John "Bridge" Martin

Tarzan Movie Rides Again on Late Show

Almost every night, just before bedtime, I check the TV listings to see if there are going to be any important movies on in the middle of the night.

Sometimes I forget to look at the listings, even for days at a time, but I was glad I did one recent Monday night and learned that a movie I'd never seen, "Tarzan and the Huntress," would be broadcast at 2:30 a.m. on Channel 12, Portland, Oregon.

I managed to find a blank tape and, having mastered my VCR, set things up so I could watch this show at a more convenient hour. Everything worked fine, just as technology is supposed to, and a few days later I took time to enjoy this 1947 film, which first entertained filmgoers three years after I was born.

Will you watch with me?

The VCR is on and we first see a music video, apparently filling in dead TV time. Then, it's commercials until a giant moon rolls across the Portland skyline, to the tune of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Yes, it is time for "Moonlight Theatre," but not before about 20 more commercials. The commercials take awhile, even on fast forward, but the station makes up for it by having commercial breaks only about once every half hour.

Then, a giant radio tower shoots out jagged, lightning bolts from its perch at the North Pole atop a globe of the earth. Then, the words "An RKO Radio Picture" appear on the screen, followed by a title that shows us we are to see "Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and the Huntress."

Wow! A film actually based on Burroughs' Tarzan! But then, we see this was not written by E.R.B. but, as the credits tell us, by Jerry Cruskin and Rowland Leigh.

Behind the changing credits we see movement, and a man riding an elephant comes into view behind the words. Yes, this is Tarzan!

But cut almost immediately to a mischievous chimpanzee fooling around with a beehive. Cheeta is messing with something that is none of his "bees' nest" and it's no surprise a few frames later when the chimp is surrounded by those flying insects, getting stung. Special effects were not as developed in those days and rules about use or misue of animals in films were less stringent, so one wonders just how they filmed that scene. Did Cheeta play the scene for real?

The first word spoken in this film is "Boy," as Jane calls the orphan adopted son who by now should be called "Man" or at least should have been given a real name by this time, such as Rodney, Sam or Rex.

Boy has to be called twice before he comes, having turned into a typical teenager. Soon he, Tarzan and Jane are all in the tree hut comparing gifts they will take to King Farrod (rhymes with Herod). Jane's gift is a blanket, Boy's is a handmade fishing pole and Tarzan's gift is a black thing that I couldn't quite figure out seeing it in TV screen size, although the king says it will look nice on his table. A picture in David Fury's book, "Kings of the Jungle," shows Tarzan making the presentation and it appears to be a large bowl on kind of a stand.

King Farrod and his tribe live near Tarzan but they are not a typical Tarzan movie African tribe. While they live in grass huts, they are more fully clothed than traditional natives and some wear turban-like headpieces. We don't learn much more than that about these people.

But I get ahead of my story. On the way to see the king, an airplane flies overhead and this can only mean that trouble is coming to this jungle paradise. No doubt disturbed by the plane, we see scenes of animals, giraffes, lions, elephants and airborne birds in scenes resembling the opening sequence of "The Lion King." Now we know where Disney got the idea.

The people in the airplane, Tanya and Karl, are coming to join a ground exhibition which is trapping animals for zoos, under the direction of chief hunter Paul Weir.

Tanya Rawlins is the huntress of the title. A more modern Burroughs fan, upon hearing the word "huntress," would no doubt think of the Frank Frazetta painting of that name which graced Ace paperback editions of both "Savage Pellucidar" and "Cave Girl." But this huntress is more straight-laced, black hair in a tight bun and traditional safari clothing.

Meanwhile, Boy takes his bow and arrow and draws down on a large bird, earning a rebuke from Tarzan: "Boy never kill for fun, only for food." But Boy only planned to shoot the piece of fruit the bird was pecking at, which he does.

Tarzan then tells Jane "Jungle much more peaceful before woman come" and gets wrestled and tossed in the water for his words. Climbing out of the water, he laughs and tells Jane, "Tarzan take back everything he say." They kiss as Cheeta covers his eyes.

The white hunters are griped that King Farrod will allow them to take only two of each animal. "You can't argue with King Farrod. He just smiles and politely says no."

The huntress believes she will be able to charm the king into allowing more, but we veteran film watchers know better.

The hunters have a better plan. They're in cahoots with Prince Ozira, Farrod's nephew. "My uncle's a fool," he says. "the more he softens the people with charity, the more they will expect."

In the king's village, Tanya offers to let Jane use her compact, but Tarzan says "Jane never fight with Tarzan; don't need war paint."

Soon the Tarzan family is cruising lazily home on their elaborate raft. It occurs to us that if movie merchandising had been then what it is now that the raft would have been one of the tie-in toys we could have gotten from Toys R Us (if there had been a Toys R Us).

Ozira offers to help the hunters get more animals for "a small bounty." Ozira arranges a false alarm about killer lions and in the confusion the King is "accidentally" shot dead...in the back to boot!

King Farrod's son, Prince Suli, suspects the plot and, for his trouble, is thrown off a cliff by Ozira. He lands unconscious on a wide spot half way down but everyone thinks he has fallen into a pool wriggling with crocodiles. "It's horrible! Horrible!" someone says, but hunter Paul cold-bloodedly adds, "...but lucky for us all the same."

Oily Ozira, now the king, smugly promises: "I shall lead my subjects wisely and with compassion, just as my beloved uncle did."

Boy, tempted by the offer of a flashlight, kidnaps two lion cubs and trades them to the hunters for the device, which is promptly stolen by Cheeta. Tarzan learns what happened after Cheeta draws his attention by waving the flashlight around in the dark. "Where boy get flashlight?" he asks, darkly, and if Johnny Weissmuller were your parent and asked you a question with that look in his eye, you'd 'fess up too!

Tarzan goes to the hunters' camp and demands the lions back. "Let 'im take 'em. There are enough animals for us on this side of the river," says Weir. He suggests that Tarzan go home, and stay there. Tarzan replies: "Tarzan stay on HIS side of river. Hunters stay on theirs."

What's this? The Lord of the Jungle backing down? No, Tarzan has a plan. He simply goes back to his side of the river, climbs a tree, and begins shouting out the famous Weissmuller yell, summoning all the animals to cross the river over to his side. We know of course that Tarzan can speak the language of all jungle animals because it tells us so in "Tarzan of the Apes." We didn't know until now that the animals obey Tarzan when they hear him.

The animals hear and respond. Elephants and hippos rumble. Gazelles leap. Water buffalo get in the water. Warthogs swim. Soon, the river is loaded with swimming animals in a wonderful scene comparable only to films of Navy landing craft coming toward shore in the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

One of the hunters whose job in the film is comic relief watches and remarks, "I don't know about him understanding the language of animals, but the blinkin' animals sure understand HIM!"

In this film, Tarzan is always the friend and protector of animals. He kills only the bad humans. Besides returning the lion cubs to their mother and calling all the animals across the river, he also speaks up for animals. Some of the newspaper ads for the film showed Tarzan killing a lion, but it never happens in the movie. Just once, when a panther is menacing someone, Tarzan draws his knife and makes a menacing gesture with a snarl on his face. That was enough for the panther, which took off in the opposite direction.

Tarzan, Jane and Boy go for a synchronized swim which, while nicely choreographed, probably wouldn't have won an Olympic medal. Then Cheeta swipes the large toy airplane Boy has made and goes hang-gliding through the jungle until he crashes. Boy sends Cheeta for more bamboo.

It is at this point that we learn that Tarzan apparently spent a lot of time in the jungle learning ape language for nothing. Because, it is obvious that chimpanzees, at least, understand English. Not only does Cheeta go looking for more bamboo, but he ends up at the hunter's camp, where he understands their English as well! After freeing a couple of chimps from cages, Cheeta is spotted hiding behind a rock. "Who opened this cage?" asks Weir. Then, spying Cheeta, says, "Oh, it was you. Now, come out of there. Get in that cage if you know what's good for you. GET IN THE CAGE! Now, let's see you get yourSELF out of it!" Cheeta does all he's told.

But, when night fell, Cheeta escapes from his cage.

Next we see Tarzan, Jane and Boy standing together in the dark, and this time Tarzan looks like he's not fooling around with those hunters anymore, not as if he ever was. They've really ticked the ape-man by crossing the river, and he's going to make them pay.

"I'm sorry for what I did. I want to do something too, something that will really prove it," offers Boy.

"Now Boy talk like man," Tarzan says.

"Tarzan, be careful," warns Jane.

"Jane not worry," Tarzan tells her.

One concern sometimes exprressed by fans is that increasing popularity of Tarzan may cause problems with certain ethnic groups when they find out some of the things Burroughs said about them in those old Tarzan books. This movie, however, demonstrates that Burroughs fans have a great line of defense by pointing out that the old Tarzan movies, if not the books, are "politically correct" because, in them, Tarzan speaks "ebonics," or, in his case, "Apebonics." Since ebonics is now being said by some educators in this country to be the natural, cultural language of Africa, the old Tarzan movies can be said to have honored this language by having Tarzan speak it. Ebonics tends to leave some words out of sentences and allows many sentences to be spoken in the present tense, no matter what the true tense is. Apebonics is similar. Tarzan says things like: "Where boy get flashlight" and "Jane not worry." And, in one of the more earthy moments in the film, Tarz an descends to the ultimate level of certain ethnic street language in America, when he says of his error-prone chimp, "Cheeta bad mother."

You'll want to remember these examples for defending Tarzan the next time the PC police come to question you.

Tarzan and Boy steathily enter the hunters' camp, conk some guards and steal all the guns, hiding them in a cave behind a nearby waterfall.

Then, just for fun, apparently, they toss some bullets into the fire to wake everyone up. Weir sends two men to the village for more guns, even though they're afraid to go through the jungle at night without weapons. Shortly, a blood curdling scream is heard as one dies beneath the fangs of a lion. Tanya moans, "We never should have sent those poor wretches out." Ever the pragmatist, Weir replies, "Never mind them. It's our OWN skins we have to worry about now."

Tarzan spends some time rescuing people and animals from various situations while Cheeta sneaks back to the camp to steal Tanya's compact, which he fell in love with earlier in the picture. He's caught and, in yet another demonstration that chimps know English, he's told that he may have the compact in exchange for the guns. So, he leads them to the waterfall but, in her nastiest act of the whole movie, she goes back on her word about the compact. "Take my word for it, darling," she addressed Cheeta. "This compact wouldn't do you a bit of good."

Meanwhihle, one native runner makes it to Ozira and the false king and his henchmen head toward camp. Tarzan has found Prince Suli just in time to rescue him from a threatening python.

A couple of Ozira's men show up and try to take out the kid. Tarzan spears one and throws another out of a tree, then calls the elephants to chase the other natives off.

It's a wild jungle out there as Ozira is killed, Boy and Jane end up in a net trap, and the elephants attack the hunters' camp. Karl is trampled. Zebras escape from elephant-damaged cages, followed quickly by loose lions and panthers, both spotted and black. Villain white hunter Paul falls into a trap where a hungry lion has fallen earlier.

The elephants have accomplished all that Tarzan desired, but they don't know when to quit. They charge straight for Jane and Boy, trapped in the net dangling from a tree. Tarzan simply drops in front of the net and gives a command to the elephants, just like we saw him do in the E.R.B. book, "The Son of Tarzan," and the big beasts stop their charge.

Tanya and the hunter who provides comic relief escape in their airplane, not immediately realizing that Cheeta has come along for the ride.

On the ground below, the natives discover that Prince Suli is alive and are happy to once again have a kind and benevolent king.

At this point, Tanya and companion discover Cheeta. What an opportunity! They came to Africa to trap animals and thought they were leaving empty-handed; but here, one falls right into their lap. But they apparently don't want Cheeta chattering in the seat behind them all the way home, and in the last scene of the movie we see a parachuting chimp gliding down from the heavens. Many Burroughs fans, had they been in that plane, might have made the same gesture, although perhaps they wouldn't have thought a 'chute necessary.

Now that we've "watched" the movie together, what do you think? Did you enjoy it?

I did.