Call Me Stormy

Finding righteous currents in turbulent times

New Adventures of Tarzan

Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, The New Adventures of Tarzan, celebrates an important milestone. It was exactly 100 years ago, in October of 1912, that Edgar Rice Burroughs published Tarzan of the Apes — the first of Burroughs’ more than two dozen novels recounting legends of the fearless hero, born a British lord, but marooned in Africa at a young age and raised in the jungles by the Mangani Tribe of Great Apes.

Trim and athletic, handsome and tan, courageous and loyal to a fault, a defender of women and children, blessed with the ability to communicate with animals and master any human language in a matter of days, Tarzan quickly became one of the most popular pulp fiction idols the world over. The visionary Burroughs built a lucrative franchise around Tarzan. The feral super-hero not only appeared in Burroughs’ novels, but also serialized magazine stories, films, radio plays, comic books and comic strips.

Unfortunately, owing to copyright restrictions, none of the classic Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies made by MGM can be viewed in their entirety online. Burroughs personally produced The New Adventures of Tarzan in 1935, hoping it would prove as popular as the MGM releases and he could keep more of the profits himself. He also was motivated by another desire — to present a Tarzan who more closely embodied the Tarzan from his books: Intelligent, capable of speaking in complete sentences, and noble in character, befitting his bloodlines as John Clayton, Earl Greystoke.  Did Burroughs succeed? Yes and no.

Herman Brix and Ula Holt

As played by Olympic shotput Silver medalist Herman Brix, the Tarzan from New Adventures is every bit as buff and virile as Johnny Weissmuller’s, as well as being more literate and well-rounded. But Brix was stiffer in delivering his lines (and his signature yell), and Burroughs’ indie production team didn’t have nearly the same budgetary or technical resources as MGM, so New Adventures wasn’t quite the financial windfall that Burroughs intended. The film you’ll see here is actually a much condensed version of the original, which was shown in a 12-chapter serial form, cumulatively lasting more than four hours. As such, there are some gaping plot continuity issues, but never mind the story: Sit back and soak up the barnstorming action as Tarzan wrestles lions, jaguars, panthers, alligators and scores of Mayan natives.

How, you might ask, did Mayan natives land in Africa? They didn’t. Instead, Tarzan goes to Central America to help find a lost friend and to retrieve the Green Goddess, a talisman full of priceless jewels as well as a vial of the most explosive compound known in the world. Filming took place on location in Guatemala.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Two sidenotes: 1. Brix got over his shyness in front of the camera, and went on to act in 147 films under the pseudonym Bruce Bennett. Most notably, he starred in Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Mildred Pierce. 2. Ashton Dearholt, who plays the villain Ragland, fell in love on the set with Ula Holt, who portrays the heroine Ula Vale. One complication: He was married at the time to former actress Florence Gilbert. She divorced Dearholt upon learning of his affair, and who should she remarry but Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.

Here is the infamous nude swimming scene from Tarzan and His Mate. The MGM film came out in 1934, just ahead of the Hollywood Production Code, which banned any subsequent scandalous displays of this ilk. Maureen O’Sullivan played Jane opposite Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan, but she refused to go skinny dipping: The lithe beauty appearing here is body-double Josephine McKimm.

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And no remembrance of Tarzan would be complete without paying homage to Cheetah, who outlived Weissmuller by a good 25 years, dying in 2011 at the ripe old age of 80 — the longest living chimpanzee in captivity. Wonder if his well-known taste for alcohol contributed to his longevity.

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