Plot: What’s it about?
The story of Tarzan has been told in countless motion pictures, covering numerous genres and nations of origin. Aside from Disney’s animated version and a few of the more minor renditions, Tarzan has been ignored on DVD. But Warner has ended that trend with a chain of Tarzan discs, the crown jewel of which is this superb four disc collection. The Tarzan Collection houses all six classic MGM produced films with Tarzan, plus a nice selection of extras. These films were produced in the 30s and 40s, all with leads Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan on deck, so there is a good sense of consistence between the pictures. Weissmuller was a famous athlete and movie star, so he has the physical presence needed for Tarzan, while O’Sullivan has the good looks and screen presence to hold her own. These movies are solid across the board, with one lackluster entry and a couple of simply terrific ones. Warner’s collection slaps two movies on each disc, then tosses in a fourth disc with bonus materials. I had a lot of fun with this release and with a reasonable price, The Tarzan Collection is recommended.
1. Tarzan the Ape Man- Lord John Greystoke (Johnny Weissmuller) was destined to be a powerful man, until fate decided to alter the course of his life. As a young child, he was orphaned in a horrific plane crash. The boy survived the crash, but found himself alone and scared in a dangerous, mysterious jungle atmosphere. He was soon taken in by a gorilla, who raised him as part of their own family, as odd as that sounds. Now the boy has grown into a man and is known as Tarzan, the king of the jungle. When a beautiful woman named Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) ventures into the jungle with an expedition, Tarzan kidnaps her within seconds. She is resistant to him at first, but soon finds herself charmed by his looks and savage nature. But if she must choose between the jungle and the urban lifestyles, how will she decide?
2. Tarzan and His Mate- Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) is headed back to the jungle, in an effort to win back his former love Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan). His intentions for her aside, he also wishes to bring back some ivory, to sell to wealthy clients. Also on the trek is Martin Arlington (Paul Cavanagh), who loves to womanize and be a real man’s man. Holt ventures deep in the jungle, where he finds Jane is still living with Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller). When he shows her the latest fashions and perfumes, she is dazzled, but refuses to return with him. Then Tarzan stands in the way of the ivory expedition, which enrages Arlington to no end. To ensure the expedition is a success, he guns down Tarzan and leaves him for dead. Has Tarzan been killed by this sadistic man, or will he somehow return to save Jane and the jungle’s residents?
3. Tarzan Escapes- Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) has been in the jungle for some time, but the life she used to know continues on without her. In fact, she stands to inherit a large sum of money, a million pounds to be exact, if the situation levels off. Her cousins Rita (Benita Hume) and Eric (William Henry) travel to the jungle to inform her of the potential inheritance, though their intentions are by no means selfless. The cousins also stand to profit from the windfall, but without Jane’s help, the money will be dispersed in other venues. At the same time, Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) finds himself distant from Jane, which causes him mental anguish. He is soon captured by Captain Fry (John Buckler), who wants to cage up the jungle man and display him to crowds, as if he were some kind of freak of nature. Now Tarzan must sort out his own emotions over Jane and escape from his confines, but can even he manage those feats?
4. Tarzan Finds a Son- Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) was orphaned in a plane crash and would have died himself, if not for the jungle’s animals. So when a plane crashes and leaves a small boy alone, Tarzan takes him in himself. He and Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) raise the child as if he were their own, with immense care and dedication. When the boy turns five, he has turned into a strong, adventurous young person, at home within the jungle. Of course, he faces dangers and unknown situations, but he does well in most instances. Soon however, a search party combs the jungle for the child, who happens to be an heir to millions of dollars. Will the boy’s wonderful life be shattered over money, or will Tarzan be able to keep his beloved son?
5. Tarzan’s Secret Treasure- An expedition searches the jungles for a lost tribe, but discover a legend that could be priceless. The men are told about a mountainside rich in gold, though the exact location is unknown. But the location of the gold is known to one man, though Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) has no plans to share that information. Professor Elliott (Reginald Owen) leads the expedition, while his cohorts Medford (Tom Conway), Vandermeer (Philip Dorn), and O’Doul (Barry Fitzgerald) provide supporting roles. When Tarzan refuses to reveal the gold’s location, the men decide to take drastic action. So they kidnap Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) and the couple’s young son, whom Tarzan has raised. Will Tarzan have to reveal the gold’s source, or can he rescue his loved ones and keep the mountain unharmed?
6. Tarzan’s New York Adventure- Buck Rand (Charles Bickford) runs a popular circus and after a trek into the jungle, he thinks he has found his newest attraction. He has stumbled across a young boy raised in the wilds, to live in this savage land, not an urban landscape. This entrances Rand to no end, so he kidnaps the child and travels to New York. But the boy is the same one raised by Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and his love Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan), which means Rand hasn’t heard the last of the jungle. Jane and Tarzan are able to follow their son to New York, where a battle over who should watch over the boy begins. Tarzan is outraged at the notion of losing his son, so he becomes violent and is locked up. When he stages a daring escape however, can he rescue his son and return to the jungle paradise?
Video: How does it look?
All six films are presented in full frame, as intended. I wasn’t sure what to expect here, as all previous editions I’ve seen have been quite dismal. These new transfers do look better, but the material is in dire need of restoration. But these movies are over sixty years old, so perhaps we shouldn’t be that critical. The prints are worn throughout, though some movies and scenes look better than others. The films remain consistent on the whole, but some sequences do have more wear and tear, to be sure. But don’t be distraught, as the visuals come across well in most instances, at least better than in prior editions. You’ll see some debris, grain, and softness, but considering the age of the material, that is expected. So do the movies look pristine? No, but given the circumstances, I am pleased the treatments look this good.
Audio: How does it sound?
A mono soundtrack is included for each movie and while solid, the mixes sometimes suffer from the limitations of mono, as well as minor age related issues. I heard minimal hiss and distortion here, so age wasn’t too much of a factor with these mixes, but instances of wear & tear are evident. The music is as full as mono allows, while sound effects are clean and well placed also. I had no trouble with the dialogue either, as vocals seemed crisp and at a proper volume balance, never hard to hear or understand. Not a lot else we need here, since all six pictures are driven by dialogue and little else.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The main supplement here is a feature length documentary, which covers all six of the Tarzan films found in this collection. A series of interviews, both recent and archival, makes up most of the duration, while film clips and promotional material fill in the gaps. I am glad that some new interviews were conducted, but on the whole, this was a rather dull piece. No real depth is found in the interviews, which leaves us with a passable, but forgettable supplement. This release also includes a threesome of older short film subjects, all somehow related to the Tarzan franchise, as well as all six films’ theatrical trailers.