Tarzan the Ape Man (1981)

Okay, here’s the deal. Once there was a beefcake actor named John Derek. He was married to actress Pati Behrs, but they divorced in 1956. At this point Derek apparently aspired to become the American Roger Vadim. To achieve this goal, he went on to marry a series of nearly identical-looking buxom blonds, shooting each in turn for Playboy photospreads. His system was to trade in one wife for a younger model every decade or so.

First there was Ursula Andress, famously the first Bond girl. John Derek married her in 1957 (she was 21), and they divorced in 1966. In 1968 John married Linda Evans, who was 26, and they divorced in 1974. In 1976, he married Bo Derek. She was 20, he was fifty.* Getting on in years, he gave up on seeking a yet even younger model, and stuck with Bo until his death in 1998.

[*John and Bo’s relationship began well before that, however. The lovers moved to Germany when Bo was just 16, so that John could avoid those pesky statutory rape laws. They only moved back to America when Bo was 18 and legal. They married two years later.]

As with Ursula and Linda, Derek shot Bo for several Playboy spreads. However, Bo had by that time became an instant international sex symbol, by starring as the titular numerals in Blake Edward’s 1979 sex comedy 10. Seizing this opportunity, John and Bo made several truly hideous nudie films together. The first was our current subject, released in 1981. This was followed by 1984’s Bolero (or Bo-lero, as it was advertised; Ravel’s Bolero was the piece of music Bo made Dudley Moore play as they had sex in 10) and finally the execrable Ghosts Can’t Do It in 1989. After that John retired, more or less, although Bo would occasionally pop up in a movie or guest star on some TV show.

I saw Tarzan The Ape Man in the theater; in fact, it was a memorable night. (If not a memorable movie. Upon review, I found I remembered very little of it). Those who think bad movie mocking began with MST3K will be shocked to hear that my circle of high school friends, the self-styled The Group, attended the opening night of the film. In honor of the event, we were decked out in suits and ties, formal dresses, and even a tuxedo or two. Sadly, the film indeed proved bad, but in a boring slog sort of fashion, and we never repeated that exact experiment again.

Recently, the B-Masters Cabal decided to observe our 10th anniversary with a second round of (not so) Secret Santa. The idea is to inflict a film upon one of our comrades, one designed to deliver maximum pain. Liz Kingsley got me, and I got this. It certainly lived up to its purpose, delivered as it was in the best Christmas spirit: With good ill to men, and to all a good blight.


TWO…FRICKIN’…HOURS.

That’s the first thing I realize when I pop this…thing…into my DVD player. It’s two frickin’ hours long. In a cruel, Lovecraftian jest, the IMDB lists the movie at a still utterly appalling 107 minutes. Well, surprise. The DVD runs seven minutes longer than that. Apparently it offers, for the love of all that is unholy, an expanded cut. Tarzan the Ape Man, with Bo Derek. A movie entirely based upon the idea of a creepy old pervert filming his young, talentless, flash in the pan wife literally rolling around in the nude for the edification of the raincoat crowd.

Seven extra minutes. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Yet given the way I work, that’s going basically translate into dog time. I’m going to spend somewhere in the area of an extra hour of my life, maybe more, reviewing this abomination. All because some dickwad thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to put all that stuff they cut out back into the movie?”

Oh, and thanks, Liz. Thanks a frickin’ lot.

To MGM’s eternal shame, John and Bo Derek’s ‘version’ of Tarzan the Ape Man is indeed a remake of the same studio’s original 1932 version. Starring Johnny Weissmuller and a young Maureen O’Sullivan, as well as the great C. Aubrey Smith as O’Sullivan’s father, the film was wildly successful and kicked off an endless series of sequels and knock-offs. I have no problem casting a wry eye back at such a dated (if influential) film. However, giving the go ahead to a nudity-driven soft-core version that has the temerity to assume an air of superiority to that ‘corny’ old material, well, that’s another thing entirely.

Presumably hoping to cover for the film’s woefully inept leads—Miles O’Keefe, more famous amongst a certain elite demographic for his Italian series of Ator pictures, assayed his first screen role here—Derek (for our purposes ‘Derek’ will denote John Derek, ‘Bo’ his wife) hired a far stronger supporting cast, including veteran hambone Richard Harris and junk cinema mainstay John Phillip Law.  Worse, in way, is the appearance of Wilfrid Hyde-White. Although thankfully appearing only as a voice during the opening, Mr. Hyde-White is wincingly far from his work in such genuine classics as My Fair Lady and The Third Man.

We open with the traditional logo of the MGM lion. Only instead of roaring, it issues a Tarzan yell, then a second. Ars Gratia Artis, my ass. Way to whore your proud history, MGM.  In these bare opening seconds, I reconsider a lifetime of sobriety. I have vague memories of the horrors this film will proffer, given that screening I attended thirty years ago. However, this attempt at japery promises an excruciating ‘camp’ sensibility, any memory of which I have apparently, and quite understandably, suppressed through the decades.*

[*Future Ken: Actually, this is the only really apparent example of a camp sensibility. It’s possible the film was meant to play that way, but it’s so poorly made that it would be a matter of debate in any case.]

Seven seconds in. One hour, fifty four minutes and 39 seconds to go.

We open on a black screen, blank, like Bo Derek’s face when she acts. During this we hear some table-setting narration from Hyde-White. Here we get a logo that frankly knocked me on my ass, sporting a picture of a genuine Frazetta nude who looks like Bo and is manipulating a puppet. The logo fittingly designates the picture as “A Svengali Production.” This struck me quite forcibly since in my head I was already planning to characterize Derek as Svengali and Bo as his (most recent) Trilby. However, any points for self-awareness on Derek’s part are declared null and void by his laughable attempt to cast his Mrs. as the puppet-master.

Bad news, folks. This is the best part of the movie.

Hyde-White, apparently playing a Commander McBragg sort of fellow, is heard attempting to regale some upper class pompous twits (including one referred to as “Edgar”…oh, bru-ther) with the narrative of this film.  We cut from a map of the Dark Continent to Hyde-White’s exaggerated build-up towards Bo’s big intro.

This seems as good a time as any to address the role that made Bo Derek, at least for a while, a household name. For Bo was indeed famously cast in Blake Edward’s 10 as a beauty capable of inspiring Dudley Moore’s fevered erotic longings. However, the overarching point of the story was that after he finally achieved his goal of sleeping with her, her essential shallowness was revealed and his formerly obsessive passion rapidly dissipated. In other words, Bo was cast as a woman who was far more captivating as a fantasy figure viewed from afar then she was in her actual person.

Not to be unkind to Ms. Derek, who reportedly is a very kind and gracious person in real life, but in these particulars she proved aptly cast. Her attempts at a subsequent star film career thus unsurprisingly foundered. As augured by her role in 10, the imagined thrill of seeing a Bo Derek movie proved far more exciting than the reality of it. Presumably recognizing her manifest charismatic deficits, hubby John thus produced a series of films that starred not so much Bo Derek as Bo Derek’s Naked Breasts, with supporting performances from Bo Derek’s Naked Ass, and even, er, Bo Derek’s Bush Country.

To be fair, Bo proved entirely game for all this, and it is possible to view her trio of films with Derek as a benign jape, much like the overwrought (if far more entertaining) oeuvre of Andy Sidaris.  Of course, even Sidaris didn’t build his movies on showing his own wife’s ta-tas and ya-yas. Still, John Derek was nothing if not chivalrous; thus the films’ winking pretenses that the audience was, in fact, interested in Bo’s other gifts, including her dubious thespic ones.

In any case, Bo’s Jane Parker is a virginal naïf who’s traveled to Africa to find her missing father, a man “she’s never known.” Her attempts to project her character’s innocence basically amount to a) occasionally demurely chewing on her fingertip, and b) assuming an admittedly impressive array of vacuous expressions. To be fair, both of these gambits fall squarely within her wheelhouse. An English accent, alas…not so much. Perhaps wisely, she doesn’t even attempt one. Even so, she never for a moment suggests someone born in the tail end of the 19th Century. Imagine a distaff version of Keanu Reeves’ performance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and you’ll be in the correct ballpark.

Tee hee. I’m so naughty.

Jane is introduced riding in a carriage through an unidentified West African port town, staring with…well, not fascination, really. Or amazement. Or really any expression at all, when you get down to it. To be frank, even ‘staring’ is a bit strong. If you point the head of a doll with painted-on eyes in a certain direction, would you say it was thus ‘staring’ at something?

Even so, I believe Jane is meant to be gazing with intent yet innocent wonder at the black faces all around her. (Later we learn she went ballooning over the Alps, so you’d think exotic peoples would not be quite so, well, exotic to her.) She ends her journey at the docks, hoping to engage a boat to the camp of one Henry Holt.

By the way, it’s already apparent that wipes of various sorts will be used as scene transitions. Presumably this is meant as a nod to the Tarzan movies of yore. Still, I’m pretty sure that even if those pictures employed wipes, they didn’t use them as aggressively as Derek does here. Which is to say, like an Italian with a zoom lens. It calls to mind what Roger Ebert said when reviewing Battlefield Earth: “The director, Roger Christian, has learned from better films that directors sometimes tilt their cameras, but he has not learned why.”

We cut to Jane in a tent. Knowing that the film can offer but one thing in lieu of a good script, or decent acting, or competent direction, or other niceties, and again having insanely decided to make his movie much, much longer than it need to be, director Derek basically plays things as an extended Bo striptease. He realizes that showing her nude right out front would be (even more) disastrous. So we now get:

STAGE 1: Jane in a Victorian camisole and bloomers.

By the way, have I mentioned that Jane is traveling alone, without a proper (white) male protector? Given the time period, this seems ridiculous on its face, even if we completely ignore Jane’s rather exaggerated (if purely physical) charms. As well, with a generation of young English men bursting with a longing for adventure that would lead the nation’s finest into the trenches half a decade later, the magic appeal of the word ‘Africa’ alone would have seen Jane swarmed with candidates.

Here, however, Jane is alone. She sits sweltering down in the hold of the tramp steamer she’s engaged, staring with trepidation through a window looking into the bridge. There the craft’s two seedy owners are clearly drunk. They are also black. If one wants to be generous with Derek, one could say the portrayals of blacks in this film were a comment on the casual racism of the earlier films, or a more realistic portrayal of what an English lady’s views of them would be. One could even argue, with evident truthfulness, that there are seedy blacks, just as there are seedy whites. However, racial material of this sort is so inherently charged that it requires a very deft touch, a touch Derek rather lacks.

Thus it’s a bit wince-inducing when the two men, all liquored up, head down to the hold with the presumed intent of ravishing the ravishing Jane. (See what I did there?) However, Bo has in her reticule a twin-barreled derringer, and arms herself during their approach. The door is kicked open, Bo fires, and we immediately cut to what may be the cheesiest looking title card I have ever seen in my life. And this is my life we’re talking about here.

Three minutes in. One hour and fifty-two minutes to go.

Next we see Jane sitting on some driftwood or something in a river, still dressed in her undies. She’s been (I guess) set adrift with all her gear, so I find it pretty unlikely that a lady of her upbringing would not have clothed herself as she sat in open territory. Still:

STAGE 2:  Jane in Victorian undergarments in broad daylight.

In the next shot she’s on another tramp steamer, or maybe it’s the same one? Really, she killed the two men with one shot each from a derringer (one fired from a hefty distance for a pistol of that sort). And then, what, tossed the bodies over and commandeered their rather substantial boat? And then managed to motor it down the river herself? Given that we’ve entirely skipped over a fair amount of events, it’s kind of hard to even figure out what’s supposed to have happened here.

In any case, Jane has been joined by two mostly naked African children, perhaps (?) to suggest Jane’s own level of innocence. At least she’s now dressed, although she’s casually lounging around shoeless, bending her legs up in the air in a manner that again utterly fails to suggest who Jane Parker should be or the culture in which she grew up in.

By the way, we now get a credit reading “introducing MILES O’KEEFE as tarzan”. So the film has that going for it.

Eventually the steamer pulls to shore, and a full grown African man—where did he come from?—is soon chopping wood, presumably for the boat’s furnace. Jane again seems pretty unperturbed given her circumstances, sitting alone in the wilds with only some natives as companions. And this after she was nearly raped and, I guess, had to cap a couple of guys. This essential interlude completed (one can see why the movie needed to be two hours long) the boat continues on its scenic way.

Here we see the film was edited by one James B. Ling. One hopes he’s lived long enough to have fun with his name.

STAGE 3: Jane nonchalantly goes swimming in the middle of a wild African river, in full view of at least one full-grown African native. No visual nudity yet, but it’s implied. See, this film is like an onion from which they are removing one layer at a time. Almost literally, in fact.

By the way, Jane is so cavorting as the boat itself continues to meander away from her downstream with all her gear on board. This means that even after the rape thing, she’s still that trusting. Jane at this point seems less innocent than mentally retarded. But her simple faith is rewarded, and the boat later stops for her so that she may clamber back aboard.

STAGE 4: A patently nude Jane is briefly seen in ‘tantalizing’ silhouette against the setting sun.

The associate cameraman is one WOLFGANG DICKMANN. No, I’m not going to make a joke about that. What am I, five?

Jane is in an oddly translucent tent (setting up obvious expectations for later in the movie) and screams in (sort of) terror when she spies a huge snake. Then….DICKMANN!! Giggle. Sorry. Anyway, in a moment sure to induce wincing in generations of fans, we can a ‘credit’ reading, “based upon the characters created by EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS”. Man, it’s a sore thing to see a dead man so slandered.

Then it’s back on the river. All these scenes are rather elliptical, and probably included mostly to justify the renting of the steamer and everything. Meanwhile, we see that Bo took a ‘produced by’ credit. I guess she has to assume part of the blame, therefore, although again her creepy husband clearly deserves the lion’s share of it.

Cut to a predictably haggard-looking Richard Harris, seen sleeping in primordial bliss under an awning, and with both a gigantic dog—an Irish Wolf Hound, of course*—and an attractive native woman dozing by his side. (However, it’s the dog he snuggles and even kisses.) Why, the cad! Probably the most interesting thing here is that apparently even Harris couldn’t seem to figure out how to overact ‘sleeping.’ He is, of course, playing James Parker, the father Jane has never seen. Whew, so her epic quest to find him has finally paid off…six and a half minutes into the movie.

[*If I had to wager, I’d bet it’s Harris’ own dog, one he demanded he be allowed to bring with him during filming.]

James is wakened by the whistle of the approaching steamer. He pauses to lovingly kiss a (rather recent) picture of Bo, so that we know he retains the proper fatherly affection towards her.  Apparently having expected Jane’s arrival, James rouses his concubine and the aforementioned Holt (John Phillip Law). It’s obviously well after sunrise, so apparently the habit of the camp is to sleep in late. Seems kind of lazy for a pioneering expedition, but there you go.

James is clad only in a shirt, so that we are moment by moment threatened with exposure to Richard Harris’ wrinkled bum. Also, as a concession to Harris’ accent, James greets the steamer by raising a flag with a shamrock on it. (!) Shouting, “Come on, my lovely black babies!”, James leads an excited tribe of fully adult, nearly naked adults into the water to greet his daughter. Or not. The ‘she’ whose arrival he’s anticipating, we learn, is not Jane but a cannon.

James is therefore shocked to approach the boat and find Jane aboard. Seeing her blurred image through the window glass, he imagines her to be her mother Elizabeth. So presumably that was his wife’s picture he kissed earlier, not his daughter’s. His shock is repaid by hers, however, when he greets her only with hostile demands as to where his cannon is. Then he turns and stalks away from her without further conversation. Apparently James is kind of a dick.*

[*Given that this was made only a few years after Apocalypse Now, it’s seems all but certain that Derek decided to turn James into a half-assed, Brando / Kurtz retread. That’s how he comes off, anyway, and it would explain why Derek hired an epic hambone; to impersonate another one.]

While her father turns away, Jane is warmly greeted by James’ dog. She also picked up a small monkey companion en route. As we shall see, part of Derek’s attempt to portray Jane as a Garden of Eden-style innocent is to have her be all in tune with animals and stuff. Rather too much in tune, as we’ll see later in the film’s most infamous scene. For the nonce, however, Jane manages to take a blatantly unmotivated tumble into the river.

STAGE 5: Jane’s white outfit become wetted, and thus clingy and semi-translucent. Actually, her clothes were semi-translucent anyway, given the way her form is revealed whenever she’s backlit. However, they are now wet and more semi-translucent. Not too much, though; we’ve still and hour and forty-five minutes of movie left.

Holt takes this opportunity to introduce himself. He’s a photographer hired by James to document his own greatness. In any case, I wouldn’t get too attached to this guy. Tarzan will obviously be Jane’s, er, romantic partner. And while dear old dad is clearly nuts, I doubt they’ll cast him as an outright villain. That leaves Holt, who as a young white man will no doubt prove an eeeee-vil exploiter of, well, pretty much everything.

Holt is shocked to learn James has a daughter. Jane tells him even her father didn’t know. (Which kind of mitigates his ‘dick’ thing, at least a little.) However, James’ native bit of crumpet, Nambia—although James calls her “Africa”; yes, really—asserts that he did know. Jane shows no reaction to this revelation,* however, or to the fact that her dad is shacked up with a native. She’s really kind of progressive, given the era and all. Then, in an odd bit, Holt demands that Jane take his tent. This is kind of weird, as we’ve seen that Jane already has one. But anyway.

[*Later Jane tells James “Like a trophy, you posed with mother and child, and then you were gone.” How that squares with ‘he didn’t know he had a daughter’ is left to our imaginations. I mean, really, that’s pretty sloppy scripting.]

That night James throws an elaborate dinner for the few white folks in the area. His tent is all decked out with china and linens and fancy flatware, so I guess this is a Statement About Imperialism or something. A topic on which we would all profit, I’m sure, by taking our cues from John and Bo Derek.

Well, this scene is certainly ‘in tents.’ Ha, I’m so funny!

James continues to act like a dick. However, we get our first great Harris Moment when Jane calmly, even gleefully informs him that her mother is dead. James, an Irish flute playing mournfully in the background, Reacts with Shock and Pain. Harris nearly rivaled the great Richard Burton in the overacting department, as he demonstrates here in dynamic fashion. I’m not complaining, mind you. I expect the film’s sparse moments of actual entertainment will all be provided courtesy of Mr. Harris’ steadfast dedication to leave no piece of scenery unmasticated.

Speaking of—and you’ll have to forgive me, I’m terminally slow on the uptake—but it just struck me that one of Bo’s few movie appearances before this movie was a minor role in Jabootu favorite Orca, in which the titular character bites her leg off to much audience mirth. That film starred Richard Harris, and I wonder what he thought of the turnaround in just a few years when he was cast to support the winsome Bo instead. He probably reacted as he did to pretty much every situation, by getting epically drunk.

If anyone should have gotten drunk, though, it was Bo. Harris might be an overactor of extraordinary magnitude, but that still entails acting. After James kicks out all his would-be dinner companions, the scene unwisely leaves us to witness the hapless Bo attempting at some length to hold the screen opposite the Harris. If anything, it’s even a worse mismatch than the dinner scene between Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman in The Quick and the Dead. Of all the myriad manners in which Derek exposed his wife for the entertainment of the ticket-buying audience, this turns out to be cruelest.

“So then Dino, he says to me in that thick accent o’ his, ‘Well, Dick, at least you know you’ll never be in a worse film.’ And I reply to him, I say, ‘Well, old son, I’ll wager you a case of Bushmills you’re wrong.”

So Jane is finally able to confront her bastard of a father. My favorite line is when James explains, “She [Jane’s mother] was so weak. I mean, your conception almost killed her.” (!!!) I know women often died in childbirth back then, but usually not so much at the other end of the process. “If I had held her too long…if I had loved her too much…” he muses. That’s right, he only stole away to protect Jane’s mother from the awesome power of his mighty pile driver penis. So, you know, who is Jane to judge?

As James continues to ponder Elizabeth’s extreme fragility, he begins to run his hand over Jane’s face. “God, how I loved you!” he whispers as he paws at his lookalike daughter. WTF was up with the incest thing whenever they tried to manufacture an ‘80s movie sexpot? I mean, look at Pia Zadora’s Butterfly. (Or better yet, don’t.) I think this country came a lot closer to turning into Japan than we normally think.

By the way, Harris in this film often wears his hair out in wings to the side, reminding me a little of Larry Fine. Imagine a version of the Stooges with Harris as Larry, Burton—of course—as Moe, and, oh, Brian Blessed as Curly. It would have been the single greatest thing in human history. This entire film would have been completely redeemed if Blessed had played Tarzan, and won a fight with a gorilla because he got super-strength whenever Harris played “Pop Goes the Weasel” on a violin.

Anyway, confrontation achieved, Jane returns to her own tent.

STAGE 6: Jane in a nightgown with a plunging neckline

The next morning, Jane is up and about in her yet weirdly pristine white clothing. She visits Holt, who remains extremely nice, although I remain convinced this will prove to be a ruse. (And, uh huh, we learn that Holt’s invested all his money on James’ expedition.) The fact that he’s played by John Phillip Law makes this all the more likely; he’s too big of an actor to be there simply to play a second banana. That leaves him, again, as the villain of the piece.

Here we discover that *gasp* James is searching for the legendary Lost Elephant Graveyard, which presumably he will plunder for the ivory. Frankly, this doesn’t seem all that awful to me, given that the elephants would be dead already. But then I was never the most sensitive to depredations of this sort, which strike me as a bit abstract.

Hearing this, and finding she longs for adventure as well, Jane flounces over to tell her father she’ll be joining the expedition. We then get a version of that old sitcom trope—pretty creaky even back in 1981—where James basically replies, “No, never, no, not in a million years!”, and then we cut to Jane as part of the expedition. Cue laugh track. I’m sure there’s an even longer director’s cut edition where James tries Jane’s newfangled laundry soap, pours whole box into the washtub, and the entire camp is hilariously engulfed in suds.

So James, wearing naturally tan safari togs with a matching pith helmet, arms his daughter with a revolver and gun belt. Then there’s a bit where Holt also falls off the dock into the river, as did Bo earlier. Did Derek think this sort of thing was funny? Was there some sort of inner ear-related ailment plaguing the camp? Got me.

The expedition sets out. In deference to modern sensibilities, water buffalo pull the heavy gear in wagons so that the native porters aren’t as encumbered as in older movies. Cut to the expedition out in the field. Their march is accompanied by bagpipe music. (???!) One could argue that this might make more sense if any of the characters were Scottish, but surely that would be nitpicking of the lowest sort. Then Harris begins singing “Jerusalem.” One could argue that this would make more sense if he were English, but that would surely also be nitpicking of the lowest sort. And it’s not like he’s singing “MacArthur Park,” although it would be awesome if he were.

The expedition continues. One gets the idea that, having rented all these extras and equipment, Derek was dedicated to exploiting them to the fullest. The main advantage of this is that it’s basically just travelogue footage, so it doesn’t require a lot of commentary on my part. Even so, I’m having a hard time figuring out what they’re going to use to fill out the film’s remaining hour and a half.

There is a weird bit where Bo is in her tent for the night, and a white hand—although whether Holt’s or James’ I cannot say—pokes through the tent flap and makes a snake movement, and then flashes the V for Victory sign. Jane laughs, and the hand disappears, and I have no friggin’ clue what was supposed to be happening there.

Eventually (perhaps someone reminded Derek that it’s useful in movies if ‘something happens’), James calls the expedition to a halt. Once their din subsides, a growl is heard from the surrounding brush.  Sure enough, standing just off camera and about twenty feet away is a full grown bull elephant. A ninja one, I guess. Of course, being an experienced jungle hand, James just walks right up to the beast.

Holt readies his rifle, but James merely stops in front of the elephant and starts singing to it. Soothed, the beast calms. This is not the normal reaction to hearing Harris sing, but there you go. I guess maybe Jane’s way with animals is meant to be hereditary. Triumphant, James turns and flashes a ‘one’ sign to his daughter. I have no idea what that means, although I guess that means James was the one who stuck his hand into Jane’s tent. Maybe.

The expedition continues. Whee, this is great cinema. We do actually see the bagpiper now, although I still can’t justify his presence, other than Derek having bet he could make the most annoying movie in history. (A bet that at this point he has a pretty good chance of collecting.) Later James plays a childish game with Jane, making her close her eyes so he can show her something. He hands her a pair of binoculars, and when she is giving permission to look, she sees a vast cliff face in front of them. Here the screenwriter’s lyrical side comes to the fore:

Jane: “There must be a way around it!”
James: “No way! It goes on forever and ever and ever and ever.”
Jane: “Nothing goes on forever.”
James: Wrong! It does, and I do.”

In a way, this conversation sums up my relationship with the film. It’s the Energizer Bunny of suck.

So they make base camp and turn in for the night. James tells Jane she will return to the main camp with “100 of my best bearers.” There she is to report on their progress to “Sir Alan,” a character not previously referred to, nor ever referred to again. Jane refuses, perhaps because the expedition only has maybe 20 bearers to start with, if that. However, we have now reached a pivotal point in the film, wherein we first hear the Tarzan yell. I suspect they actually used the Weissmuller original here, for what it’s worth.

Jane’s curiously is naturally aroused, and James declares it is probably “Tar-Zan!” Holt elucidates, explaining Tarzan is a fabled “great white ape, supposedly 10 feet tall.” As opposed to this movie, which is a fabled white elephant, albeit one of many, many times that size.  James, having kissed the Blarney Stone like any good Irishman, corrects him, noting that Tarzan is a “great white man, supposedly 100 feet tall!” I sure wish I was watching that film instead of this one.

Holt gives in, and admits the stories speak of a gigantic half man, half ape. Here a native appears to report that the other natives are, well, restless after hearing this fabled call. Perhaps their ancient prophecies speak of getting themselves stuck in a really, really bad movie. ‘Africa,’ being the conscience of the film because she isn’t white—moral arithmetic is so easy, isn’t it?—is annoyed when James airily offers them more money to continue. Being Wise and Close to Nature and all, she knows that money is nasty, base stuff. “They do not need money that badly,” she glares. Good grief, is everyone having a coded conversation about this film?

She naturally warns of attaining the escarpment where the elephant graveyard is fabled to be. (Yes, the elephants when they are dying hie themselves up a gigantic, steep cliff.)  “No one has ever returned from the escarpment. Ever!” Here Harris is provided a hammy, bombastic monologue about how it’s fear that makes one truly feel alive. In any case, some more bearers appear and report that 40 (of the original 20) bearers have fled, but that the remaining ten will continue on.

We hear the Tarzan cry once more, and James explodes: “Oh, shut up, you boring son of a bitch!” Well, that settles it. Everyone is having a coded conversation about this film.  After confirming that ‘Africa’ is going to continue on as well, James orders her to go outside and shame more of the menfolk into joining in. And really, that’s a technique that’s been working for millennia, so you can’t gainsay him.

When Jane accuses her father of being a bastard, he cheerfully agrees. “I wallow in me,” he replies. That could have been the name of Harris’ autobiography. “I enjoy every syllable I say,” he continues, “every gesture I make. I indulge myself a full 100 percent.” Again, it’s easy to believe that Harris is describing his own, shall we say, robust acting technique. “And you take my advice, dear Jane, and you do the same.” Assuming he’s actually speaking to Bo, his advice will do little good. She never had that magnificent instrument that Harris, say what else you will about him, possessed.

The next morning, we see that the aforementioned cannon is used to shoot a grappling hook up the mountain.  Soon they are about halfway up. By the way, Harris does not suggest someone who could scale a vast cliff side, but dramatic license, I guess. After all, we’re to believe that they are hauling his dogs up along after him.  And in case you were wondering, despite his claims that it would never happen, Jane is still with the expedition.

A surprisingly apt metaphor.

So the party clambers along after him, or his stuntman at least. Then, because again nothing much exciting has happened for a while, they fail to check their equipment (this sort of thing always happens; see Jaws 3-D). And so the rope, chaffing against the edge of a rock ledge, naturally begins to abrade. We see the rope abrading for a good while, in fact, to ratchet up the tension—albeit more in a theoretical sense, at least in this case—as we are meant to breathlessly wonder who it will be that will plummet to a horrible demise.

Look! It’s my patience!

Gasp! Will it be ‘Africa’? Holt? Not Jane, surely? Well, I don’t want to blow it for you, but it turns out to be a Red Shirt. Er, native guy. Good grief, they couldn’t even give the fellow a close-up. In any case, given how the scene was handled, it suggests less that the Dark Continent is a naturally dangerous place, than that it is perilous to go on an expedition with morons who don’t know enough to check their gear.  Considering that I’d know that, well, it doesn’t speak very highly of our crew of adventurers here.

We then cut to James silhouetted against the sky, yelling at God. (Seriously.) “Why did you do that?! Why?!” he screams. Yes, it was God. God didn’t check your rope as person after person used it to climb up the mountain. Jackass. Anyway, his accusation is answered by a heavenly rumble of thunder. (!) Unsurprisingly, given that he is played by Richard Harris, James is the louder of the two.

Richard Harris auditions for the lead in the live-action Prince Planet movie.

The next day is sunny, though, and everyone’s feeling better. It was only an extra, after all. Meanwhile, James continues his charm campaign with Jane, showing her (what else) a half-assed ancient map leading to the elephant graveyard. “All your faith is based on this?” she asks in amazement. “This, and the seat of my pants,” he replies. He might well be speaking of the movie’s script, which quite apparently was an equally dodgy document.

Soon they stumble across the fabled inland sea that the map says lies close to the elephant graveyard. Any sane person might wonder what they are going to do with the remaining hour and fifteen minutes of film if they’ve reached it already, but really, Bo hasn’t even really gotten naked yet. So there’s a half hour right there, along with the frolicking and whatnot. And indeed, no sooner are they cavorting in the lake (which clearly isn’t an ‘inland’ one) then Jane announces she plans to stay behind (!) and take a bath.

And it’s here that finally, finally, we get the moment we’ve all supposedly been waiting for. No, dope, not the first appearance of Tarzan. (Remember him?) No, Bo is finally showing some boobage. And…look, it’s entirely nice boobage. First class stuff, really. But yea gods, it was a rough trip getting here. And now we’ve really just got more of the same to look forward to for the next hour and a quarter. Well, that and Tarzan, if he ever actually shows up.

Then, to some shameless chords that completely rip off the Jaws theme, a lion suddenly appears. Oh, yeah, that’s why people don’t break off by themselves on a deep country African expedition. I knew there was a reason. Eventually spying the beast, Jane wisely swims back out into the water. However, the lion stays put on the shore, and (naturally) all of the sudden the water is crashing onto Jane much more violently. And here we finally see the other thing we’ve (supposedly) been waiting for, Miles O’Keefe in his screen debut as Tarzan. And an impressive hunk of beefcake he is, it must be noted. He literally does resemble a Frazetta barbarian made flesh.*

[*With his buffed out physique and long hair, O’Keefe at least somewhat suggests Derek himself from back in his acting days. Especially in The Ten Commandments, where he was the stone mason who is saved from Vincent Price by Chuck Heston. I don’t want to read too much into that, but in the Dereks’ last film, the atrocious Ghosts Can’t Do It, [cringe] Anthony Quinn plays a once-virile old guy who dies but remains behind as a frustrated spirit because he can no longer boff his beautiful young wife, as played by Bo. Quinn spends much of the movie lamenting the fact that Bo will now seek out the company of other, younger, and oh yeah, living men. You don’t have to be Freud to read something into all this.]

In response to Tarzan’s yell, the lion…yawns. Seriously, that’s what it looks like. And yep, the lion just sits down and takes a load off. Then, in what might be a jape on Bo’s legendary introduction in 10, Tarzan comes pounding across the beach. Anyone hoping at long last for some action, though, will be hopelessly disappointed, as the big cat reacts to Tarzan’s appearance by getting all kittenish instead of attacking. Yawn. Boy, that’s the kind of excitement you long for in a film about the Lord of the Jungle.

Worst reimagining of Chariots of Fire ever!

And so O’Keefe and Bo finally meet, two physically perfect human beings without a single speck of acting talent or screen presence between them.  It’s like watching a Gable & Lombard picture where the stars have been replaced by posters of Gable & Lombard. But it’s better, because O’Keefe and Bo are all but naked. That’s better, right? What’s blazing charisma compared to that?

Tarzan drags a screaming Jane from the surf, but her fear of him (or maybe the lion) are needless. He hauls her to land and then slowly backs away.  Jane stays too close to the water, though, and the tides continue to pull at her. At one point the lion advances on the distracted Tarzan, but have no fear, nothing exciting happens. Our Hero then drags Jane back onto the sand once more.

Here a shot rings out, and both Tarzan and the lion flee. James and Holt come running, looking in confusion at the white man they saw run off. Then, seeing that his daughter is unharmed, James yells to Holt to “Make camp!” And why not, that’s what Harris has been doing the entire picture. However, it’s probably to get the younger man away, since Jane is sitting around clad only in a fully translucent slip.

That night, James decides it’s time to have The Talk with Jane, especially regarding Tarzan’s apparent interest in her. Jane argues that Tarzan is a man, but James replies, “He lives like an ape and kills like an ape.” (Despite the fact we haven’t seen him kill anything yet.) James further warns, “This ape son of a bitch wants you.” Jane completely misconstrues what he means, however. I have to say, given all they’ve done to make Jane a proto-feminist adventuress kind of character, not to mention the fact that Bo was in her mid-20s here, it makes her extreme innocence regarding sexuality seems a bit off. In any case, James reacts like any good father: He plans to “blow a hole” in her jungle suitor and “stuff him and hang him on the wall of my club.”

More expedition stuff. Yes, every single frame of this film is gold that would have been a tragedy to lose. By the way, the majority of bearers appear to be native women all of the sudden, allowing for more National Geographic Rule boobage. And Jane, now that she’s shown the goods, is walking through the river with her skirt hiked way up to expose her shapely thighs. Really, Jane? You might want to try trousers. Just sayin’.

James halts the party, explaining that something is wrong. He is, of course, correct, as we see a Jungle Savage with (what else) a spear gazing on them from above. In full sight, too, but nobody notices him. Those are some sharp survival skills there, James et al. Anyway, not seeing the guy, the expedition moves on. Suddenly, things are interrupted by a scream. James runs back, and finds some of the women bearers sobbing. Tarzan, they report, has stolen away ‘Africa.’ Of course, it’s not Tarzan to blame, but the Bad Natives, who adorn themselves with white paint. But only we see this, and an irate James renews his threats against Our Hero.

That night, James senses something, and explores the perimeter of the camp. He finds the dead bodies of two of the whitewashed natives. Presumably Tarzan left them there as a token of his innocence. Jane properly intuits this, but James mulishly sticks with his vendetta against the Ape Man. More expedition stuff. Jane asks, “May we stop, please?” Sister, you said it! Sadly, though, she only wants to fill her canteen, which isn’t the rather more extensive respite I’d been hoping for.

James agrees, and orders a fifteen minute break, which in this film I fear will be shown in real time. He announces he’ll to head off to scout things out, leaving Holt to watch over Jane. Holt does a half-assed job, though, and when he turns away Tarzan rears from the water where Jane is filling her canteen and pulls her under. When Holt turns around Jane has disappeared. Oops! He jumps into the water, but his search is in vain.

Tarzan is carrying Jane over his shoulder and lopes off deep into the jungle with her. When he finally drops her she pulls her revolver, begging him to keep his distance. When he continues to advance, she fires into the air, scaring him off. “Oh, no, wait,” she then pleads, “don’t go!” Personally, I find this most realistic moment in the movie. Women! Am I right, gentlemen?

By the way, it’s here that we reach a very important milestone. The film is finally half over. It should all be downhill from here…in more ways than one, I imagine.

Disappointed that her prospective beau would run off after a little gunfire, Jane begins to make her way back to camp. When she hears a shot in the distance, she fires again, signaling her location. However, she hangs back to see if Tarzan will pop back up, whereupon she rests against a tree and a humongous snake is dropped on her. Despite the reptile’s patent lack of interest in her, she pretends to wrestle with it, ala Lugosi and the rubber octopus in Bride of the Monster. It’s one of those deals where you find yourself shouting, “Hey, leave that poor snake alone, you jerks!”

There follows an ‘action’ sequence so inept it should be shown in film classes as a negative example. Tarzan comes swinging in on the traditional vine, yelling his yell.  This is shown in stuttering slow-motion. Film historian Stuart Galbraith opined the glitchy look was because it wasn’t actually shot in slo-mo, but processed to look that way in the lab. Anyway, everyone ends up in the river, where Tarzan grabs hold of the snake.

Perhaps in an attempt to hide just how apathetic the snake was, Derek has the editor optically layer shot after shot of Tarzan and the snake and Jane on top of each other, until the image is a literally incomprehensible mess. Oh, and it’s all in fake slow-motion was well. This goes on for a good long while, just on and on and on, and man, it really sucks.*

[*Jabootu proofreader Bill Leary, however, sagely makes the following point: “It may go on and on, but at least it’s the same awfulness chewing up film time. The alternative would be two or more awful things.” It’s hard to argue with him.]

It is, without doubt, one of the worst film sequences I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s so bad it’s one of the only things I remembered from when I saw the movie thirty years ago. And in seeing it again, it completely lived down to my memories of it. Eventually, out of sheer self-defense, I had to sell my manhood cheap and fast forward through it. I have no regrets.

So eventually we go back to one image at a time. Tarzan and Jane exit the water, leaving the snake behind. Was it supposed to be dead? Don’t know, and don’t care. Tarzan then picks up Jane, sans gun, and again runs off with her. However, his struggles with the snake (I guess) have exhausted him, and he falls to the ground in a daze. Maybe even a coma, although this is Miles O’Keefe we’re talking about here, so it’s hard to tell.

Jane looks over her captor and does that fingertip-chewing thing as she gazes upon his mighty thews. Then two chimps and an orangutan lope up to tenderly minister to our Fallen Hero. Why an orangutan in lieu of the more traditional gorilla? Got me. Maybe because Every Which Way But Loose was such a hit back in 1978?  Jane then looks on in astonishment, or something—this is Bo Derek we’re talking about here, so it’s hard to tell—as a chimp arrives riding an elephant. The elephant lifts Tarzan by using its tusks like a fork lift, and the animal brigade heads out.

Jane tags along, and why not, it’s not hard to keep up with an ambling elephant.  The apes scream at her, but she begs them to stop, and they do. The procession goes on for a while, and it’s pretty boring, but so is the rest of the movie and at least this scene has an elephant in it. Eventually the pachyderm lays Tarzan down on the ground next to a lagoon, and apes continue their ministrations. These largely consist of splashing Tarzan with water and nuzzling his face.

Jane beckons the chimps, and instead of ripping her face off with their huge fangs, they prove quite docile. Jane examines Tarzan, and is relieved to find he has a “strong heartbeat.” She then tears off part of her skirt and uses it as a wet rag to, well, blot him, I guess. She tells one chimp to re-wet the rag, and he does. This makes no sense, because in this version Tarzan can’t talk, and so the chimps would have no familiarity with the language, but there you go. Continuity is a hobgoblin of small minds.

Jane takes advantage of things to fondle Tarzan a little. She then shyly looks around while demurely chewing her fingertip again, and explains to her ape companions that “I’ve never touched a man before.”  I don’t know who told the Dereks that it would be erotic for Bo to stroke a man’s thigh as an orangutan looks on via a series of overly tight close-ups and assumes a leering smile, but it ain’t.  In fact, it’s downright creepy.




We’ve reached that treading water/dead zone portion of the film that makes its two hour length a pointless slog. When did Hollywood lose the ability to tightly edit a movie? Apparently as far back as 1981, anyway. Bo tends to and gropes the unconscious Tarzan. Holt and James continue to search for her, with the latter again promising to kill Bo’s beau. Yada yada yada. Forty five minutes to go. Man, I’m really hoping for a very looong end credit sequence here.*

[*Future Ken: Careful what you ask for. I got one, and it was no relief.]

Back to Jane. She is shocked with Tarzan suddenly rears upward. No, all of him, you pervert. “You don’t understand a word I say,” she asks, which is kind of insulting, given that she was just giving instructions to a chimp. Tarzan goes for a swim and Jane and the apes follow. Man, I hate this movie. It just goes on and on and so little actually happens.

So the animals frolic, and Tarzan decides to play hard to get, and they mercilessly drag out the scene like some Lovecraftian sort of foreplay. Tarzan hides up in a tree, Jane sits at the base of it and occasionally gazes upward. He looks up, she looks down. Repeat. Apparently we’re going to have to wait before we get the big scene where they finally Make Love. Ugh. The whole thing is just gruesome. If you want to know what provoked the guys in The Deer Hunter to play Russian roulette, it was watching this film. That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.

Night falls. The Tree Status Quo is maintained. For the love of Pete. Eventually things move forward when Tarzan drops some twigs and leafs on Jane. Twice. This, this right here, is apparently why the film had to be two frickin’ hours long. Finally, though, Tarzan lowers a huge vine—gee, what could that stand for—and then uses it to haul Jane up to the treetop.

Tarzan is yet stand-offish, I guess because Jane hurt his feelings or something. He lies on the far side of the large, bed-like tree top. He dozes off, and Jane lies off on the other side. She mewls about being scared, presumably of her approaching deflowering (ick). One of the chimps comes over to comfort her and hold her hand. Yes, really. This probably sounds funny, but it’s not, except in a way the Joker might appreciate.

Eventually, Jane dozes off, whereupon Tarzan comes over to sneak a look. Ugh, this movie. Luckily, like all apes, he’s a perfect gentleman, and does nothing. The next morning, he is awakened by a loud voice; somehow the expedition has ended up right under his tree. James is still yelling about killing him, for about the two dozenth time, just so we don’t forget that plot thread. I’m not sure why we would, though, given that are basically just two of them; Tarzan and Jane eventually getting it on, and James wanting to kill Tarzan. Oh, yeah, there’s the elephant graveyard thing, but that’s getting a lot less play.

So the expedition heads off to continue the search. Tarzan leaves the tree for more swimming…again. Yep, two hours long. And every single moment is gold. Jane shimmies down the vine after him, and she goes swimming as well. Man, this thing is just captivating. I can barely take my eyes off of it. Anyway, since Tarzan is so reticent, Jane has to vamp him. Then he moves towards her, and she backs away, and repeat, and repeat, and so the Oldest Game continues. And continues. And continues. Ad infinitum, not to mention ad nauseam.

The sad thing is that this is the heart of the movie. Bo standing in a drenched white shirt—no undergarments, very common for upper class women of the time, I hear—so you can see her boobies while a mute slab of beefcake slooooowly makes his way to her for the (eventual) snoo-snoo. The whole thing is an entertainment black hole, especially since the antic Harris is largely offscreen for a goodly hunk of the picture here. And really, Bo, enough with the friggin’ chewing of the fingertip already. Yeesh.

But, gasp, what’s this? Is something going to actually happen? For James has split his party into three groups to conduct the search. And these, in turn, are themselves being stalked by the Bad Whitewashed Natives. Correction, we now see that they are painted all sorts of colors.

Then, arghh, back to Our Leads. I’m not much for monkeys, but elephants are cool, and occasionally Tarzan’s pachyderm is briefly in shot and I’ve got to grasp at the sight like a drowning man clutching a straw. And yes, the ‘courtship’ thing is dragged out even more. For instance, now Tarzan is backing up, and Jane is approaching him. See, it’s the reverse of what we saw before. In the end, this is a softcore sex film where we’ve got to wait over an hour and a half for the softcore sex, well past the point when any nominal interest in the thing has expired.*

[*Spoiler alert! There is no sex later, either. There, I blew the movie.]

Then—and I nearly wept here—one of the chimps throws Jane a banana, and she peels and eats it in a lascivious fashion. Seriously, what can you say to that? Then Jane spells out for our edification that she’s still a virgin, which was never a fantasy of mine to start with. Frankly, I doubt I will ever have any fantasies again, except of every copy of this film around the world spontaneously combusting.

Eroticism for Dummies.

So the split-up expedition begins to fall prey to the Bad Natives, which we see in brief glimpses before hurrying back to Jane and Tarzan. Jane has now entered a chatty phase, which is useful because otherwise something might happen and eventually the scene might end. But have no fears of that! The Giant Hammer which Derek is pounding us with, just to make sure we ‘get it,’ is that the two are currently living in Eden-like splendor and perfection, a timeless place where there is no sin other than, apparently, providing anything that might even momentarily interest the viewer. Even the elephant isn’t doing it for me now.

Liz, congrats, you broke me. I started leaning on the fast forward button more and more, and the film still never seemed to advance! It’s a nightmare that even Freddy Krueger wouldn’t inflict on anyone. Finally, finally, Tarzan begins groping Jane’s breasts while she natters on, and the bile rises in my throat as I tell myself, “It’s one second closer to being over…it’s one second closer to being over…”

Anyway, the scene is ARGGGGGGGGGGH! interrupted when Jane hears a shot nearby, and realizes her father is approaching. Meanwhile, James finally spots the Bad Natives, but he keeps his head down and soldiers on. Then we cut to another processed slow-motion shot, this time of Tarzan and Jane swinging on a vine. By the way, have I mentioned the film’s incredibly pedestrian score? I really shouldn’t slight it. It’s like something written by a freshman, C- film composing student. It’s not really awful or anything. Instead, it contributes to the film’s slow, quicksand-like texture, dragging you slowly down and down until you are gagging and begin praying for the sweet relief of death.

James is ecstatic when he hears Jane approaching, but this turns to rage when he sees Tarzan with her.  He lifts his rifle, but Jane stands between him and his shot until Tarzan can retreat.  Their reunion is cut short, however, then the Bad Natives appear en masse. Soon all the bearers are slaughtered and the white folk taken prisoner. Yay! Maybe we’re actually inching our way towards the film’s long dreamt of conclusion.

The Parkers and Holt are transported down river in a Bad Native canoe. However, Chimp (does it matter which one?) is following them. Then we cut back to Tarzan, who’s with two chimps and the orangutan. So either there are three chimps, or this is a gross continuity error. The canoes arrive at the Bad Native Village, and Chimp heads back to report, getting his own slo-mo shot of him swinging on a vine. Is this a gag? I honestly, truly can’t tell. When a film is this incompetent, its motives become obscure.

The Village is a pretty elaborate set, and there are a fairly large number of extras all decked out in head and body paint. If nothing else, Derek was wise enough to save a sizable portion of his budget for the (supposedly) big ending. And despite James’ belief that Tarzan had stolen away ‘Africa,’ it turns out (duh) that the Bad Natives took her. By the way, all the women in the village are naked save for a small loincloth, and all painted from head to toe. So I think we can guess what that portends. That’s right: Boredom!

Anyhoo, there’s a dead elephant by the Village, so guess what, it’s right nearby the elephant graveyard James has been looking for. (But which we economically never actually see.) And the Village is ruled by a ginormous guy. Clearly this is who Tarzan will fight at the film’s no doubt completely underwhelming climax, if we can ever get there. By the way, paint aside, this guy and lots of the painted women seem to be white. I guess Derek wanted to avoid having Tarzan fight a black villain, lest he be accused of being racist or something. Or maybe nobody thought about it at all. It’s that kind of movie.

Chimp returns to Tarzan to report the news. Sensing a ‘Timmy’s fallen into the well’ situation, the Jungle Lord follows him. Meanwhile, back in the Village, Bo is naked and on all fours, being scrubbed by a bunch of other women. The scrubbing proceeds at (surprise!) some length, and is often shown in tight close-ups and, yes, slo-mo (!!). Again, I’m sure this is somebody’s fetish, but it ain’t mine.

Tarzan is seen swinging his way to the rescue, doing his yell, which rouses some local elephants. Meanwhile, James suddenly, for no real apparent reason except that the script calls for it, descends into full blown madness. He exhorts Jane to “Go to the clouds!”  OK, that’s a pretty tepid sort of madness, but it’s what we get.

Suddenly, Tarzan appears on an elephant, leading a small herd of the beasts. However, they stop short of the Village, perhaps attempting to preserve for themselves some scrap of dignity denied to the human cast members. (Or maybe it was an actual village and Derek wasn’t allowed to actually damage it. So there goes the traditional elephant stampede.)

So Tarzan leaps down and begins knocking dudes down, although he clearly isn’t really touching them half the time. It appears fight choreography will be another of the film’s triumphs. In the Village proper, Jane is now behind a screen, mewling about how they’re painting her. “They’re painting my hair!”, she sobs, like a woman who’s lost a challenge on some reality show. Sure enough, Jane is now covered hair to toe in dead white paint, save for the obligatory (also painted) loincloth.

As with the bath, we to our supposed jollies are ‘treated’ to the sight of several bored-looking extras rubbing paint on Our Heroine as the latter writhes around. And then all of the sudden Jane’s hair and lips have been painted green for accent. By the way, in case you were wondering, the painting goes on for a loooong time. I hope that didn’t just shock the crap out of you.

Cut several times to Tarzan—who a while ago was like fifty yards away from it by land—now swimming (?) towards the Village…in slow-motion. WTF, MAN! SERIOUSLY! WTF?! John Derek, you asshole, now you’re just screwing with us on purpose, aren’t you? You evil, evil bastard. Screw you, John Derek.

Meanwhile, James is asking Jane if she likes merry-go-rounds. He’s now nuts, remember? Then he starts talking about Greek gods and other crap. Then he starts reciting nursery rhymes, which is about the laziest way to indicate madness ever. Whatever, dudes.

By the way, I guess I gave the film too much credit where Holt was concerned. I assumed he would be a villain because I further assumed—silly, silly me—that he would have some actual plot relevance, especially given that he was played by the film’s third biggest actor. My bad, Holt doesn’t really have jack crap to do with anything. If he disappeared from the film (he wishes!) it wouldn’t change a thing.

By the way, the guy playing the Ivory King, the really big dude, is ex-wrestler and one time Jesse Ventura tag team partner Steve Strong. He’s white, but his torso has been painted black. So is he supposed to be black? I mean, really, in 1981, a white guy colored in makeup to play a villainous black dude? Yowsa!

Meanwhile, for no apparent reason other than perhaps to finally shut him up, the Ivory King grabs an elephant tusk and impales James though the chest with it.* Oh, the irony, eh? Because James came here to seek the ivory in the elephant’s graveyard, and now such a tusk as he sought has been used as the implement of his destruction. Get it? DO YOU?! Because I wouldn’t want you to miss it.

[*Actually, he clearly shoves it down at least a foot past Harris’ chest, ala the venerable ‘stick the sword under his armpit’ gambit. We’re not supposed to be able to tell this because the camera is situated on the other side of him. But we can anyway. It’s pretty obvious, in fact, because the tusk is so big it had to go well over to the side of him.]

So it’s all tragic and crap, and Jane the Friendly Ghost is all crying and stuff, and Tarzan presumably is still swimming the twenty feet to the Village, although to be fair it does take a lot longer when you’re doing it in slow-motion. Then the Ivory King heads towards the helpless Jane, presumably with a fate worse than death on his mind. That’s right, he’s going to show her this movie! Ha, ha! Take that, John Derek! Revenge is mine!

Then the Tarzan Yell is heard, emanating from some trees, so I’m not sure how that fits, since unsurprisingly the trees are on the opposite side of the Village from the river. In any case, everyone turns to look towards the sound…in slow-motion. I crap you not. Seriously. Derek must have been receiving bribes from The Slow-Motion Advisory Board or something.

So Tarzan awkwardly appears flying into shot, and crashes down on the Ivory King, who’s like 50% bigger than he is. And yes, their fight is in slo-mo. I’d say it’s a parody of homoeroticism, if I thought Derek had that much wit. The fight mostly consists of the Ivory King crushing Tarzan against his own body, his hand’s looped around the writhing Tarzan’s waist as he tries to crush his foe’s spine.

Eventually Tarzan breaks free with an ineffectual-looking Two Handed Kirk Blow, whereupon the two INNNNN SLLLLLOOOOOOOOWWWW MMOOOOTIIIOOONNN begin to roll around the ground. For a softcore sex flick starring Bo Derek, it has to be noted that Tarzan gets a lot more action from the Ivory King than he ever does with Jane.

Anyway, Tarzan eventually just outmuscles his much larger opponent, which is pretty unbelievable and looks even more so in slo-mo. Then he gets behind him and snaps his enemy’s neck…very slooooowly, not to mention anti-climatically.  Sated, an exhausted Tarzan slumps over his lover enemy, before rising to make with a triumphant Tarzan Yell. And so ends the main action of ‘Robert Maplethorpe’s Tarzan’.

Even now there’s 11 minutes of movie left, which of course makes no sense. But that’s because they have to service what might well be the worst Death Scene in motion picture history. Jane goes over to her father, who despite have a massive elephant tusk rammed (supposedly) through his chest, is Not Dead Yet. As his 95% naked daughter hovers over him on all fours, painted dead white save for her green hair and lips, Harris is given a long Death Scene where he rambles on for several straight minutes of screentime.

This scene is the film’s only genuine laff riot, as James passes fairly peacefully away for a guy with a gigantic tusk rammed through his guts (albeit still obviously well off to his side) who’s talking to his painted white naked daughter. He blathers on at some length, even for this film: “And so…it’s growing dark…darker…are you there, Jane?…I…I…I am reminded of this one time in Cleveland, when….”

Jane goes to Holt (and thank goodness he was saved), and the idea I guess is that now that the chief bad guy is dead the others will just let everyone go. Jane orders Holt to tell the world of James’ success. For her part, of course, she returns to the jungle with Her Man.

We see the couple back at the Lagoon, and in what maybe could be a moment of wit, see that Tarzan is covered with white paint, presumably from having rubbed up against Jane along the way. And, yes, they get into water, again, and the paint comes off, and we again see Bo topless, which just gets more exciting EVERY DAMN TIME, and there’s a moment where Chimp seems to kiss one of her nipples. I mean, who the hell puts that shot into a movie? And who lets a ‘trained’ ape puts it mouth on his own wife’s nipples? Several people who starred in Tarzan movies were attacked by the apes over the years, after all.

So ends the movie, except that there are five and a half minutes left (!!), which consist of footage of Jane and more importantly Jane’s Heaving Naked Breasts frolicking with Tarzan and the apes. These antics continue throughout the end credits, including the legendary minutes of footage featuring the topless Bo rolling around on the ground with the orangutan. It’s like Clint Eastwood made a movie called ‘Every Which Way But That Which God Intended.’ I have to say, the orangutan is extraordinarily docile, which is good, because O’Keefe and Bo both wrestle with it and kick at it and such. If that Grizzly Man mental switch had been thrown in the orangutan’s head, that ape would have torn them both to pieces.

Five and a half straight minutes of this.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here. Yes, Bo’s boobs are seen for maybe ten minutes throughout the film, mostly during the five-minute long closing credit sequence. But surely there are less painful ways to see some naked hooters. For instance, I hear some can be found on the Internet now. Anyone looking for a good bad movie experience is directed to watch Orca, or a number of other much more entertaining films, some of which also feature nudity if that’s your main criteria. But man, stay away from this one. And Bo-Lero. And Ghosts Can’t Do It, for that matter.

And Liz, I will find a copy of The Facts of Life Down Under. And you will review it, by hook or by crook. Maybe I’ll have to wait ten years until our next Secret Santa roundtable, but wait I will.  Beware, Liz. Beware…

Secret Santa 3: The Wrath of Ken

  • JazzyJ

    Wow. I remember watching this back in the early 80’s on HBO, and, like Ken, my memories were only fragmentary. (I was on 13 at the time.) Yes, I was indeed watching this movie for exactly the reason a 13-year-old boy WOULD watch this movie. And, apparently, I blocked almost all of this movie out of my memory. Bo-lero, tho, THAT one I remember. Oh, man.

    Seriously, though, the one scene I do remember is the banana. No, really. Everything else was gone. Like Bo’s emotional expressionism…

  • BeckoningChasm

    Ken, I think even the CGI haters are probably now clamoring for a DVD set of the “Burton, Harris and Blessed” Stooges. Our technology now has a glorious purpose!

  • PB210

    STAGE 1: Jane in a Victorian camisole and bloomers.

    ———————————–
    Did the makers of Tarzan the Ape Man (1981) actually set the film in the Victorian era? If they did, they made a mistake. Tarzan’s adventures never took place in the Victorian era. The first Tarzan novel saw first publication in a 1912 issue of All-Story Magazine.

    Burroughs established Tarzan’s birth as occurring in 1888 (I have Philip Jose Farmer’s Tarzan Alive, a chronology he wrote after a critical review of the Tarzan works by ERB, with me as I write this.) Per Farmer, Tarzan met Jane in 1909. Burroughs wrote about Tarzan up until about 1946.

    (Of course, Burroughs also slipped up and had Tarzan’s son serving in World I, which ended in 1918.)

  • Its hardly worth mentioning, what with this films already myriad problems, but I’ll say it anyway. Orangutans are not native to Africa. Its bad enough when tigers show up in Tarzan films and we hear Australian kookaburras calling out in the Congo. Oh well. The raincoat crowd probably weren’t concerned about minor glitches like that. They had probably been bored un-stiff (see what I did there?) by this movies death-march pace.

  • BeckoningChasm

    The fight mostly consists of the Ivory King crushing Tarzan against his own body, his hand’s looped around the writhing Tarzan’s waist as he tries to crush his foe’s spine.

    Oh man, it’s the Solomon Grundy Grab Attack!

  • David Fullam

    Excellent, excellent review. I applaud you for doing something I was never able to. Make it through this film in one sitting. I have pretty much seen it all over the years, but not all at one time. Such is it’s incredible boredom. At least Richard Harris is there with his OTT performance. That helps a great deal. I have long been fascinated by the Derek story. John was a handsome man, and a decent actor. I wish he had remained that way, but he hated the old studio system and rebelled. He would have fared far better as an actor and director I’m sure. Now matter how beautiful Bo was, bad films and Playboy spreads could not sustain a career. Certainly we all wish to see our favorite sex symbols in the buff, but there must be some kind of substance to go along with it. Predicating the films on Bo first, plot and direction second was a huge mistake. It also didn’t help that John was a poor director. Miles was a totally buff Tarzan and once told a tale of how he arrived at the location’s airport, walked in all upbeat and ready to go. Passing him on the way out were disgruntled film crew members who were either fired or quit, cursing John Derek aloud. It was the first sign of what would be a troubled set for him.

  • sandra

    Not being a man, I shall have to take your word for it about Bo Derek’s hotness. In the photos she looks either retarded or demented. By all accounts, Derek liked his women stupid.

  • There’s little doubt Ms. Derek was an inordinately striking woman. Again, though, she suffered from a severe lack of…well, pretty much any interior quality, at least on screen. (And again, it’s that which Blake Edwards cannily cast her for; Hollywood is jammed packed with gorgeous women.) As for me, her charms are singularly lost; I’ve always preferred cute and pretty women to exaggerated gorgeous ones. However, much as I can appreciate Miles O’Keefe as a fine figure of a man without being moved by him, so can I appreciate Ms. Derek.

  • alex

    I always tought Bo Derek looks unreal. The eye color, the cheekbones, the nose, etc. She’s like a living doll. It’s like aliens took a picture of Kim Basinger circa 1980 and decided to create a replica. It looks like a hot blonde but there’s something weird about it.

  • alex

    If you look at recent pictures of Bo Derek I think she’s more attractive now than she was back then. I mean she was always good looking but today she looks better than ever and like a real person. I have no idea how she pulled off looking more beautiful in her fifties than her twenties. Bravo miss Derek!

  • Tork_110

    “I’m sure there’s an even longer director’s cut edition where James tries Jane’s newfangled laundry soap, pours whole box into the washtub, and the entire camp is hilariously engulfed in suds.”

    Was this on the same night where James’s hothead boss was over for a promised special meal before they discuss a long-deserved promotion, but everything goes wrong! Man, that’s good cinema.

  • …she never for a moment suggests someone born in the tail end of the 19th Century. Imagine a distaff version of Keanu Reeves’ performance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula…

    So…Winona Ryder’s performance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

  • roger h

    so I take it this film does not get a “10′?

    I always thought it was creepy that the women in Derek’s life all looked alike. Something cuckoo going on there, I wonder what his mother look like.

  • Yes! If you look at pictures of Ursula, Linda and Bo all about the same age, it is indeed creepy.

  • Rock Baker

    First off, I should note that I haven’t seen just a whole lot of Bo. Never saw any of her movies and the few photos/footage I’ve seen didn’t leave an impact. I like thin girls, but when I think of Bo I see a girl just a little too thin. She’s, in my memory at least, just boney. And Her face, what I recall, was actually rather plain (but that could just be the 70s that are at fault for that, that decade took a lot of possibly beautiful women and stripped them of any hint of glamor). Linda could be pretty, and Ursula was at least exotic. Bo though, doesn’t do anything for me. (Again, I haven’t seen any of her movies, so she may be more striking than I’m able to recall, but the photos in this review don’t seem to imply otherwise.)

    I do like Tarzan movies, so I may still see this one someday (I MAY, but I’m not making plans to). This one seems half-heartedly adapted from the (1933?) Buster Crabbe movie, Tarzan the Ape Man, which had been more faithfully remade in 1959 as Tarzan the Ape Man (boy, when a title works, MGM got their money out of it!). The 59 version would probably be a big hit around here, as it was sort of a cross between a big budget jungle epic and a poverty row studio jungle epic. Scope, color, nice sets, but we also see Tarzan locked in mortal combat with a plush leopard puppet not at all unlike the sabertoothed tiger from The Neanderthal Man! Also, they feature the needed elephant stampede, but the footage is lifted from the earlier Tarzan film! Black and white footage spliced into a color film, with only some optically added (full-color) fire to make the footage different! Wow! To top things off, Denny (The Doomsday Machine) Miller plays Tarzan! (Among Miller’s many television gigs, he did two episodes of Gilligan’s Island. In the first season, it was as muscleman surfer Duke Williams, but in the thrid season he turned up playing none other than Tongo the Ape Man!)

  • Dana

    I’d never seen this movie before and let me just say…that dang snake scene goes on forever! I actually went to the kitchen, made me a sandwich, came back, and it was still going on!

  • alex

    I saw that wedding scene in The Deer Hunter over 20 years ago and I think it’s still going on.

  • So Bill is a “Jabootu proofreader” but I never even get to see this review? I’m horribly offended.

    FWIW, the Irish do play bagpipes. Their version is smaller and sounds somewhat different, because it’s meant for indoor rather than outdoor use. These days when playing outside, Irish pipers often are (so I’ve read) prone to using the Scottish pipes.

  • Carl, you know you trail no one in my esteem as a proofreader and nitpicker extraordinaire! Bill had sent me a note recently, so I was spared the embarrassment of coming hat in hand to him after (let’s admit it) several years of inactivity to toss a review at him. Believe me, I’d be glad to put you back on the list as well. I’m hoping 2011 will see the site become more productive again, and as always, I can use all the help I can.

  • Marsden

    I basically agree with Rock about Bo, I thought she looked like a skeleton with 2 cantalopes attached to it’s chest. Maybe that’s too harsh, I don’t mean to be offensive, but she really didn’t seem pretty, unless your a Bud Bundy kind of guy and the blow up doll is your perfect woman.

  • jeff

    Great review Ken. I’ve never made it thru this one, and don’t plan on changing that happy fact.

    John definitely seemed to have a virginity fetish though, didn’t he. I remember Bo’s character in bolero specifically pointing out her “innocence” (and subsequent loss of such once bedded for the first time. . .).

  • silverwheel

    Miles O’Keefe had a real knack for awful snake fights.

  • P Stroud

    I really appreciate your willingness to slog through crap like this so that I won’t have to. But I’m afraid that too many crap heaps like this will have a soul withering effect on you. I think you deserve a real meaty Jabootu production on the level of “Can’t Stop The music” or “Magnificent Obsession” to sink your teeth (or extremity) into. Something with real Jabootu panache. It must be really difficult to come up with as commentary much as you have over crud like “Tarzan”.

  • Andy

    Great review. This movie is bad almost beyond words. I actually endured it in the theatre WAY BACK in 1981. I always thought there was something creepy about teenage Bo and middle-aged, multi-divorced Derek running off to escape the statutory rape laws. Funny how Bo’s parents never gave it a thought….

  • Dr. Whiggs

    How much Keefe is in this movie?

  • onirefec laucsap

    i have read an article about this movie “Tarzan, the ape man”. It says that after shooting the movie, Ms. Bo Derek, my favorite actress, was raped by two or three orangutans. Is the story true, please advice. Thanks!!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never heard of an actual rape. I did hear that the regular orangutan Bo romps around with basically “got frisky,” as they rolled around together; i.e. groped her and such. I hope that was the extent of it. Ick.

  • AndrewS

    It must be some sort of record, I almost choked on my beverage twice in the space of three paragraphs! I don’t know which is funnier. “Imagine a version of the Stooges with Harris as Larry, Burton—of
    course—as Moe, and, oh, Brian Blessed as Curly. It would have been the
    single greatest thing in human history.” or “That’s right, he only stole away to protect Jane’s mother from the
    awesome power of his mighty pile driver penis. So, you know, who is Jane
    to judge?”

    By the way, I have to agree with the description of “the single greatest thing in human history.” The only remaining question is who gets to be Shemp? It is hard to think of a fourth ham of that caliber.

  • AndrewS

    By the way, didn’t anyone in the cast and crew realize orangutans don’t live in Africa? You would think at least the animal handlers might have mentioned it.

  • Anonymous

    Peter O’Toole.

  • AndrewS

    Better than having them do the “pop goes the Weasel” skit, how about “Three Little Pirates”. Blessed and Burton doing “maha” “Aha!” back and forth is about as surreal as you can get. (Oddly enough, I am watching old Dr Who DVDs and happen to have the “Trial of a Time Lord” one on… The costume Brian Blessed wore in that one could almost work for the Maharaja role.)

  • spookym

    Would have been much better if O’Keefe was naked while running down the beach. Flip-flop, flip-flop.