Tarzan, the Ape Man
Reviewed by Reed Hubbard
Rating: 10 Beans
That’s the first word that came to my mind upon viewing John Derek’s miserable retelling of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ legend of Tarzan. As I sit to pen a review of such a dreadful film, I can’t get the word out of my mind. If someone could defecate celluloid, this is what he would see upon threading it through a projector.
“Tarzan, the Ape Man.” Excrement.
In the late 70s, Bo Derek broke onto the public scene in a Blake Edwards movie called “10.” She then became a prime example of a very rare and strange phenomenon: celebrity based upon one’s person. In other words, Bo Derek was and is famous for being Bo Derek, period. Whenever the spotlight hits Bo, it’s not because she is a talented actress or an outspoken activist or even an interesting person. It’s merely because she’s Bo. She is attractive, even in her 40s, but not so much more so than any other 500 actresses in Hollywood. She has posed for Playboy, but so have others. So why, after only a handful of films, all of which are awful, is she still famous? No one knows, but she is, and she and her husband were shrewd enough to cash in on it in any way possible throughout the 80s and early 90s. “Tarzan, the Ape Man” was one of those ways.
Directed and photographed by John Derek, “Tarzan, the Ape Man” is notable for two reasons. It is the only Tarzan movie to focus almost exclusively on Jane, and it is the only one in which Tarzan does not make a freaking noise, except for a couple of his signature yells which were dubbed in from some old Johnny Weissmuller pictures. Miles O’Keeffe, in his debut role, plays Tarzan, and he is there merely to accentuate Bo. I think the Screen Actors Guild has a rule that a non-member can speak no more than five lines in a motion picture, so maybe Miles didn’t have his union card, but for whatever reason, he’s a mute. Not that it matters much, despite his being the title character; he’s in the movie maybe 20 minutes. The rest of the time, it’s Bo.
Bo, of course, is Jane Parker. She has come to Africa, bringing all of her white clothes and none of her undergarments, to find her father. Her father is played by an overtly hammy Richard Harris. He was cast to lend this film a smidgen of credibility, but he screams and prances and preens and smirks like the primadonna that he is, so much so that the mere sight of him is an annoyance. But back to Jane, for she is the star and she shows us her character’s chief purpose immediately as she falls into the river in her white dress. Ten minutes into the film and Bo’s already shown her tits. Don’t worry, there’s more where that came from. John Derek knew that 98% of his audience would be horny men who hadn’t gotten enough of Bo in her Playboy spread, so he gave his wife ample opportunity to display her endowments.
So what’s the story, you ask? Parker is looking for the elephant’s graveyard, but along the way he must contend with a huge rock and a legendary white ape who is 100 feet tall (Not really! Tarzan’s just over six feet.) Well, he and his party conquer the rock with the aid of a cannon (it shoots a rope high enough for them to climb) and then they find the inland sea, a major landmark on the way to the graveyard. Once they get there, Jane announces she wants to take a bath. This is a subtle hint that some more nudity is coming up. Sure enough, there’s a naked Bo frolicking in the surf when a lion shows up, followed by Tarzan Marceau, the great mute ape. Parker runs up firing a gun, scaring Tarzan away and saving his daughter, but Tarzan’s got a case of jungle fever, and it’s not long before he kidnaps Jane.
I don’t know why I am continuing to sketch a plot line, because this whole damn movie is a set up to see how many times Bo can shake her coconuts into the camera. Whatever thin plot there is makes for outlandishly funny scenes whenever the filmmaker tries to turn a serious side. The biggest laugh comes when Jane, during a weird soliloquy, confesses she’s still a virgin, then eats a banana! HA HA HA HA! She also tries to play the coquette when she’s hovering over a passed out Tarzan. “I’ve never touched a man before!” she exclaims, girlish grin on her face, as she works her fingers down the ape-man’s rippled stomach and to his loincloth. “You’re more beautiful than any girl I know!” she tells the comatose lord of the jungle.
But the best is yet to come, as everyone is captured by a bunch of painted oogaboogas who rule the graveyard. The natives strip Jane down, get her on all fours, bathe her, and paint her white. All the while she’s saying things like, “They’re painting my hair! Be a good daddy! Tell me a story and make them go away!” Is it any wonder this is screenwriter Gary Goodard’s only credit?
John Derek may not be a great director, but he’s a downright incompetent cinematographer. In an early tent scene, Harris delivers half his lines with his head obscured by a flapping rug that, for some reason, bifurcates the tent. In another scene, the only light is a notoriously dim flickering candle. Bo and Harris are barely visible in these scenes. Derek shoots the night scenes through such a dark lens that, again, the actors (I can’t believe I’m actually referring to Bo & O’Keeffe as ‘actors!’) are barely visible. But fear not, for Bo and her body are plainly visible in all of her nude scenes, including the final credits which are run over shots of Tarzan, a topless Jane, and an orangutan playing some sort of bizarre wrestling game in the jungle.
But what about action? After all, this is a Tarzan movie, right? No, it’s a Jane movie. Every action shot is in slow motion (I kid you not!), including every vine swing Tarzan does. Tarzan wrestles a snake in slow motion. He and Jane swing on a vine in slow motion. He even fights the Ivory King in what looks like a slo mo WWF sequence, although anything you’ve ever seen on WWF is more believable than this. Don’t even ask about the classic conflict of civilization versus savagery, the crux of the Tarzan legend. While any serious Tarzan movie has centered on this struggle, “Tarzan, the Ape Man” forgoes it altogether. We have no idea where Tarzan is from, why he is here, or what made him what he is. If you want to know about these things rent “Greystoke.” This Tarzan exists solely to squeeze Jane’s knockers and show off his pecs.
This is a bomb. I’ll say it again – this is a bomb. If you want to see Bo naked, rent this and fast forward to the final credits. You’ll see Bo’s rack and won’t have to suffer through a wretched film. If I can say just one thing about this film, it is stay away! Or perhaps I can sum up my feeling about “Tarzan, the Ape Man” in one word.
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