Things take a turn for the stupid in Tarzan Escapes. If only I could escape from watching this one. This movie has a serious case of sequel-itis. This occurs when the creators take the same basic story from an earlier film and recycle it with a few small changes.
Rita (Benita Hume) and Eric (William Henry) arrive in Africa to find their cousin Jane and take her back to civilization. They join forces with a cad named Captain Fry (John Buckler) who leads them on the quest.
Fry has an ulterior motive of course, he wants to capture Tarzan and use him as some kind of attractions in London. It's all very vague, and of course Fry completely underestimates our hero.
Once Jane meets up with her cousins she decides to go back with them to help clear up an inheritance issue. She explains it to Tarzan in what is actually the best scene in the movie. Then heads off. Then Fry springs his trap, or tries to. But it all goes horribly wrong. The final chase involves men being torn apart by trees, a stampede of elephants, a journey into dark caves and carnivorous iguanas dressed up to look like… um something really odd.
- The tree house is pretty cool
- Jane and Tarzan share some great scenes together
- The iguana monsters are hilarious
- The story is a stale rehash
- Goes overboard with the reuse of stock footage
- The comic relief is painful
If you choose to ignore one Tarzan movie, pick this one. Aside from a few nice moments between Jane and Tarzan this movie is dull and lifeless.
Scores (out of 5)
In Depth Review
The huge, huge problem with Tarzan Escapes is that it is so familiar. The cousins take the place of Harry from the Tarzan and his Mate. But these two are not likable at all, and come across as a couple of pompous gits. You don't care if lions do eat them. Fry takes the character of Martin from previous movie and makes him more devious and mustache twirling. But all his plotting and conniving doesn’t do anything to add any tension to the paper-thin plot. When he gets taken out of the iguana monsters in the finale, you are too busy laughing at his silly demise to cheer.
Then there's Rawlins (Herbert Mundin) this movie's Jar Jar Binks. He's a cockney idiot that does prat falls, makes stupid observations and faints at the drop of a hat. He's supposed to be endearing but I spent the whole movie wishing for Tarzan to break his spine. Luckily he does get killed, and that helps the movie immensely.
Also contributing to the familiar feel of the film is the reuse of footage from the earlier movies. It almost feels like the script was written around the footage, and probably typed out in a couple days to boot. All the big set pieces you've seen before. What is bizarre is how they try to cram footage from Tarzan the Ape Man, which was using a very different camera (one closer to what you see in silent films). It and the very theatrical makeup on Tarzan stand out so much it's comical.
I know back when these films were released, years had passed, and unless the theater near you was rerunning them, you weren’t apt to remember too clearly how much of this movie was made up of older films. But watching them in close proximity it becomes painfully obvious that only 40% of the film is new.
But there are a few bright spots. O'Sullivan and Weissmuller have some very good scenes together; especially as Jane struggles to tell Tarzan she is leaving. These two understand the characters and we see that spark that made their relationship in the first two films so appealing.
But by this time the Hays Code as in full force, and all the steamy interplay between Jane and Tarzan was toned way down. Just look at the outfit Jane is wearing in this compared to the one form Tarzan and His Mate. The actors are still able to convey a youthful romance that carries their scenes, and MGM was probably thankful to have such solid leads at the heart of the film.
I also enjoyed the silly tree house that they lived in. Swiss Family Robinson eat your heart out. This has a working elevator powered by an elephant, running water, powered by Tarzan, and a ceiling fan powered by Cheetah. Yeah it looks like Ewok Village 2000, but it is a fun concept.
As for the action and adventure, so much of it is old footage there isn’t much to get excited about. The big set piece now revolves around Tarzan captured in a steel cage and thrown off a cliff. The movie then spends nearly ten minutes showing us Cheetah running around (and shrieking naturally) gathering animal friends to help. Then the elephants come and with plenty of shouting, shrieking and grunting, Tarzan finally in the most painfully slow way possible escapes. Whatever momentum the film may have had at that point is pretty much killed.
To come down so hard after the epic jungle adventure of Tarzan and his Mate was a real disappointment. Of the eight Tarzan adventures I viewed this was by far the worst. So I recommend that you leave this one trapped in the steel cage and hope it never escapes again.Read about the other lessons I learned from Tarzan the Ape Man at my review of the first collection of the films over at DVD Verdict.