Tarzan Collection Starring Johnny Weissmuller, The (DVD)
Many actors have slipped on a loincloth and swung from a jungle vine, but nobody reached the treetops of Tarzania quite like Johnny Weissmuller, the Olympic swimmer. And Tarzan's greatest Jane was Maureen O'Sullivan, who moved into T's treehouse for six films at MGM, all collected in this splendid boxed set. It is possible to find these films hokey... but only if you have absolutely no feeling for the magic of early-sound pictures, or no joy in the gee-whiz, Saturday-matinee wonder of Tarzan's prelapsarian lifestyle. To say nothing of the surprisingly overt running theme of (implied) hot jungle sex.
Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932), made with the blessings of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, establishes the basics of the series (and uses extra Africa footage MGM had compiled for Trader Horn). There'd been many Tarzans before, but Weissmuller's buff bod and innocent charm won over audiences. Tarzan and His Mate is generally considered the best of the lot; it is also the sexiest, especially after the restoration of a hotsy-totsy nude swimming scene. The formula still works in Tarzan Escapes, which brings Jane's cousins out for a visit to the Mutia Escarpment, with its elephant-powered elevator for Tarzan's pad. (Always keep in mind that this is Africa of kiddie imagination, not the real deal.)
Tarzan Finds a Son! introduces Johnny Sheffield as Boy, and stirs up the nest. Things were getting rote by the time of Tarzan's Secret Treasure, and the jungle is left behind entirely for Tarzan's New York Adventure, which has some fun stunts. Also included in the boxed set is the documentary Tarzan: Silver Screen King of the Jungle, which is a fine overview not just of the MGM Tarzan series but of its predecessors (though it does not mention the fact that Weissmuller went on to crank out more Tarzan pictures at RKO). It does delve into the mystery of just what the heck "ungawa" means. --Robert Horton