Tarzan’s New York Adventure follows the formula of all the previous Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films and has a group of civilized folks come into the jungle to take something back with them. The last movie had switched up the plot a little to have them wanting to nab some gold instead of Jane or Boy, but here we’re back to kidnapping.
This time it’s some circus folks (led by Charles Bickford, who played Major Terill in my Favorite Western of All Time) who’ve flown in to trap lions. They take a liking to Boy’s talent at communicating with and commanding wild animals. The twist is that they actually succeed in getting Boy to go back home with them. When Tarzan and Jane suffer an accident that appears to be fatal, the trappers take Boy to New York, leaving Tarzan and Jane to follow and try to get him back. So the movie starts off formulaic, but then goes somewhere interesting by showing Tarzan’s introduction to civilization.
There are even some nice bits about Civilized Law vs. Jungle Law. The circus people have legally adopted Boy, but Jane trusts the legal system enough to expect a successful custody suit against them. Unfortunately, the hearing reveals that Tarzan and Jane aren’t Boy’s biological parents and when things look bad, Tarzan snaps and physically assaults the circus’ lawyer.
I loved where the movie seemed to be going. Much discussion had been had by that time about Tarzan’s trusting Jane to guide him through the civilized world and there’s some great pathos as she realizes that the system (and she by association) have let Tarzan down. Maureen O’Sullivan really does a nice job with those emotions and Johnny Weissmuller’s helpless grief over losing Boy is heart-breaking. I really rooted for him to blow off Civilized Law and just rescue Boy as he would have in the Jungle.
And for a bit, that’s what happens. There are some great scenes of Tarzan — still in a suit — swinging from rooftop to rooftop and climbing bridges and whatnot. Unfortunately, the movie’s not as willing to advocate anarchy as I was. Tarzan does rescue Boy, but there’s a final courtroom scene in which the Law suspends sentence on Tarzan’s contempt and assault charges and happily sends him back to Africa with Jane and Boy. See? You can trust the Law.
Not that I’m anti-establishment, necessarily. Okay, I am. But not dramatically so, and I would’ve been fine had the Law supported Tarzan the whole way through and the message been that Civilization isn’t so bad after all. But once the movie went down the path of pitting Tarzan’s Law against Civilization’s, I wanted to see that played out to its conclusion without a quick, easy, fake resolution.
I didn’t watch this movie with my son and the result was that I got a little tired of Cheetah’s antics without David’s giggling there to make them more fun. Or maybe it’s the fact that Cheetah was acting up in civilized society here instead of in the jungle where her shenanigans weren’t quite so destructive. I hate Chaos and found Cheetah’s damage of property more disturbing than funny. I’m sure David would’ve disagreed.
Another possible explanation for my cooling on Cheetah is that it’s obvious that the series is spending more and more time on her being a funny chimpanzee. Maybe the joke’s just getting old. I’ll have to have David watch the next one with me and see how that affects my attitude.
One last thing that disappointed me: Tumbo, the African boy whom Boy befriended in the previous movie and who appeared to have joined the family when his mother died, is not only absent, but never mentioned. It doesn’t bother me from a continuity standpoint, because it’s easily explainable, but I do think it’s too bad. That would have been a cool development for the series. But maybe that’s too much to expect for 1942.
The good news is that the next entries in the series may be getting away from the Civilization Bad; Jungle Good plots in order to focus on such wonderful topics as jungle princesses, Nazis, prehistoric monsters, amazons, leopard women, huntresses, and mermaids. Now we’re talkin’!