Case Number 10456

THE TARZAN COLLECTION, VOLUME 2

Tarzan's Desert Mystery
Warner Bros. // 1943 // 76 Minutes // Not Rated
Tarzan Triumphs
Warner Bros. // 1943 // 76 Minutes // Not Rated
Tarzan And The Amazons
Warner Bros. // 1945 // 72 Minutes // Not Rated
Tarzan And The Leopard Woman
Warner Bros. // 1946 // 70 Minutes // Not Rated
Tarzan And The Huntress
Warner Bros. // 1947 // 72 Minutes // Not Rated
Tarzan And The Mermaids
Warner Bros. // 1948 // 68 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // December 8th, 2006

The Charge

"Now, Tarzan make war!"

Opening Statement

Warner Brother's The Tarzan Collection, Vol. 2 is a primal box set that collects the last six of Johnny Weissmuller's loin-clothed adventures as the original lord of the jungle. Shot at RKO, these entries in the long running series are relatively low budget, simplistically plotted B-level affairs, but there's still plenty of fun to be had as Edgar Rice Burroughs' familiar characters once again protect their tropical domain from the corrupting influences of western civilization.

Facts of the Case

The Tarzan Collection, Vol. 2 includes all six films from the franchises' years at RKO on three double-feature discs.

* Tarzan Triumphs
Nazi paratroopers invade Tarzan's (Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim) domain to steal natural resources that will help their war effort. They enslave the members of a lost civilization, prompting Princess Zandra (Frances Gifford, The Glass Key) to enlist Tarzan and his son Boy (Johnny Sheffield, Bomba, the Jungle Boy) to rid the jungle of the German warmongers.

* Tarzan's Desert Mystery
Tarzan and Boy receive a letter from Jane asking them to collect medicinal herbs that she believes will cure some World War II soldiers of their malaria. On their way across the desert, they make a detour to an Arab city to help a visiting American magician (Nancy Kelly, The Bad Seed) deliver an important message to the Sheik that will expose a secret Nazi plot perpetrated by the evil Heinrich (Otto Kruger, High Noon).

* Tarzan and the Amazons
Jane (Brenda Joyce, Private Nurse) finally returns to her adopted jungle home along with a team of archaeologists who inadvertently discover evidence of the Amazons, a secret all-female tribe living in the jungle. They ask Tarzan to take them there in the name of science, but he refuses, believing the men will pillage the Amazon's riches. Instead, the explorers trick Boy into showing them the trail, with disastrous consequences.

* Tarzan and the Leopard Woman
An African cult devoted to the "leopard god" is out to stop the further encroachments of western civilization on the jungle by attacking city-bound caravans. The cult's High Priestess (Acquanetta, Jungle Woman) and the sinister Dr. Lazar (Edgar Barrier, Journey into Fear) encourage their followers to wear leopard skins to confuse the enemy during ambushes. Tarzan sees through their ruse, but when he's captured, Boy and Jane must come to his rescue.

* Tarzan and the Huntress
Hunters arrive in the jungle to trap animals and ship them back to a zoo. Though Tarzan refuses to allow them to take even one, a king on the other side of the river gives them his blessing to capture two of each species. When their greed gets in the way and a murder plot is hatched, it's up to Tarzan to save the day -- and his friends, the wildlife.

* Tarzan and the Mermaids
Posing as the vengeful god Balu, an underhanded treasure hunter (Fernando Wagner, Virgin Sacrifice) hopes to trick a lost civilization out of their rare black pearls. When the tribe's corrupt high priest, Palanth (George Zucco, The Mummy's Tomb) tries to force a local girl to marry the treasure hunter, Tarzan intervenes, accompanied by the annoying calypso guitar of Benji (John Laurenz, Border Outlaws)

The Evidence

After residing at MGM for more a decade, big changes were in store for the venerable Tarzan series once it landed in the hands of RKO producer Sol Lesser. The studio switch came about after the resignation of Maureen O'Sullivan (The Big Clock), who decided six films as Jane Parker was more than enough, prompting MGM to bail on the slowly waning franchise. No stranger to Burroughs' hero, Lesser had previously produced 1933's Tarzan the Fearless, starring action idol Buster Crabbe, and 1938's, Tarzan's Revenge, with Olympic decathlon champ Glenn Morris, and with five-time Olympic gold-winning swimmer Johnny Weissmuller now in his court, Lesser took the established series in some brand new directions, cranking out six more Weissmuller-starring Tarzan films over the next five years.

Although Weissmuller's first two films, Tarzan the Ape Man and Tarzan and His Mate had been huge box office hits for MGM, Lesser felt the character needed to be reinvented for the current political and social climates. There was a war on now, and that troublesome Hays Code had all but abolished the sexual undertones of the earlier Tarzan films. Instead, the second incarnation of Weissmuller's Tarzan films would downplay the skimpy clothing and vague relationship between Tarzan and Jane to play on audience fears about the war-specifically evil foreigners on "homeland" soil -- all the while casting the Tarzan clan as a jungle-dwelling nuclear family with all the modern conveniences of civilization just a vine swing away.

With Nazis, secret plots, and occasional jabs at Hitler, RKO's premiere efforts, Tarzan Triumphs and Tarzan's Desert Mystery are typical examples of wartime pulp storytelling, giving audiences the chance to see Tarzan punch out bumbling Germans, no matter how many wild leaps of logic were required to set up such a situation. The remaining four films, however, are much more subtle in their message of patriotic perseverance, all loosely scripted around the idea that Tarzan must protect his domicile from the encroachment of foreign interests, including greedy poachers, light-fingered archeologists, or most insidious, a subversive group underneath Tarzan's nose, bent on undermining the social progress of the jungle cities!

The war also provided Lesser with a convenient excuse for Jane's sudden disappearance from the series. Reading letters from his adoptive mother in the first two films, Boy explains that she's off working as a nurse and contributing to the war effort, and can't wait to return. In the third outing, however, Tarzan and the Amazons, RKO decided to introduce a brand new Jane to the screen, as played by Brenda Joyce. She isn't able to fill O'Sullivan's sandals completely, but she is more representative of the direction of RKO's series, as she seems to have been cast mostly for her warm, matronly manner. By Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, she has become June Cleaver of the jungle, sweeping up their tree house, washing dishes, and gently nagging a napping Tarzan to fix the broken bamboo shower. All the earlier undercurrents of sexuality are completely suppressed under a bright sheen of domestic bliss, and the characters fall into predictable family roles.

Though he looks a little out of shape in these performances, Weissmuller is still the quintessential Tarzan in these lesser canon entries. From his famous jungle holler to his chest-beating heroics, he brings a laidback machismo to the role, and a hard-headed distrust of those who come to the jungle to conqueror it. Likewise, it's fun to watch fresh-faced Johnny Sheffield, who first appeared as Boy in 1939's Tarzan Finds a Son!, grow up on screen throughout the course of this set. By Tarzan and the Huntress, however, Sheffield had obviously matured into a teenager, and he wisely gave up the role, even though he returned to film shortly thereafter in Bomba, the Jungle Boy, his own ongoing B-movie series. But real Tarzan film fans know that the true star of the show was Cheetah, Tarzan's amazing pet monkey pet, who shamelessly hams it up for the camera and provides most of the series' comic relief. He does everything here from somersaulting on a high wire to flying on a glider, as well as always helping Tarzan out when he's in a tight jam.

Unfortunately, the special effects in the Tarzan films suffered under RKO's reduced budget. Phony jungle backdrops and animal stock footage continue to make up a good part of the franchises' mise-en-scène, but the RKO years found the series also making frequent use of back-projected Lost World lizard fights, goofy animation, and recycled production design. The most ambitious film of the set, Tarzan's Desert Mystery, features both a giant spider and a man-eating plant, hilariously campy creatures that look like they were borrowed from a low-budget science-fiction film shooting on the next lot.

The first five RKO films rank as generally enjoyable-if extremely conventional-B-action melodramas, but Weissmuller's last shot as the jungle king, Tarzan and the Mermaids is a complete mess, interesting only because it finally took the cast and crew out of the cramped studio for a location shoot in Mexico City. Unfortunately, this seems to have had a devastating effect on the budget, as Weissmuller and Joyce are barely even in the picture, which relies almost exclusively on a local cast. It's a shame, since the action is far less stagy than the earlier films, and it would have been interesting to see the series progress towards a more naturalistic setting. Understandably, Tarzan and the Mermaids was Weissmuller's final turn in the loincloth, although Lesser continued the series, casting bit player Lex Barker as the new lord of the jungle in Tarzan's Magic Fountain.

Like their earlier set, WB's The Tarzan Collection, Vol. 2 looks pretty good for a collection of almost 70 year-old films. There are occasionally nicks and scratches, but Warner has again worked wonders on the transfers. The 1.0 mono soundtracks are a little flat, however, and you may want to turn on the subtitles to catch everything that's said. While it's great that WB was able to produce some special features for their previous set, these discs get the cold shoulder -- no extras have been included at all, not even trailers.

Closing Statement

Despite their low budget, formulaic plots, and quick shooting schedules, The Tarzan Collection, Vol. 2 provides decently enjoyable adventure in the finest pulp tradition, combining melodrama, romance, action, intrigue and murder into an easily digestible 70 minutes or so.

The Verdict

Me judge, you innocent.

Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Tarzan's Desert Mystery
Video: 76
Audio: 68
Extras: 0
Acting: 77
Story: 78
Judgment: 76

Perp Profile, Tarzan's Desert Mystery
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 1943
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Tarzan's Desert Mystery
* None

Scales of Justice, Tarzan Triumphs
Video: 76
Audio: 68
Extras: 0
Acting: 77
Story: 74
Judgment: 74

Perp Profile, Tarzan Triumphs
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 1943
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Tarzan Triumphs
* None

Scales of Justice, Tarzan And The Amazons
Video: 76
Audio: 68
Extras: 0
Acting: 78
Story: 73
Judgment: 72

Perp Profile, Tarzan And The Amazons
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 72 Minutes
Release Year: 1945
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Tarzan And The Amazons
* None

Scales of Justice, Tarzan And The Leopard Woman
Video: 76
Audio: 68
Extras: 0
Acting: 75
Story: 72
Judgment: 71

Perp Profile, Tarzan And The Leopard Woman
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 70 Minutes
Release Year: 1946
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Tarzan And The Leopard Woman
* None

Scales of Justice, Tarzan And The Huntress
Video: 76
Audio: 68
Extras: 0
Acting: 76
Story: 75
Judgment: 72

Perp Profile, Tarzan And The Huntress
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 72 Minutes
Release Year: 1947
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Tarzan And The Huntress
* None

Scales of Justice, Tarzan And The Mermaids
Video: 76
Audio: 68
Extras: 0
Acting: 69
Story: 66
Judgment: 69

Perp Profile, Tarzan And The Mermaids
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 68 Minutes
Release Year: 1948
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Tarzan And The Mermaids
* None

Accomplices
* IMDb: Tarzan Triumphs
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0036414/combined

* IMDb: Tarzan's Desert Mystery
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0035795/combined

* IMDb: Tarzan and the Amazons
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0038151/combined

* IMDb: Tarzan and the Leopard Woman
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0039011/combined

* IMDb: Tarzan and the Huntress
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0039887/combined

* IMDb: Tarzan and the Mermaids
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0040862/combined