Tarzan and His Mate - 1934
Tarzan and His Mate - Released April 20, 1934. Directed by Cedric Gibbons (and Jack Conway and James McKay)
Jane's ex-boyfriend Harry (played by Neil Hamilton) is in Africa on a half-hearted trip to lure Jane and Tarzan to England. Along for the ride and looking to acquire ivory is Harry's friend Martin (played by Paul Cavanagh). Two-faced and prone to violence and force, Martin unceremoniously shoots one of the docile native handlers hired to carry supplies when the native tries to bail on the ivory hunt. Martin also attempts to grab Jane for a quick embrace (which she doesn't like at all), and by that point in Tarzan and His Mate we've seen enough to know that while Martin claims that in Africa the motto is "survival of the fittest", his actual code of conduct is "profit to the most duplicitous."
Besides the angst of Harry and Martin's journey, Tarzan and His Mate allows us to view Tarzan and Jane's jungle idyll, which is sort of a leafy Garden of Eden where the pair can cavort happily. But it also turns deadly as Jane is continuously threatened by one thing or another. There's a lion which Tarzan fights off, a crocodile that Tarzan kills, and a rhino Tarzan rides away before killing it as well... You can see why Harry is worried about Jane's safety in this jungle.
Once Harry reaches Jane and makes his pitch for her to return to England (followed by her subsequent rejection), the two outsiders get down to business. Jane commits herself to helping Harry and Martin reach the elephant burial ground where they plan to harvest a vast load of ivory. At first Tarzan guides them through the jungle, assuming they were merely on a sight-seeing expedition. However, when he learns of their intentions he becomes quite cross, refusing to help them in their project to rob the elephant graveyard. Thereupon Martin mortally wounds an elephant for the purpose of following it, as it would hypothetically walk to the legendary site to expire. Tarzan is naturally infuriated with this, and might have killed Martin (which would have saved everyone a lot of trouble later on) if Jane did not stop him. Tarzan and Jane then exit to leave Harry and Martin to their own devices. The two men with their small army of African baggage-carriers and spearman proceed to follow the trail of the dying elephant to the ivory...
Tarzan and His Mate is often epic in scope, being visually buttressed by gigantic, well-done matte-paintings. Treacherous climbing on rocky mountain trails and thick-forested jungles provide a sense of the otherworldly. Jane often races about in a rather skimpy leather outfit (and a body-stocking when swimming underwater). The filmmakers took the trouble to include some of the latest English fashions (of 1934) by having Martin and Harry show up with a small chest of ladies garments, seemingly boxing in the character as just visual artifice, but as the tale continues, Jane is far from helpless (in spite of being a magnet for life-threatening fauna) and proves herself to be extremely resourceful. She is shown being handy with a rifle in a tribal confrontation, and gives orders like a battalion leader in a firefight.
The Africans are portrayed to be nearly sub-intelligent, with some exceptions. Then again, Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan appears to be sub-intelligent most of the time too; he numbly and repeatedly faces the Englishmen as they speak of their plans with a kind of incomprehension. One might readily expect the typical 1934 racial biases against non-whites to be on display (and that certainly gets some screentime), but in the strange world of Tarzan and His Mate, that lack of sophistication seems to represent a kind of moral innocence that makes Martin and Harry despoilers of a cockeyed Hollywood paradise.
Original Page December 12, 2016 | Updated April 2018
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From former screen legends who have faded into obscurity to new revelations about the biggest movie stars, Valderrama unearths the most fascinating little-known tales from the birth of Hollywood through its Golden Age.
Winner of the 2020 Peter C. Rollins Book Award
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