Tarzan and the Amazons

Tarzan and the Amazons

By the time you get to the 9th in the series of Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies, the ideas, in contrast to the leading man’s waistband, are beginning to thin. The isolated escarpment that is home to Tarzan, Jane, Boy and Cheeta doesn’t seem all that isolated – there’s always a plane or a boat arriving, bringing new visitors from civilisation to act as fodder for Tarzan’s prejudice against the outside world (at no point does he acknowledge or reflect upon his own arrival as a baby from a distant land). In this installment, it turns out there’s a nearby race of female warriors, sworn to destroy any man who enters their kingdom. Nobody noticed this massive city of Amazons before, except for Tarzan, who kept it secret from his family.

The plotlines are nothing special, though the arrival of Nazis in Tarzan Triumphs was relatively diverting, with Tarzan revealed as the “perfect isolationist” until he decides to intervene and kick some fascists right in the swastikas. (Incidentally, there are plenty of these rallying cries towards interventionism in Hollywood’s wartime output (Casablanca, anyone?), and I’m wondering how many films plead for the reverse: were there any films made urging Americans not to support the nation’s joining WWII?) To watch the Tarzan films is to observe a gradual depletion of a star’s grace over time: supposedly playing an ageless paragon of physical perfection, Weissmuller is prey to the aging processes that don’t afflict fictional beings, but he is always an engaging and amiable presence. I’ve enjoyed spending time with these characters, but what has regularly impressed me has been the process photography, including some superb composite shots and matte paintings.

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I’m not sure who did the special effects on this film, but earlier Tarzan films boasted a credit for Warren Newcombe, a prolific director of photographic effects who also oversaw the amazing matte paintings on The Wizard of Oz. A lot of the time, the Tarzans are plainly shot somewhere out in California, but every now and then there’s a sequence of composites that remind you this is a fantasy world of hyperbolic mountain ranges and deep chasms. The escarpment on which Tarzan has established his family reveals itself to be far more capacious, far less isolated with every movie.

10 thoughts on “Tarzan and the Amazons

  1. You have to wonder – if Tarzan never saw a woman before Jane, when did he become aware of the Amazons secret village?

    And if the Amazons were sworn to kill & imprison any man who trespasses their territory, how did Tarzan escape their wrath?

    • I wondered that, too. When was he planning to tell Jane that there was a nearby city populated entirely by scantily clad women? I think he escaped their wrath through his renown, and maybe he’d rescued someone before and always respected their boundaries. He was very familiar with the route to the city, and maybe we’re invited to presume that this place is his guilty sexual secret.

      • Well, Jane was gone for two years, so maybe Tarzan….. ;-)

        In seriousness, maybe that was the case. Tarzan stumbled upon the city by chance. And while the Amazons knew of his legend, once they saw him live in person in that loincloth, it may have occurred to them they’d have to reproduce to continue their civilization.

        So maybe a deal was struck that they’d let Tarzan go free if he kept their hidden city a secret and uh…….showed them why he was king of the jungle. :-P

      • Your explanation is obviously the most attractive we’re going to come up with. It’s obvious, too that the later Weissmuller Tarzans try to sex things up, with the Amazons, the Leopard Woman and the Mermaids, like he’s constantly being confronted with temptations once he’s set up his little family unit. And after Maureen O’Sullivan left the role of Jane behind, the options to stray seem far more inviting…

      • Oh, absolutely, Dan, you’re right on the money. RKO, probably not wanting to follow the model MGM established with Tarzan & Jane’s sexual chemistry, strayed from that in their films to putting Tarzan in “tense” situations with other females.

        Which in a way was disappointing because I would have loved to have seen the romance continued with Weissmuller when Brenda Joyce became Jane.

        And Leopard Woman, by the way, has the most suggestively erotic scene in the Weissmuller Tarzan films, with Acquanetta, but we’ll get to that later.

  2. Oh, absolutely, Dan, you’re right on the money. RKO, probably not wanting to follow the model MGM established with Tarzan & Jane’s sexual chemistry, strayed from that in their films to putting Tarzan in “tense” situations with other females.

    Which in a way was disappointing because I would have loved to have seen the romance continued with Weissmuller when Brenda Joyce became Jane.

    And Leopard Woman, by the way, has the most suggestively erotic scene in the Weissmuller Tarzan films, with Acquanetta, but we’ll get to that later.

  3. Hi Dan- Can’t wait to see your comments on Leopard Woman. I know the scene you’re talking about it’s fantastic!
    Weissmuller’s physique was at it’s best in that entry.
    Best Wishes,Dave.

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