AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Tarzan's Desert Mystery
Alternate Title: Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzans Desert Mystery
Director: William Thiele (Dir)
Release Date:   1943
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 26 Dec 1943
Production Date:   early Apr--late May 1943; retakes 16 Aug 1943
Duration (in mins):   70
Duration (in feet):   6,291
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Cast:   Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan)  
    Nancy Kelly (Connie Bryce)  
    Johnny Sheffield (Boy)  
    Otto Kruger (Paul Hendrix)  
    Joe Sawyer (Karl Straeder)  
    Lloyd Corrigan (Sheik Abdul El Khim)  
    Robert Lowery (Prince Selim)  
    Frank Puglia    
    Phil Van Zandt    
    Cheetah    

Summary: When Tarzan receives a letter from Jane, who is serving as a nurse in a London hospital, asking him to send fever medicine for her ailing soldier patients, he allows Boy and Cheetah to accompany him across the desert and to the jungle in which the fever medicine plant grows. At the edge of the desert, Tarzan sees a group of men led by Karl Straeder trying to capture Jayne, a wild stallion. Tarzan orders the men to free the stallion, and in gratitude, Jayne allows Boy to ride him to the oasis. At the oasis, meanwhile, American magician Connie Bryce confers with Sheik Amir. Amir, the leader of a desert tribe, asks Connie to deliver a message to his old college friend, Prince Selim, the son of Sheik Abdul El Khim, who rules from the city of Bir Herari. Amir's previous messengers have all met with death, and so he cautions Connie as he hands her the message, which he has hidden in a bracelet. After Amir departs, Connie meets some nomads who ask her to demonstrate her magic skills. Connie obliges by asking them to saw her in half, and when Tarzan approaches the oasis, he sees the nomads sawing Connie, and believing that she is in danger, chases them away along with Connie's horse. Upon discovering his mistake, Tarzan offers to escort Connie to Bir Herari. As Tarzan rides into town with Jayne, Karl and his accomplice, Paul Hendrix, accuse him of stealing the horse. Arrested and jailed, Tarzan entrusts Boy to Connie's care. When Hendrix then presents the stallion as a gift to the sheik, Prince Selim questions his motives and warns his father not to trust Hendrix. Later in the town square, Cheetah diverts the populace by performing a high-wire act while Connie arranges to meet the prince later that night. That evening, an emissary from the prince escorts Connie to the palace, where she delivers the bracelet to Selim. As Selim reads the message from Amir, warning that Hendrix is a foreign agent who is arming the tribesemen, Hendrix and Straeder watch from the window. After Connie leaves, they sneak into the palace and kill the prince, but before they can steal the bracelet, Cheetah snatches it and flees. When Hendrix accuses Connie of murdering the prince, she is arrested and sentenced to be hanged. Desperate, Boy and Cheetah help Tarzan escape from his cell, and as Connie is escorted to her execution, Tarzan mounts Jayne, gallops to the town square and sweeps her from the gallows. Fleeing into the desert, Tarzan, Boy, Cheetah and Connie are pursued by Hendrix and his men. Engulfed in a sandstorm, they take refuge in a camel driver's hut. After the storm subsides, Tarzan and his party head for the medicine jungle, and are trailed by Hendrix and his henchmen. Upon reaching the jungle, Tarzan leaves Boy, Cheetah and Connie and goes to search for the medicine plants. Spying Hendrix and Straeder on their trail, Boy, Cheetah and Connie retreat into the jungle and are followed by the agents. After Straeder is mauled by a lion, a prehistoric lizard climbs out of the underbrush, sending Connie and Boy running into a cave for shelter. There Boy gets caught in a giant spider's web, and Cheetah scurries to alert Tarzan of his peril. As the massive spider crawls toward his cave, Tarzan swings across the jungle to the rescue. Hendrix, who has trailed Connie to the cave, trains his gun on her just as Tarzan swings down from a tree and shoves him into the spider's web, where the spider devours him. After Tarzan frees Boy from the web, they all return to Bir Herari. There, Connie delivers Amir's message to the sheik, thus averting war. Tarzan then entrusts her with the fever medicine to take to Jane in London and their mission completed, Tarzan, Boy and Cheetah return to their home in the jungle. 

Production Company: Principal Artists Productions  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: William Thiele (Dir)
  Derwin Abrahams (Asst dir)
  Clem Beauchamp (Asst dir)
  Kurt Neumann (Dir of retakes)
Producer: Sol Lesser (Prod)
  Kurt Neumann (Assoc prod)
  Barney Briskin (Assoc prod)
Writer: Edward T. Lowe (Scr)
  Carroll Young (From a story by)
Photography: Harry Wild (Photog)
  Russell Harlan (Photog)
Art Direction: Hans Peters (Art dir)
  Ralph Berger (Art dir)
  Harry Horner (Prod des)
Film Editor: Ray Lockert (Film ed)
  Hal Kern (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Victor Gangelin (Int)
  Stanley Murphy (Int)
Costumes: Elmer Ellsworth (Ward)
Music: C. Bakaleinikoff (Mus dir)
  Paul Sawtell (Mus score)
Sound: Jean L. Speak (Sd tech)
  Bailey Fesler (Sd tech)
Country: United States
Series: Tarzan

Source Text: Based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Authors: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Principal Artists Productions 26/11/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP12444

PCA NO: 9117
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Sound System

 
Genre: Adventure
  Adventure
Sub-Genre: Espionage
  Jungle
 
Subjects (Major): Chimpanzees
  Deserts
  Foreign agents
  Jungles
  Sheiks
  Wild men
 
Subjects (Minor): False accusations
  Fathers and sons
  Horses
  Magicians
  Medicine
  Messengers
  Murder
  Rescues
  Spiders
  Sandstorms

Note: The working title of this film was Tarzan and the Sheik . In the onscreen credits, the title card reads "Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan's Desert Mystery ." Although a HR production chart places Gerald Mohr, Ferdinand Munier, Dorothy Adams and Nestor Paiva in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to materials contained in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library and a 12 Aug 1943 HR news item, producer Sol Lesser decided to reshoot the film's entire ending in Aug 1943. In the original ending, "Connie" is recaptured by "Hendrix", taken back the city and about to be hanged when "Tarzan" comes to her rescue and delivers the bracelet to "Sheik Abdul El Khim." The sheik then arrests "Strader" and "Hendrix", who escape but are captured by "Sheik Amir" and his army. According to a NYT news item, the Arabian village used in the picture was built by Cecil B. DeMille for his 1927 film King of Kings . For information on other films in the "Tarzan" series, please consult the Series Index, see entry above for Tarzan Triumphs and see entry for Tarzan, the Ape Man in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   18 Dec 1943.   
Daily Variety   8 Dec 43   p. 3.
Film Daily   9 Dec 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Apr 43   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   21 May 43   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Aug 43   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Dec 43   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Jan 44   p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald   11 Dec 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   12 Jun 43   p. 1362.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   11 Dec 43   p. 1666.
New York Times   11 Jul 1943.   
New York Times   27 Dec 43   p. 23.
Variety   8 Dec 43   p. 8.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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