Tarzan the Ape Man Movie Review

Take a look at the classic Tarzan, the Ape Man:

When traders Harry Holt and James Parker are in Africa about to embark on an expedition to find an infamous elephant graveyard, they’re surprised to find out they will be taking along a guest: James’ daughter Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan). Jane decided to pay her father a visit when she became frustrated by modern life and wanted to spend some time away from civilization. James knows the mission will be dangerous and has his doubts about Jane tagging along, but Harry thinks she’s pretty cute and wants her to come along. James tries explaining to Jane the legend behind the elephant graveyard and how coming along could cost her her life, but she isn’t scared.

As they head out on their quest, it does indeed prove to be quite treacherous. After passing a particularly dangerous part, the party begins hearing a mysterious yell that sounds more like a human than an animal. But when their raft is being attacked by hippopotami, they get to meet the man behind the yell, Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller). Tarzan helps the expedition party, but decides to take Jane back to his home in the trees.  Even though Jane is scared at first, she quickly realizes that he means her no harm. Harry and James come to rescue her, but when they do, they shoot one of Tarzan’s ape friends under the mistaken impression that it was going to hurt her. Of course, Tarzan isn’t happy and wants to get back at the explorers.  He manages to capture Jane again and the two of them fall very deeply in love. But even though Jane loves Tarzan, she’s torn between him and her father. She leaves Tarzan again to be with her father, but when she does, the expedition is kidnapped by a tribe of pygmies. As they’re being taken away, Jane sees Tarzan’s closest chimp friend Cheeta and tells him to get Tarzan. Sure enough, Tarzan comes to the rescue and saves everyone. But as Jane, Tarzan, Harry, and James are riding away, Jane decides the only place she belongs is with Tarzan.

Adventure movies can be pretty hit-or-miss with me, but I did enjoy Tarzan, the Ape Man. This was the first time I’d seen any of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies and now I’m interested in seeing more of the series. Maureen O’Sullivan was very likable as Jane, Johnny made the perfect Tarzan, and there are plenty of exciting moments to be had. Never mind the very dated rear projection and special effect shots, it’s still a very entertaining movie.

Tarzan Centennial: 100 Years of Tarzan
Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure
tarzan-the-magnificent

Angela is a classic film enthusiast from Detroit with a degree in Television Production. She runs the blog The Hollywood Revue and is the co-author of Cooking With the Classics: Recipes Inspired by Classic Films.

The Tarzan Centennial

  • Robert Voss

    Angela, trust me, if you’re older than twelve leave well enough alone. Once Hollywood realized they had a good thing going the entire Tarzan theme became nothing more than a series of cutesie-pie interactions with the animals, bad guy interlopers with Cheetah doing the only credible job of acting.

  • bonnerace

    TARZAN AND HIS MATE and TARZAN ESCAPES are the best of the Weissmuller films (although I have a soft spot for the corny TARZAN’S NEW YORK ADVENTURE). MATE’s original version was quite sexually explicit for the time, and I truly love to see ESCAPES before all the cuts were done in the original; you can tell there was more to the film and various clips/photos prove it. ENJOY!

  • Grand Old Movies

    Definitely check out Tarzan & His Mate, an extraordinarily erotic pre-code entry in the series. Make sure you see a print which has the original nude underwater swimming scene.

  • Gary Vidmar

    The primitive fetishism and psychosexual implications of Weissmuller’s TARZAN THE APE MAN are the same qualities that make the original KING KONG a timeless cinematic legend to this day.

  • eddie moscone

    gordon scotts tarzan’s flicks ‘tarazan the magnificent’ and ‘tarzan’s greatest adventure’ are 2 tarzan movies as much fun as the johnny’s tarzan flicks and in color too

  • Gary Vidmar

    The two Gordon Scott films Eddie mentions are the best two Tarzan movies yet made. TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE and TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT are both superbly crafted adventures with provocative characterizations and the right doses of jungle melodrama and violence.

  • Nicolas Orizaga

    I love the Johhny Weismuller Tarzans. I own both box sets from WHV. The first one includes the MGM films while the second set is the RKO films (no Maureen O’Sullivan)…while I agree some of the films do get monotonous if you watch them back-to-back and notice the same stock footage. The first film features the most animal footage of all but suffers from the men in monkey costumes. I believe Cheeta (a costumed ape) dies in the second film while trying to save her daughter’s life and Tarzan and Jane re-name the baby chimp Cheeta. It is this Cheeta that continues throughout the series. My kids (ages 2 and 4) love to watch these movies mostly due to the antics of Cheeta and Boy.

  • Jerry LaFavor

    You are all way to technical for me. I remember in the late 40′s and early 50′s as a boy waiting for Saturday to come around so all of us guys could take our 20 cents and ride our bikes to one of the four theaters in our town of Ithaca, NY to see Roy Rogers, or Gene Autry or Tarzan. If we happen to have an extra 15 or 20 cents we could get a snack as well. Sometimes we would just stay in the Theater and watch it again. These Tarzan movies were definitely on the top of our Saturday morning list.

  • charlie lewis

    Have seen many tarzan movies since I was little. I liked the Johnny Weismuller films the best. While maybe not technically great, all were great fun & adventure. I still enjoy watching them today.

  • Alexander Foundoukis

    Tarzan the Ape Man and Tarzan and His Mate were the best of the Weissmuller flicks. Tarzan Escapes followed closely. I happened to have seen an early cut of the film over 50 years ago. Unfortunatly that one is nowhere to be found. Unfortunatly MGM made Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan a monosylabic moran, and the with the Boy character and Cheeta and Jane henpecking the ape man it became too much. None the less I loved all the Tarzan films. Two of the best Tarzans were Franki Merrill in the silent serials Tarzan The Mighty and Tarzan The Tiger; and Herman Brix (who changed his name later to Bruce Bennet) in the serial The New Adventures of Tarzan. These two played Tarzan very much as Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote him. Gordon Scott’s last two Tarzan flicks finally brought him back as an intelligant and articulate man. Also very good were Jock Mahoney (the oldest actor to play the part) and Mike Henry. Christopher Lambert did a great job in Greystoke, but unfortunatly after the great early parts of the film that followed Burroughs’ story the film wanders away and they botched up the story.

  • Alexander Foundoukis

    I would also like to recommend Tarzan of the Apes (1918) with Elmo Lincoln. True the film is dated and Elmo is a very beefy Tarzan, but there are some great fight scenes in it and we get to see the first actor to play Tarzan. No it’s not Elmo Lincoln nor Gordon Griffith who plays the young Tarzan. It is some un-named baby that portrays the baby Tarzan.

  • Richard Finn

    Whenever we went to A Tarzan flick when I was a kid, for the next week we played Tarzan in the apple orchard behind one of my friends home. We could move from tree to tree at times without having to climb down. There were no swinging vines of course, and our moms had not better catch us wearing nothing but loin cloths. I first saw Weissmuller in Tarzan the Ape Man on TV in the 1950′s. I recall first hearing the Tarzan call by Weissmuller, it was eerie. I think he did it better than those who followed.

  • Lord Belchmore

    Don’t forget the leader of the safari is played by Neil Hamilton, known to many as “Commissioner Gordon” from the Batman TV series. Hamilton also played Nayland Smith in the Fu Manchu movies.

  • Jackie

    I liked Johnny W.,but does anyone remember Ron Ely?He was a great Tarzan as well …on television! My husband met him when he went to visit the troops in Viet Nam. He was a fantastically friendly guy and my husband(who died from a Nam illness)always spoke highly of Ron. He said how he wished I could meet him too.

  • John

    “Tarzan and His Mate” ,in all its uncensored glory-Maureen O’Sullivan was quite the babe-was the peak of the Weissmuller series,which unfortunately deteriorated at RKO with Brenda Joyce a dull Jane and Johnny constantly gaining weight until it got to the point that he had to wear more clothes and become Jungle Jim.I agree that Gordon Scott’s later pictures were the best of the follow-ups and more faithful to the books.Ely was a good TV Tarzan but suffered from the presence of that annoying kid Jai ,a poor substitute for Boy.

  • Ron Fullmer

    As a young boy I remember Johnny Weissmuller
    coming to my home town of Huntington Beach, Calif.,
    diving off the pier ( it was legal back then ) and
    proclaiming H. B. the best surfing beach in the
    State. He was a successful Olympic swimmer at the
    time. And my friends and myself regarded him as our
    Hero and never missed a Saturday Matinee. I think
    these films were made for children our age and were
    not intended to be anything more than Saturday
    entertainment.

  • Alexander Foundoukis

    John says that Maureen O’Sullivan was quite the babe in Tarzan And His Mate. True but she did not do the nude swim scenes. They were performed by Josephine McKim a professional swimmer. I met Maureen in the sixties and she was very pleasant even though at that time she still did not want to speak of her Tarzan films. Brenda Joyce was the only actress that fit Burroughs description of Jane as a blonde. She was’nt bad, the script was.

  • dana shields

    Im a Tarzan fan from, Mr Weismuller, to Mr. Henry,and Mr. Mohoney,, My favorite Tarzan flix is Tarzn Triumphs, followed by Tarzan’s Desert Mystery,, I have em all.

  • Santa Andrew Bailey

    How many Tarzan Films did Johnny Weismuller who I consider to be the #1 Tarzan! I also have heard that when he was in a nursing home it was told that he on a nightly basis would do his “Famous Tarzan Yell” until the day he passed. Can anyone confirm this story?

  • Alexander Foundoukis

    Johnny Weissmuller made 12 Tarzan films. Tarzan The Ape Man, Tarzan And His Mate, Tarzan Escapes (originally titledThe Capture Of Tarzan), Tarzan Finds A Son, Tarzan’s Secret Treasure, Tarzan’s New York Adventure, Tarzan Triumphs, Tarzan’s Desert Mystery, Tarzan And The Amazons, Tarzan And The Leopard Woman, Tarzan And The Huntress,Tarzan And The Mermaids. Any more questions?

  • Jay Albert Stockwell

    Hi Kids,
    We movie lovers are all kids at heart. My first impressions of the lovely Maureen O’Sullivan were first, her sweet British accent and second, her incredible legs. Watching pretty girls in the movies with God-given legs made me the 61-year-old LEG MAN that I am. Thank you,ladies.

  • Judy

    Well, Jay Albert, I’m also your age and I want to thank Johnny Weissmuller for being the first actor I saw on screen (in my youth) without a shirt, baring his chest, who made me sit up and take notice. I’ve been a fan of “big chested” men in films and in life ever since. Sigh…Charlton Heston in Ben Hur; Brendan Fraser in that movie about James Whale, I think..I can’t remember because I was too distracted. Yet, for some reason, Ahnold S. of Kahlyfahnia and Sylvester Stallone didn’t do it for me..something about too many muscles that wasn’t my thing.

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  • Gene Rester

    Tarzan had a double do his diving. His name was Vic Demerol. Set designe and later years lived in Jackson, Mississippi and did landscaping for the Baptist Medical center. Also was extras in movies. He was an extra in a movie with Bettye Davis and Henry Fonda in a bar scene. I have a picture of him from that movie. He died with prostate cancer and was a good friend of mine.

    • Art

      Gene,

      Can you contact me with more info on Vic? I’m interested in his story.