Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942)

For the sixth film MGM decided to wrap up the Tarzan series. But they wanted to do something a little different. What follows is the lightest and fluffiest of the Tarzan adventures.

It seems that Boy (Johnny Sheffield) is just around to get the plot rolling. This time he meets up with some men who are collecting lions for their circus in New York. After a series of adventures, in which Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) threatens these guys, the hunters take off in their plane with Boy in tow. They assume Tarzan and Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) are dead. They thought wrong!

Now Tarzan is going to take to the streets. He’s going to find the men who took his son. He’s not going to let the law of the city rule him. He only knows one law – the law of the jungle! Yes sir, Tarzan is going to take out the garbage. Johnny Weissmuller IS Tarzan in “Above the Jungle LAW!”

Sorry, thought I was writing copy for a Steven Segal film. Anyway Tarzan, Jane and Cheetah the chimp head for New York. They get into all kinds of silly adventures. Tarzan tries to wear a suit. Cheetah freaks out some hat girls at night club. And Jane has to explain to Tarzan why you don’t’ take a shower with your clothes on. The movie climaxes with a trial, Tarzan on the run, and stampeding elephants. New York will never be the same.

Good Points:

  • The movie seems to know its ridiculous fun and just goes with it
  • The chemistry with the jungle family is still a joy to watch
  • Tarzan’s romp through the city in the finale was fun
Bad Points:

  • Lots and lots of Cheetah and hi-larious antics in the movie
  • The finale is lacking excitement
  • Animals and people of color are belittled and abused some more
Light and fluffy and going for laughs, this Tarzan movie breezes by. If you enjoy the antics of Cheetah, then you might enjoy it more than I did. Overall it’s not a bad way for MGM to end the series, but it’s not something I will revisit any time soon.

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

In Depth Review
So the final MGM Tarzan film finishes in a similar way Tarzan the Ape Man started – as a fish out of water story. But in Tarzan’s New York Adventure we get to see our hero navigating through the “stone jungle”. Since the series had evolved from rip roaring adventure into family fun, it is no surprise that this movie feels like it was made for young boys to go ape over.

The focus on laughs and silliness means we get less adventure and action. Most of the first act, occurring when the hunters arrive in the jungle is pretty typical. They show up. Tarzan tells them to go away. They refuse. They get into trouble, and Boy helps them. When they see Boy’s skill with the animals they hatch a plan to take him back to New York. But Tarzan isn’t about to let that happen and swings to the rescue with Jane on the same vine.

Then, the unexpected happens, an angry native cuts the vine that Tarzan and Jane are on. Of course it was kinda funny to see the little dolls go plummeting. But then the shock kicked in: in all these movies no one has thought to get the jump on Tarzan that way. Give that native an extra shrunken head in his envelope this year. The natives then ignite the brush around Tarzan and Jane. Thus Boy and the hunters assume our jungle man is a goner.

This is the set up to get Tarzan and Jane to New York to find Boy and take him back home. It also allows us plenty of scenes with Cheetah eating everything in Jane’s makeup case. Yep, most of the humor kicks in at this point as well. It’s pretty simplistic stuff revolving around the chimp doing goofy things. But Tarzan’s reactions to the modern world are pretty great too. Weissmuller provides plenty of great reaction shots when he first sees a taxi, or gets measured for his suit.

For me, the best scenes in Tarzan’s New York Adventure are when he discovers the shower and Jane has to explain its function to him. This must have inspired a similar scene in the old ‘80s flick, Crocodile Dundee. Now that I think about it, this Tarzan movie could have been an outline for the later film. The other classic scene is where Tarzan is put on the witness stand during the custody hearing. Yeah you read that right; Tarzan and his monosyllabic vocabulary are in a trial. Most folks will cheer when Tarzan gets fed up and hoists the lawyer over his head and tosses him.

But rest assured, this is a Tarzan movie, and he will be involved in an action scene or two. Of course without his trusty jungle friends, and trees covered with vines to deal with, Tarzan has to improvise a bit. He climbs buildings, swings across alleyways on telephone wires and pole vaults up a circus tent. Once the baddies know he’s around they do what they can to hold him off, but little do they know that Tarzan is a friend to all animals (kinda like how Gamera is a friend to all children). Once Tarzan arrives at the circus, he uses his patented call to summon the animals to his aid. And since there are Asian elephants pretending to be from Africa around (and since they keep in close touch with their Asian buddies in Africa, they spring to Tarzan’s side and proceed to stampede and rampage around.  All this noise and commotion sends our villains and their car flipping into a ditch. Still not sure how the physics of that worked out.

This movie marks two firsts for the Tarzan films. The main villain does not have a mustache of any kind. Second, the villains do not get eaten by animals of any kind. But the older gent, played by Chill Wills in this case, still gets killed for helping Boy.

Here is what it boils down to. This is the final appearance of the entire jungle family as portrayed the original cast. In that way, Tarzan’s New York Adventure feels more like a fun fill celebration of the whole franchise, than an actual solid story (kind of like Die Another Day in that respect). The humor is dialed way up, and the whole thing seems like a lark. There is a lot of Cheetah in this movie (more than the previous films) and my tolerance was pretty low for the chimp, so keep that in mind. But it was also great to see Weissmuller, O’Sullivan and Sheffield all throw in for one more fun filled romp.

And just because MGM ended the franchise doesn’t mean that Tarzan was going to retire. Nope, Weissmuller returned, with a new Jane, a new studio and a return to the jungle adventure.  


  1. It cries out for an Andrews Sisters sound track, but this was recorded a few years later:

  2. Oh man, that would have been perfect!