TARZAN AND HIS MATE followed in the barefoot steps of Tarzan The Ape Man by continuing and amplifying that star-making safari from ’32 with this 1934 sequel that finds Jane Parker (Maureen O’Sullivan, prettier and pretty damn hot) living in blissfully innocent sin with the big bellowing breaststroker, who by now grasps several more fragments of English. Meanwhile, Tarz (Johnny Weissmuller) has taught Jane her own version of The Yell.
Vox populi has this 105-minute rouser, sex-laced and casualty-riven, as the best in the series. At the time, it didn’t do nearly so well in the States as the lead-off, the gross of $2,300,000 only climbing the box-office tree to lion-accessible branch #43. But the worldwide tally came to $4,881,000 (the Ape Man pictures always performed better abroad, thank heaven for ‘more sophisticated’ international audiences), which then put paid to its considerable outlay of $1,279,000.
Back from the first film, still pining for Jane, ‘Harry Holt’ (Neil Hamilton) is determined to get the ivory treasure from the Elephant’s Graveyard. His smarmy companion (Paul Cavanagh) wants the loot but he’s also instantly hot for the curvy, scantily clad Jane, enough to shoot Tarzan (grazing head wound from rifle variety) and convince her the big guy died fighting a giant crocodile. Before that treachery (which then leads to the final wildass battle) Tarzan rides a friendly hippo, fights another leopard and then another lion (which only scratches him a little, no big deal), gets it on with Jane, and takes her for a skinnydip swim daring (“positively shocking”) enough to give the censors apoplexy and help firmly cement the draconian Hays Code. *
AND!–Tarzan also jumps aboard a rhino’s back and stabs it to death (the no-doubt befuddled rhinoceros, named Mary, was imported from a German zoo), his gorilla (costumed) friends rain boulders onto the safari, Tarzan does have a whale of fight with a rubber crocodile as big as a shark we’d later come to love and numerous gruesome deaths provide gore-gawking to go with peeking at Maureen. THEN!—another homicidal tribe attacks, and they somehow call a pride of lions to join the wipeout of the visitors. Jane fights the lions. Tarzan’s elephant herd arrives and they fight the lions! **
MGMs resident Art Director-in-chief Cedric Gibbons is the credited director (his only stint in that seat during his otherwise storied career) but dissatisfied with his progress and budget overruns, he was replaced after several weeks, first by Jack Conway (Viva Villa!, A Tale Of Two Cities, Boom Town), then James C. McKay. The crazy action scenes are quite impressive, and some neat cinematography (Charles G. Clarke and Clyde DeVinna) is mixed with badly dated process shots and the inserted repetition of a number of bits from the first film. The fake ears added to the Indian elephants are on the sad side. As to the story, we’re not exactly talking Dostoevsky here, but it does earn applause for giving Jane rein to be ahead of her time with her lifestyle choices, her sexuality and, hey, c’mon, she fights lions! Her Jane-yell is…well, you just have to hear it for yourself. Kids must have loved this stops-pulled adventure back in the day. ***
* Thus spake Jane: “The best weapon a woman has is a man’s imagination.” Blame frisky Jane’s evil body for nailing down decades of zealous clowns sex-repression. In the infamous nude swim, O’Sullivan was doubled by Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim. That dunk, and Maureen being silhouetted nude in her tent, her halter-top/loincloth thigh baring and the obvious unmarried post-coital byplay with her mate had Jane produce a froth-take from Code-decoder Joseph Breen, who tutted to his boss Will Hays comments like “The man in the shot wore a loin cloth, but a critical examination of the shot indicated that the woman was stark naked. There were four or five shots of the woman, which the jury repeatedly referred to as ‘frontal shots’, which showed the front of the woman’s body.” Yeah, never mind the brutal treatment of the natives, forget the guys being speared, crushed and eaten alive, or the animal fights, but a boob-shot might turn us Red before we can get rid of Roosevelt….
The offending material was deleted from prints and not restored until Ted Turner rescued it in 1986.
** “Why, he’s fought a hundred crocodiles!” Weissmuller began competitive swimming in 1921. He retired in 1928. Never lost a race. Over the 20s, he won 36 individual AAU championships and 67 world championships. First to break the one-minute mark in the 100 meters, he ultimately held 51 world records and 94 in America.
*** Tarzan rides a Nazi rhino! When yours truly was a kid (the Ice had retreated) Tarzan matinees were a Saturday staple. I tended to associate the character more with Lex Barker, since those were he first I recall (it’s been…a while) and, over all the years, while I was always aware of this classic, I never watched it until recently. Face it, these movies are gibberish from the get-go, but a few of them are still entertaining (this one, Tarzan And The Leopard Woman, Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure come to mind). The sex quotient here, O’Sullivan’s appeal, the insane action and cool-icky deaths bring out the boy in the beast.