Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan and the Trappers (1958)


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 and the Trappers (1958)

Here, not entirely unlike last week, we have a feature film that was created by splicing together. Last week’s was created by cutting together a serial into a feature format. Here you have a proposed TV series that was turned into a film. Now this could equal if not better results than the former treatment, but the material here is quite odd.

In many ways it feels as if episode one and two were a single storyline (i.e. a double episode) and then the third act/episode was a new story with similar players that was shoehorned in. Aside from story issues this also creates little gaffes in continuity. For example, Tartu, the name of Tarzan’s son in this tale (Rickie Sorensen) has two distinct haircuts and they jump back and forth over the course of three scenes.

Now with these pacing and narrative issues clearly this is one that was going to fall low down the pecking order. This is also one I had seen previously. My initial rating was 3/10 and I was wondering why that was until it became clear there was a narrative break and structuring issue. If there is a lack of a link between episodes and no episodic structure to allow links to be built between episodes like, say Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did in season one; it had seemed like all cases were isolated then an overarching plot came to the fore.

This, and many ventures in the 1950s, was produced by Sol Lesser. Lesser was involved in many Tarzan titles among many other films. The call is not entirely dissimilar to MGM’s, this is another story that deals with Tarzan against animal trappers (granted there are only so many avenues these tales can take). This environmental angle has new angles these days and could play well in a newer version (moreso than treasure which this also touches upon). This Tarzan played by Gordon Scott, is a more literate version and closer to Burroughs initial intention. This film also returns Cheetah the chimpanzee to the series. Scott was a star in a slew of Tarzan’s. His build is better, but his acting, at least in this one, seems as stiff-acting as ever. I would gladly look into a designed feature to try and dispel that.

In this tale there is next to no stasis and lots of presumptive givens about who these characters are and what their backstory is and it dives straight into the adventure. This can be a positive if the narrative is strong enough which it is not.

While I recently have discussed how TV has become more like film over time this is a clear example of how they are not interchangeable. While there are minute elements that are more appealing here like lack of stock footage cutaways, many bigger elements and production value issues (like the fighting and wasting Scatman Crothers) cannot be overlooked.

Still a 3/10.