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Over the years, there have been a lot of actors who have portrayed Edgar Rice Burroughs’s legendary character, but as someone who grew up watching old movies on television, I would have to say Johnny Weissmuller was the best-known and best-loved Tarzan. In the period between 1932 and 1942 MGM Studios made a series of six Tarzan movies, before selling the series to RKO, where Olympic Gold Medal winning swimmer Johnny Weissmuller made an additional six Tarzan films. For any old time movie buff that hasn’t seen these enjoyable escapist movies in quite some time, I am happy to report that the six MGM Tarzan movies have been released in a four disc set aptly titled THE TARZAN COLLECTION ($60).

Featuring TARZAN THE APE MAN, TARZAN AND HIS MATE, TARZAN ESCAPES, TARZAN FINDS A SON, TARZAN'S SECRET TREASURE and TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE, THE TARZAN COLLECTION features more old-fashioned entertainment value than you can swing a jungle vine at. TARZAN THE APE MAN finds Jane Parker (Maureen O'Sullivan) arriving in Africa to join her father James (C. Aubrey Smith) on an expedition to find the Elephant’s Graveyard and the wealth of ivory that it contains. Along the way, Tarzan whisks off Jane to the treetops, where a primitive version of romance ensues. Eventually, Tarzan returns Jane to her father and civilized suitor Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton). However, after Tarzan rescues her from a savage tribe of Pygmies, Jane decides that a less civilized suitor is the man the best man to have around in the jungle.

TARZAN AND HIS MATE is a better movie than its predecessor, plus this DVD features the uncut version of the motion picture, including the notorious nude swimming scene intended for the film’s pre-code distribution. With a bit more action adventure and violence than the first film, TARZAN AND HIS MATE finds Harry Holt returning to the jungle to tempt Jane away from Tarzan and to continue his search for ivory. TARZAN ESCAPES sees Jane once more tempted back to civilization, this time, to claim a rather rich inheritance. While Jane contemplates returning home, Tarzan is captured with the intention of putting him on display as some sort of circus wild man. You could say that the title sums up the plot of TARZAN FINDS A SON, as Tarzan and Jane adopt an in infant boy that survives a plane crash in the jungle. Of course, the child named "Boy" (Johnny Sheffield) turns out to be the heir to a fortune in England, as we learn from relatives that come in search of him several years down the line.

TARZAN'S SECRET TREASURE features appearances by Barry Fitzgerald, Reginald Owen and Tom Conway in this story of an expedition that goes in search of a lost tribe, but then becomes infected with greed (not to mention plague) when they learn of the existence of a legendary treasure of gold. With Tarzan knowing the location of the secret treasure, it should come as no surprise that Jane and Boy become the bargaining chips that the bad guys use to force The Ape Man to reveal the whereabouts of the gold. TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE is something of a novelty in the film series, as it transplants Tarzan, Jane and Boy to the concrete jungle. The plot finds Boy kidnapped by an unscrupulous circus owner (Charles Bickford), who plans on using him as a sideshow attraction. As expected, Tarzan and Jane are in hot pursuit, which leads Tarzan to test the law of the jungle against the law of New York.

Warner Home Video has made all six films that comprise THE TARZAN COLLECTION available on DVD in the proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratios of their original theatrical presentations. Considering that these six black and white films were produced over a decade between 1932 and 1942, it should come as no surprise that there is some variation in presentation from film to film. Accordingly, the newer Tarzan films tend to look better than the older movies in the series. The earliest films display a heavier grain structure than the newer films, as well as more signs of age and wear, all of which seems to decrease to some degree, as the series progresses. There is some variations in the black levels and grayscale, but it is never a distraction. The use of stock footage and some rather obvious rear screen projection also detracts from the visual quality of the Tarzan films, but those are the limitations of film production special effects during that bygone era. Sharpness and image detail is respectable, albeit a tiny bit soft for TARZAN THE APE MAN, but it certainly firms up for the subsequent outings. Overall, these films look pretty darn good- certainly better here than they have in past video incarnations, but all could benefit from a bit of restorative work. Digital compression artifacts are never a cause for concern, even with two features encoded onto the side of a disc.

Despite age, all six films in THE TARZAN COLLECTION come with perfectly acceptable Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks. Sure, there is some hiss here and there (especially on the older films), but it generally isn’t too bad, nor is the occasional bits of distortion that can creep up. Fidelity is decidedly limited, although the music never sounds harsh or shrill. Sound effects come across well enough and certainly never become laughable. Dialogue is fairly crisp sounding across the set, and intelligibility is relatively good. French language tracks are provided for most of the films, while each film includes English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard film/scene selection and set up features, as well as the extra features contained on the fourth disc of this set. Starting things off is the eighty-minute documentary Tarzan: Silver Screen King Of The Jungle. Hosted by film historian Rudy Behlmer, the program follows the character from his literary origins through the six films produced by MGM Studios, and features new and vintage interview clips with Maureen O'Sullivan, Johnny Weissmuller, Jr., Weissmuller biographer Geoff St. Andrews, Edgar Rice Burroughs historian Scott Tracy Griffin and Turner Classic Movies own Robert Osborne. Next, we have the ten-minute featurette, MGM On Location: Johnny Weissmuller that goes behind-the-scenes for the making of TARZAN FINDS A SON. Schnarzan The Conqueror is a quick trailer spoof of the Tarzan movie series featuring Jimmy Durante. Rodeo Dough is an amusing ten-minute short in which Weissmuller appears. Trailers for each of the Tarzan films close out the supplements.

As I stated above, THE TARZAN COLLECTION is a whole heck of a lot of old time movie fun. Warner has done a fine job with the movies themselves, providing fans with better looking presentations than they have likely seen in decades. If you are a movie buff or a Tarzan fan, you are going to want to add THE TARZAN COLLECTION to you personal DVD library. Recommended.



The Tarzan Collection Starring Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan the Ape Man / Escapes / and His Mate / Finds a Son / Secret Treasure / New York Adventure)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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