AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Tarzan the Ape Man
Director: W. S. Van Dyke (Dir)
Release Date:   2 Apr 1932
Production Date:   late Oct--late Dec 1931
Duration (in mins):   99 or 101
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Neil Hamilton (Harry Holt)  
    C. Aubrey Smith (James Parker)  
    Maureen O'Sullivan (Jane Parker)  
    Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Cutten)  
    Forrester Harvey (Beamish)  
    Ivory Williams (Riano)  
  And Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan)  

Summary: English trader James Parker and his partner, Harry Holt, are about to embark on a journey beyond the Mutia Escarpment, where a fabled ivory-rich elephants' graveyard lies, when James's daughter Jane arrives from England. After a tearful reunion with her father, Jane, who says she is "through with civilization" and prefers to be a savage, insists on joining the expedition on its dangerous trek in search of an ivory deposit worth eleven million dollars. Though James is reluctant to let his daughter accompany them, he eventually allows her to go when a smitten Harry sides with her. Before they leave, James tells his daughter about the legend surrounding the burial site, and warns her that the natives consider the place sacred and taboo and that all who so much as look at it are put to death by tribal witchmen. James's account of the legend soon proves true when a native, crazy with fear after having seen the burial ground, runs into their camp to take refuge from the brutal Ubangi tribe and then mysteriously dies. When the expedition party finally arrives at the wall of the Mutia Escarpment, they are forced to scale its narrow precipice, which proves too narrow for one of the men, who falls to his death. Jane also loses her footing, but she is pulled back by a rope. After coming to a resting point, the expedition party is bewildered by an ape call they hear in the distance that is distinctly human-like. They soon meet the source of the sound when Tarzan uses his jungle call to save them from an attack by threatening hippopotami. Tarzan, who understands no language, then carries the screaming Jane to his treetop home, where she gradually loses her fear of him and the apes who live in the trees. Later, while Tarzan has left Jane to search for food, Harry and James rescue her, but not before Harry shoots an ape that he believes is a threat to Jane. Tarzan witnesses the killing and follows the expedition to take revenge on them. After drowning one of James's African guides, Tarzan recaptures Jane and then, with the help of an elephant, engages an attacking lion in a fight. The elephant carries the defeated and unconscious Tarzan to safety and then calls Tarzan's apes to summon Jane. Jane arrives in time to bandage the wounded ape man, and the two share a romantic swim in a nearby river. Later, from her treetop vantage point, Jane sees her ailing father fall down and decides that she must go to him. Tarzan, hurt by Jane's departure, flees into the jungle. Soon after he leaves, the expedition is surrounded by a large number of pygmies, who abduct the hunters and take them downriver to their camp. Along the way, Jane sees Cheetah, Tarzan's chimpanzee friend, and sends the animal for help. While the pygmies make a cruel game out of sacrificing Harry, James and Jane to a ferocious beast in a pit, Tarzan arrives with a herd of elephants, and Jane and her party are freed. Jane, her father, Tarzan and Harry ride away from the camp on the backs of elephants, and though James discovers that his elephant is dying, he insists on staying on him in the hope that the animal will lead him to the sacred burial site. The elephant leads James to the site, but as soon as he sets his eyes on the grave, he dies. After saying goodbye to Harry, Jane is reunited with Tarzan and Cheetah and remains with them. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's, Inc.)
Distribution Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.  
Director: W. S. Van Dyke (Dir)
  Nick Grinde (2d unit dir)
  Arthur Rose (Asst dir)
Writer: Cyril Hume (Adpt)
  Ivor Novello (Dial)
Photography: Harold Rosson (Photog)
  Clyde De Vinna (Photog)
  Steve Bauder (2d cam)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
Film Editor: Ben Lewis (Film ed)
  Tom Held (Film ed)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
  Paul Neal (Sd)
Production Misc: Bert Nelson (Animal trainer)
Country: United States
Language: English
Series: Tarzan

Source Text: Based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs (New York, 1914).
Authors: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp. 14/3/1932 dd/mm/yyyy LP2913 Yes

Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

 
Genre: Adventure
 
Subjects (Major): Abduction
  Africa
  Animals
  Apemen
  Expeditions
  Traders
 
Subjects (Minor): Apes
  Burial grounds
  Death and dying
  Elephants
  English
  Falls from heights
  Fathers and daughters
  Hippopotami
  Human sacrifice
  Jungles
  Legends
  Lions
  Pygmies
  Rescues
  Revenge
  Stampedes

Note: The opening title card on the print viewed divides the title into two lines: "Tarzan//The Ape Man" although the film was copyrighted as Tarzan, the Ape Man , and many reviews included a comma within the title. The film's opening credits list lead actor Johnny Weissmuller's name first, but his name appears last in the end credits, reading" "and Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan." The picture was the first in a series of "Tarzan" films produced by M-G-M. It was also the first full-length sound Tarzan feature, and the first to star Weissmuller (1904--1984), a two-time Olympic swimming champion who had his first major role in the picture. According to modern sources, Weissmuller was chosen to play Tarzan despite the objections of writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, who created the character. Weissmuller is the longest lasting Tarzan to date, having portrayed the apeman in twelve feature films from 1932--1948.
       According to M-G-M studio records, the film cost $652,675 to make. The Var review of the film, which erroneously listed a running time of seventy minutes, noted M-G-M's success in finding fifty dwarfs to play pygmies in the picture. Contemporary sources indicate that some film footage from director Van Dyke's earlier African adventure film, Trader Horn (see below), was included in the film. NYT news items note that the exterior sequences were filmed in western Mexico and at Sherwood Forest, CA. According to HR , filming also took place at Sherwood Lake, which may have been located at Sherwood Forest. A Nov 1939 HR news item notes that Nick Grinde was in charge of the second unit filming of "limb-to-limb jumpers and pygmies." According to a NYT article about production difficulties encountered by the film crew, a near-tragedy occurred when a hippopotamus charged at a makeshift reflecting wall supported by crewmen. HR indicates that second cameraman Steve Bauder narrowly escaped serious injury when a lion attacked him and broke his camera.
       Modern sources note that the Mutia Escarpment, Tarzan's fictional jungle domain, was named after Mutia Omoolu, the African actor who played Aloysius Horn's gun bearer in Trader Horn . Modern sources provide the following additional credits: Irving Thalberg, executive producer; Bernard H. Hyman, line producer; J. J. Cohn, production manager; George Emerson, Louis Roth and Louis Goebel, animal supervision; Warren Newcombe, photographic effects; William Snyder, additional cinematography; George Richelavie, Fritz Stahlberg and Paul Marquardt, music; Dunning Process Company and Williams Composite Laboratories, composite effects; aerialist Alfredo Codona, Weissmuller's double for swinging shots; and Emma, the chimp as "Cheetah." According to a biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs, M-G-M originally opted for Stanford University star weight-lifter Herman Brix (who later played the role in the Burroughs-Tarzan series) to play Tarzan, but he was replaced following an injury he sustained while filming Touchdown (see below), his first film. The Burroughs biography also notes that the film's scheduled Mar 1932 opening was postponed due to the national attention devoted to the Lindbergh kidnapping. M-G-M reportedly paid Burroughs $20,000 plus a $1,000 weekly salary in exchange for the rights to all the characters used in previously written Tarzan stories. According to a 1961 Var article, a Superior Court judge "sustained a demurrer made by M-G-M in a suit brought against [the] studio by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. over the remake of its original Tarzan of the Apes , and found in favor of the studio that it had not breached a 1931 contract." The contract stipulated that the studio could film a remake of this story only if no substantial changes were made. Burroughs' suit followed M-G-M's 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man , which he claimed to be an altered version of the original story. Judge Frank S. Balthis ruled against Burroughs, stating that the remake was "substantially the same as the original" and that the studio was not in breach of contract. According to Burroughs' biography, producer, exhibitor and showman Sol Lesser claimed that before Tarzan, the Ape Man was released, he had purchased the rights to film a Tarzan picture from James Pierce, who had been given the rights by Burroughs as a marriage gift when he married Burroughs' daughter. Unaware that Burroughs had already sold the rights to M-G-M, Lesser's lawyer, Jules Goldstone, handed the author $10,000 in cash for the rights, at which point Burroughs informed him that Pierce's contract had lapsed. Burroughs reportedly "threw the money back." The biography also notes that "it was a windy day and Mr. Goldstone had quite a time chasing after the bills." Following this, Lesser filed a suit and left it to the courts to decide if his contract was valid. In the meantime, Lesser agreed to postpone production on his Tarzan picture until M-G-M released Tarzan, the Ape Man . Lesser, Burroughs and M-G-M eventually settled the matter, and M-G-M went ahead with preparations for its next Tarzan picture while Lesser planned to film five Tarzan pictures.
       Two M-G-M remakes of Tarzan, the Ape Man followed its release: a 1959 film directed by Joseph M. Newman and starring Dennis Miller and Joanna Barnes (which contained tinted stock footage from the 1932 version); and a 1981 film directed by John Derek and starring Bo Derek and Richard Harris. According to an 1981 article in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner , Maureen O'Sullivan refused to view the 1981 remake because the reviews she had read of the film suggested that it exploited sex and nudity. O'Sullivan stated that the 1932 version of the film contained "poetic sex," and that the remake might "detract from the innocence of the story." Derek's 1981 remake also encountered legal entanglements concerning the rights to the Tarzan story when the Burroughs estate sued M-G-M over the picture. The issue was finally resolved in 1982, when, according to HR , the Court of Appeals ruled that "differences between the works overwhelm this general similarity [to the film]," and therefore did not constitute an act of copyright infringement. Furthermore, the judge ruled that the 1981 version did not materially depart from the 1932 movie even though the 1981 film contained two nude scenes.
       Other films or television programs based on the characters created by Burroughs include: the 1918 First National film Tarzan of the Apes , directed by Scott Sidney and starring Elmo Lincoln and Enid Markey (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ; F1.4370); the 1923 Nation Film Corp. picture Jungle Trail of the Son of Tarzan , directed by Harry Revier and Arthur Flaven (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ; F2.2827); the 1942 M-G-M film Tarzan's New York Adventure , directed by Richard Thorpe and starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan; the 1958 M-G-M film Tarzan's Fight for Life , directed by H. Bruce Humberstone and starring Gordon Scott and Eve Brent; the 1966 Banner Productions--Allfin U.S./Switzerland co-production Tarzan and the Valley of Gold , directed by Robert Day and starring former L. A. Ram lineman Mike Henry and Nancy Novak (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ; F6.4884); the 1966-1968 NBC television series Tarzan , made by Banner Productions and starring Ron Ely; the animated half-hour CBS television network series Tarzan--Lord of the Jungle , which had its premiere on 11 Sep 1976; the 1989 American First Run Studios telefilm Tarzan in Manhattan , directed by Michael Shultz and starring Joe Lara and Kim Crosby, which aired on the CBS television network on 15 Apr 1989; and the 1999 animated Disney release, directed by Chris Buck and Kevin Lima and featuring the voices of Tony Goldwyn and Minnie Driver. For titles of Tarzan films made in the 1930s, consult the Series Index. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   27 Mar 32   p. 22.
HF   7 Nov 31   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Nov 31   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Nov 31   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Dec 31   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Feb 32   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Oct 34   p. 7.
Motion Picture Herald   20 Feb 32   p. 33.
Motion Picture Herald   2-Apr-32   
New York Times   27-Mar-32   
New York Times   28 Mar 32   p. 11.
New York Times   24-Apr-32   
Variety   29 Mar 32   p. 25.

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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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