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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Tarzan the Ape Man"

In Hit Me With Your Best Shot, we look at a predetermined movie, and choose what we think of as its best shot. We're taking a break next week (change of plans) but please consider joining us on Wednesday, June 1st for Moulin Rouge! You have two whole weeks to pick a shot. That'll be a theme week right here at the blog "Spectacular! Spectacular!" 10th anniversary (5/30-6/03).

This week's film is TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932) which kicked off the most popular stretch of this enduring franchise. (You know some reboot has to be just around the corner). In this particular outing that famous jungle swinger (Johnny Weismuller) sweeps sexy Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan Centennial!) right off her feet and into the air (and water) until she's flat on her back in his tree house. I'm speaking literally. Jane is kind of a slut.

I mean that in the nicest way. She Jane! Respect must be paid.

But even Jane's own father is all-too aware of her sexual allure. In what has to be one of the weirdest introductory father/daughter scenes in film history, she changes in front of him and when he tries to look away, she scolds him with multiple flirtatious "darlings".

You don't often hear about Tarzan in discussions of "Pre-Code" movies, which technically applies to most movies prior to 1934, because that designation is usually reserved for contemporary (for the time) crime dramas, and romantic dramas/comedies. But watching Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) again, it's abundantly clear that it had sex on the brain and just off the screen. But when I was a little boy, this all flew over my head. In the 70s before VHS or DVD and CABLE you had three options for visual entertainment in your home (ABC, NBC, and CBS) and if you were fascinated by wild animals (as many little boys and girls are) chances are you loved watching old Tarzan movies on the telly. So if you had asked me when I was 4 or 5, this might have been my "best shot".

Tarzan has been injured in a lion brawl but he's real tight with the elephants. One 'phant picks him up like it's the mama cat and he's the wee kitty. I still absolutely love this shot. It's brief, animalistic and surreal. Which is when Tarzan movies work best.

But this time through all I could see -- whilst trying to look away from all of the racism -- was how hot Tarzan and Jane were for each other. Initially it's one of those old school heternormative Beauty & The Beast things with uncomfortable shades of rapey Stockholm Syndrome = Love issues sprouting up everywhere (lots of screaming and coercing but mutual attraction... you know how it goes "no" really meaning "yes"). But after Jane nurses Tarzan back to health they go swimming and she starts putting the moves on him.

Jane: (Thinking of the civilized world) Women are such fools. They'd spoil you. I don't think you'd better look at me like that -- you're far too attractive. I love saying things to a man who cant understand, who doesn't even know what kisses are.

Tarzan may not not technically know what "kisses" are but it's pretty clear that he knows exactly what to do with Jane, or he'll figure it out quick.

Best Shot
In an unbroken shot --- god bless editors who know when to back off -- he yanks Jane to her feet after investigating her foot (Tarantino would approve) and then picks her up. She stares at him "Oh Tarzan, please..." but she doesn't finish the sentence. He glances up to his tree house. (We don't see it, no cutaway) and she buries her face against his shoulder, in total submission. He begins the walk up to the tree and we fade out on this image.

You have to see it in motion to understand how hot it is. For once Jane shuts up, there's no music swelling just bird and maybe chimp sounds.

The morning after shots drive their jungle fever home. Look how happy and relaxed she is.

Jane: Tarzan, what am i doing here alone with you? Guess i'd better not think too much about that. Just be here, be happy. And I am happy, not a bit afraid, not a bit sorry. What are we going to do about us?

Tarzan: Us?

Jane: You and I?

Tarzan: Tarzan Jane. Hurt me boy love it Jane.

Jane: Darling, that's quite a sentence!

Tarzan's already good with his tongue.

Cinephile Swingers
I knew this one would be a hard sell so there's fewer entries, but I felt like going to the jungle.

Tarzan has never been popular with the Academy with only the 80s prestige retelling Greystoke (1984) making a dent. But Tarzan the Ape Man was a significant box office hit, spawning 5 more films with the Weismuller/Sullivan Tarzan/Jane pairing. Weismuller stayed with the character for six more movies after O'Sullivan left the series.


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Reader Comments (8)

I'm not even sure of what the definition of slut is - regret, shame or just not virginal - but O'Sullivan's Jane doesn't give a crap whether she's on her slip, etc.

While watching the movie, I keep thinking about how she's the only one doing the talking in the relationship, and the quote under your shot and...she likes doing the talking? I suppose she likes other ways of interaction too.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

paolo -- i don't know what slut is either. it's one of those words like "bitch" that can mean anything now. but i mean it in the you go girl slut pride kind of way ;)

but she's definitely not a virgin and she goes to bed with him the day she meets him essentially.-- it's interesting that this was the first sound feature for tarzan and yet there's absolutely zero in the way of an origin story. Jane is the only one being introduced really. Tarzan is already there. no explanation required.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I remember those days when their were "only three options" (five counting local Channel 50 in Detroit and PBS). I wasn't in love with the Tarzan films as you were Nat; I remember them very vaguely. I really had no idea of the sexuality in those films, at least the early ones. (I'm sure the post-1934 films had to tone everything down - I recall reading something about Jane having to be given a more "conservative" costume.) I wonder how much of that was the content being "over my head" and how much of that was several years worth of lousy editing for TV.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Sad to hear about the "change of plans", (I'd say this would be a point to do Performance), but I get that Star Wars is just so...overplayed. And not really a "beautiful shots" kind of movie, either.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Forget Jane's more conservative costume. Post-Code Tarzan's little loincloth gained some fabric especially on the sides.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEsther Blodgett

She was a total slut indeed! But I say power to her. Maybe her strong libido had gotten her kicked out of England?

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJose

Esther: Speaking of which, there's a shot of Tarzan where he might as well be naked, but not in the erotic sense. This was after two lions wrestled the eff out of him and he's almost lifeless. By the way, great name. If/when Reader of the Day comes back, I take dibs on you being the first one featured.

Also, I was in one of those hipster movie theatres where they play a million old trailers before a post-1979 classic. Star Wars was one of the trailers. The film was so old it was red and the trailer made Star Wars look like a terrible movie. I have too much on my plate this week, with an LGBT Film fest here, but I wish Star Wars best shot was still on.

May 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

I don't mind Star Wars not being featured - isn't it a bit overplayed? I guess I prefer this series when it covers films that I haven't seen, oddly enough (although of course I'll make an exception for my beloved MR) in part because it encourages me to discover films I might not have otherwise. (And this particular lesbian is loving the top picture here btw. Oh Maureen....such loveliness. Do today's actresses - yes, I'm looking at you, Nicole - not realize that "emaciated" is not an attractive look, and certainly not "sexy"?)

May 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice
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