The Dream Vaults of Opar

Tarzan the Ape Man

    In ERB-APA #4 I considered the question, “Has Edgar Rice Burroughs become a 'classic' author?” The springboard of that question was the appearance of an omnibus volume entitled Edgar Rice Burroughs Science Fiction Classics, and I mused at length about the possibility that ERB’s apotheosis had taken place “while I wasn’t looking.” I finally concluded that Edgar Rice Burroughs stood “at least in the anteroom of the Literary Immortals, and that we would soon see other inexpensive public domain volumes of his work.”
    Though not as completely accurate as I expected, that statement has been borne out over the intervening five years with the publication of at least three such volumes: the Tarzan of the Apes four-in-one omnibus, the Carol & Graff paperback of Princess, and one other. Three in five years does not constitute the rapid rush that I anticipated, but that third edition is extremely significant to the literary history of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
    Now it’s official. Tarzan of the Apes is a recognized classic of American literature, having received the imprimatur of no less an authority than the editors of the Signet Classics series of paperbacks. ERB has joined the ranks of Doyle and Kipling, Rider Haggard, Jack London, and O. Henry, and this book if not others will for a long time to come be shelved beside the works of Homer, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. Not bad for an out-of-work daydreamer.
    I haven’t seen the Signet edition yet, but understand that it carries an introduction by Gore Vidal. There's little of Mr. Vidal's work that's to my taste, but included within that little is his circa-1963 Esquire article, “Tarzan Revisited,” which, by the way, has been reprinted in at least one college English textbook as a counterpoint to a contemporary (1920ish) scathing review of the Tarzan series. I suspect the Signet introduction will probably be that selfsame article, reprinted yet again, though I hope Vidal may have revised and updated it for the 1990s. A new essay would be better, but “Tarzan Revisited” is quite good overall and will serve as a fine introduction for students forced to read the novel.

    Tarzan the Ape Man disappointed me the last time I saw it. I found it quite creaky and dated. For this reason among others I was particularly interested in viewing the film in its new, colorized incarnation, which was telecast over WTBN the night of Friday, March 2.
    John Guidry hates the very concept of computer colorized black-and-white movies, and if you ever dare broach the subject with him, be prepared for a frothing tirade that may last far longer than your interest in the subject. Be prepared, too, for words like vandals and desecration. I, on the other hand, think it’s cute, an interesting curiosity that’s essentially harmless as long as the original versions are kept available as well, and possibly a worthwhile technique for attracting paleophobic kids to the treasures of the past. I’ve seen some that have been fairly well done (Topper and a John Wayne film, the title of which eludes me), while others have been atrocious (Night of the Living Dead). With the added excuse of two small boys who might enjoy watching the first Weissmuller film with me, I turned on the set and hoped for the best.
    The film certainly didn’t seem particularly creaky this time. Perhaps this was because of the restored print from which the colorized version was made. The sound track was fine, too, without noticeable noise or hiss. Odd how much I had forgotten of a film I’ve probably seen four or five times before. Odd, too, how the erotic element of the story had slipped from my memory. Perhaps this was because I first saw it when I was about twelve, and that first memory--centered on the action sequences--has influenced subsequent viewings and memories.
    No sooner does Jane arrive at the trading post run by her father than she strips down to her underwear! There are also quite a few references to how grown up she’s become, meaning how womanly. This Tarzan is far less a gentleman than his book counterpart. He grabs, pushes, and pulls Jane, and when he drags her into his ape nest, the poor girl is clearly and rightly terrified of what he intends. Later, after Jane has nursed him back to health (he’s been grazed on the forehead by a gunshot), Tarzan lifts her in his arms and carries her off screen; it’s a stunning sequence, subtly but strongly communicated by O’Sullivan’s facial expressions and body language, and leaves the mature viewer with little doubt about what’s going to happen next. Jane first looks apprehensive, then wilts into Tarzan’s embrace. After a convenient cut to her father’s safari, we find her lying languidly on the bank of a pond, soliloquizing. “I’m not a bit afraid,” she says, “not a bit sorry!” Still later, in discussing Tarzan, her father says, “He belongs to the jungle.” Jane quickly replies, “Not now. He belongs to me.” Hmmmmm. That must have raised a few eyebrows back in 1932.
    The colorization (by American Film Technologies, Inc.) is poor at best. Through the second half of the film, Jane seems often to be in black and white while the forest around her is in various muted tones. It’s tempting to call this the Sepia Continent. Still, I enjoyed the film in its new incarnation, and would probably choose the colored version over the black and white if given the choice in the future.

    Dr. Hamilton Johnson was a soft-spoken, friendly man. I generally saw him at least once a year when we both attended the New Orleans Symphony Book Fair, where he would search for books about the Kennedies, among other subjects he followed and collected. I had the pleasure of visiting him a number of times at his home and seeing his collection. His Burroughs foreign editions were most impressive, but he also had extensive files of clippings about ERB. In the truest sense, he was a scholar and a gentleman, and I’ll miss him.

--March 10, 1990
Tarzan the Ape Man
Tarzan and His Mate
Check Amazon's Tarzan video catalog
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Copyright © 1999 Patrick H. Adkins. All rights reserved.