Friday, June 22, 2012
Tarzan Escapes - 1936
This third entry in the MGM Tarzan series is a real whopper. As it turns out, by 1936 the censor's axe had fallen and the scantily-clad heroine were much less au naturale in this flick. Jane went from near-naked vixen to prim domestic in one movie. It's a shame really. Another thing knocked out of this movie was any real sense of danger or adventure. That's even more a shame.
The story gets underway when two civilized types (Benita Hume and William Henry) drop off the boat in Africa and announce they are Jane's cousins and if they don't find her everyone will miss out on a big inheritance. A great white hunter type named Captain Fry (John Buckler who was tragically killed before the movie even came out) takes them out on safari to the dangerous Mutia Escarpment but seems to have plans all his own and takes a giant metal cage to make them happen. The way to the Mutia Escarpment seems different this time as they go by boat most of the way, but they hit land just in time to make good use of some stock footage of the Gaboni attack from last movie. A quick climb (with the obligatory fall-to-their-doom deaths of a few no-name bearers) and they are on top and soon enough encounter Tarzan and his bride (Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan). They are taken to the pair's new digs, an outstanding tree house which Gilligan himself would find comfortable powered by a gang of animals in a pre-Flinstonian manner. The tone shifts when Jane plans to leave with her relatives and Tarzan goes off in a snit. The safari makes for home, but Fry plots to trap the Ape Man and show him off at a profit in some way. He kills Rawlins (Herbert Mundin), a colleague who has come to respect Tarzan and soon enough captures the Ape Man who is still glum that Jane is leaving. But Fry's plans go awry when the local native chief double-crosses him and all of the safari are captured and soon to be killed by being split in twain on two giant trees. Tarzan though has managed with the help of two elephants to escape the cage (hence the name of the movie) and he saves the lot of them by leading the whole safari into a cave which is bubbling with sulferous intensity. Fry is forced by Tarzan to say there and soon enough dies and the cousins say that Jane really didn't need to come after all, so she and Tarzan are happily reunited as the movie comes to an end.
It's a pretty tired plot with lots of comedy relief from Cheeta and the doomed henchman Rawlins. There is quite a bit of footage reused from the last movie including some of Cheetah's romp through the jungle. I find these things tiresome, but I guess the kiddie audience of the time was intrigued. And the kiddie audience was of most importance as this movie was largely gutted to spare the little darlings from a scare.
Famously, the original story here was smashed and put backed together many times because the original tale was deemed too scary, since it had some awesome cave bats which attacked the party. A lot of money was apparently spent on this sequence and then it was cut out, and so far the footage has remained lost. There are stills and the original story can be read in a Big Little Book which came out in connection with the movie. Here's a link to read the text of the original.
All in all, I'd have to give Tarzan Escapes a good grade for acting, but alas it falls well short on story and cohesiveness. More's the pity.