In 1918, TARZAN OF THE APES launched one of the cinema's most long-lived and ludicrous series. Existing prints are radically shorter than the original movie, which was more than two hours long.
The British government dispatches Lord Greystoke (True Boardman) to Africa to quell slave trading. Following a mutiny en route, Greystoke and his wife (Kathleen Kirkham) find themselves stranded in the jungle, where they set up housekeeping. A baby boy is born, quickly orphaned, and adopted by
One day, 10 years later, Tarzan the boy (Gordon Griffith) discovers that he is different from the apes who surround him. Binns (George B. French), the sailor who had saved the Greystokes' lives during the mutiny, finds the lad and resolves to take him to England--but an attack by slave traders
forces Binns to continue on to England alone.
Another decade passes, and Tarzan becomes a man (Elmo Lincoln). Back in England, Binns spreads the story of the Greystoke heir, motivating a search party to embark for Africa. Among its members are Jane Porter (Enid Markey) and Tarzan's cousin (Colin Kenny), a ne'er-do-well who is engaged to Jane.
Meanwhile, Tarzan's courage and prowess have made him a virtual king of the jungle. The search party finds Tarzan's isolated cabin. There, Tarzan's cousin is in the process of molesting Jane when Tarzan suddenly appears, saves her from her fiance's unwelcome advances, and promptly disappears.
Later, Tarzan again rescues Jane, this time from abduction by a savage. After vanquishing a hostile, Tarzan finds himself alone with Jane. Following a few awkward moments, woman and ape-man fall in love.
The first Tarzan movie appeared six years after the initial publication of Edgar Rice Burroughs's popular tale. Much of the film was shot in Louisiana to match background footage taken in Brazil. When the actor cast as Tarzan impulsively enlisted in WWI, Elmo Lincoln, a barrel-chested man who had
appeared in several D.W. Griffith films, was recruited to replace him. So vigorously did Lincoln get into the spirit of the role that he actually killed the lion which Tarzan is seen killing on screen.
The movie was such a big hit that Lincoln and Enid Markey were immediately reteamed in a sequel, THE ROMANCE OF TARZAN (1918). The 1920s saw several further installments, with different leads, but the series didn't peak until the 1930s, when MGM released several Tarzan pictures starring Johnny
Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan.
It is difficult to evaluate the original TARZAN OF THE APES today, so fragmentary (and, probably, sped up) are the extant prints. Moviegoers who attended the picture's premiere on January 27, 1918, were presented with, and likely bored by, a lengthy subplot concerning the marital escapades in
England of Tarzan's creepy cousin. "[It] needs cutting in the first hour and a half," counseled the film's Variety reviewer. His advice appears subsequently to have been taken to heart--but with a vengeance.
What remains, although narratively seminal, is silly in the extreme; it's lively but loony. Potentially the most interesting strata of the movie--female psychology and fantasy--go largely unexplored. Modern filmgoers are advised to skip ahead to the pre-Code '30s for a look at TARZAN, THE APE MAN
(1932) and TARZAN FINDS A MATE (1934), which are surprisingly and delightfully spicy--even when shorn of the beautiful footage (which still exists) of Jane swimming underwater in the altogether. (Violence, nudity.)
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- Review: In 1918, TARZAN OF THE APES launched one of the cinema's most long-lived and ludicrous series. Existing prints are radically shorter than the original movie, which was more than two hours long. The British government dispatches Lord Greystoke (True Boardm… (more)