Most romantic film #19: Tarzan the Ape Man

This pre-code version of the love story between Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, and Jane Parker, nice English girl (who gets off on jungle sex with a monosyllabic Olympian athlete) makes the Bo Derek version look like, well, a silly and fatuous soft porn joke.

Because it is.

I won’t say this is what Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined in his epic for an audience of teenage boys, but hoo mama!

Maureen O’Sullivan (later married to director John Farrow and mother of Mia as well as six other children) was a convent-school Catholic girl from Ireland who fell into the movies. Johnnie Weissmuller was a Hungarian-born from the area near today’s Serbian border; his family was listed as Germans when they arrived at Ellis Island in 1905. Weissmuller competed in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics in swmming and water polo, winning medals in each (gold in swimming, bronze in water polo). Wikipedia says he quit swimming with five Olympic golds, one Olympic bronze, 52 US National championships and 67 world records. Apparently, he never lost a race.

In this film, the romance between the jungle-raised Tarzan and the kidnapped British girl is, well, uncensored. And more than suggestive.

Sadly, the equally uncensored racism of white vs. black of the period, depicting the Europeans as civilized, clueless, but superior and the Africans as second-class inferiors or worse–ending in the village of “savage” pygmies, played by “little people” in blackface–is telling.

Perhaps even more sadly, later versions of the story–including the 1981 version starring Bo Derek–takes the same stance.

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