TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD WOMAN
Johnny Weissmuller was 41 when he filmed his tenth
Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946). Thanks
to a concerted effort he had recently made to get his body back into good
physical condition -- following some saggy appearances in recent Tarzan
entries -- he was in his best shape in years. In one scene, he even wrestles
and heaves high into the air a 200-pound character named "Tongolo the Terrible"
(played, incidentally, by an actual wrestler known as "King Kong Kashey").
The story has Tarzan battling a cult of jungle men who
worship a leopard god and are led by the High Priestess Lea (Acquanetta).
The men dress in leopard skins and claw their victims to death before cutting
out their hearts. Eventually, Tarzan, Jane (Brenda Joyce) and Boy
(Johnny Sheffield) are all captured, and it's up to Cheeta
to start saving the day.
This was Brenda Joyce's second turn as Jane following
two entries in which Jane was not even present, as Maureen O'Sullivan had
left the role following Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942). Johnny
Sheffield, in his seventh film as Boy, had his first significant fight
scenes here, saving Jane from having her heart cut out by the deadly Kimba,
High Priestess Lea's younger brother.
Tarzan and the Leopard Woman made money, and the
series continued. But while it stands today as a satisfying, action-packed
entry in the series, critics of the time were dismissive, with The New
York Times declaring the "one thing which apparently has the ape man stumped
[is] how to find an author who will write him into a really lively adventure."
Variety thought Tarzan and Weissmuller were both getting too old and too
stale, and complained that "the film is bogged down by stock situations
and unimaginative production and direction... Leopard men's dances, staged
by Lester Horton, resemble a high school gym class warming up... Acting
honors, if there are any, go to little Cheeta."
The Los Angeles Times made special mention of the Leopard
Woman herself: "The head push of this movie is a vicious star named Acquanetta.
If Tarzan is the lord of the jungle, Acquanetta is most definitely the
lady. This is a star in the making." In fact, Acquanetta had been a "star
in the making" for a few years, but she was already growing disillusioned
with Hollywood and after this film would take a five-year hiatus from the
Acquanetta was one of several "exotic," foreign-looking
actresses whom Hollywood tried to make into stars in the 1940s, but she
never reached the level of Carmen Miranda or Maria Montez. Born on an Indian
reservation in Cheyenne, Wyo., as Burnu Acquanetta, which means "Burning
Fire, Deep Water," her mother was an Arapaho Indian and her father was
of French and English descent. Given up for adoption, she was raised in
Norristown, Penn., by a new family who renamed her Mildred Davenport. At
16, she became a fashion model in New York, and a few years later she took
a trip to Hollywood just for fun; she was quickly discovered by a talent
scout and the next thing she knew she had signed with Universal and was
being promoted as
"the Venezuelan Volcano" in such films as Arabian
Nights (1942), Rhythm of the Islands (1943) and Captive Wild
Woman (1943). The Universal publicity machine played up her exotic
looks by dropping her first name and telling the press she slept in a teepee
and other such nonsense. Tarzan and the Leopard Woman was her most
notable picture, but her film career would soon sputter out as she lost
interest in the roles being offered to her. Eventually she married a car
salesman in Phoenix and settled there to raise a family.
Following Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, Weissmuller
Swamp Fire (1946), opposite Buster Crabbe. "I took one
look at that picture and went back to the jungle!" Weissmuller later said.
Swamp Fire he starred in two more Tarzan pictures
and then began a new franchise, playing "Jungle Jim" for virtually
the rest of his career.
The studio pressbook for this film notes that Tarzan is
required to deliver 30 lines of dialogue, "setting an all-time record"
for a Tarzan movie. Look for Dennis Hoey in the role of the commissioner
-- a comic part quite similar to that of his Inspector Lestrade in the
Sherlock Holmes films of the same period.