Ex-Lady (1933) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Ex-Lady (1933)    Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
Ex-Lady (1933) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

February 25, 2012

Ex-Lady, 1933.  Director:  Robert Florey, with Bette Davis (Helen Bauer), Gene Raymond (Don Peterson), Frank McHugh (Hugo Van Hugh), Monroe Owsley (Nick Malvyn), Claire Dodd (Iris Van Hugh), Kay Strozzi (Peggy Smith), Ferdinand Gottschalk (Mr. Herbert Smith), Alphonse Ethier (Mr. Adolphe Bauer, Helen’s Father), Bodil Rosing (Helen’s Mother).

For any of you who were here last film night, this movie is a remake of Illicit, made just Ex-Lady (1933)two years earlier with Barbara Stanwyck.  Why do I like Ex-Lady?  Because I enjoy all sexual innuendos that the writers of this pre-code film could come up with to titillate their audience.  Of course nowadays there is not much that can’t be seen in films and on TV, but for some reason I am thrilled by pre-code films for their overt subtlety.  Growing up through the 60s and 70s, I think we thought that we had discovered s-e-x like no other generation ever did before.  I think that’s true in a certain sense, especially women, but when watching films like Ex-Lady, Illicit, Man Wanted and our next film tonight, Tarzan and His Mate, we know that people’s thoughts were never that much different.

One of my favourite scenes is when Helen and Don go off on a belated Honeymoon and are watching a singer at a dinner club.  (Incidentally, I have always watched starry-eyed over how the women dressed in the 1930 films, especially when they went to nightclubs; as well as loved the décor of the nightclubs themselves.  What would it be like to go to a nightclub that looked like that in the 1980s when I was going out to clubs?)  Anyway, I just love the sexual tension that builds between Helen and Don while this woman sings steamily, and you start to feel that she is singing straight to them.  They just can’t wait to leave the club to be alone together and except for the song, there are no other words spoken, just looks given.  And Helen and Don don’t even make it to their room.  What are they doing?  Are we to imagine that they have gone so far as to have sex on the terrace?  And I love that we can only see the singer and her very suggestive movements in the last moment of the scene.

Ex-Lady (1933)The opening scene where Helen plays coy with Nick and won’t let him stay has a nice twist when someone comes a-knocking at her door (with a key) after everyone has left.

In 95% of films, young people never seem to have any parents or family.  In this one, Helen does, but they are very strict and intolerant of their grown daughter’s lifestyle.  After their scene with her, they are never seen again even though Helen has “changed her ways.”  Was this because the rift could never be healed?  Or was it because it was just easier to write them out of the story?

Enjoy the movie.  Caren

A magazine ad for Ex-Lady in which Bette is referred to as “filmdom’s newest Ex-Lady (1933)favourite.”  If that was a bit of an overstatement, it was indeed true that the versatility Davis had shown within the confines of her last few films had intrigued the public, and her popularity was growing steadily.  She received over the-title billing for the first time with this film.

Unfortunately, Ex-Lady was not an ideal star vehicle.  Its supposedly “daring” storyline presented Bette as a glamorous commercial artist who feels that marriage is obsolete and convinces her lover to live “in sin.”  Naturally, after a series of misunderstandings, Davis’ character realizes the error of her ways and agrees to marry Raymond.

The picture was not a hit and Bette does not recall it with fondness.  “I was made over and cast as the star of a piece of junk called Ex-Lady, which was supposed to be provocative—and provoked anyone of sensibility to nausea.”  Warner was disappointed with the public’s reaction to both the film and Bette, so the studio returned her to formula films with strong male leads.

Bette Davis, A Biography in Photographs by Christopher Nickens

Ex-Lady (1933)Several months before Zanuck left to form Twentieth Century Pictures, he decided to bow to the demands of exhibitors, reviewers, and fans by officially billing Davis’s name over the title of a picture.  He selected the remake of a Barbara Stanwyck picture made the year before, called Illicit, and assigned David Boehm to rewrite the original story by Edith Fitzgerald and Robert Riskin.  The finished script—renamed Ex-Lady—read well, the dialogue appeared witty, and there were a number of rather daring scenes.  This was a year before the production code was inaugurated, and actresses regularly appeared in chemises and teddies, chorines were often shown seminaked, covered with strings of beads or other decorative paraphernalia.

Lucien Hubbard was appointed production supervisor, and Robert Florey, late of Universal, was signed as director.  J.L. (Jack Warner) met Florey, far afield from the Rue Morgue, while having dinner one night at the Musso frank Grill on Hollywood   Boulevard, and a contract developed.

Zanuck advised cinematographer Tony Gaudio to make Davis as beautiful as possible, and he spent a great deal of time in lighting her correctly.  Orry-Kelly designed the costumes, 60 percent of which were sheer negligees and underwear!

Gene Raymond, free of his contract at Fox, was signed as leading man.

Harold McLernon edited the final product down to two minutes over an hour (it’s listed on imdb as 67 minutes), and the result was still repugnant.  Davis was embarrassed over the half-naked billboards, the risqué dialogue, and the titular part.  Andre Sennwald’s review in The New York Times on May 15,   1933, was typical of how most critics viewed the finished product.

Bette Davis, a young actress who has shown intelligence in the rôles assumed to her in tEx-Lady (1933)he films, has had the misfortune to be cast in the principal rôle of “Ex-Lady,” now on view at the Strand. What that somewhat sinister event meant to her employers was that Miss Davis, having shown herself to be possessed of the proper talent and pictorial allure, now became a star in her own right. What it meant to her embarrassed admirers at the Strand on Thursday night was that Miss Davis had to spend an uncomfortable amount of her time en deshabille in boudoir scenes engaged in repartee and in behavior which were sometimes timidly suggestive, then depressingly näive and mostly downright foolish.  (For the full review go to this link:  http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9C02E4D91538E333A25756C1A9639C946294D6CF)

“I could not have said it better.  Mr. Zanuck was unwise to force stardom upon me—I wasn’t box office enough as yet to carry a film, and a more unsuitable part in a cheaper type film I don’t think could have been found to launch me into stardom.  It was a disaster.  The Hollywood Reporter review I have never forgotten.  It said, ‘Why didn’t Warners shoot the entire script of Ex-Lady in one bedroom on one bed.’”  (Bette Davis)

But Ex-Lady was an example of the Davis pattern.  Given a good part with sensitive direction, she could be delightfully serene, reading lines with assurance and tenderness.  Her study of the character she was playing always brought out unusual traits to give the part punch, but, if the other players walked through their roles, as was often the case, her performance would stand out in bas-relief.  Her hard work would seem too intense.

Mother Goddam: The Story of the Career of Bette Davis by Whitney Stine

In her autobiography, Davis has some cutting words for her next film, Ex-Lady.  She says of it:

Ex-Lady (1933)“Darryl Zanuck [egged on by critical and popular support of Davis’s recent efforts] decided that it was time to give me the glamour-star treatment.  It was a great mistake.  I wasn’t the type to be glamorized in the usual way.  In an ecstasy of poor taste and a burst of misspent energy, I was made over and cast as the star of a piece of junk called Ex-Lady which was supposed to be provocative and provoked anyone of sensibility to nausea.

“As an avant-garde artist, my lover was Gene Raymond, whom I discarded, au fin, for the marvellously corrupt Monroe Owsley.  One disgusted critic [from Hollywood Reporter] announced that Warner Brothers could have saved a fortune by photographing the whole picture in one bed.  It is a part of my career that my conscious tastefully avoids.  I only recall that from the daily shooting to the billboards, falsely picturing me half-naked, my shame was only exceeded by my fury.”  Robert Florey’s pedestrian direction was no help either.

It seems strange that Davis, who longed for stardom, should have objected to getting her name above a picture’s title.  And the plot of Ex-Lady, a rehash of Barbara Stanwyck’s 1931 film Illicit, was not only stimulating and refreshing in those pre-Production Code days, it was decades ahead of its time.  Davis played a freewheeling soul who believed in living with her guy without benefit of marriage, which she felt only killed the romance and encouraged all kinds of sterilities and boredoms.

It is true that the plot details, as rehashed by David Boehm with fresh dialogue and situations, from the Stanwyck picture, were cursory, unbelievable, and too neatly telescoped and tied up.  Then there is reason to believe that Davis deeply resented being handed a revamped version of a Barbara Stanwyck star vehicle, since So Big she had disliked Stanwyck.

Also, column items hinted that she and Gene Raymond, her handsome, sexy co-star (later the long-time husband of Jeanette McDonald and a breezy, blond charmer who was great with the ladies), seemed to enjoy each other’s company unduly and exclusively on the set, and she had not even been married (to Ham Nelson, musician) six months.

But what really set her against the film was the advertising; one of the full-page ads that Warners ran in fan magazines and other national publications displayed her ostensibly naked from the breast up, heavily made up, and staring outward with brazen provocativeness.  Above her face was the legend:  WE DON’T DARE TELL YOU HOW DARING IT IS!  To the side were the words:  “Never before has the screen had the courage to present a story so frank—so outspoken—yet so true!  Get set for a surprise sensation!”  (see photo ad above)

Some of the critics exasperated her by declaring she had been starred over the title prematurely; she wasn’t ready.  She felt they missed the point that had she been starred in a worthy vehicle, her stardom would have been eminently justified.

In the story, Davis and Raymond are advertising agency co-workers—he a writer, she a commercial artist.  She is dead set against marriage as (in her view) a stultifying, unromantic institution, and he reluctantly goes along with her until career pressures force them to marry.  Money troubles follow, and attempted infidelities—he with Kay Strozzi, she with Monroe Owsley.  Eventually they settle for a copout reconciliation in which 1933 middle-class illusions are soothed via an implication that marriage is okay after all.

The “marvellously corrupt” Owsley was one of the picture’s chief assets as Davis’s Ex-Lady (1933)would-be seducer.  He presented, in his sinister, sickly, rat-faced persona, an almost refreshing contrast to superwholesome yet sexy, all-American blond Gene Raymond.  Owsley, who died prematurely in 1937, was a strange, tormented man offscreen, having much in common with another oddball, Colin Clive, who played with Davis in a later film.  All manner of sinister stories went the rounds about Owsley, from reports of homosexual seductions, which he conducted with utmost intensity, to scandals involving drug use, alcoholism, and gambling.  Whatever the misfortunes of his private life, Owsley was one of those rare actors who managed to present his entire self, dark as it was, onscreen with theatrical flair and panache.  Davis, while she admitted that “this rat-faced rodent gives me the shivers,” was the first to concede that whatever he projected, it was consummately effective on camera.  The circumstances of Owsley’s death remain mysterious, and there were reports that the studio hushed up the more sensational elements surround it.

Typical of fan reaction to Owsley was one letter published in a fan magazine:  “He’s a slimy toad, a no-good rat up to trouble—and you feel he’s like that off-camera, too!”  It was significant that Owsley did not sue the magazine for libel—he probably agreed with every word of it!

Gene Raymond told me many years later, “I felt the film was ahead of its time and that Ex-Lady (1933)Bette looked just wonderful in it.  Certainly she had a good photographer [Tony Gaudio] for that.  I had a lot of fun with the fellow actors on the set—Frank McHugh, Claire Dodd, and Bette were great to play with—though Bette was so serious and intense she made us all feel like amateurs by comparison.  I did resent some silly copy in the press implying we were stuck on each other—especially as she was married—I needed an angry husband breathing down my nick like I needed a head cold, but we tried to laugh it off as just flak designed to sell a movie.”

Frank McHugh recalled, “I know Bette was unhappy with the film—she told both Pat O’Brien and me she was—but it wasn’t all that bad, and there was some snappy dialogue in it, though maybe I’m looking at it from my angle since I had a lot of it to speak!”

Robert Florey and Davis did not get on well—possibly because neither had much faith in the material.  Florey later told Adela Rogers St. Johns:  “If they decided they wanted her to be a full-fledged Warner star, they could have showcased her in something better than that.”  David couldn’t have agreed more.

Fasten Your Seat Belts: The Passionate Life of Bette Davis by Lawrence J. Quirk

Tarzan and His Mate, 1934.  Director:  Cedric Gibbons (Jack Conway-co-director, uncredited and James C. McKay-uncredited), with Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan), Maureen O’Sullivan (Jane Parker), Neil Hamilton (Harry Holt), Paul Cavanagh (Martin Arlington), Forrester Harvey (Beamish), Nathan Curry (Saidi).

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)I remember watching the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films when I was a kid and even though there have been other actors who have played him before, (Elmo Lincoln in 1918s Tarzan of the Apes) and after (Lex Barker-40/50s, Gordon Scott-60s, Mike Henry-60s, Jock Mahoney {incidentally, Sally Field’s step-father}-60s and Ron Ely-60/70s to name a few—I’ve read there were eleven) Weissmuller has always been my “true” screen-image.

I also read some of the books when I was younger, but after I’d seen the films and the Ron Ely series, and I have to admit that I didn’t imagine Johnny Weissmuller then.  In fact, the Disney cartoon image was closer to the look, but I realize I was influenced by the artwork of Neal Adams who did the book covers.

When I recently bought the Tarzan packages of films, I found the first two films thoroughly enjoyable once again.  And as an adult, being interested in pre-code films, I loved the risqué relationship Tarzan and Jane have in these cinematic productions.  I was certainly surprised to discover footage that I never remembered seeing before—the skinny-dipping scene—where Tarzan removes Jane’s evening gown in one-fell-swoop.

This is one of those early films where black actors got a chance to make a few dollars, although in what today would be in roles considered very “politically incorrect”; lots of obvious foreshadowing (meaning black person in dangerous position) of when death will occur.

I also love the idea that there really is no story, just a way for the studio to show too lovely-looking people smitten with each other and living happily and “immorally” in a jungle with beautiful, if somewhat dangerous, nature. Watching the animals in these films is also quite thrilling.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)When Jane’s English friends come for a visit, it’s somewhat dementedly hilarious that they would bring her—I’m sure what was on the top of her “need-most” list—an evening gown.  As well, they absolutely can’t conceive why she would want to stay in the jungles with this uneducated, brute of a man when she could come home to civilization, but I’m sure most of the women in the audience enjoyed the fantasy.

In case you don’t already know, Johnny Weissmuller was an Olympic Swimming Champion.  He was one of the world’s best swimmers in the 1920s, winning five Olympic gold medals and one bronze medal.  He won 52 US National Championships and set 68 world records.

So enjoy this great 104 minute romp in the jungle.  Caren

Perhaps only three of the many adventure films of the 30’s really lived up to both their potential and their advertising promises:  King Kong, Gunga Din and most certainly Tarzan and His Mate.  It’s far and away the best, most elaborate and most actionful of all the Tarzans, its single flaw being that of all the MGM Tarzans, the radical changing of the Tarzan character himself from the far more civilised and educated individual created by Burroughs.  (Only Bruce Bennett was allowed to follow that concept in the independently-made New Adventures of Tarzan).  That shortcoming apart, Tarzan and His Mate is grand stuff.  It ran into the usual MGM production hassles:  filming was stopped at one point, the director removed (Cedric Gibbons, an art director and a brilliant one, always wanted to direct—but had absolutely no understanding of that craft) and an original player, Rod la Rocque, replaced by Paul Cavangh and much footage re-shot.  But none of these contretemps show up on screen.  Too much exposure of Maureen O’Sullivan in a nude swimming scene sadly resulted in much of that sequence being deleted, and the extremely sparse costuming of both Jane and Tarzan raised some production code eyebrows, and their wardrobe was somewhat extended in later films in the series.  Today the film is too rarely shown—on tv, at university campuses and elsewhere—because of the trouble it invariably causes with its cavalier treatment of the natives as being somewhat less than human beings.  Natives were always used in the Tarzan as useful “demonstrations” of all the perils involved:  it was always some hapless native porter who would fall off a ledge just before Jane got to that danger point, be mauled by a lion, or several of them would systematically be killed off in various tribal tortures (often quite ingenious!) in order to lengthen the suspense leading to Tarzan’s fortuitous rescue of the white safari.  (Though usually he was just too late to save the white villain!)  Here admittedly, the natives get even shorter shrift than usual, with Neil Hamilton blithely and somewhat irritatedly remarking how many of his native boys were wiped out on safari—almost twice the number he had originally estimated.  However, it is unfair to condemn the movies for such attitudes; the criticism should instead by aimed at the generally held attitudes of the time, which the movies merely reflected and unwittingly recorded.

William K. Everson, The New School Film Series, April 23, 1972

The casting of Tarzan and Jane was a last-minute decision, arguably a bad business Tarzan and His Mate (1934)practice.  Yet what can be judged a mindless state of panic can also be apprehended as an openness to the spontaneous insight into opportunities that logic, dependent on previous example, would inevitably miss.  Reason could not validate either Weissmuller or O’Sullivan as casting choices.  Both were unknowns, and neither had acting training.  Of the two, only O’Sullivan, who had been making movies for about two years when she was signed as Jane, had significant experience in front of the camera.  Before being signed as Tarzan, Weissmuller had been in one films, Glorifying the American Girl (TFS showed this at its May seminar a couple of years ago and is available on DVD), as an Adonis figure in a musical spectacle number and had spoken no lines.  Clearly, Weissmuller was hired for his body and his reputation as an Olympic swimming champion, while O’Sullivan seems to have been taken on because she brought to life the look and feel of the sweet, sophisticated, feisty girl conjured in the imagination of the writer, director, and producer during the story conferences.  But those decisions were made after the two had been brought to the attention of the right people at the right time by the merest chance.  Weissmuller was noticed serendipitously at a pool.  And O’Sullivan’s demonstration of the right qualities in her screen test was accidental.  O’Sullivan has said that had not screen test director Felix Feist been assigned to direct her, as he well might not have been, she wouldn’t have gotten the part:  “I’d been playing nothing but these wispy, forlorn little things; so that’s the way I thought I’d play the test.  It was all I knew how to do.  But Felix Feist told me to drop all that and be more direct, the way I really was.”

O’Sullivan was responsible and dependable, but Weissmuller was a quirky, unpredictable actor who shared with Tarzan some of the character’s reckless, moment-to-moment gusto and enthusiasm.  Weissmuller’s spontaneity could certainly yield an infectious frisson of delight, as when, in 1924 he and a fellow swimmer named Stubby Kruger disrupted the Olympic swimming contests with an unscheduled comedy swimming act, after which a screaming crowd demanded two encores.  But his exuberance was somewhat out of control.  O’Sullivan obligingly emphasizes the charm of his “wild child” personality in her public statements about him describing him as a “big kid.  He was fun.  He was just what he looked like.  He loved to laugh.  He had no pretensions whatever about being a champion swimmer….He was just like anybody else…like a prop man or like one of the electricians.  He was just a real nice guy.  And, a good friend.  I was very fond of Johnny.  He never would have occurred to me a romance [sic] or anything, it was just, we had fun together.”  Moreover, because of his freewheeling energy, according to O’Sullivan, the animals really did love him, particularly Cheetah, “which is probably the reason he hated me, because he was jealous.”

But Esther Williams, who swam with Weissmuller at the Billy Rose Aquacade in 1940, rTarzan and His Mate (1934)emembers him as an outrageous exhibitionist who sexually harassed her continually and whom she found devastatingly attractive but alarming.  “Johnny Weissmuller didn’t just play Tarzan.  He thought he was Tarzan….Heaven knows, he was handsome….He thought he was God’s gift to women….He had remarkable genitalia that he loved to exhibit and was constantly stripping his clothes to his swimsuit and beyond so that everyone could appreciate his extraordinary male attributes.”  Many years later, when she met Maureen O’Sullivan at a fund-raising event, she asked O’Sullivan if Weissmuller exposed himself to her, which O’Sullivan confirmed, saying she coped with it by not making a fuss.  This was a part of Weissmuller’s spontaneity and “friendship” on which O’Sullivan never commented publicly, not even in her last interviews, when Weissmuller was long dead.  As Williams does not attribute Weissmuller’s behaviour to any viciousness on his part, but rather to a pure lack of moral limits, a lack that he displayed unthinkingly and in all circumstances, there is reason to credit her speculation that Weissmuller sexually harassed O’Sullivan as well.  So while it seems quite clear that O’Sullivan never thought of him romantically offscreen, she was forced to contend with him sexually in a way that played out onscreen, where she was both more (there were limits to how carried away he could be) and less (she had to enter into the spirit of his play enthusiastically) protected from him personally.

Moreover, aside from the likelihood of Weissmuller’s unwanted attentions, she was Tarzan and His Mate (1934)certainly physically beset by the working conditions.  In a 1934 interview in Photoplay, O’Sullivan bemoans the “miseries of nudity.”  She has no problems about voluntary nudity.  “It worked perfectly in the Garden of Eden, until the snake came along and said, ‘Yah!  Yah!  You’re naked!’”  However, her ”enforced nudity” as Jane was another story.  Freezing in cold water, she was told by the sound man, “I can hear your teeth chattering, Miss O’Sullivan.  You’ll have to control them.”  She remembers always being sick while working as Jane, always aching somewhere, and always being bitten by the adult monkeys.  “It took us a year to make the picture, you know.  And I just chalk it up as three hundred and sixty-five days of unexcelled discomfort.”

The Tarzan series was regarded as a product by MGM, which produced it, having recycled the Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Arguably O’Sullivan and Weissmuller were undistinguished actors by themselves.  Plausibly neither of them had any particular acting talent, and factually neither had the film business expertise to bring to bear any original perspective on their characters.  By all accounts they did what they were told.  Yet the movies themselves have the final word.  Against all odds, Weissmuller and OSullivan brought to the films what turned out to be a decisively important freshness.  Weissmuller brought a highly unusual physical beauty that was charged onscreen by an almost uncanny ease with physicality, and O’Sullivan brought her ingénue charm, petite elegance, and a splendid emotional openness and readiness.  Once together, they were not interchangeable with other actors of their type, nor were their films disposable or dull, mechanical imitations of each other.  In concert, Weissmuller and O’Sullivan amassed a riveting energy dynamic that paradoxically frustrated, decentred, and even inverted the studio plans for a controllable product at the same that it eminently fulfilled studio plans for garnering substantial profits.  Their chemistry and its effect on mass culture partook of the pristine fortuitousness that is so much an element, though certainly not the entire picture, of the history of screen chemistry in Hollywood.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)In Tarzan and His Mate, the scene in which Jane models some European finery that Harry Holt has imported to the Escarpment in hopes of luring Jane back to England is seminal in its establishment of the Weissmuller/O’Sullivan chemistry.  The underwater swimming scene in which “Jane” appears nude with Tarzan is more notorious but less important in terms of their chemistry, since O’Sullivan did not do her own nude swimming.)  The clothes scene takes place as Holt and his partner in the ivory trade, the womanizing Martin Arlington (Paul Cavanagh), set up camp before making their trek to the elephant graveyard.  In an extremely prurient scene, Holt and Arlington “tempt” Jane with silk stockings, hats, and perfume, which they encourage her to don over her nearly naked, animal-skin-clad body, like two perspective johns outfitting a whore.  Once again, the series places European values, particularly male courting practices, in a worse than dubious light.  However, Jane is oblivious to the lurid subtext and to Arlington’s lascivious voyeuristic pleasure as he watches her shadowy silhouette in the tent, lighted from within, changing her clothes.  O’Sullivan’s unself-conscious ease with her virtually nude body, and her equally innocent joy in playing with the glamorous clothes as a child might explore his or her body (not as an arsenal for seduction) is again a physically charged image, radically different in its spontaneous body tone from the forced physical carriage of the manipulative Englishman.  Tarzan’s arrival seems to suggest that clingy gowns, perfume, and stockings are natural aphrodisiacs, as, in a hilarious scene, Tarzan ignores all propriety and clearly will not be denied sex as he whisks Jane up to their tree nest while Jane tries to engineer a socially correct exit from them before the eyes of the devastated Holt and the amazed Arlington.  But the next morning, it is clear that at the very most Tarzan was intrigued by the curiosity of the clothes, which he actually finds funny.

Tarzan wakes up next to Jane, who awakens with a smile on her face, the import of which is quite clear and utterly convincing, though the PCA uttered not a word of protest about a clear violation that sexuality must not be implied even between spouses—and certainly not between the unmarried, as Tarzan and Jane were.  Tarzan’s utter lack of concern with the skimpy satin evening gown is apparent when he pulls off her dress in one smooth gesture ash he propels her into the water, as if he were removing irrelevant plastic from a fruit basket.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)The nude swim (for Jane, at least) is not performed by O’Sullivan and so does not depend on their chemistry; further comment on the slippage of their chemistry onto this juxtaposed “Special effect” is warranted.  That slippage of their chemistry onto all aspects of the films is the crucial issue for watching/reading the MGM Tarzan films.  The slippage determines the relationship of ideology to the films.

(To read more of this excerpt, go to the “Books” tab in Google and use the title below.)

Screen Couple Chemistry:  the Power of 2 by Martha Nochimson

Having apparently dwelt in the jungle since they met in “Tarzan, the Ape Man,” Johnny Weissmuller, the swimming ace, and the comely Irish colleen, Maureen O’Sullivan, are now to be seen at the Capitol in a sequel to their first adventure. The current offering, which is hailed as “Tarzan and His Mate,” is, if anything, even more fantastic than its predecessor. One gathers that the first year of Tarzan and Jane Parker (Miss O’Sullivan) in the African wilds has been a happy one, that they have made many friends among apes and elephants and that they have dozens of arboreal abodes.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)Harry Holt and Martin Arlington are companions on an expedition. Holt hopes to win back his sweetheart, Jane, but Arlington’s only wish is to bring back plenty of ivory. It seems to be no more difficult to find Tarzan and Jane than it is to locate Times Square in Manhattan. Jane’s wardrobe is limited and the very thoughtful Holt has brought with him trunks filled with many gowns and frocks, some of which are not precisely suited to leaping from tree to tree as Tarzan and his mate do. Perfume and various other gifts to appeal to the feminine taste also are brought by the love-lorn Holt.

Tarzan does not think much of the perfume and even less of a silk gown. He is a man of the forest, an emperor, so to speak, of the jungle, who likes to get his breakfast by diving into a pool and bringing forth a fish. Coffee has a peculiarly distasteful flavor to him. He does, however, cherish his hunting knife, for with it he has laid low many jungle outlaws, such as lions, tigers, leopards, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, and so forth.

It does not even take Tarzan’s breath away to have a set-to in the water with a Tarzan and His Mate (1934)crocodile, and Jane expects him to emerge from the fray victorious, as he does at all times. Here he rides astride a rhinoceros and has encounters with a variety of animals. It is all in a day’s work! He even expects Jane to be as agile as he is, seeing to it that she does her daily dozen, in the shape of springing from branch to branch and taking headers into lakes. Tarzan is no easy person to please. He speaks only an occasional word, and even then he gets mixed up, which is apt to make one conclude that there must be days that pall upon Jane. Yet she prefers the jungle to Mayfair.

They yowl to each other and cover distances far quicker via the trees than they could on the ground. In case there should not be enough excitement furnished by jungle fauna and the villainous Arlington, who, be it known, would do anything for a couple of hundred ivory tusks, there is a host of savages, evidently of two different tribes. These natives are quite expert with their spears and arrows.

Aside from the wild tale, this film is a marvel from a photographic standpoint. Tarzan has his hand-to-hand encounters with leopards, hippopotamuses and other beasts, and Jane has anything but a merry time with several lions. Some of them are evidently riddled with bullets, but just as one may think that the beasts’ teeth have been extracted and that their mouths are wired one perceives Tarzan’s arm in a lion’s jaw equipped with splendid white teeth. In another instance one perceives an elephant limping along and finally lying down to die in a spot known as “the elephants’ burial ground ” This provoked from a young lass: “Oh, the poor lamb!” Just got her animals mixed, but her sympathy was sincere.

Needless to say that Miss O’Sullivan and Mr. Weissmuller acquit themselves in the same favorable fashion they did in their former hectic experiences.

New York Times Review by Mordaunt Hall, published April 21, 1934

Joining me for the evening was Karen, Ronda, Chris, Steve, Lysa, Andrea, Rolf, Betsy, Pamela and Bill.


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