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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Pulp Picture Of The Week: Tarzan Triumphs (1943)


The Second World War has come to Tarzan's Africa... and he wants nothing to do with it.

Ever the isolationist, Tarzan just wants to keep Boy safe (Jane is 'away in England' - a plot device to cover Maureen O'Sullivan's absence from the film), even when a detachment of Nazi paratroopers take over the isolated, hidden and resource-rich city-state of Palandrya.

Having advance knowledge of the city's location, the Nazi's parachute in, with the idea of enslaving the locals to make a runway so they can bring aircraft in and use the city as a base for their conquest of Sub Saharan Africa.

Their plan goes slightly awry when their radio operator, Lt. Reinhardt Schmidt (Rex Williams), is separated from the main party, injured and rescued by Tarzan. The Nazi's plane turns to try and rescue him, but is brought down by an unfortunate flamingo-birdstrike!

Schmidt is, of course, totally duplicitous and ends up getting his just desserts, leaving the German's radio at Tarzan's camp.

The gorgeous Zandra (Frances Gifford, from the Edgar Rice Burroughs' Jungle Girl, the Republic serial), a friend of Boy and Tarzan's, escapes from Palandrya to enlist the Jungle Man in her bid to reclaim her city from the Nazi invaders, but - despite her feminine wiles -Tarzan doesn't want anything to do with such foolishness.

Without their radio, the Nazis are trapped in the jungle, so they goose-step over to Tarzan's camp to reclaim it (however, sneaky Cheeta the chimp has swiped an important coil, so it doesn't work anyway) and kidnap Boy instead.

This is the final straw for the Ape Man, who declares: "Now Tarzan make war!"

Tarzan heads off to Palandrya, gets captured - along with Zandra - and has to be rescued (as usual) by Cheeta, before he can lead the repressed natives in a violent uprising to usurp the Nazis.

In a scene presaging Planet Of The Apes, bizarrely Cheeta gets in on the Nazi killing when he grabs a machine gun and mows down the captain.

Possibly the most violent of the old Tarzan films, Tarzan Triumphs even has Boy shooting a Nazi... all in a good cause, of course!

The film wraps up with a scene that makes no sense whatsoever: the radio finally connects to Nazi HQ, but instead of the expedition's leader, Col. Von Reichart (Stanley Ridges), the soldiers in Berlin hear Cheeta chattering away... and believe it is a message from Adolf Hitler!

Totally potty, but no doubt it got a great roar of approval from wartime audiences.

There is no moral ambiguity about Tarzan Triumphs. As explained on Wikipedia this was propaganda, pure and simple:
The U.S. State Department informed Sol Lesser [the producer] that a Tarzan film would be an ideal way to spread the message of democracy's battle against Fascism to the American public. Lesser's first RKO Tarzan film had made the Ape Man a symbol of American isolationism.
The majority of the Nazi forces are out-of-shape and I can't help but wonder if this was a deliberate propaganda jibe as well, or simply a reflection of the availability of extras at this time.

I've also read that by this stage Maureen O'Sullivan had grown tired of playing Jane, but probably the most accurate explanation for her absence was the swift of the Tarzan franchise from MGM to RKO - O'Sullivan was an MGM contract player.

Maybe the lovely Frances Gifford's Zandra was being eyed up as a replacement for Jane, if O'Sullivan wasn't interested, or able, to return to the franchise.

Me Tarzan, Who Jane?

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