Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tarzan Escapes (1936)


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.

Good Points:

  • The tree house is pretty cool
  • Jane and Tarzan share some great scenes together
  • The iguana monsters are hilarious

Bad Points:

  • 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)

Visuals: 2

Sound: 3

Acting: 3

Script: 1

Music: n/a

Direction: 2

Entertainment: 2

Total: 2

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.


  1. The tree house is indeed cool. I want one, but I can imagine what the zoning board would say about that -- and the neighbors at the meeting: "We wouldn't have moved here if we thought people would be allowed to live in trees!" They'd probably have a problem with the elephants, too.

  2. I agree. Not one of the good ones. But you say the script must have been typed out in a couple days. This movie was originally filmed as The Capture of Tarzan and the script was quite differnet from the released Tarzan Escapes. By all accounts, this movie was more intense and frightening for kids. After a preview showing, the studio decided not to release it, so they made huge script changes and re-shot most of the footage and hap-hazardly pieced together a more tame version and released it as Tarzan Escapes.
    To date, none of the original footage has ever been found. Some film historians believe the original version, The Capture of Tarzan would have been, maybe the best Tarzan film ever made.

  3. Wow, thanks for the input into the life of "Tarzan Escapes". That actually explains a lot about it. Sad to know that the test audience re-edit has been around since the '30s. At least the series was able to get back onto a slightly different track in the next film. But it sounds like the studio was already aiming for kids in this film, instead of a more general adventure loving audience.

  4. Sorry I had to be anonymous on that post, but I couldn,t see where my name could be entered.