Tarzan & the Trappers (1958) was cobbled together from three pilot episodes for an unsold television series, hence multiply directed by Charles F. Haas & Sandy Howard with cobbling assistance (uncredited) from H. Bruce Humberstone.
Gordon Scott is an attractive muscle-builder Tarzan. Eve Brent as Jane is mostly just Tarzan's cook & keeps the treehouse clean. Rickie Sorensen as Boy has just about as little to do, though slightly more than Jane when he is captured & caged like a wild animal in the villain's bid to control Tarzan.
Scatman Crothers is the noble chieftain Tyana, a substantial role as Tarzan's most trusted friend, a brave good man. His wisewoman is played by Madame Sul-Te-Wan, a wonderful character actress who was Mammy Beulah in Revenge of the Zombies (1943), the high priestess in King of the Zombies (1941), & Carmen's grandmother in Carmen Jones (1954).
The young chimpanzee is credited as Cheetah to give viewers the impression that it's the same chimp as in the Weismuller movies. Cheetah provides the standard monkey antics as comedy relief, becoming additionally one of the captive specimens.
The character array attempts to recapture some of the glamor of the Weismuller Tarzan family of Jane, Boy, & Cheetah. Tarzan & Jane are not as sensual, however, & even live in separate treehouses, quite a bit more extreme than Lucy & Rickie having twin beds.
This film has got the look of the jungle family down pat, but too bad Jane largely vanishes from the stories whenever something is actually happening. Maureen O'Sullivan was likewise a very domestic Jane, but she could at least swing through the trees as well as Tarzan.
Nasty white men led by specimen poacher Schroeder (Leslie Bradley) trap animals indiscriminately. When they kill one of Tyana's men, the tribe is ready for war, but Tarzan convinces Tyana to send for a government agent to arrest the murderous wildlife collector, who Tarzan will harass until the authorities arrive.
They kill a mother elephant to get the baby, which Tarzan soon liberates, sending it to its herd to be fostered by another elephant. Alas, if you've read about orphaned baby elephants, they're never fostered. Other female elephants help protect & train each others' young, but never feed them, so Tarzan was sentencing that cute wee animal to slow starvation.
But, well, maybe that baby's fate was otherwise in this fantasy version of Africa where Australian laughing jackasses can be heard under the jungle canopy, & Australian cockatoos fluff their wings in the branches. Elephant herds consist alternatingly of African & Indian elephants. A snake declared to be a deadly black mamba which Cheetah kills to save Jane is in reality an innocuous North American yellow ratsnake.
The great many insertions of stock footage of animals mixes species of five continents so that the Southeast Asian domestic water buffalo live in harmony with African hippos. And African black leopards & lions & zebras haunt the same jungle as South American coati mundi & capuchin monkeys, not to mention a big fake rubber snake. For the amateur naturalist this film is loads of fun.
The story of the Trapper runs its course in less than half an hour before the villain is carted off to jail. The rest of the film is a separate story or interwoven pair of stories about Sikes (Sol Gorss) the trapper's brother's who attempts to get revenge against Tarzan, & Rene (Maurice Marsac) a treasure hunter questing for the treasure of the Lost City of Zarbo.
The treasure proves illusory but a good excuse for action. The trapper's vengeful brother is a borderline psychotic who decides to hunt down Tarzan like a game animal in a Most Dangerous Game scenario that won't go well for the chap who has promised to make Tarzan his trophy.
There's a wrestling match between Tarzan & a giant wearing a fez. It looked like Tarzan actually broke the poor bastard's neck, a bit harsher than one expects of Tarzan's actions, especially as none of the actual bad guys get killed in this.
Tyana is kidnapped while protecting Jane & Boy, & used for bait to capture Tarzan, for a brief s/m sequence with Tyana & Tarzan tied up & tormented until Tyana's people can free them.
For a patchwork film originally intended as tv episodes, Tarzan & the Trappers isn't all that bad. It makes a serious effort to avoid racist portraits of Africans while preserving what is cool in the spirit of the Weissmuller films. A scene with Tarzan riding a young giraffe is just about worth the whole show. It's really too bad this never sold as a television series so there'd be at least a full season's worth of episodes this appealing.
Glenn Morris has a weak-chinned big-nosed goofy profile, & beady eyes to boot, but slowly he gains in appeal as the slightly dorky jungle hero of Tarzan's Revenge (1938).
His Tarzan yell Ahhh-eee-yahhh isn't as repellant as the squawking of Hermann Brix, but it could've been skipped. Morris was an Olympics decathlon champion who played this role only once, & was so thoroughly panned by contemporary critics that he immediately got out of show business. Though it's obvious why he was panned, in the whole long history of various actors who played Tarzan, I disagree that he's the worst.
Morris plays the most autistic of Tarzans barely capable of speech, but has a nice swimmer's bod. Having lean tight muscles & nothing on but a loincloth, it was inevitable that Ellen (Eleanor Holm), who substitutes for Jane, would have a fetish for the simpleminded hunk.
Ellen has a less pleasant suitor in Ben Alleu Bey (C. Henry Gordon), an Oxford-educated jungle prince with emerald mines & a large collection of wives. When Tarzan forcibly kidnapped Ellen & forced her to spend the day & a night with him, she loved it, & they slept side by side in the moonlight while the guys back at the safari camp worried themselves sick.
But when Alleu Bey kidnaps her she just about shits bricks & Tarzan has to save her from a fate worse than death, being courted by an educated Muslim in an Arabian Nights style palace, & entertained by twinky art deco dancing girls.
The safari is on a mission to collect wild animals for exhibition, with a twitchy jungle guide (Joe Sawyer) who will betray everyone. At first Tarzan is sneaking into the camp to let all the animals go, but by the end he's such a friendly retard that he lets them take all the animals they want.
Ellen's third suitor, Nevin (George Meeker), is an amateur hunter who came along on the safari in order to just kill things. When Ellen falls for Tarzan, Nevin attempts to murder him, but is too bad a shot & only wings him. Tarzan forgives him, rarely losing his goofy chinless grin. Of Tarzan's "Revenge" however there is not a hint against anyone.
As always I enjoy playing Naturalist watching for "native" wildlife that is actually from South America or Asia but not Africa, such as the Indian elephants that stand in for African elephants, or a giant anteater in stock footage.
I also can't help assessing a script's treatment of African aboriginal peoples, & this time out, with bigger stereotypes against Moslems than blacks, one of the most moral characters encountered is head porter Koki (John Lester Johnson) who balks at the twitchy jungle guide's villainy, though he only gets killed for standing up for what's right.
When her father (George Barbier) & complaining mother (Hedda Hopper) & the rest of the Brits set sail for England with a cargo of caged animals, Ellen decides at the very last possible minute to stay behind & live in the jungle forever with her autistic feral man & his best friend the nameless chimp. I'd've believed it when I was a kid, but now I realize she probably died of some tropical disease before the year was out.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl