The Dream Vaults of Opar
 
 

Tarzan the Tiger

    Many installments back, just after Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan appeared (March '84?), I fearlessly predicted that we would eventually see a complete, three-hour-plus version of that movie, probably when it arrived on network television. (Actually I couched my prediction in somewhat more ambiguous terms, but that was what I meant.) Well, Greystoke finally made it to network television a couple of months ago, and if anything it was probably shorter than in its theatrical counterpart.
    Much of the early--and best--footage was gone; the whole sequence of Tarzan growing up among the apes seemed markedly shorter. The network version featured even less action (ďviolenceĒ) than the original, deleting the scene in which Tarzan avenges Kalaís death by snapping a native across his back.
    I sat through all of this rather grimly, paying less attention as the movie continued. Then, to my astonishment (and too late to capture it on videotape!), I realized that at least one formerly missing scene had been restored. You will recall the abrupt ending to the section set in the ivory poachersí village. At last we know what transpired there: DíArnot, unable to pay his bill at the tavern, is held down across a table by a number of the local men, and the sadistic proprietor (glimpsed earlier disciplining a small boy) prepares to use his switch on him. From the balcony above them Tarzan sees this scene, growls fiercely, and leaps down. He picks up a lantern and throws it at the men (or does he kick it over? Iím not sure now), and the building goes up in flames.
    What a disappointment. Some of this footage was seen briefly in the TV previews for the original theatrical release, and Tarzan in action looked good--until you see it in context. In this scene, too, Hugh Hudson managed to eviscerate what in other hands might have been a truly exciting sequence.
    There may have been other scenes restored to the movie, later on. I abandoned the movie in favor of reading a bedtime story to my older son, so I canít say for sure. Do any of you know?

    Through the courtesy of former ERB-APA member Dr. George Jones, I have obtained tapes of three silent Tarzan serials--Adventures of Tarzan with Elmo Lincoln, Son of Tarzan (a poor, incomplete version, Dr. Jones has warned me), and Tarzan the Tiger starring Frank Merrill (who doubled for Lincoln in many of the action scenes in Adventures). Thus far Iíve only had the opportunity to view this last film.
    Tarzan the Tiger, a serial released from October 1929 through February 1930, was both the last silent Tarzan film and the first to feature sound. It was released with and without a recorded sound track, and until only a year or two ago it was considered to be one of the irretrievably lost silent films. Its discovery and availability on videotape--with its recorded sound track!--is indeed an unexpected boon for Burroughs fans and silent movie buffs alike. That sound track, by the way, is fairly good; it consists of background music, occasional animal noises or human screams, and the very first recorded rendition of Tarzanís famous cry.
    I wonít keep you in suspense. The cry goes something like this: ďNee-yah! Nee-yah!Ē Nowhere near as elaborate as the yell concocted by MGM, but Iíll bet it was pretty thrilling to the kids watching this serial week after week in late 1929.
    Tarzan the Tiger is adapted from ERBís novel Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, and itís a reasonably close adaption, too. Albert Werper and Achmet Zek are the primary villains (though Tarzanís cousin arrives from England toward the end, intent on stealing the Greystoke title); La isnít quite the beauty Iíve always imagined, the beast men of Opar look quite human, and Opar seems to be so centrally located (the way everyone keeps going to and from it), that itís hard to believe itís managed to remain undiscovered since the sinking of Atlantis. Nevertheless, the basic plot line is the same, amnesia and all. Natalie Kingston, who played Mary Trevor (one of the alternate Janes the movies were so inexplicably fond of in the early years) in Tarzan the Mighty, the serial just previous to this one, now gets to be Lady Greystoke; sheís pretty and competent, but not memorable.
    Merrill at times looks very much the part, but his awkward, across-the-chest leopard skin outfit, complete with headband and slippers, has too much of a farcical look to it. There are one or two really well done action sequences (enraged, having reverted to his earlier ape mentality, Tarzan rips up saplings and snaps them in his hands--much as the king ape does in Greystoke). He wrestles lions, crocodiles, and apes; his Tarzan rides elephants and regularly swings from tree to tree using conveniently placed vines--perhaps for the first time in cinema history. One interesting trick: Occasionally Merrill unslings his grass rope from about his chest and throws it ahead of him, twisting its end around some object, then swings on the rope. The problem with Merrill as Tarzan, though, is that he always looks stiff--never lithe and supple, like Weissmuller. When he walks, heís even stiffer than Mike Henry (though not as muscle bound).
    A number of times we glimpse a tiger in the great forest, presumably to bolster the ridiculous title of the film. There are numerous references in the quaintly written captions to ďTarzan the Tiger,Ē suggesting that this is an epithet by which the ape-man was known to the denizens of the jungle. If you can watch any of the old movie serials without excessive snickering, youíll probably be able to tolerate this sort of nonsense as well.
    The quality on my tape is only fair. The images lack sharpness, but arenít blurry enough to be annoying, or even particularly distracting. Anyone seriously interested in the history of the Tarzan films will enjoy this five or six hour extravaganza.

    --September 20, 1988
 
Tarzan the Tiger (1929 silent serial)

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Copyright © 1999 Patrick H. Adkins. All rights reserved.