- May 7, 2001
The Tarzan Collection
The Six Original Classic Feature Films
Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1932 - 1942
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 527 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: DD Monaural
Languages: English & French
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
Package: 4 discs in a 5 panel gatefold Digipak with cardboard slipcover.
If you’re a Tarzan fan, you have a lot to look forward to. To commemorate the anniversary of Johnny Weissmuller’s 100th birthday, Warner Brothers is about to release the original six MGM films now under their control, featuring the quintessential Tarzan and Jane, Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan. The set will feature the original MGM classic, Tarzan The Ape Man (1932), as well as the MGM sequels that followed; Tarzan And His Mate (1934), Tarzan Escapes (1936), Tarzan Finds A Son (1939), Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941) and Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942). Also due on June 8th is a 20th Anniversary Edition of Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes (1984) and finally the not-so critically acclaimed Tarzan The Ape Man (1981) starring Bo Derek. Okay, 7 out of 8 ain’t so bad…
Johnny Weissmuller was born in Romania (then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), though he would later claim to have been born in Pennsylvania, presumably to ensure his eligibility to compete as part of the United States Olympic swim team, for which the athletic Weissmuller won a total of five Olympic gold medals. MGM head Louis B. Mayer approved two Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan stories and Cyril Hume who was working on the adaptation of Tarzan the Ape Man, noticed Weissmuller (who was in California on a BVD underwear advertising campaign) swimming and suggested him for the part of Tarzan.
After lackluster returns and an unhappy O'Sullivan, MGM went on to sell its character rights and Weissmuller signed on with RKO to make six more Tarzan films; Tarzan Triumphs (1943), Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943), Tarzan and the Amazons (1945), Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946), Tarzan and the Huntress (1947), Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948). After the Tarzan films, Weissmuller would go on to make a number of Jungle Jim movies for Columbia Pictures. O’Sullivan would take a six year hiatus from the business marrying Australian director John Farrow (The Big Clock (1948), Hondo (1953) and Where Danger Lives (1950) and went on to raise their large family including daughter, Mia Farrow.
The collection is comprised of the following discs:
Tarzan The Ape Man (1932)
In their first film, Tarzan meets Jane when she arrives in Africa to join her father’s ivory hunting expedition. Smitten, Tarzan kidnaps Jane. After she manages to escape she can’t stop thinking about the “Lord of the Apes.” When a tribe of pygmies traps the expedition, Jane sends Cheetah to bring Tarzan, who rescues them with the help of his elephants. This time he captures her heart and as the film ends, she chooses to stay.
Tarzan Escapes (1936)
Jane’s cousins try to convince her to claim a fortune bequeathed to her back in England. The action accelerates when their unscrupulous guide attempts to capture Tarzan and turn him into a sideshow attraction to entertain the public.
Tarzan And His Mate (1934)
Recently inducted by the Library of Congress into the National Film Registry, Tarzan And His Mate is considered one of the few Hollywood sequels that surpassed the original. In this adventure, Harry Holt returns to Africa with his womanizing friend, Marlin Arlington to continue his search for the elephant burial grounds, hoping that Tarzan will help him. When Tarzan refuses, they decide to continue anyway and the members of the expedition soon find themselves in grave peril. The popular crocodile battle sequence is used here for the first time and many fans of Tarzan agree this is the best film ever made about the “Lord of the Jungle.” The DVD release contains the original uncensored “pre-code” version of the film, containing the notorious nude swimming scene which was deleted prior to theatrical release.
Tarzan Finds A Son! (1939)
Cheetah finds an infant left alone after his parents die in a plane crash and brings the baby home to Tarzan and Jane. They are delighted to take him in and raise him. Five years later a search party comes looking for “Boy” who happens to be an heir to a multi-million dollar fortune. The tree house is rocked when Jane defies Tarzan to lead the search party and “Boy” back to civilization. On the way they are captured by hostile natives and after a breathtaking escape by “Boy,” Tarzan and the elephants rescue everyone.
Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941)
Jane and “Boy” are kidnapped by evil villains who want Tarzan to lead them to a treasure in gold. Jane, “Boy” and the villains are then captured by wicked natives and once again Tarzan and his elephants show up to save the day!
Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942)
A circus owner smuggles “Boy” out of the jungle and brings him to New York to perform in a show. Jane and Tarzan follow to get their son back. A custody trial is held during which Tarzan is jailed after becoming violent in the courtroom. He escapes, finds the circus and rescues his son with the help of the circus elephants.
The set consists of the six original MGM Tarzan films, two of which are located on each disc (though curiously, not in chronological order), and the fourth disc is allotted to special features exclusively. As a matter of convenience, I was a little disappointed to discover that the films (which aren’t being sold separately) weren’t housed in individual keep cases, rather than a Digipak collection but admittedly, this is rather inconsequential. However, I must comment on the cover art, which is absolutely gorgeous. This is without question, one of the nicest looking sets in my entire collection and the WB art department has captured the Tarzan theme perfectly using elements of the original poster art from Tarzan And His Mate as the basis. The inner panels of the set are adorned with a look of bamboo as well as a number of pictures of the original posters. A super job!
The Feature: 4/5
Considering the set spans ten years, starting in 1932, the video presentation is a mixed bag throughout the collection, however even the older films are better than we may have expected, while the final three films are near perfect.
As I anticipated, the oldest film in the collection, Tarzan The Ape Man is the weakest of the group. I’d always remembered this looking rather grainy with an extremely soft look to it, and for the most part that’s pretty representative of the appearance. The grain is coarse and is prevalent throughout the entire film. There are a number of other scratches and dirt marks that are noticeable, but the overall presentation is better than I expected.
Tarzan And His Mate shows up slightly better than the original film in that the amount of grain is slightly less predominant (not as intrusive) and the overall image is slightly sharper. Blacks are better than average but not overwhelming and the amount of grayscale is acceptable.
Tarzan Escapes fairs a little better than the previous two films with an image that’s not quite as soft and has an amount of grain that seems more appropriate. There are fewer scratches and other distracting anomalies that become bothersome. Just after the opening credits finished, the movie shut down on me several times. I had to FF through the credits into the first chapter to watch the film, a problem I rarely have with my Pioneer Elite player – hopefully just a specific disc glitch.
The remaining three films were similar and were most impressive in terms of their presentation - in fact, bordering on perfection. Blacks were exceptionally deep rendering an impressive level of grayscale. There was also a nice sense of shadow detail and an impressive level of dimensionality. Image detail was only slightly soft with frequent instances of sharpness.
There were signs of scratches and dust/dirt particles, but they were rather infrequent and not at all bothersome. Light shimmer was a factor, particularly with the first three films but no so much of an issue with the last three.
Individual ratings for each film are as follows:
- Tarzan The Ape Man – 3/5 :star::star::star:
- Tarzan And His Mate - 3.5/5 :star::star::star:
- Tarzan Escapes – 3.5/5 :star::star::star:
- Tarzan Finds A Son! – 4/5 :star::star::star::star:
- Tarzan’s Secret Treasure – 4.5/5 :star::star::star::star:
- Tarzan’s New York Adventure – 4.5/5 :star::star::star::star:
The Dolby Digital monaural tracks are also rather diverse in nature, but on a comparatively slightly less varying level.
The first three films have a slight to moderate amount of hiss present, while the latter three are significantly quieter. There are occasional pops and crackles but rarely are they bothersome.
Needless to say there are a ton of action scenes and animal stampedes etc. and the track, beyond its inherent limitations, does a fine job of reproducing the audio. The overall tonal fidelity of most of the tracks is natural with a tendency to become slightly shrill and edgy during scenes with a lot action, which is to be somewhat expected. The overall range of the track is thin but acceptable and dialogue was always clear and intelligible.
Unlike the video presentations, the audio portions of the films remained rather constant, most of which were similar throughout the entire collection. Therefore, I’ve summed up the entire audio portion with an overall audio score;
Disc four contains the Special Features exclusively, starting with:
[*] Tarzan Silver Screen King Of The Jungle is a Tarzan documentary which predominantly features film historian, Rudy Behlmer. The feature starts off with the concept of Tarzan written by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the history of the character on film leading up to the MGM franchise. The next portion of the documentary describes the casting of Weissmuller and O’Sullivan to their roles. Also discussed were the variety of obstacles they were faced with during the various shoots in Africa including the “conversion kits” that were necessary to transform Indian elephants to African elephants. Another interesting discussion is the pop-culture myth - movie line, “me Tarzan, you Jane” which was never actually used in any of the Tarzan films. Mr. Behlmer spends a great deal of time discussing the censorship issues that plagued Tarzan And His Mate and what was required to finally get the film approved, including the found censored footage from the Turner library in 1987. There are a number of participants, including clips of Maureen O’Sullivan, Johnny Weissmuller Jr., Weissmuller biographer Geoff St. Andrews, Burroughs biographer Scott Tracy Griffin, film historian Robert Osborne. This feature is a cornucopia of Tarzan trivia that shouldn’t be missed if you’re a fan of the franchise. Very interesting! Duration: 79:54 minutes.
[*] Schnarzan The Conqueror!!! Features Jimmy Durante, star of the Schnarzan series, which is a spoof trailer from 1934’s Hollywood Party. Duration: 2:21 minutes.
[*] Next up is MGM On Location: Johnny Weissmuller. This is a behind the scenes special that was shot during the filming of Tarzan Finds a Son!, which was shot in Florida. Dated but interesting. Duration: 10:56 minutes.
[*] Rodeo Dough is a 1940 MGM short which features two Hollywood starlet wannabes (Sally Payne and Mary Treen) chronicling their trials and tribulations while hitchhiking back home to Kokomo. The short features Weissmuller, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Mickey Rooney. Duration: 10:15 minutes.
[*] And finally, Theatrical Trailers for all six Tarzan films are included. They are all in pretty good shape.
- Tarzan The Ape Man Duration: 2:44 minutes
- Tarzan And His Mate Duration: 3:01 minutes
- Tarzan Escapes (animated version) Duration: 1:25 minutes
- Tarzan Escapes Duration: 3:26 minutes
- Tarzan Finds A Son! Duration: 2:29 minutes
- Tarzan’s Secret Treasure Duration: 2:26 minutes
- Tarzan’s New York Adventure Duration: 2:13 minutes
This is an absolutely wonderful assortment of quality extras. The Silver Screen documentary is a must see.
Special Features: 5/5
**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**
I had a lot of fun watching these movies. I hadn’t sat and watched a Weissmuller Tarzan film since I was a kid when I used to watch these with my father on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Let’s face it, these are Tarzan films – so you know from get-go what you’re in for, yet, no matter how far-fetched the shenanigans become, they never insult the audience's intelligence and most importantly, they are jam packed with adventure and are still highly entertaining. For nostalgia value alone, these movies can’t be beat!
I find myself saying this a lot lately, but Warner Brothers has done another outstanding job of bringing these original six MGM films to DVD and I can’t imagine any Tarzan fan not being absolutely delighted with this collection. Here’s hoping the RKO versions are soon to follow.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (not an average)
Release Date: June 8th, 2004