man and his Symbols the 'fictional Jungle hero Tarzan' is cited as a primary example of the 'first' stage of the male animus, 'wholly physical man'. 'The animus, just like the [female] anima, exhibits four stages of development. He first appears as a personification of mere physical power—for instance, as an athletic champion or "muscle man".'7 The text also provides an illustration of Tarzan, a photo-still taken, significantly enough, from the pivotal, and erotically 'charged', Jungle film Tarzan and His Mate (1934; henceforth referred to as MATE).
The author was well advised in selecting Tarzan as the 'name', or symbol, of the first-stage animus; the archetype as 'primordial image' corresponds exactly to Burroughs' extensive discussions of The Ape-Man that frequently employ the symbolically-laden term 'primeval'. Yet what von Franz conspicuously fails to draw our attention to is the fact that in the emblematic image that she employs, Tarzan is depicted standing next to his 'mate' Jane; she possesses a clearly imploring look on her face while gazing upon the Ape-Man in an infatuated manner.8 Von Franz is discussing Tarzan as an example of the specifically male animus and, therefore, omits the presence of Jane. Yet what her text unintentionally provides is a revealing cinematic juxtaposition between the male animus with the female anima, re-presenting Tarzan and Jane as coeval archetypes. The title of the film is Tarzan and His Mate, signalling an erotic linkage between the two fictional Jungle characters. Yet, if within Man and His Symbols, Tarzan re-presents the animus (the Latin root for the modern English word 'animal', which underscores the archetypal significance of the alternate name of Tarzan as 'The Ape-Man') then Jane may be just as easily interpreted as constituting an equally symbolic re-presentation of the feminine anima. Happily for my purposes, Jane does in fact constitute the first-stage anima, Eve, who ‘represents purely instinctual and biological relations’, and one that perfectly corresponds to the ‘first-stage’ Tarzan. If ‘Jane’ is understood as the translation of ‘Eve’ into the archetypal form of the comic book and the superhero, then Jane /anima, like Tarzan/animus, is the historical progenitor of a ubiquitous archetype that proliferates throughout modern popular culture, ‘The Jungle-Girl’. 10 What we are presented with, then, is a strict equivalence between two archetypes, Tarzan/Ape-Man/animus and Jane(Eve)/Jungle-Girl/anima. This provides us with our first clue with which to decipher the erotic sub-text of the suggestively entitled MATE: Tarzan as animus, can only be truly ‘co-joined’ with an equally ideal and erotically powerful anima; Jane/Eve is the woman who deserves to be Tarzan’s equal/partner/mate, commensurate with both his and her archetypal identities. It is this dual archetypal space that Tarzan and Jane inhabit that provides the connective bridge between their specific media manifestations in film and comic book with that of the culturally broader archetype of the superhero. I argue that both the comic book and the cinematic adaptations of Tarzan are expressly premised upon his translation into the archetypal terms and references of the superhero, in his particular case as one of the primordial/ primeval image of the ‘Jungle’. As superhero, the literary sobriquet ‘The Ape-Man’ now comes to serve as the formal title of the stereotypical ‘alter-ego’ demanded by the comic book genre.
Within the ‘Tarzan’ or ‘Jungle film’ oeuvre,11 three films are cinematically outstanding. MATE, Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959; henceforth, ADVENTURE) and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966; henceforth, GOLD) are the three Jungle films that expressly foreground the 'adult themes' of both Sex and Death; not only is this notable in itself, but all three manage to do so in a highly graphic visual and auditory manner generating a dramatic intensity that can be quite startling to the first-time viewer. I hold that it is precisely these films, and ADVENTURE and GOLD in particular, that come closest in overcoming that 'suspension of belief' that so be-devils the superhero; they dramatically lure the viewer into believing that Tarzan will die by the end. These films 'work' — that is, they self-consciously operate on a level of both authentic dramatic seriousness and heightened suspense — precisely because they are the three Tarzan films that:(i) Do the best job of utilizing the cinematic-archetypal symbols of the comic-book superhero;For this essay 'Tarzan' will be the cinematic Tarzan, portrayed by Mike Henry in the film GOLD, while 'Jane' will be Maureen O'Sullivan in MATE. Although produced more than thirty years apart, both films will be read 'together', as though they make up a single cinematic narrative. The only other entry in the film series that will be referred to in any great degree will be ADVENTURE, and I will be making select references to the first biographical chronicle Tarzan of the Apes, plus a few other written texts, primarily Fritz Leiber's adaptation of the film Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, which will be extensively used as a supplemental 'script' to GOLD; as with the films MATE/GOLD, I will be reading the screenplay and the adaptation as a 'single' text. Indeed, the main reason why I take GOLD so 'seriously', subjecting it to extensive treatment, was precisely because it was Huffaker, and, on the basis of my co-joined reading, Leiber, who 'collaborated' in writing it.12
(ii) Understand that these symbols of the superhero archetype carry with them an emotional resonance with, and are, therefore, of emotional importance for, the viewer;
(iii) Understand that these archetypal symbols are realizations of an erotic and sexual imaginary. Accordingly, these films in a highly self-conscious manner employ stock cinematic terms which are of comic book origin — 'adventure', 'challenge', 'threat', 'thrilling', 'dangerous', 'struggle', 'death struggle' — all of which establish a subliminal linkage between (symbolic) death and a highly stylised ('genre') fantasy of sex/violence, which dramatically culminates in the viewer's expectation of the on-screen death of Tarzan.
Much of my analysis, therefore, will be of relevance only for the specifically cinematic and comic book re-presentations of Tarzan and Jane. A large part of it will be wholly inapplicable to other medium-specific re-presentations within popular culture, such as the novels themselves and various derivatives, such as the recent Disney inspired musical. These forms tend to comply with the quite different, and highly complex, literary genre known as the 'Edwardian romance'. One of the most obvious differences of treatment lies precisely within the more complex symbolization of Jane-as-anima within the literary canon as contrasted with the film series. If the novels are taken in their entirety, Jane, at different times and in different ways, clearly constitutes all four of the progressive feminine symbolizations of the anima: the wholly erotic and sensual Eve; Faust's Helen who ‘personifies a romantic and aesthetic level that is, however, still characterized by sexual elements'; The Virgin Mary, ‘a figure who raises love (eros) to the heights of spiritual devotion', and Sapientia/Athena, who symbolizes ‘wisdom transcending even the most holy and the most pure.'13 The narrative sequence provided by the novels/biographies that allows Jane to undergo multiple incarnations of all four archetypes is the ‘master thread’ of the mythos, the 'non-harmful' (= non-castrating) civilizing of Tarzan, who successfully transverses the physical and symbolic spaces between Jungle/Nature and City/Civilization, externalising the progressive transformation of his own animus.14 Although it is true that at times in the films Jane undergoes a similar progressive sequence, the purely cinematic re-presentations of Jane preponderantly favour her identification with the first-stage Eve. The reason is obvious; as a visual, or ‘externalising’ medium devoted to (commercially) servicing the pleasure ‘developed through narcissism and the constitution of the ego [that] comes from narcissistic identification with the image seen’, the express privileging of Tarzan and Jane as first-stage anima/animus is the most cinematically logical course for the Jungle film to follow.
However, I will be making extensive use of one literary text although a non-canonical one: Fritz Leiber's brilliant 'novelized' adaptation of Clair Huffaker's original screenplay, aptly titled Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966; henceforth referred to as GOLD). Published to coincide with the release of the film, Leiber, with remarkable panache, re-presents the plot of GOLD as forming a continuity with the earlier novels/biographies of the literary canon; within his 'movie tie-in' we come across repeated references to earlier Tarzan adventures, such as Tarzan and the Ant Men, which serve to re-present the events of GOLD as Tarzan's most recent 'real life' adventure. Leiber's novel is extremely important for my own analysis. Firstly, Leiber has definitely noticed and picked up on some of the themes that I have detected — almost all of which are implicit or 'unconscious' within the film — and given them an interpretation that is very similar to my own. Secondly, and even more importantly, he clearly asserts the existence of Jane; consistent with the film, she is 'off-stage' during the action in GOLD, currently residing at the Greystoke estate in England. There is absolutely nothing in GOLD, or in any of the other Weintraub films, which expressly indicate that Jane does not exist, or is dead. (Important for my analysis is that the strong possible exception here is ADVENTURE. Near the beginning of the film, Tarzan is alone in his Hollywood-esque tree house; at the end of the film, he is clearly, albeit implicitly, involved in a romantic/erotic relationship with the 'new' heroine Angie.) However, Jane's apparent and un-explained disappearance from both the Tarzan film and novel series has been the source of considerable consternation and anguished debate among Tarzanologists. (Philip Jose Farmer devotes a considerable portion of his sublime Tarzan Alive! to ingeniously 'resolving' this problem.) For what it is worth, my own opinion has always been that there are two Tarzan life-stories flowing from the end of Tarzan of the Apes, the one where Tarzan is re-united with Jane, the other where he returns to the Jungle, civilized but alone. I always accepted the first novel — the 'biography' — as being factually accurate and telling the story of what 'really happened'. When I watched the Weintraub films and the Ron Ely television series while growing up, my subjective interpretation of Jane's absence was that everything that we were seeing was what happened to Tarzan after the end of the first novel when Jane turns down his marriage proposal and decides to remain within civilization. 'Softening' this harsh ending somewhat was my sense (rationalization?) that the conclusion of the novel 'disguised' the real truth: that Tarzan was unable to survive in Civilization but that for some undisclosed reason Jane would not be able to remain in the Jungle, presumably because she would die. I felt that this accords well with Weintraub's own explanation: 'like Rousseau's natural man, [Tarzan] stays in the Jungle because he wants to.'15 Therefore as a Tarzanophile myself, I have always had the very strong sense of the literary significance of Jane in highly symbolic terms, as a beautiful and highly desirable object that has been lost but continues to exert an 'alluring presence'. Currently, however, I am reading the film GOLD against the novel Gold, which makes my analysis much easier, and, I hope, more convincing. This work is not a study of GOLD itself, but it is very much influenced by the 'spirit' of his text, as well as of that of Farmer's Tarzan Alive! I shall be addressing the issue of the 'disappearance' of Jane at fair length in the final part of my essay but in terms very different from the ones ordinarily used.
The final introductory point that I must make is to prevent any possible confusion between two entirely different domains of the 'erotic' and the 'pornographic'. While the ultimate basis of Tarzan as cinematic archetype is erotic, it absolutely is not nor can it ever be pornographic; the absolute failure of the one wholly execrable Tarzan film, John Derek's Tarzan the Ape-Man (1982) is adequate proof of this. The reasons why this is so should be obvious after a momentary consideration of the nature of the constitution of Tarzan as an archetypal figure. In Jungian theory, the sexual content of the instincts seeking expression are always re-presented in an encoded manner; it is precisely their 'hidden’ or ’veiled’ nature that signals them as archetypal. It logically follows that the pornographic, because it is monotonously explicit and factual, is an inherently inadequate form of expression. The exact opposite holds true for the erotic, which operates exclusively within the domain of the suggestive and the imaginary. In this way, the erotic is always appropriate for the archetypal while the pornographic never is. Not only is the erotic the perfect form for the expression of fantasy, we may also argue that precisely because the archetypal is literally instinct-as-'fantasy', then its substantive content must be objectively 'erotic' (that is, reflective of eros) in some part, if not in its entirety.
One Tarzan film in particular, MATE, is itself a perfect example of the non-pornographic but ultra-erotic nature of the cinematic archetypal imaginary. While the explicit plot of the 'Text' of the film is about the resumption of search for the Elephant's graveyard,16 the implicit plot of the 'Sub-Text' of MATE is the 'hunting' and 'taking' of Jane/Eve. The villain Arlington apparently succeeds in killing Tarzan, and then 'captures' Jane as his own 'mate'. Throughout the film there is a strongly implied sense that Arlington sadistically wishes to destroy the archetypal Jungle/Eden of Tarzan and Jane/Eve. (He is also sexually aggressive which unconsciously suggests rape; when Arlington is first introduced, in yet another one of MATE's surprisingly frank acknowledgements of the erotic overtones of the Tarzan 'myth', an attractive woman is seen hurriedly leaving his cabin; this foreshadows Arlington's later attempt to turn Jane into his next victim/conquest, presumably his 'ultimate' one given Jane's archetypal status as first-stage anima.) Why he should behave so is obvious; the existence of The Ape-Man fills him with a profound sexual anxiety, one that can only be alleviated, or 'revenged', by the death of the superhero and the 'taking/taming' of his equally archetypal woman. With both heroes, but with Jane in particular, we witness the comic book/archetypal predicament of the equation between the 'theft' of the alter-ego identity/persona and the resultant loss of sexual power. The 'taming' of Tarzan's mate is identical with the destruction of her erotic identity as anima; the erotic cruelty of the sexually anxious Arlington is subliminally conveyed to the audience through the unconscious understanding that when Jane returns to (repressed, a-sexual) England, she will be forced to re-robe, putting an end to her identity as Jane/Eve.
When the slightly earlier Tarzan the Apeman (1932) is 'read' in conjunction with MATE, it becomes clear that the two films form a single narrative. That narrative — the cinematically externalised enactment of the archetypal twining/mating of Tarzan and Jane — is, I would argue, the only 'plot' of the entire mythos that is of archetypal significance. The three stages of this archetypal 'dramatic narrative' are very precise: (i) 'initial discovery', (ii)'threatened loss'; (iii) 'restorative re-discovery'. The cinematic translations of Tarzan that achieve serious dramatic power are those that deliberately foreground, by means of visual symbolic re-presentation, the meeting/matching/mating of Tarzan/animus with Jane/anima. If there is any remaining doubt that the sub-text of MATE must be read in implicitly erotic terms, then one must remember that this is the very film that served as the immediate cause of the imposition of the deleterious Hayes Code that wreaked so much dramatic havoc with the Jungle film.
If, for the sake of this analysis, we maintain a Jungian perspective, then the Hayes Code as a form of censorship serves as an unintentionally ironic mode of repression. Although the issue of nudity in MATE is commonly understood to have been 'the cause of concern', the 'deeper' problem for the censors was the status of Tarzan and Jane as un-married; living together in the Jungle un-married 'means' pre-marital sex. In strictly Jungian terms, the Hayes Code, as censor, acts as a psychic 'screening mechanism', preventing the infiltration into the consciousness — the public domain — of the liberating and erotic intensity of the unmediated primordial imagery of the archetypal coeval union of animus with anima. (In more pedestrian terms, we would say that the 'offensive nature' of the film is that it 'shows' Tarzan and Jane 'living in sin'.) Precisely because it was so replete with an erotically charged archetypal imaginary, the Jungle film had to be deliberately de-eroticised. It staggers belief to assume that the narrative strategy hit upon to guarantee de-eroticisation — 'domestication'17 — was the result of an accident. Parody invariably invokes the very thing that is being parodied. The re-positioning of the archetypal Tarzan and Jane within the most un-archetypal cinematic landscape conceivable — early 20th century suburban North America — is the veritable definition of parody and inevitably led to the dramatic decline of the characters through the post-Hayes film series; this is 'Ebert’s Rule' made good. (Although there was by no means a decline of the imaginary of the Tarzan mythos in its entirety. The 1930s and 1940s were the 'golden age' of the Tarzan comic strip adventures; the work of graphic artists such as Hal Foster are masterpieces of comic book art and, in my opinion, vastly out-class anything that the studio 'factories' were producing at that time.) The reason for the dramatic mediocrity of the post-Hayes films should be clear by now: they are inherently devoid of significant, or 'serious', archetypal meaning. The essence of the individuation process is progressive integration; as the psyche advances, none of the stages are actually lost or repressed, but they are progressively integrated into a larger and healthier whole. In the novels, when Tarzan and Jane mate, the first-stage animus, under the tutelary supervision of the second- to fourth-stage anima begins an archetypal transition to a higher form — the 'civilizing' of Tarzan — but the first-stage remains the primary identity; it is never lost and it can be 're-activated' when dramatic logic requires it. In the films, the focus is on the revealing of the first-stage anima, which leads to the psychic integration of Jane, who can then initiate the partial transformation of the first-stage animus. (The only partial nature of the individuation of the first-stage animus is the Jungian explanation as to why the Weissmuller Tarzan can never completely learn how to speak.) The 'scandal' of MATE in terms of the unconscious is that it is a 'naked' cinematic demonstration of the vital presence of the first-stage as a necessary precondition for complete psychic health; the realization of the Garden/Eden. Although both Tarzan and Jungle are archetypal in their own terms, the union, or 'mating' of Tarzan with Eve/Jane results in the symbolic transformation of the archetypal Jungle into Eden, which is doubly meaningful: the transformation of the Jungle into the Garden through the presence of Eve/Jane is both erotically perfect, or complete, in itself (the union of male with female as instinctual fulfilment of 'purpose') and it also establishes the precondition for the successful migration of the animus via the ideal feminine principle to the more advanced stages of development; this is the essential 'meaning' of the literary canon, and the basis of the cinematic common-sense observation that 'without Jane there is no point to Tarzan.' Domestication 'freezes' the anima and restricts it to stage-three, The Virgin Mary — literally in this instance, as demonstrated by the need for Tarzan and Jane to discover and adopt a human orphan in order to allow Tarzan to find a son. The psychic restoration induced by the symbolic recovery of the first-stage is thus totally excluded.
The 'revival' — indicating a deliberate return to origins — of the Tarzan series by Sy Weintraub beginning in the late 1950s provided the solution to resolving the crippling (castrating?) dramatic problem caused by the 'screening mechanism' of Hayes. The successful restoration of the erotic sub-text of the archetypal Tarzan without indicating directly, or even 'too suggestively', the presence of Sex lies with a brutal narrative twist: the elimination of Jane. However, this apparent 'elimination' is better understood as an erotically charged 'dis-placement'. The internal erotic logic of the symbolic re-presentation of the first-stage animus as Tarzan is that it necessarily invites the counter-presence of the first-stage anima, which is Eve, here singularly personified as 'Jane'. The co-joining of 'Jungle' with 'Eden', or 'Garden', provides the necessity of the linkage between the two; dramatically, Tarzan 'needs' her, and we the audience both want and expect to see her. The cinematic dilemma is that the on-screen re-presentation of Tarzan/Ape-Man as being coeval with Jane/Eve in a dramatically 'serious' (erotic) way activates the screening mechanism (the Hayes Code); yet, without the cinematic shaping of the erotic sub-text there is no archetypal meaning, and, therefore, no 'point'. As the 'meaning' (symbolic significance) of Tarzan is identical with the emergence of Eve, who logically must appear, the resolution is to have each film in the series re-stage the central primordial scenes symbolizing the central erotic/archetypal meaning — the union/mating of animus with anima — but now with a new or 'unknown' woman as a symbolic surrogate for Jane/Eve. Because there is no 'danger' of the audience 'seeing' non-marital domestic co-habitation because the 'new' woman is not Jane but a disguised surrogate the screening mechanism can be avoided. However, in order for the surrogate Jane to 'work' within the archetypal contours of the Jungle film, she must be capable of dramatically equalling — or 'matching' — the iconic Jane in her capacity to serve as symbolic anima to Tarzan/animus. Tarzan and Jane are no longer together, at least on-screen, but symbolic Sex (eros) and Death (stylised violence) are dramatically intensified and moved to the forefront of action to provide the framework for the enactment of the primordial images; Tarzan must 'risk everything' and 'give his all' to save (get) 'the woman'. Henceforth, the vital primeval/primordial image will be dramatically re-enacted in the form of a challenge. The key to dramatic success is the manner in which the film 'negotiates' with the blocking obstacle in the cinematic 'collective unconscious' of the film audience: the iconic/archetypal image of Jane in MATE. The key dilemma of the producer of the Jungle film is this: 'everyone knows that Jane exists and that she is Maureen O’Sullivan'; Jane in MATE was and remains the sole (heterosexual) erotic object of both the conscious and unconscious 'gaze' of the viewer of the Jungle film. The central argument of my analysis that beginning with Weintraub, the film producer who deliberately eliminated Jane, this recurrent motif of the 'challenge' always operates on two levels, generating two forms of dramatic and erotic 'suspense': the explicit challenge to Tarzan that always operates on the surface (narcissistic viewing) but containing an erotic sub-text (the unconscious) and an implicit challenge to Jane, which operates entirely on the level of the erotic sub-text (unconscious). Both forms of 'challenge' serve as very real but slightly different forms of cinematic 'pleasure': the 'satisfying sense of omnipotence' identified by Morton and a heterosexual voyeuristic 'delight' combined with a feeling of erotic pathos.
Beginning with ADVENTURE, commonly accepted as the best of the Weintraub films, if not the very best film of the entire series, we notice an original, and dramatically quite startling, revision of the basic Tarzan cinematic 'formula', one that was to be repeated on an even higher dramatic level in GOLD. Both films are centred upon:(i) Tarzan’s initial discovery of an 'unknown' woman of glamorous sexual beauty who is not immediately linked to Tarzan but who will be so by the end of the story (Angie; Sophia Renault).As with MATE, the plot of ADVENTURE is fairly simple and equally deceptive. Here, the explicit 'hunt' is the looting of a lost diamond mine; the implicit hunt is for the death of Tarzan. One of the most striking elements of ADVENTURE is that the killing of The Ape-Man in a duel is the entire point of the narrative; Death is fore-grounded as the defining rationale of the story, and the film is unusually effective in its powerful and suspenseful re-presentations of it, far beyond anything in any earlier Tarzan film. As with Death, Sex is re-introduced and equally fore-grounded, with both Slade and Tarzan having clearly romantic/erotic relations with their respective women, who are also shown as pitted against each other in an implicit sexual rivalry. The competition between the two women, the cinematically archetypal Good Girl and Bad Girl, takes a decidedly phallic twist, as it is focussed upon rival symbolic demonstrations — primarily through the motif of 'hunting' — of the erotic superiority of their respective 'mates'. Given Tarzan's romantic relationship with the Good Girl Angie, the absence of Jane becomes even more dramatically troubling; the film even subliminally signals the elimination of Tarzan's 'true' mate by having the Bad Girl pointedly identify Angie as 'Tarzan's woman' (which elicits an erotically suggestive comment from Slade, directed at both Tarzan and Jane: 'He [Tarzan] has better taste than I gave him credit for!'). But the most powerful erotic sub-textual element of the film is the one introduced by the anxious Slade who, significantly, is a world-class 'Big Game' hunter, and is, we assume, quite self-conscious of his masculinity. The visual and symbolic centrepiece of the film is a ghoulish handcrafted noose that Slade will use to strangle Tarzan when the two meet in a pre-arranged duel of hand-to-hand combat. Throughout the second half of the film, Slade ostentatiously 'displays' the noose, treating it as an extension of his own being; he resembles nothing so much as Captain Ahab with his 'magic' harpoon, a fetish that symbolizes an obsession the intensity and pathology of which can only be of the greatest phallic magnitude. The 'status' of the fetish/symbol is, of course, obvious: it is a phallic prop that Slade will employ with a savage ferocity in order to eliminate the source of his castration anxiety, Tarzan/animus. It is therefore not a coincidence that Tarzan is referred to more frequently as 'Ape-Man' in ADVENTURE than in any other film. The precise use of this key term symbolizes both the primeval/primordial nature of Tarzan and his status in the film as an animal sacrifice; the ritualistic death that follows the end of the hunt will be the killing of the animus, when The Ape-Man will 'put down' by Slade. This will constitute the symbolic replacement of The Ape-Man with a new animus, The Great-Hunter. Indeed, the absolute centrality of the hunt/duel/killing motif is so powerful that Tarzans' Greatest Adventure should be re-titled Tarzan's Greatest Challenge. As the audience has been led to expect, the extended climax ADVENTURE consists of one of the best and most suspenseful of any fight scenes in the Tarzan film series. Even more dramatically, Slade is the dominant combatant for the greater part of the fight, with the central action of the death-struggle consisting of The Ape-Man's slow and ugly death by strangulation at the hands of Slade-the-Hunter. In a final strikingly symbolic moment, Tarzan is only able to deflect the lethal challenge of Slade at the last moment by turning the noose back against the hunter, the 'fake' Slade dying at the hands of Tarzan who is wielding Slade’s own 'weapon '— now openly exposed as a phallic prop — against him.
(ii) Tarzan's 'death-struggle' with a hyper-masculine but sexually insecure villain who relates to Tarzan in both a clearly symbolic and psychologically meaningful way mainly exhibiting pronounced symptoms of sexual, or ‘castration’ anxiety. The villains in both films — Slade and Vinero, respectively — signal a clearly erotic 'sub-text'; their hysterically exaggerated desire to kill The Ape-Man is the externalisation of their anxiety to 'prove' their sexual superiority over him as animus. Tarzan's desperate but final victory in this death-struggle is linked to the symbolic erotic union with the 'unknown' woman.
Many of the best and most original elements of ADVENTURE were re-worked for the other great instalment of the Weintraub films, GOLD. However, I believe that GOLD is an objective dramatic improvement over ADVENTURE because of the introduction of an even deeper sub-textual level of erotic imaginary. Given that the screenwriter for GOLD was none other than the accomplished adventure writer Claire Huffaker, I believe that it is highly probable that Huffaker deliberately used the original Tarzan novel as inspiration for many of the most powerful themes and 'primordial images' of the film, in accordance with the strictures of the Weintraub 'resolution' of erotic dis-placement. I also believe — but cannot prove other than through inference — that Huffaker was attempting to widen the entire 'pool of mythic images' latent within his script by implicitly referring to other novels in the literary canon with which he was almost certainly familiar; if this was Huffaker's intent, then it would go some way in accounting for Leiber's sly 'trick' in his own adaptation. It also provides an objective basis for my own personal appraisal of GOLD as the 'best' of the Weintraub films. ADVENTURE is essentially a very simple story that remains limited through its firm anchoring within the Jungle film genre; Slade-the-Hunter is exactly the type of challenger Tarzan would encounter in his archetypal Jungle. By contrast, GOLD is the only Jungle film of the canon that explicitly and self-consciously operates on the archetypal level by basing the dramatic tension of the surface 'text' narrative upon a direct conflict between rival sets of archetypes — Ape-Man/Crime-Boss; Ape-Man/Hench-Man; Jungle-Girl/Moll-Seductress — from different genres, the 'Gangster film' as well as the more fantastic/comic book 'secret agent' film. This dramatic opposition on the level of the archetypal invests GOLD with a cinematically sub-textual 'importance' that other films in the series, which are less self-consciously operative on the archetypal plane, lack.
'I don’t expect you to understand':
Donning the Symbolic Loincloth
In putting off his clothes, he seemed to have become taller and at the same time brawnier and leaner, while his face had grown graver and harder… 'You don’t look like the same man at all.'
'I’ll need a good rope, a hunting knife, and a soft piece of leather.'
'But darling, I have to put on clothes. There are other people here and they’d think I was immodest.'
In absolutely everything that follows, it is crucial that the reader keep in the forefront of his or her mind Morton's comments concerning the erotic cinematic imaginary: in terms of cinematic re-presentation, Tarzan as Jungle film superhero is utterly inseparable from the continuously operating 'narcissistic identification with the power-fantasy suggested by Tarzan’s strength and command of nature.' As purely cinematic drama, Tarzan does not 'work' unless this very precise but difficult to define sense is achieved and maintained. The film depiction of Tarzan is a visual representation of an identity and/or a series of actions that the viewers want to identify with and perhaps even want to perform themselves; the well-made Tarzan film, therefore, is often an intensely emotional and graphic staging of a dream-fantasy. It follows that a more sophisticated pleasure may be achieved through the deliberate heightening of suspense, which I have already identified as the induction of the viewer's apprehension that Tarzan/animus will actually be killed. This powerful element of suspense — and the resultant higher gratification attained once the serious threat of Death has been overcome and the first-stage animus affirmed as 'triumphant' — is achieved through dramatic devices and symbols that subliminally operate on the viewer's unconscious, causing him or her to 'doubt' that the customarily expected delivery of pleasure/gratification will take place. To re-state an earlier argument: as Tarzan (and Jane) dramatically operate through the wider archetype of the superhero, this heightened dramatic tension will be accomplished through the self-conscious manipulations and even disruptions or 'reversals' of the relevant symbols; the viewer will come to secretly 'doubt' their omnipotence which is the 'truth' of their identity as animus/anima.
The two primary cinematic symbols of Tarzan and Jane are replete with erotic meaning: the Jungle cry and the loincloth. It is no accident that the most erotically explicit—or, in the alternative, the least erotically 'concealed' — film in the series, MATE, is the only film that Jane, the 'mate' of Tarzan, matches him with both a vocalization and a manner of (un-) dress identical with his own. As has been argued elsewhere,17 the careful use of both music and sound are of the utmost dramatic importance in the Jungle film. As music is the most immediate form of symbolic representation, the music score and the soundtrack are of critical importance in dramatically re-presenting Tarzan and Jane as animus and anima. What is equally well understood but less directly commented on is that the loincloth is an equivalent symbol; the on-screen 'donning' of the loincloth is the primary sign of both Tarzan's and Jane's physical rejuvenation or (sexual) 'enhancement' as animus and anima. Given that their cinematic archetypal meaning is essentially identical to that of the superhero, I would press this point further, and compare the loincloth to that defining symbol of the superhero, the identifying costume or mask that ostentatiously signals a 'secret identity'.
The one option that no superhero has is failure. For the superhero, failure is narratively and dramatically identical with 'death'. Given the thoroughly narcissistic/erotic nature of the archetype, superhero 'failure' brings with it very specific set of sexually symbolic connotations. The hinge point of this complex of concerns is symbolized in the always potential, or latent, threat of un-masking, which constitutes the central dramatic mixture of the erotic power and erotic vulnerability of the superhero. If the superhero is un-masked then his/her secret/erotic identity is 'lost' or 'taken away' — symbolic castration (expressed as a simple formula, this relationship would be failure = un-masking =death = (symbolic) castration).18 Since the archetype of the superhero is inherently erotic, 'un-masking' means the taking away of self-proclaimed sexual power and the exposure of the superhero as a 'fake'— that is, one whom has exposed him or herself to the threat of castration at the hands of the more powerful enemy precisely through his or her earlier narcissistic declaration of erotic power. In this context, even the otherwise simple term 'fake' acquires a more complex meaning. Literally, 'fake' means 'un-true' or 'non-real'; in conjunction with the eroticised un-masking/symbolic castration of the superhero, however, fake signals the absence of the true animus/anima. The symbol is a continuation of the real thing, but re-presented in a different way; the prop is a substitute for the real thing that is missing. If un-masked and proven a fake, then the archetypal symbols of the superhero which have been mis-taken as verifying the hero's true or correct identification as animus/anima, are exposed as mere props, signalling the absence of the true animus/anima. The failure of the superhero is a humiliation that assumes the form of a ‘revealing’, the ‘un-masking’ that proves that the superhero's dramatic and erotic self-announcement is nothing more than ostentatious and pathetic 'play-acting', worthy only of the contempt to be shown to the 'non-serious'.19 In the stock parlance of the comic book, we call the superhero's suspenseful confrontation with the threateningly overpowering/castrating super-villain the moment that the hero 'has met his/her match', a challenge that will end in failure. The challenges that Tarzan/animus faces, therefore, and which generate much of the dramatic suspense of the film series, are ones that put to the test his true archetypal status as Jungle superheros. In 'pop' Jungian terms, this forms the basic explanation as to why Tarzan is so frequently being 'hunted': precisely because he is the animus his defeat by the enemy — Arlington, Slade, Vinero, Mr. Train — will provide the longed-for symbolic verification of the true or superior power of the one who kills, or successfully 'challenges', The Ape-Man.20
Both MATE and GOLD are linked through the prominence they give to the performance of a ritualistic 'stripping'. As I shall discuss in more detail below, GOLD is an unusual Jungle film as it deliberately foregrounds the transversal between City/Jungle that loom so large in the novels. When Tarzan 're-enters' the literal and archetypal 'Jungle' in GOLD, his symbolic identification as superhero is announced most clearly in his stripping off of city clothing and the donning of his signature loincloth. (As Tarzan comments nonchalantly to his startled companions who see him 'revealed' for the very first time, 'I don’t expect you to understand'.) In this way, there is a 'double movement' between MATE and GOLD: both Jane and Tarzan 'strip' out of civilised clothing in exchange (substitution) for a 'savage' loincloth. A primary cinematic symbol of Africa/Jungle/primitive, the loincloth was a key visual symbol used in MATE to signal the simultaneous on-screen presence of both the first-stage animus and anima, initiating the 'screening mechanism'; it is cinematic folklore that the first step in the domestication of the archetypal imaginary was to force Jane to abandon her scant attire of jungle skins and 'dress' in a highly modest one–piece leather tunic. I will now discuss in turn the cinematic significance of the symbolic attire for both archetypes.
'She's priceless. A woman who's learned the abandon of the savage, yet she'd be home at Mayfair.'
According to von FranzThe most frequent manifestation of the anima takes the form of erotic fantasy…[The various aspects of the anima] can be projected so that they appear to the man to be the qualities of some particular woman. It is the presence of the anima that causes a man to fall suddenly in love when he sees a woman for the first time and knows at once that this is 'she'. In this situation, the man feels as if he has known this woman intimately for all time; he falls for her so helplessly that it looks to outsiders like complete madness. Women who are of 'fairy-like' character especially attract such anima projections, because men can attribute almost anything to a creature who is so fascinatingly vague, and can thus proceed to weave fantasies around her.21Von Franz's introductory comments on the anima unwittingly encapsulate the entirety of the romance plot of the first novel, Tarzan of the Apes. The decisive erotic moment is reached after Tarzan has been gazing at Jane for an hour—'How beautiful her features! How fair her skin!' —but without actually communicating with her. 'Then she loosened the soft mass of golden hair that crowned her head. Like a shimmering waterfall turned to burnished metal by a dying sun it fell about her oval face; in waving lines, below her waist it tumbled. Tarzan was spellbound.'22
As the most cursory reading of the novel reveals, Jane is a relatively 'under-developed' character at this very early point. Yet, Tarzan's 'attraction' is immediate, over-whelming and, most importantly, authentic or 'true'. Elsewhere in the series, it is even described as being 'pre-ordained'; Jane is the woman whom the first-stage animus is 'meant' to have.23 What this means symbolically, of course, is that Jane's 'true identity' as matching anima has been validated through The Ape-Man's recognition of her; Jane Porter is an explicit first-stage anima but she also implies the later stages that the first-stage animus will 'instinctively' seek out in order to progress. Yet it is precisely the underdevelopment of the literary incarnation of Jane that allowed actor Maureen O'Sullivan the 'empty space' she needed within which to act out her unparalleled cinematic re-presentation of the archetypal Jungle-Girl/anima. It is not the least of the apparent paradoxes of Tarzanology that while several of the 'other' (i.e., post-Weissmuller) 'Tarzans' have been quite successful (Gordon Scott; Jock Mahoney; Mike Henry; Ron Ely) all of the 'other' (post-O'Sullivan) 'Janes' have been much less successful. Indeed, O'Sullivan's highly original and culturally precise re-presentation of Jane has achieved such iconic status that it is virtually impossible to imagine anyone else in the role.24
Much of Jane's erotic allure comes directly from her being a highly tension-laden 'hybrid' of the perfect 'English Rose' (demur) and a savage, half-naked Jungle-woman (exhibitionist): 'She's priceless. A woman who's learned the abandon of the savage, yet she'd be home at Mayfair.' O'Sullivan's performance is quite self-consciously, and openly self-referentially, grounded upon Jane being an 'English-Rose-in-the-Jungle', which is the source of much of its success. The English Rose as cultural stereotype is very difficult to define. As English society is one of the most 'deeply' encoded social and cultural systems on Earth, the 'signs' of sexual desire and passion are complex and complicated, and frequently contradictory. In summary, the uniquely English stereotype of 'the English Rose' signifies both a genuinely potent but thoroughly demure sexuality; sexual power is strong but deferred or hidden, which produces a corresponding tension. Hence the latent dramatic and erotic power of the 'entrance' of one such as Jane into the primeval/primordial image of the archetypal 'Jungle': cinematic Africa as symbolic Jungle allows her to be 'revealed' (externalised/displayed) via a symbolically liberating act of 'stripping'. Not coincidentally, MATE is the only Tarzan film that explicitly depicts Jane as both removing and/or out of her clothes, not once but on several occasions.25 Jane's deliberate and self-conscious un-veiling as an English Rose activates the latent sexual power of her 'type', re-constituting her as playful and joyous exhibitionist. In MATE's most famous lines, Jane obliquely confirms the truth of this observation:
'But darling, I have to put on clothes. There are other people here and they'd think I was immodest.'
As the erotic 'allure' of the English Rose is that of a sexual power that is both authentic and truly potent but is always only hinted at through remaining veiled, she will stereotypically conform to a precise body type, whose adjectival repertoire includes such key terms as 'lithe', 'comely', 'beauteous', 'sensuous', 'lovely', whose beauty is normally 'soft' or even 'fragile'. If we move from the biological to the cultural, we find that the true erotic potency of the English Rose lies beyond her objective degree of physical beauty but with her identity as a specifically English upper-class variant of the ingenue, who signals a somewhat breathless and imploring sexual passion.
Through the cinematically startling and highly original combination of upper class Englishness, exhibitionism and display, Jane-as-ingenue shows slight signs of a narcissistically playful, late adolescent perversion, a gentrified ‘naughtiness’ as an English variant of refined erotic ‘mischievousness’. The allure of the English Rose is inseparable from a prior but implicit eroticisation of English class identity; an obvious member of the minor gentry of the southern home-counties, much of the sexual confidence of Jane that underlines her power is an eroticised extension of her absolutely secure sense of her class identity. Within the contours of the archetypal English Rose, Jane's class-identity re-confirms her display of confidence as (a recently) sexualised and liberated exhibitionist, which further eroticises her ‘English Rose-ness’ through the double assertion of both sexual and social superiority. Although the term ‘Feminist’ might be overstating my case, Jane is transparently relying upon both cultural and biological superiority as the means for achieving a self-conscious act of ‘liberation’, the erotised cinematic re-presentation of a higher-stage anima deliberately ‘descending’ in order to integrate with the first-stage. Her ironically ‘fake’ modesty is a form of lightly perverted play by mischievously/naughtily ‘deferring’ to the supposedly ‘binding’ social norms of her gentry/home-county class thereby proving her superiority to them; her erotic confidence allows her to ‘tease’ the expedition with the polite but delightful ‘perverted’ play of the un-veiled English Rose. If von Franz is correct in describing the first-stage anima as ‘fairy-like’, then Jane resembles nothing so much as a Jungle sprite. (This is explicitly indicated by the dialogue between Holt and Cavanaugh remarking upon Tarzan and Jane’s playful and lightly narcissistic ‘showing off’ of their ‘vine-swinging’; INSERT). It also makes us qualify the masculine bias of Morton’s observations; The Jungle-Girl as superhero/anima can easily serve as a form of female narcissistic identification.
As has been stated many times before, both Tarzan of the Apes and, even more so, MATE, are ‘really’ about Jane. I agree, but I would express this truth through the archetypal cinematic imaginary of the superhero. The erotic narrative of Jane is her establishment of a psychic connection with her latent but veiled anima — symbolized by her ‘entering the Jungle’ — which activates her transformation into THE Jungle-Girl, the archetypal cinematic icon who is the one woman who is dramatically — and, therefore, symbolically — the ‘right’ one to ‘mate’ with the archetypal Ape-Man/animus. There is, therefore, a clear ‘double movement’ between Tarzan and Jane as respective archetypes. The first half of the novel Tarzan of the Apes relates the ‘primeval origins tale’ of Tarzan’s feral upbringing; not only does this serve the rather pedestrian function of ‘explaining to the reader who Tarzan is and how he came to be’, but, much more importantly, it validates his status—his ‘true identity’—as the first-stage animus. Tarzan, quite literally, is born an archetype; Jane must become one, through externalised actions which are symbolically significant. In this way, MATE could almost be read as the ‘origin story’ of The Jungle-Girl. Throughout the mythos, but in MATE in particular, Jane is not merely the woman who lives with Tarzan in the Jungle, but is an archetypal character in her own right; the symbolic cinematic re-presentation of first-stage Eve.
His straight and perfect figure, muscled as the best of the best of the ancient Roman gladiators must have been muscled, and yet with the soft and sinuous curves of a Greek god, told at a glance the wondrous combination of enormous strength with suppleness and speed. A personification, was Tarzan of the Apes, of the primitive man, the hunter, the warrior…he might readily have typified some demigod of a wild and warlike bygone people of his ancient forest.26
I do not believe that it is coincidental that the introduction of a ‘new look’ Tarzan for the 1960s film audience, visually highlighted by Mike Henry’s startlingly impressive masculinity,27 is introduced in the same (and only) film of the canon where Tarzan is threatened with being ‘over-powered’—and, therefore, ‘un-masked’— by a physically superior enemy: the international criminal Vinero, an entire company of well-armed mercenaries, and, most vitally by far, the villain’s utterly lethal bodyguard Mr. Train, who possesses super-human strength. The extremity of the threat of ‘failure’/castration posed by the ‘challenge’ that Tarzan choses to meet in GOLD dramatically highlights the sexual tension implicit within his ‘transformation’ into Ape-Man/animus. In other words, the enormity of the narrative ‘challenge’ of GOLD dramatically demands a strictly commensurate re-eroticisation of The Ape-Man. In his authoritative history of Tarzan cinema, Gabe Essoe has established this point clearly.Producer [Sy] Weintraub had cut the Apeman’s character to the bone and redressed it, largely according to Burrough’s recipe … But something was missing. There was nothing savage about him anymore; even in the Jungle he was a gentleman. No longer was he Tarzan the Terrible who, pleased with the scent of death, placed his foot on his kill in a head-tossing, chest-pounding frenzy, culminating in the ape-call of triumph. Weintraub contended that below the surface, his Apeman ‘is still primitive. When Tarzan kills, he is a worse killer than his enemy. And like Rousseau’s natural man, he stays in the Jungle because he wants to. Not because he has to.’28I believe that it was precisely the dramatic imperative to erotically re-create the character that led to the deliberate inversion of a stereotypical element of the Jungle film; Tarzan ‘begins’ in the City as John Clayton29 and then deliberately returns to ‘the Jungle’ in order to re-integrate with his earlier animus. Leiber, who consciously draws our attention to the archetypal/superhero dimensions of the ‘transformation’, implicitly understands this.In putting off his clothes, he seemed to have become taller and at the same time brawnier and leaner, while his face had grown graver and harder … ‘You don’t look like the same man at all.’30Immediately after the ‘change’, Tarzan provides what is commonly accepted as the ‘classic’ line of dialogue of the film: ‘I’ll need a good rope, a hunting knife, and a soft piece of leather.’ Although clearly humorous on one level, the dialogue serves a more ‘serious’ purpose on two others. Firstly, it is Tarzan’s announcement of a deliberate intent of returning to the Jungle which will precipitate the resumption of an earlier, or ‘primeval’ but currently ‘concealed’, alter ego; a ‘double movement’ to Jane’s action in MATE. Tarzan’s transformation in GOLD deliberately invokes the first full description provided by Burroughs of Tarzan as a young adult: ‘About his waist was a belt of tiny strips of rawhide fashioned by himself as a support for the home-made scabbard in which hung his father’s hunting knife.’31 If Morton’s central argument is that ‘narcissistic identification’ is necessary for Tarzan to ‘work’, then this scene from GOLD unambiguously verifies it. The almost ritualistic ‘donning’ of the signature and symbolically charged loincloth signals the open announcement of the transformation of the hitherto concealed (super-) hero into Tarzan/The Ape-Man. In Jungian terms, Tarzan is willing a regression from a later stage to the first-stage animus, which has always remained his ‘true identity.’ The self-consciously dramatic nature of the scene also doubles as a ‘challenge’; Tarzan ‘strips’ in order to ‘activate’ his latent strength/potency that is needed in order to return to the Jungle and put an end to the monstrous threat of Vinero’s power.32 This is visually re-enforced by the ceremonial un-leashing of two clearly ferocious and erotically potent animals, a lion and a leopard, the most directly visual depiction so far of ‘Tarzan’s strength and command of nature.’ Secondly, Tarzan’s more traditional activity of the hunt now assumes the form of a mission—to track and to ‘stop’ (kill) Vinero. This provides the direct point of an intentional convergence of the cinematic genres of the Jungle-film and the then-resurgent secret-agent film; Tarzan acquiring his signature weapons and symbols is suggestive of James Bond being equipped for ‘Q’ before embarking on a dangerous mission ‘in the field.’ GOLD simply cannot be interpreted as film apart from the total ambience of the 1960s ‘spy’ movie, epitomized by James Bond; Tarzan as a ‘James-Bond-of-the-Jungle’ provides the supplemental archetypal definition.
Yet, Tarzan’s newly recovered ‘chest-pounding frenzy’ also constitutes a challenge that dramatically elicits a threat in the form of a counter-challenge. Tarzan’s ‘mission’ doubles a private quest for vengeance, avenging the murder of his friends at the animal sanctuary. This suggests that Tarzan’s motives may be more personal than social; his much-cited ‘primitive’ or ‘savage’ nobility is laced with violence, as it is thoroughly grounded in the first-stage animus, indicating merely the potential, not the final, realization of individuation. Weintraub’s grasp of this is certain: ‘When Tarzan kills, he is a worse killer than his enemy.’ However, GOLD’s highly original and dramatically powerful con-junction of the Gangster and secret-agent genres with the more traditional Jungle film allows for the subliminal identification of the natural Jungle—the one that is actually on the screen—with the metaphorical ‘Jungle’ of the criminal underworld, yielding a hybrid Jungle—‘the green Jungle hell of Tucame, where the only law is to kill or be killed’— that will ‘test’ or ‘challenge’ to the utmost ‘Tarzan’s strength and command of nature’. Doubt is created that Tarzan, ‘far from his native Africa’, is no longer the true lord of the Jungle; we witness a highly suspenseful open-ended or ‘see-sawing’ battle between the two protagonists, each one a cinematic archetype: Tarzan/Ape-Man who is using his natural/Jungle strength to ‘challenge’ the criminal strength of top-ranked international criminal Vinrero, the cinematic ‘Crime-Boss’. Vinero’s ‘invasion’ of the Valley of Gold with an armed expedition evokes the Jungle film; the villain’s ‘take-over’ and seizure of power evokes the Gangster film; both outcomes constitute the symbolic replacement of Tarzan by Augustus Vinero—‘the conqueror of empires, the dealer in death’—as the ‘true’ Lord of the ‘real’ Jungle whose strength/power is even greater than Tarzan’s. As the Gangster genre rivals the Jungle genre with its own set of highly erotic archetypal symbols and codes, the audience comes to fear that the ‘crime’ Jungle might actually be a better ‘testing’ ground for alpha-maleness than is the merely primitive natural Jungle.
This observation in fact fits in well with the eugenic and social Darwinist themes of the Tarzan novels,33 only this time they are uncharacteristically and ominously working against The Ape-Man. Underscoring this very point, Leiber has highlighted the fact that ‘Vinero’ is synonymous with ‘Pisarro’, the victorious historical conqueror of the first ‘valley of gold’, the Incan Empire, setting up a complex chain of associations between Vinero = Pizarro=gold = greed =lust = power =sex (‘Augustus’, of course, was the name of the greatest of the Roman emperors). With his customary intelligence, Leiber furthers this connection by transferring the bulk of the action from Mexico to the even more erotically charged Jungles of the Amazon; Brazil is a ‘New World’ Africa, the conquest of which will establish the identity of the ‘true’ Lord-of-the-Jungle as opposed to the ‘fake’. GOLD sub-textually re-inserts Tarzan into the earlier phase of his life depicted in the first biography, Tarzan of the Apes, where he contests for power within his tribe against the lethal alpha-male challenger and would-be killer Terkoz; this is the moment that he must validate or ‘prove’ his identity as animus.But as Terkoz pushed [Jane] roughly aside to meet Tarzan’s charge, and she saw the great proportions of the ape and the mighty muscles and the fierce fangs, her heart quailed. How could any vanquish such a mighty antagonist? Like two charging bulls they came together, and like two wolves sought each other’s throat. Against the long canines of the ape was pitted the thin blade of the man’s knife. Jane—her lithe, young form flattened against the trunk of the great tree, her hands pressed against her rising and falling bosom, and her eyes wide with mingled horror, fascination, fear, and admiration—watched the primordial ape battle for possession of a woman—her. As the great muscles of the man’s back and shoulders knotted beneath the tension of his efforts, and the huge biceps and forearm held at bay those mighty tusks, the veil of centuries of civilization and culture was swept from the blurred vision of the Baltimore girl. When the long knife drank deep a dozen times of Terkoz’s heart’s blood, and the great carcass rolled lifeless upon the ground, it was a primeval woman who sprang forward toward the primeval man who had fought for her and won her.34This set of associations works to further threaten the narcissistically omnipotent Tarzan; if Vinero is Pissaro, then it is Tarzan, the native ‘savage’ who is the one doomed to ‘failure’. Vinero focuses on this by his repeated references to Tarzan, not as ‘The Ape-Man’, his proper superhero title, but as ‘The African’; an exotic but over-rated and out-classed ‘primitive’. Anticipating a later argument that I shall make, it is also important to note that the death-struggle with Terkoz is the central primeval/primordial image of the text, Tarzan’s acquisition of his ‘mate’ who is being threatened with rape/death by the challenger animus, the killer-ape.
By upsetting film convention and placing Tarzan within an urban setting and initially devoid of his archetypal symbols, the film cleverly installs an element of doubt, which is suspense, concerning the ability of Tarzan to truly meet Vinero’s ‘challenge’ and that, therefore, the viewer’s customary expectation of receiving ‘a satisfying sense of omnipotence’ may fail to occur.
NOTES1. Walt Morton, 'Tracking the Sign of Tarzan: Trans-media Representation of a Pop-culture icon', in Pat Kirkham and Janet Thumim (eds), You Tarzan: Masculinity, Movies and Men (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1993), 106-25, at 113.
2. Carl G. Jung, 'Approaching the Unconscious', in Carl G. Jung et al (eds) Man and His Symbols (London: Penguin,/Arkana, 1990), 18-103, at 68.
4. Jung, 'Approaching the Unconscious', 69.
5. Ibid. 69. It is the collective externalisation of archetypal imaginary that provides the vital nexus between cinema and Jung’s notorious concept of the collective unconscious. 'We do not assume that each new-born animal creates its own instincts as an individual acquisition, and we must not suppose that human individuals invent their specific human ways with every birth. Like the instincts, the collective thought patterns of the human mind are innate and inherited. They function, when the occasion arises, in more or less the same way in all of us.' Ibid. 75,
6. M. L. von Franz, 'The Process of Individuation', in Carl G. Jung, et al (eds) Man and His Symbols (London: Penguin/Arkana, 1990), 159-229
7. Ibid. 194.
8. The photo-still in question possesses an ‘erotic meaning’ too obvious to merit comment.
9. Ibid. 185.
10. Sheena is the outstanding example of this, who may be described as a hyper-first-stage Jane/animus.
11. Over the long history of Hollywood not every Jungle film—Jungle Jim, Bomba, Simba—were actually Tarzan films. However, since we are discussing archetypes, I hold that every other form of ‘Jungle film’ is a second-order derivative from the original Tarzan cinematic archetype.
12. It would be a worthwhile exercise of more technical film criticism to closely compare Huffaker’s formal screenplay with the shooting script actually used to make GOLD, which in many places bears the sign of arbitrary omissions and illogical plotting, giving it a very ‘choppy’ feel in places.
14. The four stages of the animus are: wholly physical man; ‘romantic’ man; the ‘bearer of the word’; and ‘the wise guide to spiritual truth.’ Von Franz, ‘The Process of Individuation’, 194.
15. For further discussion, please see below.
16. The first phase of which constituted the surface Text of the first film Tarzan the Apeman, and which ends in the death of Jane’s father and the union/mating of Tarzan and Jane.
17. Alternatively understood as ‘making safe’.
18. In the comic book the on-the-verge-of-victory villain proclaiming that 'It is all over' often signals this decisive moment of the superhero's imminent failure/death/un-masking/castration. It is a recurrent motif of the comic book that the superhero's 'greatest fear' is his/her un-masking.
19. In stereotypical comic book dialogue, this sense is conveyed through stock phrases such as 'You don’t stand a chance', or 'You are out of your league', or 'You don’t know what you are doing'—the language of an elemental challenge 'calling out' the true incompetence, or impotence, of the rival.
20. This insight, if correct, is of wider applicability to all individual manifestations of the superhero archetype; one of the most distinguishing and revealing characteristics of the superhero is the fact that all of their 'arch-enemies' are psychotically obsessed with them. The Batman is, of course, the classic example of this. Although no villain ‘enjoys’ multiple appearances in the Tarzan films, as they usually die at the end of them, in the novels the most obvious candidate for obsessed arch-enemy/hunter/challenger is Count Rokoff, who is clearly 'erotically challenged' by Tarzan.
21. Von Franz, 'The Process of Individuation', 179-80.
22. Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes, 140. This, of course, has caused much trouble with the 'believability' of the character, as it seems exceedingly improbable that Tarzan would fall in love with ‘the first woman he happens to see.’ If we employ the Jungian theory of the archetype and the unconscious, however, the 'problem' disappears; Tarzan's becoming 'spellbound' is a symbolic act of recognition. If we were to move from Jung to Freud, we also have a 'plausible explanation' for erotic bonding, albeit a very different one. Tarzan is 'spell-bounded' by Jane precisely because she is not the first woman he has ever seen but the second; the first (human) woman that Tarzan actually 'gazes' at is his strikingly beautiful mother, whose image he carries with him in the retrieved locket. It is often unnoticed that after the primeval/primordial scene with Terkoz, after which Tarzan takes Jane 'into the trees', the two of them spend much of their time together 'gazing' at the portrait of the woman in the locket. On this Freudian reading, Tarzan's 'seduction' by Jane is also an act of 'recognition'.
23. THE RETURN OF TARZAN?
24. If the Weintraub series had continued into the early 1970s and the decision to explicitly re-introduce Jane had been made at that later point, then the only actor who comes to mind as being capable of assaying Jane would have been the English actor Jenny Agutter, who is herself highly reminiscent of O’Sullivan.
25. This is most graphically, and therefore most famously, achieved in the ‘under-water nude ballet’ scene, which, appropriately enough, incites a death-struggle between The Ape-Man and a highly phallic monstrous crocodile.
26. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes (Newcastle-Under-Lyme: Remploy Limited, 1939), 97.
27. The working title for GOLD was Tarzan ’65.
28. Gabe Essoe, Tarzan of the Movies: A pictorial History of More than Fifty Years of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Legendary Hero (New York: The Citadel Press, 1968, 176.
29. His civilized name is used only in the book; in the film he is always ‘Tarzan’. All of the Weintraub films studiously ignore the civilized aspects of Tarzan. I believe that the reason they do so is to obviate the need to deal with the presence of Jane. I will re-visit this issue in my conclusion.
30. SOURCE: GOLD
31. Ibid. 97.
32. In GOLD, Vinero intends to use the vast wealth from the Valley of Gold to overthrow the various governments of South America and establish himself as an international political power.
33. John F. Kasson, Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001, 157-218.
34. Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes, 156.
Concluded in Part II