Sunday, March 25, 2012

STEAMY JUNGLE: TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934). If you don't care a bit about Tarzan movies, this is generally the one to see. The only Tarzan movie in Danny Peary's indispensible CULT MOVIES book (although Peary gives Gordon Scott's TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE the slight edge as "best" Tarzan flick), TARZAN AND HIS MATE is not to be missed if for no other reason than to see the chemistry between stars Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller and Maureen "Jane" O'Sullivan. The heat is palpable in this second installment of the Tarzan saga on the silver screen. In the first film TARZAN THE APE MAN, Jane is sequestered in her safari suit but here, a year after Jane has "gone native" in the jungle with Tarzan, our heroine has let most vestiges of western civilisation behind her . . . as well as most of her clothing! It may seem a little shallow to be focusing so much on O'Sullivan's wardrobe but frankly her brief costume is where the action is -- despite there being plenty of nail-biting action to be found in this movie. O'Sullivan's scant halter top and loincloth which leaves her side view remarkably bare would not survive into the next picture; the Hays Office would imprison Jane in a one-piece burlap sack by the sequel. Here, however, Weissmuller and O'Sullivan seldom share screen time without touching one another

and the heat generated is palpable -- particularly in the justly celebrated nude swimming scene which is only slightly less famous than Hedy Lamarr's! The relationship between Tarzan and Jane is on a remarkably equal footing with both characters portrayed as playful lovers and complementary helpmates. The pair are obviously "living in sin" despite one crowbarred-in piece of dialogue which has Jane coaxing Tarzan into calling her his "wife"; unless there's a jungle justice-of-the-peace off-camera this pair is deliciously shacking up!

(l to r) Nathan Curry (rear), Neil Hamilton, Maureen O'Sullivan, Paul Cavanagh

There is, however, a story here and quite an engrossing one. Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton from the previous picture), Jane's former intended, and his hunter-buddy Martin Arlington (Paul Cavanagh) venture back into Tarzan's jungle a year later to pick up some ivory lying around in the "elephant's graveyard". Holt also daydreams about winning Jane back. Fat chance! After Tarzan's refuses to lead the expedition to the elephant's graveyard, Arlington shoots Timba, one of Tarzan's elephant buddies, in order that the dying elephant will lead him to the elephant's graveyard and the easy-pickins ivory. While away fishing, Tarzan is shot by Arlington who then tells Jane that her ape man has been vanquished by a crocodile. Tarzan is carried from the water by a loyal hippo and nursed back to help by his ape friends. Meanwhile, a devastated Jane goes along with the expedition who follows Timba to the elephant's graveyard. No sooner do they get there than they are attacked by savage natives known as "the men who eat lions"; these warrior call the lions to the ravine where the expedition is trapped so they can make happy meals outta them. Will Jane ever discover her lover lives? And will Tarzan recover in time to find Jane and rescue her from the lions' jaws?
TARZAN AND HIS MATE is an fun romp spiced with a lot of sex and a great deal of action which is truly suspenseful. The film also has several uneven stretches where the film seems to be marking time. However, it is still a marvelous adventure film. Director Cedric Gibbons has his one and only director credit on this film (shared with uncredited co-directors Jack Conway and James C. McKay). Gibbons is more famous as one of the greatest art directors in cinema with a ridiculously long line of art direction credits in well over 1000 movies from 1919 to 1956. The briefest list of his credits include MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1929), THE UNHOLY THREE with Lon Chaney Sr. (1930), GRAND HOTEL (1932), MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932) with Boris Karloff, THE THIN MAN (1934), MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) with Bela Lugosi, MAD LOVE (1935) with Peter Lorre and Colin Clive, the Marx Brothers classics A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935) and A DAY AT THE RACES (1937), A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938), ON BORROWED TIME (1939), THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), THE WOMEN (1939), NINOTCHKA (1939), BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 (1940), THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940), DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1941), WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942), THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), ADAM'S RIB (1949), THREE LITTLE WORDS (1950), SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952), THE NAKED SPUR (1953), THE BAND WAGON (1953), and FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)! This is only a minute fraction of movies which Cedric Gibbons art directed. The villainous Paul Cavanagh, who makes a play for Tarzan's Jane and hence HAS to die, appeared in such films as Katharine Hepburn's screen debut A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT (1932), the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films THE SCARLET CLAW (1944), THE HOUSE OF FEAR (1945) and THE WOMAN IN GREEN (1945), THE STRANGE DOOR (1951) with Boris Karloff, HOUSE OF WAX (1953) with Vincent Price, Douglas Sirk's MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1954) with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson and his final film THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (1959). Poor old Harry Holt is played by Neil Hamilton, best known as Commisioner Gordon in TV's BATMAN series but also to be found in films including THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU (1929), THE RETURN OF DR. FU MANCHU (1930), THE CAT CREEPS (1930) and the original TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932). Head of the native bearers Saidi is played by Nathan Curry who had a part to play in other genre efforts such as an uncredited "native" in KING KONG (1933), an elevator operator in Katharine Hepburn's Oscar-winning MORNING GLORY (1933), another uncredited native in SON OF KONG (1933) and a policeman in the Mantan Moreland "race" film MR. WASHINGTON GOES TO TOWN (1941).


wellyousaythat© said...

I did think Jane's ensemble a tad risqué ; which is a good thing

Cerpts said...

True nuff. I was never a Maureen O'Sullivan fan as everything I'd seen her in she seemed a little uptight and stilted; however in this she is very warm and relaxed and genuine. I suppose she felt comfortable working with Weissmuller because the chemistry was just right.

ernest said...

My fave Tarzan movie as well. I have great affection for the series despite a couple of real duds. Maybe Maureen just enjoyed running bare-asrsed through the backlot with with a semi-naked guy. In the later films in the series Africa suddenly stopped being populated by Negroes and seemed to have had an influx of south sea islanders and arabs.

ernest said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cerpts said...

Your "running bare arsed" comment probably has more than a ring of truth to it! Of course, I forgot to mention that the nude swimming is NOT done by Ms. O'Sullivan herself but is in fact done by a Ms. McKim (I believe was her name...and her first name could be Josephine, as I dimly recall. . .gee I guess I should've research this before commenting...)