Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)


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.

Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)

So as I alluded to in the last post Tarzan and the Mermaids, aside from being the last Weissmuller Tarzan, also changed some trends up. So what exactly is different? Well, there are a few things:

Firstly, Boy (Johnny Sheffield) is written out of this edition. “Boy is away at school in England,” Jane says to let the audience know. The problem with these writing-outs is they are paradoxically more interesting tales. Jane nursing soldiers; Boy being educated in the UK would’ve made interesting asides or cutaways. Thus, if you could’ve re-cast or convinced the actors to take smaller parts it would’ve been a great wrinkle to add to the tale.

As it happened that was the only mention though, it was very much a writing out. Coincidentally, Sheffield’s only other steady acting gig was as a Jungle Man, named Bomba (another coincidence), whom he played as many times as Weissmuller played Tarzan.

The issues with this last installment can be summarized by saying that the great Dmitiri Tiomkin’s score is the best part of this film. The smallest issues is that they’re rehashing the forbidden/secret society mold. As useful as it ends up being, there is a very long expository voice-over to start the film. It’s as if the whole production was a contractual obligation to everyone involved and Weissmuller and Joyce sought as little screentime as possible.

Whereas previously a matte painting of the escarpment was a major reveal, as the series progressed it went further and further in mapping Tarzan’s environs and neighbors. Here there is a tracking shot across a fictional map to the island in question near the start. This is a highlight, which illustrates what a wasteful experience this really is in the end.

The natives finally all seem to be “of color,” which is an amazing advance, and the heroics are helping the two star-crossed lovers from the island find each other again. So how can that be bad? Well, throw in a singing postman who seemingly just flew in from Latin America to sing really long “impromptu” songs about things he sees. No, this isn’t a Family Guy joke, this really happens in this film.

This film doesn’t have a second stasis but it does follow a climactic sequence with a tremendous lull that’s a failure in editorial, tonal, score-spotting and any other number of ways. It’s major lag in the third act acts as false denouement and puts the exclamation point on the complete and total mess this final installment is. It’s rare to see what ended up being the last film in a series so definitively feel like one and so richly deserve to be one. So far as this group was concerned it felt this series was over before this one even really started. And unlike other three-film segments in the series there was no feeling of finality, this film just ended like it started suddenly.

Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)


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.

Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)

So after the last installment was a triumph here is where the series should excel again, instead it starts to falter anew. Sure after two successful (at least in financial terms) go-arounds without Jane’s character being present re-introducing her, even with the need to recast here, should’ve been a no-brainer. Only the recasting wasn’t done right. This is not to lay the entire blame on Brenda Joyce. She’s not terrible, but she’s mediocre at best, and certainly at Maureen O’Sullivan’s level.

A majority of the blame though has to lay on the shoulders of the writers who through the course of Jane’s appearances in the RKO titles backslid her from being a progressive character to one who was nearly antiquated even in the 1940s. She soon began to become overly-trusting of the outside world and bowing to them too much, thereby defying Tarzan without good cause. This may have even worked if it was addressed; if Tarzan called her out. However, it was like a retcon, as if Jane was always this gullible about the world she willingly left behind and the writing of her character became even more unfortunate than the recast.

This is difficult enough to swallow without combining it nearly on a film-by-film basis with Boy either consciously or naively making a mistake. Sure, the leads can be flawed but what it does is to an extent defangs the antagonists. They seek to trick and gain confidence where maybe a few more instances of strong-arming would’ve been more effective.

Tarzan and the Amazons (1945, RKO)

I’ll grant some of those preferences are subjective, but what’s not as much is the importance of Act II and that’s where this film decides to do most of its time-wasting, which makes it a rather grueling viewing experience. What makes it worse is that it does waste some of the better elements of the film: there is an animal attack with great relevance, as opposed to the gratuitous ones in other films. Johnny Sheffield, both in reciting Hiawatha and his conflict with Tarzan, delivers his best performance as Boy, and there’s the great Maria Ouspenskaya as seemingly one of the few playing a non-caucasian character in the film. All those things go for naught due to the missteps.

I can’t fault the film for trying to create conflict, but when there are characters that are established acting somewhat out of sorts; it feels hollow. The best element of the tale is perhaps Tarzan that needed to keep a secret and not giving any clues as to the fact that there even is one, but even this becomes redundant as it’s discussed quite a few times with no progress made. It’s a good touch to have Tarzan an allied secret-keeper as opposed to an intimidating force, but, sadly this title has far too many failings.

Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942)


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. Previous posts in this and other series can be found here.

Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942)

From reading some on the series, not exhaustively mind you, but I have seen mention that Maureen O’Sullivan was known to be playing Jane for the last time in this film, which is understandable. It’s understandable that an actress of her talent would want to move on to something else – in this case to devote time to her actual family offscreen. For as well as she played Jane, and as well as the writers consistently crafted her part, the need for a change can be tolerated. Similarly, the need to change venue from the escarpment can be accepted. It’s almost like airing out a play when adapting it for film. A play tends to be mostly interiors and focused on having a unity of time and space as much as possible dating back to Ancient Greece. Film by its nature needs more room in time and space.

However, it’s what done in light of these facts that isn’t all that great, along with some ancillary fumbles that take an idea with potential and makes it a sad miss. Most notably the sequences in New York don’t do great with the fish-out-of-water aspect, and introduce maybe more unfortunate racial attitudes than were ever displayed in the jungle. Even if you’re inclined to let that slide understanding it came with the time, it’s further jarring because, at least when O’Sullivan played her, Jane was a very progressive woman for the era, living in the jungle and all she willingly left behind – so being shown other antiquated attitudes stands out more.

Which brings us to one of the few bright spots this film has and it is, oddly enough, the courtroom sequence. Here both Jane and Tarzan get to speak and stake their claim to boy. It gives O’Sullivan the chance to perhaps display more range with her character than she ever did. Seeing as how in protecting Boy’s interests she makes mistakes and reels from them. Tarzan is allowed a few philosophical insights on the stand and is prodded to the point of rage and attacking the prosecutor. It’s most definitely Weissmuller’s best turn as the character. It also marks another progression as Tarzan is now more vocal than ever in part because he has to be but that has developed well throughout.

Tarzan's New York Adventure (MGM, 1942)

However, much of the sequences outside the escarpment do nothing great or exciting. As the series grew longer the running times grew shorter, but the task of crafting a good Tarzan film didn’t get easier because it seems in some installments more filler was added rather than substance, and this film is a prime example of that.

Now, I have been purposely exploring narrative patterns and some other themes that run through the series without annotating each post with a score simply because I wanted more focus on these areas as opposed to the good or bad. Similar thoughts have come to me when I tackled other series’ in the past. The precise number I’d rate it was almost an afterthought because I wanted to discuss certain things regardless of what side of the good/bad paradigm the film fell. So without bringing it up until we get to that film: there will be another good one and this is not it.

The filler, which in this film was a lot of Cheetah alone both on the escarpment and in New York was usually just her. In the plot I only noted one occasion where Cheetah’s involvement was both necessary and helpful. In production she was most helpful as she got the three leads quite a bit of time off while the camera rolled on random monkey crap.

Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942, MGM)

The naïveté and messing up of Boy landing him in trouble rears its head again. This a well that was went back to far too often with his character being too slow on the uptake. Many of the films were very concerned with how white men would try and fool or convince Tarzan who rightly grew more skeptical as the films moved on. Boy sadly got to repeat the exact same tropes too many times over. There are rare flashes of growth in his character later on that are a breath of fresh air. To be fair, he is spirited away in the end but it’s his naïveté that gets him into the situation.

Aside from the courtroom sequence the best aspect of the film is definitely the fact that, despite Tarzan seeming more able to cope with civilization than he should, Jane most definitely take the lead in their search for Boy throughout New York.

Essentially what this film hoped was that a few different setpieces while others were re-fenestrated would be enough to make it feel truly different without the film ever getting there. Essentially it started to feel like MGM was really just churning the series out at this point and it ending there was just fine. The films not only got shorter but got less score. I remember at one point when the score came in thinking “Oh, there’s the music.” Music was far more present in the first three. At this point if the series was to continue, which it did, it turning around to RKO was not necessarily a bad thing.