Friday, May 11, 2012

Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941)

What happens when you combine gold fever with a Tarzan movie? Well you get pretty much the same stuff that happens in all the other Tarzan movies. But hey, you get to hear Tarzan say “nugget” and that’s pretty darn funny.

While splashing around in the pool with a baby elephant, Boy (Johnny Sheffield) finds a gold nugget or twelve. He shows them to Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) and she tells Boy of the wonders of civilization. Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) is not impressed by the tales and tries to impress on Boy how awesome the jungle is. But you know how kids are.

Quicker than you can say Cheetah, Boy runs off to see civilization. He gets captured by some vicious natives, but is rescued at the last minute by a safari lead by Professor Elliot (Reginald Owen). Elliot is on an expedition to find a lost tribe. Since he doesn’t have a pencil thin mustache, we know he’s a good guy. But Medford (Tom Conway) does have a pencil thin mustache. One look at the nugget Boy has on him and he wants gold, Gold, GOLD! From there you know how it goes. White men do stupid things and Tarzan is forced to kick butt with his jungle friends. It all ends with Tarzan inventing the sport of canoe tipping.

Good Points:
  • The comic relief character is less annoying than you’d think
  • The jungle family still has great chemistry
  • The finale on the river was a nice change of pace and pretty exciting

Bad Points:
  • The plot points are so obvious by now, it makes the movie dull
  • The drunken antics of Cheetah and the comic relief character are terribly unfunny
  • Treatment of any person of color and animals are suspect (as usual)

This is pretty much a mediocre Tarzan movie from start to finish. It’s got some entertaining moments, but the formula is really wearing thin. What saves it is the chemistry of the jungle family. These actors work so well together that you just like them and want to hang out with them. Superior to Tarzan Escapes but I’d rather watch Tarzan Finds a Son again.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 2
Total:  3

In Depth Review
Here we are at the fifth Weissmuller and O’Sullivan Tarzan film and it feels like the gas is finally funning out of the concept. Adding Boy brought a bit of life to the formula stories, but here many of the elements that turned Tarzan Escapes into a snore-fest rear their ugly heads.

We have another comic relief character. This time he’s an Irishman named o’Doul who likes his booze. He has plenty of homespun wisdom to dole out, he makes some pratfalls and Tarzan takes a shine to him. But what makes him less annoying that the Jar Jar-esque moron of Escapes is that he has less screen time and that he’s less of an idiot. He comes to Tarzan’s aid late in the film and while he does end up palling around with Cheetah in the finale, at least I wasn’t chanting for him to die.

It was also funny to see Reginald Owen as a professor in a pith helmet. I’m so used to seeing him as Ebenezer Scrooge from the 30’s version of A Christmas Carol that it hard to see him as anything else. But he also played Sherlock Holms in A Study in Scarlet so I guess he can be the professor. True to form, any older gent in these movies must realize that the jungle family is wonderful. And then they are killed by the cad.

As far as cads go, Tom Conway is one of the lesser ones. He’s not as vicious as the one from Escapes. He even wusses out when he gets caught by the angry natives. But still the gold fever gets him and all he can think of is “it’s mine, Mine, MINE!” Also per the norm, he gets eaten by a jungle beasty.

The re-use of older Tarzan movie footage pops up again. It only takes up about 13% of the film, so you can tolerate it. But I started to panic when I saw the same footage used in Tarzan and his Mate show up for the umpteenth time.

But if you come for the family fun with our jungle pals, than you’ll enjoy the film. Weissmuller, O’Sullivan and Sheffield build on the relationships they established in Finds a Son and really make you feel like they are a family. Even the antics with the baby elephant and the ever-laughing Cheetah (that’s still creepy to me) make for some entertainment.

But the action-adventure kicks into high gear for the finale. Boy, Jane and the remaining members of the safari are transported down a river to their doom viea a canoe convoy. Tarzan springs into action, diving under the water and tipping the canoes over. He battles the natives under the water, dodges spears and watches as crocodiles make quick work of the villains. Of course one crocodile has to have a taste for Tarzan and his family, so we get to see re-used footage of his crocodile battle form And his Mate. But after that, Tarzan summons his elephant friends and it turns into a free for all. This is probably the most impressive climax since the no hold barred battle of And his Mate and is worth seeking out for that alone.

All in all, not a bad movie. Still family adventure all the way, with the sex not even appearing. But I know why the producers decided a change of venue was needed for the next Tarzan adventure.

Read about the other lessons I learned from Tarzan’s Secret Treasure at my review of the second collection of films over at DVD Verdict.


  1. An interesting movie, to say the least. Good review.

  2. The ones with Maureen are escapist fun, but they definitely peaked with Tarzan and His Mate(1934).

  3. There is one more Maureen movie to review, and they did something extra special with that one to make it stand out. Once she moved on, the movies become... well, you'll have to wait and see. Thanks for the comments gents!

  4. The ones with Maureen are escapist fun, but they definitely peaked with Tarzan and His Mate(1934)

    1. Agreed. That had just about everything you wanted in a Tarzan movie, and Jane was still an interesting character. Thanks for the comment!