While I started the Tarzan films somewhat out of order, I did eventually make my way to Tarzan the Ape Man, the first Tarzan film starring Johnny Weissmuller all the way back in 1932. The film looks at how Tarzan and Jane first met, and establishes that the titular character lives way up high on an escarpment deep in Africa, a place filled with treasures that many from the outside world would crave if only they could get to them. Like an elephant graveyard loaded to the brim with ivory…
Now believe it or not, but I actually didn’t like this film as much as some of the others, particularly Tarzan and His Mate. Don’t get me wrong, Tarzan the Ape Man is a good film, and any film series has to start somewhere. But I think the fact that Tarzan and Jane’s relationship isn’t an established thing really bothered me while watching this film. Also, while Weissmuller’s Tarzan generally doesn’t talk very much, he speaks even less in this film. It’s just awkward, for me, to go from the later films back to the first one, where most of the things I’m used to seeing (Tarzan and Jane’s treehouse, Boy, Tarzan and Jane’s relationship) simply aren’t there.
That being said, Tarzan the Ape Man does a good job of setting up the basic template that the rest of the Weissmuller films follow. One circumstance or another leads to a group reaching Tarzan’s escarpment, the group meets Tarzan, adventures of various kinds ensue, and the bad guys are suitably punished. It’s not a bad setup for a plot, and it does serve as a good opening for Tarzan’s adventures. Although if you’re hoping for an onscreen explanation of how Tarzan got to the top of the escarpment, then you’re in for a disappointment because it isn’t brought up. For all we know, this version of Tarzan is also secretly Lord Greystoke, but as it’s never brought up it doesn’t really matter where he came from either.
Also, I really like Jane’s introduction in this film. You can tell from her very first appearance that this is not the typical woman, in fact she’s just right for someone like Tarzan. If anyone else had gone into the jungle, the story just wouldn’t have worked out. So Jane is bold, adventurous (and she knows how to use a gun!), and willing to take chances the average woman wouldn’t.
All told, you will like Tarzan the Ape Man. As far as origin stories for Tarzan and Jane, it does a good job of setting up the scenario. Neil Hamilton and C. Aubrey Smith do a good job of rounding out the main cast as Harry Holt and James Parker (Jane’s father) respectively. In fact Hamilton reprises his role in Tarzan and His Mate. Just be sure to watch this film first before you see the others.
Let me know what you think about Tarzan the Ape Man in the comments below and have a good night!
My Thoughts on: Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
My Thoughts on: Tarzan Escapes (1936)
My Thoughts on: Tarzan Triumphs (1943)
My Thoughts on: Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)
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