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Volume 6784

A Tarzan Spoof with Jimmy Durante
MGM's Hollywood Party (1934), contains a spoof of Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan movies with Jimmy Durante cast as an unlikely jungle-film star billed as 'The Great Schnarzan.' The problem, it seems, is that box office is falling off for Schnarzan's movies because the lions that play supporting roles have grown lethargic. Schnarzan plots to buy some livelier lions from Baron Munchausen (Jack Pearl, who played the role on radio) and throws a lavish party in the Baron's honor in hopes of getting a bargain.
Lupe Velez, then Weissmuller's wife, plays Schnarzan's troublesome ex-girlfriend, kidding Maureen O'Sullivan's "Jane" by showing up at the party in an ultra-revealing costume. (O'Sullivan was notorious at the time for her brief attire in the Tarzan series.)

In the Schnarzan skit Jimmy Durante plops to the ground from a vine—in a loin cloth, with billowing tufts of artificial body hair pasted to his modest physique—as graphic text announces the forthcoming adventures of "the mighty monarch of the mudlands," Schnarzan the Conqueror. In the guise of jungle movie star Schnarzan/Durante vigorously pounds his chest with both fists. But instead of a hearty trill of thumps, we hear hollow timpani beats. Schnarzan then tries to let out a version of the famous yodel. Instead, the soundtrack offers up something more like the moan of a mangled, asthmatic trumpet.

 The sequence does not simply allude to but literally appropriates (and "samples") its object of scrutiny as stock jungle footage—probably the same stock footage that MGM recycled in Tarzan the Ape-Man (1932) from W. S. Van Dyke's epic African shoot for Trader Horn (1931) -- is intercut with scenes imitating the style and mise-en-scène of the Tarzan films. Spying a raging lion in swift pursuit of a fleeing woman (Lupe Velez as "Jane"), Schnarzan runs to the rescue and does battle with the lion to save her. But the edits in the action sequence foreground rather than disguise discontinuity, making a joke of the expected illusion. The stand-in trainer we see "attacked" by the lion is obviously not Durante (the lack of the prosthetic chest hair is, if nothing else, the visible sign of this), and the lion draped upon Schnarzan/Durante's shoulder in the subsequent close-up is clearly an inanimate prop, suspiciously void of any apparent movement—just as a stand-in trainer, not Weissmuller, performed the lion wrestling in Tarzan the Ape Man, and just as a circus performer stunt man did that film's spectacular vine swinging. Complementing the way gag humor first calls attention to the fictive construction of cinematic sound, formal parody foregrounds the mechanical structure of visual illusion, placing the very terms of cinematic address in question in the opening moments of the film.

Reference: "Hollywood Party, Jimmy Durante, and the Cultural Politics of Coherence" by Allen Larson


Durante in an Adam and Eve skit from the same film

Durante in Jumbo

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