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Tarzan and His Mate

Tarzan and His Mate(1934)

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teaser Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

During the studio era, when scores of motion pictures were cranked out on aweekly basis, many performers wound up being typecast in particular kinds ofroles. It was the nature of the assembly-line beast. Bigger talents, forthe most part, had no problem with this, since they were able tooccasionally move between their accepted personas and other types ofcharacters. But lesser actors were often forced to inhabit exactly the samecharacter over and over again, throughout their careers. Their publicpractically demanded it.

Johnny Weissmuller is the best example of this. All anybody knew about himwhen he was cast as Tarzan, King of the Jungle, was that he was a championamateur swimmer, was strikingly handsome, and couldn't act a lick. And thatwas all anybody knew about him 12 movies and 16 years later, when he finallyquit playing Tarzan and took on the less-heralded role of Jungle Jim.Tarzan and His Mate (1934) was the second, and easily the most memorable, ofWeissmuller's Tarzan pictures. It's briskly paced, beautifullyphotographed, and features a racy swimming sequence that was censored at thetime of the movie's release. All that, and you get to see Tarzan wrestle arubber alligator!

This time around, Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton), who visited the jungle in thefirst movie, returns to Africa looking for ivory. He's accompanied by hisfriend, Martin Arlington (Paul Cavanagh). Holt also intends to bring Janeback to "civilization" with him, not that she's particularly interested inreturning. Tarzan, for his part, will eventually try to stop Holt'sexpedition from plundering ivory from the sacred elephant burial grounds,and will confront an assortment of wild animals in the process. It's notexactly War and Peace, but it didn't need to be.

Back in 1934, the scene that caused all the commotion was available in threedifferent versions that were edited by MGM to meet the standards ofparticular markets. However, the original one was restored when Ted Turnerissued Tarzan and His Mate on video in 1991. In it, Tarzan and Jane(in this instance, O'Sullivan's swimming double, Josephine McKim) dance agraceful underwater ballet...and Jane is completely nude! Then, when sherises out of the water, O'Sullivan (now re-assuming the role) flashes a barebreast. Such big-screen impropriety was virtually unheard of at the time,and the Production Code Office had a fit. O'Sullivan's scant costume, whencoupled with her utterly inescapable sexual charisma, was bad enough.Censors certainly didn't need her, or anyone else, stripping off on-screen before theywent swimming.

Who knows how or why MGM thought it could get away with such a move. Thesequence may well have made it as far as it did due to the confusionsurrounding the entire production. Less than a month into shooting, theoriginal director, Cedric Gibbons, was replaced by Jack Conway, althoughthere's no record of exactly why this happened. Then Rod La Rocque wasreplaced by Paul Cavanagh. William Stack and Desmond Roberts also steppedin, taking over roles that had originally been cast with otheractors.

When filming was finished, Gibbons promptly went back to his old job as anMGM art director. He worked on literally hundreds of pictures between 1924and the late 1950s, but, for whatever forgotten reason, Tarzan and HisMate was the only one he ever directed. In later years, to confusethings even further, O'Sullivan insisted that most of the film was actuallydirected by James C. McKay! She also, according to her actress daughter,Mia Farrow, used to refer to her ornery cast mate, Cheetah thechimpanzee, as "that bastard."

Whatever the production's problems - whether human or monkey-related -Weissmuller certainly wasn't among them. He knew he was a limitedperformer, and was willing to throw himself into any sequence, even going sofar as to briefly ride a rhinoceros, a move that didn't exactly please hiswife, actress Lupe Velez. However, Alfred Codona doubled for Weissmullerwhen Tarzan was required to swing through the trees, and a man named BertNelson wrestled the lions. Weissmuller may have been enthusiastic, but hecertainly wasn't an idiot.

As time goes on, people may remember that Weissmuller was a multiple Olympicgold medal winner, but they probably don't realize just how gifted he was.Before Mark Spitz shattered several world records at the 1972 Olympics,Weissmuller was considered the greatest swimmer who ever lived. You don'tget nicknames like "The Human Hydroplane," "The Prince of Waves," and "TheAquatic Wonder" for nothing.

From the moment Weissmuller entered competitive swimming in 1921, until heretired seven years later, he never lost a race. Never. During the 1920s,he racked up 36 individual AAU championships and 67 world championships. Hewas also the first swimmer to break the one-minute mark in the 100 meters,and eventually held 51 world records and 94 American records. After acareer like that, playing Tarzan was almost a step down, althoughWeissmuller was paid handsomely to do it.

Producer: Bernard H. Hyman
Director: Jack Conway, Cedric Gibbons
Screenplay: Leon Gordon, James K. McGuinness, Howard Emmett Rogers
Cinematography: Charles G. Clarke, Clyde De Vinna
Film Editing: Tom Held
Art Direction: A. Arnold Gillespie
Music: William Axt, Paul Marquardt, George Richelavie, Fritz Stahlberg
Cast: Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan), Maureen O'Sullivan (Jane Parker), Paul Cavanagh (Martin Arlington), Forrester Harvey (Beamish), Nathan Curry (Saidi), William Stack (Pierce).

by Paul Tatara

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