In 2012 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. Previous posts in this and other series can be found here.
Tarzan’s Revenge (1938)
If you page through the Poverty Row Studio books you’ll find an entry for a studio established by Edgar Rice Burroughs to bring his characters, mainly Tarzan to the silver screen the way he saw fit. Surely, Burroughs (and his estate) was not the only author ever dissatisfied with screen versions of his story, but a reason for that could be the proliferation of poor films made. Disregarding “accuracy” many of them are just not good and highly disposable works.
This particular version though produced by Sol Lesser, who was the architect of many of the character’s onscreen incarnations, was a Fox release. There’s not a lot in Tarzan’s Revenge that stands out as unique and most of it stands out as being so in a bad way. Hunting is a major plot element, and the goal of the hunt is to trap animals for a zoo.
Being at another studio there are some things that would have to be different: the love interest is Eleanor (Eleanor Holm) not Jane, the Tarzan call is different, the chimps is a quieter less insane version, and in its defense this Tarzan (Glenn Morris) is a bit more fit.
However, many of the issues from the MGM-RKO titles are here too because conventions of the day were too easily obeyed. A map of Africa plays a significant supporting role, ambiguous native, excessive amounts of exposition, Eleanor being disbelieved, lots of swimming and gallivanting.
However, there are things uniquely weird here: Tarzan is there but rather passive for a time, the battle for Eleanor’s affection is lame; the bottom line is that this is flat and unengaging.