Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

“It’s a bit fantastic, isn’t it? A well-bred English girl, living in the treetops with a glorified native apeman.”

Synopsis:
An Englishman (Neil Hamilton) and his friend (Paul Cavanagh) venture into the African jungle in search of an elephant burial ground, hoping to entice Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) to leave her new life with Tarzan the Ape Man (Johnny Weissmuller) and return to “civilization”.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Along with many other critics, Peary argues that this “second… of the Johnny Weissmuller-Maureen O’Sullivan Tarzan series” (a sequel to 1932’s Tarzan, the Ape Man) is the “best”. He notes that while “in future films, which were meant for family audiences, Tarzan becomes increasingly civilized and domesticated”, in “this adult film it is the lady, Jane, who reverts to her primitive nature and goes native”. He points out that while the movie “has a lot of action” (much of it quite exciting), the reason for its “cult status is that beautiful O’Sullivan wears one of the most revealing costumes in screen history: a tiny halter top and a loincloth that leave her thighs and hips exposed and little to the imagination”. Indeed, it’s rather stunning how much overt sensuality this pre-Code film manages to get away with, given that Jane (or her body double) “swims nude with Tarzan, is constantly pawed by him, sleeps in the nude, … [is] stranded in the jungle without clothes on … and is seen nude in silhouette when dressing in a well-lit tent”. Refreshingly, however, O’Sullivan’s character is not just sexy, but strong and independent — while Tarzan does rescue her time and again, in other ways she holds her own quite nicely, most notably in a climactic final scene involving fierce lions.

Note: In his review of TAHM for his Cult Movies book, Peary points out the similarities between this film and Bird of Paradise (1932), starring Dolores del Rio (married to Cedric Gibbons, who directed at least part of TAHM).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane
  • Plenty of astonishing pre-Code sensuality



Must See?
Yes, as the most infamous (and enjoyable) of the Tarzan/Jane films.

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One Response to “Tarzan and His Mate (1934)”

  1. A tentative once-must – for those who enjoy this nostalgic kind of adventure story or are fans of the Tarzan stories.

    When I was a kid, the various Tarzan films (mainly the ones with Weissmuller) were shown on tv all the time. It seemed every time you turned around, one of them would be on. My guess is that I’ve seen all of the Weissmuller Tarzan pics, a number of them several times. I’ve little memory of most of them.

    (Keep in mind that, at that time, many homes in my area had access to only 3 or 4 tv stations. Time allotted for film screenings was limited during the day; more films were shown late at night. Whoever was in charge of buying the screening rights did not seem to acquire a really large number or variety, so it seems there was a more select group of films that viewers saw repeatedly. During this time as well, there was a very popular, modern Tarzan off-shoot as a primetime tv series.)

    Seeing this second Tarzan film again after many years (and, clearly, what I saw on tv was a cut version)… I can note and agree with a few points brought out in the assessment (i.e., Jane’s independent spirit; the genuine excitement in some of the sequences involving jungle animals). As well, some of this film’s other elements – i.e., everything involving the hunt for ivory, the treatment of the natives – are creepy. But, on the other hand, what may have been ‘shocking’ in pre-Code days (i.e., Jane’s nudity, etc.) is just, to me, no big deal – certainly not enough to earn the film cult status.

    Compared with another prominent adventure film of the same period – ‘King Kong’ – something like ‘Tarzan and His Mate’ pales in a number of significant areas: there’s not enough drive in the narrative; a good deal feels like filler (with Jane calling out for help a few too many times; is this how those two spend most of their days? – with Jane calling out for help a lot of the time?; all this time alone together and she couldn’t teach him how to read / talk?); it’s a little annoying that Tarzan (though obviously somewhat-smart) has almost no vocabulary (something his creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs, *hated* about this series) yet Jane often goes on and on without slowing her usual rhythms or making much of an attempt to get her points across. (At least some logic re: their communication status – even as is – could have been explored.)

    All told… this is a moderately engaging film. I’ll agree that the two stars have nice visual appeal and chemistry together (no doubt a plus for ’30s audiences) – but the film is mainly suited to those who lean toward classic jungle films.

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