TARZAN MEMORIES II
TARZAN THE APE MAN
Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan
For excellent background information on the making of this classic MGM Tarzan movie and the sequel TARZAN AND HIS MATE, I recommend American Cinematographer magazine issues dated January and February 1987 (these issues are sold on ebay from time to time). Negotiations between ERB and MGM began in March 1931 and were completed on April 15, 1931. Burroughs was to receive $20,000 and $1000 a week for the 5 week shooting schedule. The contract stated that "Burroughs grants rights to Metro to write an 'original story', using character of Tarzan and any other character used in stories heretofore written by author." Burroughs had the right to read the scripts and make sure they were not based in part or in whole on any of his own works.
Cyril Hume, who had turned the filming of "Trader Horn" in Africa into a suitable story outline, was given the assignment of writing the script for TARZAN THE APE MAN. Hume's original script had Trader Horn leading an expedition to Africa to search for a lost tribe. En route, they discover Tarzan, who kidnaps the woman scientist member of the safari. She eventually returns to the safari and they are captured by the tribe they seek (who worships the moon), and are to be human sacrifices to a sacred gorilla. Tarzan, leading a pack of elephants, arrives in time to save the safari. The woman scientist decides to stay with Tarzan while Trader Horn and his party return to the trading post.
The script evolved after several meetings between Irving Thalberg and his associates; they decided to have the woman scientist be named Jane, who accompanies her father in search for the elephant's graveyard. This myth was borrowed from the Trader
Horn book; the Mutia escarpment was an MGM concoction not based on any myth, and named after Mutia Omoolu, the native who played Trader Horn's gun-bearer.
The search for the actors for Tarzan and Jane began. Herman Brix was considered, but was injured while filming the movie "Touchdown", and continued until Weissmuller was spotted, tested, and signed. Maureen O'Sullivan was chosen as Jane (although she was not director Van Dyke's first choice). Filming began on October 31, 1931 and was completed in December, a modest 78 week schedule.
Filming took place on the MGM lot; Lake Sherwood was where the hippo scenes were filmed, and one hippo was reported missing after filming that scene. It turned up later. Alfredo Cardona doubled on the trapeze for all of Weissmuller's aerial scenes. Elephants from India were made up with fake ears and extended trunks were used to double for African elephants. Bert Nelson, the animal trainer, doubled for Weissmuller for the lion fight. A chimpanzee was found to play "Cheetah".
Footage left over from the movie "TRADER HORN", which was filmed in Africa, was to be incorporated in the film to make it look more realistic. Because of the sophistication of today's audience, the stock footage stands out like a sore thumb but back in 1932, audiences didn't seem to notice or care. The process shots were very well done for its day. Since Johnny Weissmuller was an olympic gold medal winning swimmer with many world records to his credit, it was a no-brainer to have him do a lot of swimming in the movies. Inserts of Weissmuller were added to create the illusion that he had done all of his own stunts. MGM was not going to allow Johnny to be hurt doing them.
In reality, the first Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan film is really about Jane Parker, superbly played by Maureen O'Sullivan. It is more about her adventures in Africa and accompanying her father in his search for the Elephant's graveyard and meeting Tarzan than it is about the Ape Man. Tarzan doesn't even make his first appearance until half way into the movie. MGM made no mention of his origins, only showed that he is seen living with the apes. I always found it interesting that MGM wanted us to think that Tarzan had never seen a white woman before in his life. He surely had seen the black women who populated the jungle. The fact her skin was "white" (or tanned like his) surely caught his attention. Some black critics have wondered why it was never established that Tarzan had no contact with black women while growing up. It is something we can ponder but I will not go into it at this time.
The plot itself is simple enough. Jane comes to the jungle to accompany her father in his search for the legendary Elephant's graveyard. On her trip as a member of her father's safari to the Mutia Escarpment, she encounters Tarzan, who kidnaps her and they come to fall in love with each other, to Harry Holt's dismay for he loves her too. They are attacked and captured by native pygmies; Tarzan has been wounded by the jealous Mr. Holt, and the Ape Man enlists the aid of his friends, the elephants, to rescue everyone. Jane decides to stay with Tarzan.
The movie, with MGM's clout and support behind it, was a big success. "APE MAN," followed by "AND HIS MATE," were both surprisingly adult in tone, unlike many of the others that followed. A lot of the revenue from Tarzan movies came from Asia and other European countries. There is a colorized version but it looks washed out and not very well done. You'd think they could have done a better job. Unlike others who think colorization is the worst thing that could happen to the old movies, I happen to like the idea....as long as the original version is also preserved and we have the choice to be able to watch either version. DVD's have the ability to present both versions and let us pick which one we would prefer watching.
Unlike most critics, I liked this film better than TARZAN AND HIS MATE. The beginning of "MATE" is practically a rehash of the beginning of "APE MAN", and the crocodile fight many enjoy, looks totally unrealistic to me. I also thought Tarzan and Jane should have been married at the end. It would have prevented a lot of hassles later on. All in all, the first of Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan films is still a very good film and highly recommended.
(Interesting footnote: one executive thought it would be a kiddie film before production even began, while another said it would be a film for everyone.)
OTHER WILLIAM ARMSTRONG SITES
GORDON SCOTT TARZAN PHOTO ALBUM
DOWN MEMORY LANE WITH TARZAN
Other Tarzan Actors & ERB info are also featured in these sites:
ME TARZAN...YOU JANE
Lex Barker TARZAN Comic Book Covers
Lex Barker TARZAN Photo Gallery
JUNGLE GIRLS The FEMALE TARZANS
TARZAN Movie and TV Lists
HERMAN BRIX as TARZAN
The TARZAN NOVELS
RON ELY as TARZAN
is continued in
Reviews ~ Photo Gallery
ERBzine Silver Screen Series
American Cinematographer magazine stories by Rudy Behlmer
Jan. 1987 issue vol 68 # 11 (Weissmuller-O'Sullivan cover)
Feb. 1987 issue vol 68 # 2 (Battle of the Alamo cover)