Last year the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th year in print. A serialized version of the story first appeared in 1912. A hardcover collection of Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1914. Being in the middle of the Tarzan centennial period it’s an opportune time to (re)visit many of the screen renditions of the character.
With this installment of the series there are a few things at play: Most naturally this is yet another incident wherein naiveté brings the outside world in. Now here Boy is fairly young and the mistake is more forgivable and understandable. As the series progresses they’d return to that theme with varying degrees of success. Now, while there is some progression with him (we see him learning to write) the evolution of the nuclear family trilogy is stunted here with the inclusion of Bomba, a young native boy, who doesn’t serve a lot of purpose and ends up disappearing. So the natural progression that occurs in the first three films doesn’t quite happen here either.
The introduction of gold to the landscape and what is says about civilization versus jungle life is a good touch and a natural choice. There were always only going to be so many stories you could tell surrounding the elephant’s graveyard anyway. What ends up plaguing the film is a lot of time divided and Bomba’s inclusion, and his tribe, is only a small part of it; there’s still the time-wasting animal play and a long stasis to start the film off wherein some strange advances in their living quarters are made such as makeshift refrigeration and caviar being eaten.
Perhaps some of the issue, as mentioned prior, was there was a greater rush to release new films now that there was a child included. There was more time between prior installments refining the respective tales.
With regards to the minute touches a few of them work out well. Finally, there is a matte painting of the escarpment introduced to give us a visual reference point, the hostile tribe is a new one. Boy is rescued by party of outsiders which bucks a tend, Tarzan’s call here changes from the one used in the beginning of the series, and Tarzan helps the outsiders out of a sense of gratefulness.
The ratio of decent outsiders is the same as ever and even the good one is quite the annoying caricature only good for the occasional punchline or set-up. There will be some later installments too threadbare to be that great, this one spilts its time to greatly with events of lesser consequence. Sadly, while the trio of Weismuller, O’Sullivan and Sheffield are together they don’t have that great closer and solidification of the family unit anew like the first three films did. And I say that in terms of quality. Tarzan’s New York Adventure plays the part of that capper but has its own failings which I will discuss. Here certain aspects and characters are up and others falter as is par for the course in the long run of these representations. Few ever run on all cylinders but one is coming down the line.