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While Tarzan was a popular moneymaker at MGM, with the outset of WWII,
the studio felt Johnny Weissmuller was getting too old, Maureen
O'Sullivan wanted out of the series, and the overseas market was lost,
so the series was dropped...but RKO would prove the Ape Man had a LOT
of life left in him!
Veteran producer Sol Lesser, 53, loved the character, and snapped up the rights for the studio, wisely keeping Weissmuller, 39, and 'Boy' Johnny Sheffield, now nearly 12, in their signature roles. O'Sullivan, no longer interested in 'Jane', was written out (caring for her ailing mother in London), and the elements that fans loved best (nearly superhuman heroics, comedy from chimp co-star, Cheetah, wild animal footage) were 'beefed up', dropping the romantic interludes, the large number of black 'extras', that provided authenticity (but were expensive for a smaller studio to maintain, for a single series), and, indeed, most of the 'glossiness' that marked the MGM entries. Even the signature Tarzan 'yell' had to be replaced (as the manufactured howl, part Weismuller, part studio magic), was the property of the studio; Weismuller created a 'new' one, that would become so popular that it would be kept, long after he finally retired from the role.
The first RKO entry was perhaps the best of their series; TARZAN TRIUMPHS brought the Nazis into the jungle to tap the mineral resources of a 'lost' city, eventually kidnapping Boy, and leading the previously isolationist Ape Man to utter the famous tag line, "Now Tarzan make war!" With lovely Frances Gifford as a native princess, providing sex appeal (and a really weird scene of Boy trying to 'hook up' the princess and lonely Ape Man, to enlist his help against the Nazis), and Sig Ruman, who went from Marx Brothers' foil to one of Hollywood's busiest 'Nazis', as one of the villains, the action adventure is very entertaining (if extremely violent...Tarzan actually encourages the locals to grab a gun and kill, Boy shoots one Nazi soldier with a pistol, and even CHEETA machine guns one!), and the film was a huge hit for the studio.
Tarzan, at a new home, was back in the 'swing' of things!
TARZAN TRIUMPHS (RKO Radio, 1943), directed by Wilheim Thiele, the
seventh in the long running jungle series starring Johnny Weissmuller,
the first of the Sol Lesser productions distributed by RKO Radio, finds
Tarzan assuming new territory and dangerous ground at the RKO
sound-stages following six successful "Tarzan" adventures distributed
by MGM between 1932 to 1942. The production values no way equaled the
status MGM put into its series, however, the format used at RKO
virtually follows the same pattern from the previous films, with slight
alterations to the "Tarzan" character, such as the use of a new
soundtrack for the Tarzan yell, heard twice here, unlike those many
have become accustomed to from the earlier episodes. Weissmuller's
Tarzan continues to speak in mono syllables ("Boy stay! Tarzan get." or
"Tarzan thank," etc.) rather than incomplete sentences. Along with
Weissmuller, Johnny Sheffield, who plays Boy, son of Tarzan, along and
their pet chimpanzee, Cheetah, each resume their characters with much
familiarity as enacted at MGM. Tarzan's mate, Jane, played six times
previously by Maureen O'Sullivan, had broken away from the series, thus
having her "Jane" character omitted here and in the next entry. For
this outing, Frances Gifford substitutes as the heroine called Zandra.
Due to Gifford's near physical resemblance to Maureen O'Sullivan makes
one wonder why Gifford wasn't considered to play Jane. For now, Tarzan
and Boy team up with the support of new characters and Nazi villains
worked into the story rather than hunters and native tribes.
The story opens with Boy (Johnny Sheffield) leaving the tree-house and riding his elephant, accompanied by his chimpanzee pet, Cheetah, to meet with Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller), who had earlier gone to the seacoast to obtain a letter written to him by Jane, who's away visiting with relatives in war-torn England. Along the way, the ever curious Boy gets himself in trouble when wanting to take a closer look at the lost city of Palandria located at the bottom of a cliff. Falling off the crevasse, landing on top of a semi loose branch, Zandra (Frances Gifford), the white princess of that lost civilization, comes to his rescue. In helping Boy, the two find themselves trapped on the narrow ledge, that is, until Tarzan arrives in time to save the day. As Tarzan, Boy and Zandra part company, Zandra returns to her civilization where her people welcome some strangers, Nazis who have parachuted down from their airplane. In time, the welcomed guests "repay" their friendly hospitality by turning the peaceful community into slaves while taking possession of their wealth in tin and oil. In the meantime, Lieutenant Scheldon Schmidt (Rex Williams), who had also parachuted from an airplane, injures his leg while holding onto his shortwave radio. Tarzan rescues the German youth from a near drowning. With the help of Boy, they take the injured party to their tree-house for rest and recovery. Because Cheetah has taken and hidden the coil needed to make radio communication to his homeland, Schmidt stirs trouble by chasing after and shooting Cheeta. Sensing danger, Boy's elephant comes to Cheetah's rescue by forcing both Nazi and heavy boulder over a cliff, killing the abductor. Because of the Nazi invasion in her city, Zandra comes to Tarzan for help. Tarzan succeeds in doing away with the Germans by leading them to the river where they are attacked by cannibal fish. While Tarzan feels the Nazi invasion in Palandria does not really concern him, Zandra feels it does, knowing that as long as the Nazis are around, no one is safe. Only after the Nazis invade Tarzan's domain, with its leader, Von Reichart (Stanley Ridges) abducting Boy and holding him prisoner in Nazi headquarters for not revealing the whereabouts of the coil for the radio does Tarzan begin to realize and cry out, "Now, Tarzan make war!!!" (It's been said by Bob Dorian, former host of American Movie Classics, that this scene alone found audiences in movie theaters cheering and applauding).
An average Tarzan adventure by today's standards with a timely message of how an invasion of a territory and war amongst a peaceful people does concern everybody. As with the Tarzan character, who lives a secluded life in his little habitat, with his philosophy, "Nazi leave me alone, Tarzan leave them alone," all that changes when Nazis take over his territory and become a danger to Boy. Against all odds, such as being held prisoner himself, tied up against the pole to await execution by firing squad at dawn does Tarzan manage to become a one man revolution. Tarzan, who fights to survive while the enemy, the Nazis in this case, survive to fight, brings forth his own war for that, as quoted by Tarzan, "In jungle, the strong always win."
The supporting players include Sig Rumann as the Head Nazi; Philip Van Zandt as Captain Bausch; Pedro De Cordoba as Patriarch; and Stanley Brown as Archmet. Frances Gifford, who makes her sole venture in the series, gets some screen time in a stretched out segment filling in for Jane by swimming with Tarzan, and preparing dinner for him and Boy.
As with the entire Tarzan movie series that has spanned decades, TARZAN TRIUMPHS, at 76 minutes, aired frequently on commercial television for many years before shifting over to the American Movie Classics cable channel (1997-2000) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: May 14, 2011). Unlike the MGM entries, the six features made at RKO Radio starring Weissmuller from 1943 to 1948, were never distributed onto video cassette but later onto DVD around 2008. Next chapter: TARZAN'S DESERT MYSTERY, where Tarzan and Boy (minus Jane) encounter more Nazis once more but with a few added surprises along the way. (**)
Breaking into the second volume of WB's Weismuller Tarzan movies, all of which were made at RKO, and which previously had been produced at MGM. Maureen O'Sullivan finally got her way and was able to leave the series when it left MGM, while Weismuller and Johnny Sheffield, who plays Boy, not to mention Cheetah, stayed on. Tarzan Triumphs isn't a great film (I don't have high expectations for any of the remainder of this series, honestly), but it is historically interesting, and amusing in the way all Tarzan movies are. In the thick of WWII, Nazis invade Tarzan's jungle looking to enslave the lost city of Palandra. The princess of Palandra, Zandra (Frances Gifford), begs Tarzan for help. Tarzan refuses, claiming that the Nazis have done nothing to him. But when they actually do do harm to him, by kidnapping Boy, he vows revenge. Strange this one wasn't made in 1941 instead of 1943. Or perhaps by '43 people were already getting tired of war and this is "stay the course" propaganda. Don't know, but it is fascinating as propaganda. It gets very violent, more violent than the other Tarzan movies as far as I can remember. Well, some black people get wasted in nasty ways in the early Tarzan movies, of course. But Tarzan mercilessly slaughters the Nazis. Cheetah pushes one off a cliff, and then pushes a boulder over after him! Even Boy gets to shoot a guy! And the final living Nazi suffers one of the most entertainingly horrible, Roman-style deaths ever. The film ends on a joke worth of Looney Tunes.
If you are familiar with the original Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice
Burroughs, there's no reason to scoff at the idea of Tarzan taking on
the Nazis. This territory was already covered in the seventh novel of
the Tarzan series (and one of the best), "Tarzan the Untamed." Set
during World War I, this novel starts with German troops destroying
Lord Greystoke's home and kidnapping Jane. Tarzan sets out to find the
officer responsible, and in the process he finds himself in an actual
combat situation, in which he uses his jungle wiles to sabotage the
Interestingly, "Tarzan the Untamed" leads to a climax involving a strange European civilization hidden in a deep valley, rather like the one featured in "Tarzan Triumphs." Although the script for "Tarzan Triumphs" is credited as an original story, it seems clearly inspired by "Tarzan the Untamed."
Tarzan has to make war against The Third Reich, when the Nazis enter the jungle looking for some mineral resources of the lost city of Palandria.The white princess Zandra manages to escape and asks Tarzan to help the enslaved people of her city.He refuses at first, but then Boy gets kidnapped.Tarzan Triumphs (1943) is directed by Wilhelm Thiele.This film was made after U.S. State Department contacted the producer to tell him that a Tarzan film was an ideal way to spread the message of democracy's battle against Fascism to the American public.Johnny Weissmuller portrays the character once again famously.Weissmuller had portrayed the character six times with MGM, but this was his first one with the producer Sol Lesser at RKO pictures.Johnny Sheffield reprises his role as Boy.And naturally Cheetah is there.Jane is missing, since she is visiting her sick mother in England.Maureen O'Sullivan was unable to reprise her role due to her pregnancy.A couple of pictures later Brenda Joyce, who sadly passed away last month, took the part.The beautiful Frances Gifford plays Zandra.There is something going on between Tarzan and Zandra, that seems almost romantic, like when they're swimming together.But of course Tarzan couldn't cheat on Jane.Stanley Ridges plays Colonel Von Reichart.Sig Ruman is the somewhat comical Nazi Sergeant.Philip Van Zandt portrays Captain Bausch.This Tarzan movie is a great adventure flick that has a darker tone.Of course we all know what kind of damage The Third Reich caused back then, and now Tarzan gets to have his own battle against them.He shows them who the king of the jungle is.It's all very thrilling when Cheetah is chased by a Nazi and Boy is being captured.Cheetah brings some light comedy into the picture.In one funny scene he steals a fruit from smaller monkeys, and he gets thrown by a fruit by them on his face.And in the end he speaks to the Nazis in Berlin through the radio, and they believe it's Hitler that speaks.It should be an offense to Cheetah to be mistaken for such a man.This is a great Tarzan film that has a message.And that message is: In jungle, strong always win.
Another "iron bird" flies over the area of Africa ruled by jungle king
Johnny Weissmuller (as Tarzan), and soon the idyllic paradise is
crawling with Nazis. Curiously, only after cute Johnny Sheffield (as
Boy) is kidnapped by Hitler's oil and mineral colonel Stanley Ridges
(as Von Reichart) does Mr. Weissmuller actually declare WAR.
Weissmuller gets a rare chance to "act" in this scene. Of course,
"Tarzan Triumphs" over Nazis. With "Jane" (out of the picture) visiting
London relatives, new home studio RKO brought in beautifully shaped
Frances Gifford (as Zandra) to fill the space, which she does well.
Former studio MGM would not surrender the original "Tarzan" yell, and
the movies at RKO were noticeable downsized while Weissmuller's
waistline grew. This entry is very silly. Appropriately, "Cheeta" the
chimp gets the last laugh.
**** Tarzan Triumphs (1/20/43) Wilhelm Thiele ~ Johnny Weissmuller, Johnny Sheffield, Frances Gifford, Stanley Ridges
This film fantastically carries on the series without Jane, who is away
during World War II at the film's time. As such, the lovely Frances
Gifford of Jungle Girl plays the beautiful lead as Zandra, whose people
are being overrun by the Nazis.
Her chemistry with both Johnny Weissmuller and Johnny Sheffield's Tarzan and Boy respectively is thoroughly engaging, and you believe at times in the film that both Tarzan and Boy were developing crushes on Zandra. Tarzan even shares in the delights of all male viewers at the pleasure of seeing Zandra in Jane's jungle mini-dress and even shares a playfully cozy jungle swim with her.
Such a propaganda film would never fly today, as it was well warranted back then for film and media during the war to rally round the flag against the Nazis. Likewise, the conclusion of this picture includes a satirical poke which Mel Brooks would make in many of his productions as he felt it was better to comically make fun of the Nazis rather than take them seriously.
After six films starring alongside Johnny Weissmuller as jungle beauty
Jane, Maureen O'Sullivan decided to depart the series, leaving the
writers of the next Tarzan film not only looking for a way of
explaining the lovely actress's sudden absence but also having to
ensure that male cinema-goers still had a reason to take their family
to see the ape-man's latest adventure.
Their solution: have their script conveniently see Jane visiting friends in London, and introduce a sexy new character in the form of Zandra (Frances Gifford), princess of the hidden city of Palandria, who seeks help from Tarzan after Nazi soldiers enslave her people.
A far cry from the first two pre-Hays code Tarzan films, which were chock full of enjoyably un-PC violence and raunchiness, Tarzan Triumphs is strictly family friendly matinée material, with the added novelty of some delightfully daft WWII propaganda. Director Wilhelm Thiele packs the first half of his film with the usual vine swinging, frolicking in lagoons, stock footage of animals, and scenes of good old Cheetah providing plenty of hilarity, but he eventually delivers some decent action once the bad guys go out of their way to upset Tarzan: when the Nazis kidnap Boy and slap him about a bit, our jungle hero finally announces "Now Tarzan make war!" and it's non-stop Nazi bashing fun thereon in, with even Cheetah and Boy grabbing firearms to get in on the action!
And talking of Cheetah, the cheeky chimp also provides the film's excellent final joke, which sees stupid Nazi radio operators in Berlin mistaking the furry-faced funster for 'Der Fuhrer'. Take that, you silly Nazi nincompoops!
6.5 out of 10, rounded up to 7 for IMDb.
When I think of Tarzan films, I think of this one - Cheetah's seminal
scene at the end is one of my all-time favourite movie moments. This
is, in my opinion the best of the Tarzan genre and I rate it a "10". I
may be a bit biased having grown up watching these on TV, then going
down the woods with my mates to build dens, climb trees and throw
spears at anything that moved, but all the classic formulaic events of
a Tarzan masterpiece are here. The big man himself, the jungle,
dangerous animals ... throw in a bunch of Nazis for Tarzan to deal with
too and how could it be anything but great ? Cheetah gives the
performance of his life - he will have you rolling in the aisles with
his antics near the end.
If you haven't seen it and it comes on TV, give it a go ... sit back, suspend your disbelief, accept it wasn't made yesterday and take the special effects at face value ... and simply enjoy ...
... now, where's my spear ?
The first of the RKO Tarzans and quite an enjoyable entry. Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) finds himself involved in battling the Nazis when they invade the peaceful nearby village of Palandria and try to make slaves out of its citizens. For this film, Tarzan's partner Jane is absent while doing business in London, so we have the gorgeous Frances Gifford subbing for the feminine interest of the story as a princess of Palandria who makes contact with Tarzan and his son Boy (Johnny Sheffield). Gifford would have made a stunning and perfect Jane. A fun, fast, and entertaining installment with an occasional display of violence, with good actors like Sig Ruman, Stanley Ridges, and Philip Van Zandt playing the Nazi bad guys. *** out of ****
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