Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tarzan Week: Tarzan Escapes (1936)

The cousins of Jane Parker (Maureen O’Sullivan) -- Rita (Benita Hume) and Eric (William Henry) -- are brought to the Great Escarpment by safari master Captain Fry (John Buckler). 

Their mission is to convince Jane to return to England with them, so that she can claim a vast financial inheritance on all their behalf.

Jane is happy to see her cousins, but Tarzan is deeply disturbed by the fact that Jane will have to leave the jungle, even for a while. 

Fry sews further discontent, claiming that Jane has grown tired of Tarzan and that if he loves her, he should let her leave.

Fry then arranges to capture Tarzan in a cage, and put him on display in England.  At the same time, he plans to sell Rita, Eric and Jane into slavery to a local tribe.

With Cheetah’s help, Tarzan escapes, and attempts to rescue Jane and her cousins.  Fry, meanwhile, meets an unpleasant end in a bog…

The domestication of Tarzan begins in earnest with Tarzan Escapes (1936), an enjoyable and solid entry in the MGM franchise. Not only is Jane wearing a much less revealing dress in this film, she and Tarzan are now playing ‘house.’

We see, early in the film, a vast tree-house compound that Tarzan has constructed for the family.  There’s an elephant-powered elevator to the house, for example, a water-wheel pumping pond water up to the kitchen area, and even a ceiling fan. Tarzan and Jane’s bedroom is reachable by a suspension bridge.

Home sweet home...in the jungle.

Clearly, the film series is moving towards the ideal of a “nuclear family,” and the next film in the cycle, Tarzan Finds a Son (1939) goes further down this road.

Alas, at the same time that Tarzan Escapes makes a Tarzan a family man with a family home (and an honest woman, I suppose, of Jane), it succumbs to formula.  

By now, many ingredients featured here have become quite familiar. 

For example, in all three of the Tarzan movies produced thus far, a character falls from the Great Escarpment’s mountains, and dies. In all three movies thus far, we hear Tarzan’s yell before we see him. 

And in all three films, we get a climactic encounter with a hostile/dangerous tribe. The creative formula or equation is locked in cement.

Unfortunately, Tarzan Escapes also features much stock footage, as though the production could not afford new animal encounter scenes.  Exhibit A is Tarzan’s battle with the crocodile in the river, from Tarzan and His Mate (1934). It is rerun in its entirety here.

Similarly, the footage of Tarzan killing an animal and cutting it for purposes of cooking meat, is also rerun footage, but from Tarzan the Ape Man.

Like all the MGM Tarzan movies, Tarzan Escapes also involves duplicitous white civilization. 

In this case, Eric and Rita are both liars. Although they are pursuing their acquisition of wealth (as was the case with Arlington in the previous film), Jane need not return home with them, as they claim.  

Fry is also duplicitous, seeking personal wealth. He tries to trap Tarzan and rid himself of Rita, Eric and Jane in the nastiest way imaginable; selling them into slavery to a local tribe.

Needless to say, the events of Tarzan Escapes probably don’t make Tarzan feel particularly good about white civilization. 

On every occasion of intersect, the white people try to trick Jane into leaving Tarzan, and kill or capture him so as to acquire that elusive and invisible thing they term “wealth.” It is no wonder that, at first, Tarzan forbids Jane to see the white people.  

They universally bring strife.

Some aspects of Tarzan Escapes are authentically impressive. I love the shot, for instance, that introduces Tarzan to the movie.  We move back, beyond a high tree branch, and see him silhouetted there, watching Eric, Rita and Fry from above. 

He has been there all along, observing their actions, but has remained silent. This shot beautifully captures his stealth, intelligence, and also his status as outsider.

I also love that shot of Fry dying in the bog, his hand slowly sinking below the surface.

Tarzan Escapes is still a top-flight adventure film, but one can't help but to long for a bit more of the Tarzan and Jane dynamic, and some fresh plot lines.

My favorite scene here is the one in which Jason and Tarzan reckon with saying goodbye, and Jane informs him exactly how many passages of the moon will occur in the sky before her return. Weismuller and O'Sullivan still make magic together.

1 comment:

  1. I find this to be the weakest of the series. The massive amount of reused footage is just so distracting. It has some good moments, but then other moments feel like they are there to pad the film out. the escape sequence feels like it goes on forever.

    I had a reader comment that this film had a troubled production, with a much darker script originally written and partially filmed. But the studio wanted to go with something more family friendly and they made changes on the fly resulting in the older footage and padding we ended up with.