Celebrating Tarzan’s 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin’s Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.
Griffin actually calls this chapter, “Contemporary Films,” but since the first film discussed was contemporary with the start of Sy Weintraub’s era, I feel like “Miscellaneous” is a better description.
Tarzan the Ape Man (1959)
As the official Tarzan films were transitioning from Sol Lesser to Weintraub, MGM realized that there was a clause in their original contract that allowed them to remake 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man. So they did, casting Denny Miller as a wholesome, blonde Tarzan and Joanna Barnes as Jane.
Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981)
MGM remade Tarzan the Ape Man again in 1981, this time with Bo Derek (who’d become a pop icon the previous year in 10) and her husband John. Thanks to the success of 10, MGM had signed the Dereks to a three-picture contract with Tarzan being the first of them. True to the plot of the ’32 film, the movie’s told from Jane’s perspective, but Miles O’Keeffe’s Tarzan is even less verbal than Weissmuller’s. Knowing what the attraction was for Bo Derek fans, the film focuses on the steamy romance between Jane and the silent Tarzan.
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1983)
Though Greystoke was released two years after the Dereks’ movie, it had been in the works since 1971, a few years after Weintraub’s last Tarzan film. Producer Stanley S. Canter picked up the option, but had a hard time getting the film made. The original version of the screenplay was an extremely faithful adaptation of the first Tarzan novel, but it was rewritten to keep elements of Burroughs’ story, but ultimately go its own way.
Christopher Lambert played Tarzan, though he’s never called that in the movie (he’s John Clayton instead). Andie MacDowell played Jane, but famously had her lines dubbed by Glenn Close. Ian Holm plays D’Arnot, which makes me want to watch it again right now. Rick Baker created the ape costumes.
Tarzan and the Lost City (1998)
It’s impossible to tell from watching it that Lost City is a sequel to Greystoke, but that’s how it was born. Canter immediately started planning it after the success of Greystoke, wanting this time to combine elements from Burroughs’ novels, The Return of Tarzan and Tarzan the Untamed, where Tarzan tracks a kidnapped Jane through the war-torn jungle.
Like with Greystoke though, it took over a decade to get it off the ground and neither Christopher Lambert nor director Hugh Hudson cared to be involved. Eventually, Canter signed on Carl Schenkel to direct and Casper Van Dien played Tarzan. Jane March played Jane and – true to the original intention for the plot – got abducted so that Tarzan could pursue her.
This was the first – and so far, only – Tarzan film shot entirely on location in Africa (South Africa, to be precise).
Just kidding. For some reason, Griffin gives a whole, separate chapter to Disney’s adaptation, so we’ll look at that next week.