Thursday, June 21, 2012
Tarzan And His Mate - 1934
Tarzan and his Mate is the sequel to the quite successful MGM Tarzan the Ape Man from two years before. There is a distinct change in the level of action in this one, as the spectacle (and I suspect the budge) have been greatly increased.
The story picks up one year after the events of the last flick and Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) is still running the trading store operated in partnership with Jane Parker's late father. He though still has plans to return to the Mutia Escarpment with a large safari and gather up much of the ivory from the "Elephants' Graveyard" discovered in the previous movie. He calls in a school chum named Martin Arlington (Paul Cavanaugh) who is a bit of a cad with the ladies. These two are thwarted when Harry's map is stolen by two white hunters named Pierce and Van Ness. A quick safari finds the two thieves dead, the map gone, and the whole group is then attacked by the murderous Gaboni tribe and driven to the foot of the Mutia Escarpment. The survivors head up the cliff but are attacked by ferocious apes but are saved when Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) arrive. The two hunters are met with kindness but Martin quickly begins to eye the lovely Jane. Tarzan agrees to take them to the graveyard but reneges when he learns they want to take the ivory. Martin then critically wounds an elephant and the safari follows it to the site, but they are stopped when Tarzan and vast herd of elephants appear. Jane stops the battle when Martin and Harry agree to leave empty handed. They spend the night at the graveyard, but the next morning Martin shoots an unsuspecting Tarzan and tells Jane he was killed by a crocodile. The safari loads up with ivory again and heads out only to stopped by the native tribe named "The Men Who Eat Lions". These ferocious tribesmen kill the bearers and trap the rest in a cave and call upon a great herd of lions to kill them. Harry sacrifices himself to save his top bearer and Martin is killed by a lion. But Tarzan who has been nursed by the apes shows up and saves Jane and calls down a great herd of elephants to rout the ferocious lions. The two ride off into the sunset, rejoined in their jungle Eden.
The first thing you notice about this movie is the greater sense of scale. The battles are huge, much larger than before and the safari is made up of hundreds of men. There is a real sense of the scope of an Burroughs novel in this one, despite of course this story having little to do with the details of any of the novels themselves.
Jane and Tarzan are living an idyllic life in the trees, making love and catering to one another surrounded by wild animals of all types. Tarzan's job seems mostly to feed his wife, make love to her, and save her from all sorts of critters. He saves her in this movie from a lion, a rhino, and a crocodile. All the battles are real show-stoppers with great energy and by and large convincing effects (if you don't look too closely).
Cheetah again shows up to ramble around the jungle, but this time we are specifically told that this is the scion of the original Cheetah from the last movie who has gotten quite large. The original sacrifices himself to save Jane from the rhino. As in the first movie, Cheetah stops the narrative when the director feels the need to follow the chimp's migration through the jungle. I get the need to feed the young audience, but I find Cheetah to be a pain by and large.
This movie contains the notorious nude swimming scenes which are quite lovely. Jane and Tarzan are both wearing very little through most of this movie, a fact heightened by Jane changing into civilized wear off and on through the tale. Their nakedness is part of the allure I'm sure, and this scene, removed from later prints of the movie is an elegant water ballet.
There is a great deal of charm in this movie, and I appreciate how it picks up the story so directly from the one a few years earlier. It limits the need for exposition. Harry Holt is changed only in that for some reason he and Jane are now old friends from England, whereas in the first one they met for the first time. It's clearly a change meant to focus on Jane's choice to stay in the jungle or return to her former life, something Harry wants desperately since he loves her. His death closes that door.
You have to feel sorry for the native bearers in these movies. In both films so far all of them have been killed in some very unsettling ways. In this movie hundreds of men are killed in the search for ivory, for riches, and the movie seems to suggest this quest motivated by greed is inherently dangerous.
This is considered by some to be the best of the MGM Tarzan movies, and I don't disagree, but I'm eager to see more.