Insomniac Cult Movie Theater: Tarzan and his Mate
With winter in my rear view mirror, you’d think that my seasonal depression would have finally lapsed, and with it my uncomfortable and ever present insomnia would finally take it’s leave.
However, now my body is still getting used to the Daylight Savings Time and the longer days means more time to fret about the uncontrollable things like global pollution, the impending economic collapse of the world, our robot overlords slowly taking over with ever increasing use of AI, and the fact I have to wait a whole week at a time for a new episode of Doom Patrol on the DC Streaming Service.
Trust me of all those things, the Doom Patrol one is the thing that really keeps me up at night. I mean, it’s the world of streaming, I should be able to watch the entire season now, Damn it! I can’t wait a whole other week for more awesome Brendan Fraser as Robot Man, swearing and ripping the legs off Nazis before beating them to death with them!
Seriously, this show is good stuff.
Anyways, instead of talking about Doom Patrol (as I plan on saving that until the season is over), here’s another review of a long lost movie from my archives which I spent one sleepless night recently watching instead of getting lost in the land of Nod.
(And as an FYI for those of you sincerely worried about my mental health, notice that this article is only one movie long instead of the previous double features. That means I am getting slightly better…right?)
Tarzan and his Mate
Made in 1934, this movie is a sequel to the 1932 blockbuster hit movie, Tarzan: The Ape Man, which was the first adaptation made by MGM Studios of the most famous vine swinging jungle dweller in western culture, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan. Like most sequels, it was in fact a cash grab done to capitalize on the popularity of the original film and as a result reunited most of the original cast including Olympic athlete Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan and Mauren O’ Sullivan as Jane.
Now, I know what you are thinking. If this is a sequel to a movie most people have never seen, why didn’t I start my education session on the merits of classic Tarzan with the original movie? Well, the simple answer to that question is that I had already seen that picture multiple times, and wanted to give the one I hadn’t seen a go instead.
But for those of you that haven’t seen it, all the backstory you need to know is pretty much all the backstory you already should from the Tarzan mythology throughout popular culture
- Tarzan was raised by apes in the jungle and is pretty much superhuman in his ability to kill lions with his bare hands and swing from trees without killing himself.
- Jane comes to the jungle on some sort of expedition. Although prim and proper as a English lady, she is also free spirited, curious, and adventurous.
- Me, Tarzan. You, Jane. (Cue 70s porn music)
The sequel pretty much follows up on that story a year or so later, as one of Jane’s old friends, Harry, returns to the jungle with an unscrupulous womanizer named Martin in search of the long fabled elephant graveyard, in hopes of getting rich off the tons of ivory left there. Although Tarzan and Jane originally agree to guide the expedition, once Tarzan realizes the pair intend to take the ivory and sell it, he views it as tantamount to grave robbing and tells them to scram.
Martin then secretly shoots Tarzan leaving him for dead before shooting an elephant and then following its dying soon to be corpse to the graveyard. After convincing Jane that Tarzan is dead and weighed down with ivory, the expedition attempts to leave the jungle only be weylayed the deadly tribe of Lion Men (not actual half lion creatures, but just a tribe that worships the sacred power of the lion). Harry and Martin end up biting it in the ensuing battle leaving Jane to fend off both the angry tribal warriors and their army of lions with only a few bullets. That is until Cheetah, her faithful chimp companion, brings Tarzan who has been convalescing in the treetops and his army of elephants to the rescue.
The movie ends with what seems like an unholy mash up orgy of jungle action what with lions fighting apes, lions fighting elephants, tribal natives fighting apes, Tarzan fighting everyone, and Jane trying to set things on fire. Yeah, that’s all like the last 10 minutes of this film. Crazy wild stuff!
2am Thoughts and Reflections:
If I said it once, I’ll say it again, I absolutely love Pre Hays code old movies.
Just bursting at the seams with early filmmakers telling stories of sex, violence, and other risque subjects that would become taboo in Hollywood in the years after the Hays code well into the end of studio control of the movie industry in the late 60s. Like my previous entry on The Black Cat and it’s use of the Pre Hays code artistic freedom to tackle horrific topics like cult sacrifice and flaying, Both this movie and the original Tarzan of this series use the freedom to tackle a much more pleasant but often taboo topic of SEX!
It’s hard for me to even fathom of a decent Tarzan adaptation without the notion of sex, mainly because the entire concept is pretty much rooted in sexualized fantasy. A return to nature in which fit, attractive men and women spend their days running around practically naked, forging for food, swinging through trees, communing with wildlife, and let’s be honest…screwing like god damn rabbits. No social institutions such as formalized marriage to get in way of real romance, just let the love making commence.
And it’s true of this film. Everything between Tarzan and Jane oozes sexuality, but I will say not in some sort of dirty or perverted way. But more of a simple nonchalant way. It’s almost as if the movie says:
“Uh…they live in the jungle with animals…of course they aren’t going to wear much clothes…of course they are going to have beautifully choreographed nude swimming scenes…and of course…they are going to have lots of sex. What else did you think was going to happen!?!”
And because the film is so honest with the viewer about what would happen in a circumstance like this and doesn’t try to hide it or pretend it doesn’t exist (like future Tarzan movies would), it’s very freeing and just lets the normalcy of it to naturally ingrain itself on the action. It’s almost like what they always say “If you don’t make a big deal about something, then normally it isn’t one”, and sex is just that in this movie.
It doesn’t hurt in my opinion that the character of Jane is played by one of my favorite Silver Screen actresses in Maureen O’Sullivan. Whether it’s in this movie series or the Thin Man, her ability to be both charming and sexual is wonderful, almost like a walking talking sexual innuendo. Her characters in these films seem to sincerely like having sex, are very open about it, and yet are playful about at the same time. So in the end it comes off as very fun and free spirited without missing out on a level of class that doesn’t make it seem low brow. It’s definitely the best of both worlds!
Final Grade: B
Although I really did enjoy the action, adventure, and almost bohemian sexuality of this film, I will say that it’s depiction of Africans as either servants and savages was very hard to swallow sometimes. I mean not so much with the actual Tarzan scenes, as those deal mostly with the dangers of daily jungle life, but every time Harry and Martin and their creepy expedition was on the screen, you were just reminded of a terrible time of white male subjugation of pretty much everything and in a very blatant way. Sure, you could possibly excuse it for being a product of its time and age, but it still leaves you feeling very oily and uncomfortable, what with the terrible disregard for any of the African characters as to whether they live or die.
Again if there was a reason I kept on harping on the sexual aspects, its because mainly they are very empowering for females for the time. Jane is allowed to be sexually expressive without the confines of marriage and pretty much call the shots for the most part with her mate, Tarzan. For as bad as this movie treats one minority, it actually is pretty progressive with another, so that’s what I’m deciding to focus on.
However, the pretty piss poor treatment of the African culture is the main reason why although I’m a huge fan of Tarzan in general, this will never be an “A” movie.