Tarzan Collection Starring Johnny Weissmuller Vol. 2 (DVD)
Beasts roar, danger abounds and Johnny Weissmuller swoops into the last 6 of his 12 adventures as film's definitive Tarzan. The vine swinger provides World War II heroics in Tarzan Triumphs and Tarzan's Desert Mystery. Next, he welcomes Jane (Brenda Joyce) home and champions a secluded female tribe in Tarzan and the Amazons. A deadly cult proves no match for the jungle lord in Tarzan and the Leopard Woman. And the Ape Man calls in elephants to deal with poachers in Tarzan and the Huntress and rescues a pearl-diving community in Tarzan and the Mermaids. What came next? Weissmuller would return to the wilds as Jungle Jim, Johnny Sheffield (Boy) became Bomba the Jungle Boy, Joyce played Jane again in Tarzan's Magic Fountain and Cheetah became the world's oldest chimp, celebrating birthday 74 in 2006. Ungawa!
The movies in this second collection of Tarzan adventures pass the Samuel L. Jackson Snakes on a Plane title test. Either you want to own a film called Tarzan and the Leopard Woman or you don't. And if you're a fan of the original Tarzan movies, then no doubt you must. These are the last six Tarzan films to star Johnny Weissmuller in the iconic role that spawned a thousand hollers (so ingrained is Carol Burnett's imitation of his signature shout-out that Weissmuller's own performance seems lacking!). Produced for RKO, they are low-budget affairs, but really, who watches Tarzan movies for the production values? The more fake the backdrops and the more obvious the mismatched stock animal footage the better! Tarzan Triumphs (1943) is the best of the bunch. World conflict rears its ugly head in the jungle as Nazis invade a hidden city for its precious oil and tin. Almost worth the price of this set alone is the climactic scene in which Tarzan pursues an evil German through the jungle, tauntingly calling out "Nazi," from behind rocks and trees. There's more wartime intrigue in Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943), which somehow combines a stranded female USO magician (Nancy Kelly), Arab sheiks, more Nazis, and, most memorably, a giant spider and a man-eating plant. Tarzan and the Amazons (1945) and 1947's Tarzan and the Huntress (with a great climactic elephant stampede) offer more traditional jungle villains, exploitative explorers, and unscrupulous animal collectors, respectively. Exotic cults figure in Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946) and Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948), which was Weissmuller's vine-swinging swan song.
Maureen O'Sullivan has left the jungle, but Brenda Joyce makes for a very fetching Jane. Johnny Sheffield matures before our eyes as Boy. And Weissmuller still manages to avoid loincloth malfunctions as he swings through the trees and tangles with animal and human adversaries. He is both a role model ("Never kill for fun, only for food," he tells Boy at one point) and something of a jungle chauvinist ("Jungle much more peaceful before woman come," he jokes with Jane). But the breakout star of these films is Cheetah, who effortlessly steals every scene he's in, whether covering his eyes when Tarzan and Jane kiss or parachuting out of an airplane. His finest moment comes at the end of Tarzan Triumphs, when his simian squeals broadcast over a shortwave radio are mistaken by German officers for the voice of "the Fuehrer" It's a Hollywood cliché, but truly, they don't make 'em like this anymore! --Donald Liebenson