Movie Review: Tarzan Triumphs (1943)
Tarzan Triumphs (1943)
Director: William Thiele
Cast: Johnny Weissmuller, Frances Gifford, Johnny Sheffield
Synopsis: Tarzan comes to the aid of the princess of a lost civilisation when her tribe is enslaved by Nazis.
From the way that its opening titles are scrolled over an elephant’s wrinkled hide, it’s apparent that Tarzan Triumphs, the first movie in the series produced by RKO after ten years at MGM, is going to be a little screwy, and what follows doesn’t disappoint as we’re treated to the unlikely sight of the loin-clothed ape man taking on the might of the Nazis deep in the African jungle.
Jane is missing from this one – Maureen O’Sullivan was tired of swinging on vines in the arms of swimming champ Johnny Weismuller, for whom this was a seventh outing as Tarzan, and she was an MGM artiste, anyway. Rather than trying to fill the void left by O’Sullivan’s departure, the RKO writers shipped Jane off to London to care for her ailing mother, leaving Tarzan at home to keep house and look after Boy (Johnny Sheffield – The Golden Idol – making no attempt to disguise his broad ‘Gee Whiz’ American accent). He’s not doing such a good job, though, because we find his son hanging precariously from a cliff edge with Zanda (Frances Gifford – Bringing Up Baby, Mr Smith Goes to Washington), the princess of a strangely white tribe, who found herself trapped with the boy after attempting to come to his rescue. Tarzan rescues them both, but it’s pretty clear he’s not too interested in getting acquainted (even though Zanda’s something of a hottie and Jane’s thousands of miles away). He maintains this isolationist stance even after Nazi soldiers parachute into the jungle and enslave Zanda’s people. Only when the Germans kidnap Boy while searching for the radio left by a comrade who was separated from them and nursed by Tarzan and Boy does the King of the Jungle change his mind, declaring with fearsome intensity: “Now Tarzan make war!”
It’s clear that Tarzan is serving as a metaphor for America in Tarzan Triumphs, and apparently some audiences stood and applauded when Weismuller uttered that ferocious declaration of war. Funnily enough, though, the real hero of Tarzan Triumphs is Cheetah, the expressive chimp who always finds himself relegated to the role of comic relief. While Tarzan is glowering over Zanda and Boy’s futile efforts to persuade him to change his isolationist stance, it’s Cheetah who steals a vital component from the radio, thus preventing the Nazis from radioing their location to their masters in Berlin; and when Tarzan is promptly captured after blundering into the German encampment to rescue boy, it’s Cheetah who sneaks in and rescues Tarzan, Zanda and Boy. Of course, it all comes good in the end. After being eaten by cannibal fish and pushed off the edge of a cliff by an elephant, the Nazis come to regret ever venturing into the jungle, and a final reel massacre sees both Boy and Cheetah picking up firearms and enthusiastically getting in on the act. Not quite sure how such incitement to violence of small boys and chimpanzees would be viewed in these more ‘enlightened’ times, but it all makes for a reasonably entertaining watch.
(Reviewed 29th June 2016)