This week's Movie Monday is the 1981 soft-core cheesefest Tarzan The Ape Man!
*Warning! Many of the images in this post are NSFW*This was a film I was shocked to see on Netflix Watch Instantly (I am easily shocked). Mostly because its such an obscure title, a notorious bad movie that hasn't gained any sort of reputation with age, so its kind of amazing to think whoever owns the rights to it thought to offer it up on the newest of movie platforms. Yet there it is, and I am grateful!
Tarzan The Ape Man was one of those movies that played incessantly on the then-brand-new cable channel we had called Prism (basically a Philadelphia-centric version of HBO, but with sports, too). It was famous for its "hard R" reputation, and it was something I was totally not allowed to see. But because it played on Prism so much (mostly on Friday and Saturday nights), I ended up catching little bits of it, here and there.
If memory serves, I never caught any of the Good Stuff; my direct exposure to Bo Derek's pulchritude would have to wait a few years when I could catch another Derek/Derek epic, Bolero. So here was my chance to see what all the fuss was about!
First up, before any credits, is this gorgeous production company card by none other than Frank Frazetta. Sending up the presumed relationship between writer/director/producer/husband John Derek and his nubile wife, Frazetta flips the dynamic, having John Derek as the helpless plaything of his larger-than-life, impossibly sexy wife. Sadly, it's mostly downhill from here.
Anyway, the first sight we see of Bo Derek (playing Jane Parker, not Porter, as in the novel) is of her carefully, expensively dressed feet, as she is carried through a small town in Africa by some locals:
While staying in a makeshift hotel, Jane is threatened by two would-be crooks, who she sees trying to break into her room. She grabs a pistol out of her bag, and waits for them. They make their way in, and she fires!
Next is the credit sequence, featuring this butt-ugly logo:
The film then introduces us to James Parker, Jane's father, who is out in the bush searching for the mythical "white ape." Our first shot of James, played by the late, great Richard Harris features him waking up his bride in an unorthodox way:
This shot is sadly symbolic of the film itself: as we'll come to discover, we're going to end up seeing way, way too much of Richard Harris.
Jane joins her father on his expedition, after the death of her mother. James and Jane are estranged, and they have endless scenes where they discuss their relationship, or lack thereof. In fact, we get as far as 40 minutes into the movie before Tarzan has even shown up!
At some point John Derek must have realized he needed to get to the Good Stuff, the stuff that puts asses in the seats, as it were. So about halfway through the film, we get an extended scene of Jane swimming nude in the ocean:
...I can't say it was worth waiting almost thirty years to see Bo nude in this film, but I have to admit, she looked damn good.
While Jane is frolicking, a lion shows up on the beach (do they do that?) and approaches. Luckily, for her and for us, the attack is interrupted by a familiar cry:
...a little something for the ladies! This is "actor" Miles O'Keefe, who was the stunt double for the original actor cast as Tarzan. When that actor quit/was fired, they got O'Keefe to fill in the last minute. While he certainly looks the part (sort of), we still have to see whether he can act.
Tarzan rescues Jane, but it scared off when James Parker fires a shotgun nearby. They all realize the "white ape" is this man, Tarzan!
After some more talky scenes between Harris and Derek, Tarzan meets up with Jane while she's off filling her canteen. He carries her away from the expedition, but she runs away. She is attacked by a giant snake, which Tarzan kills, in an action sequence shot in painful extra-slow motion, for some reason.
Tarzan collapses from exhaustion, so Jane takes this opportunity to examine this amazing specimen of hunkitude. She runs her hand across his chest, up his thigh. Meanwhile, Derek keeps cutting back to Harris, lost in the jungle, cursing Tarzan and yelling out for his daughter.
The next morning, Jane and Tarzan get to know each other. Even though the Ape Man is a savage, doesn't speak a lick of English and probably stinks to high heaven, we see he's got Game:
...man, are the boys back in the jungle gonna love hearing about this!
Tarzan and Jane's heavy petting session is cut short by Parker, who has finally found Jane. But before too much celebrating, the whole party is captured by a band of evil tribesmen, who take them back to their king, a giant brute painted all white named The Ivory King.
This where John Derek ramps up the Good Stuff, or at the very least the Weirdly Titillating stuff: as Parker watches helplessly, his daughter is stripped naked and scrubbed by some native women. And they don't miss an inch:
This scene gets even goofier, as the women then paint Bo white:
During this whole sequence, Harris basically tries to tell his daughter to let her mind escape her body, and not think about it. So, basically, lay back and think of England. Gee, thanks Dad!
The Ivory King shuts Parker up by stabbing him. Tarzan shows up (a bit late, ape man!) and attacks the Ivory King, fighting again in slow motion:
Tarzan breaks the Ivory King's neck, pounding his chest in classic Tarzan style. Parker dies in his daughter's arms, allowing Jane to take off with her hunky rescuer and go live in the jungle together.
Tarzan takes her to a nearby river, giving us the opportunity to watch Bo get scrubbed clean. One of Tarzan's pals, a chimp, shows he has Game too:
...bold move, Cheetah!
The film ends with Tarzan and Jane in silhouette, having sex (or about to). You'd think that was the end, but Derek saves the weirdest for last. During the end credits, we see Bo, Miles, and an orangutan playing around. Bo is topless, and the orangutan gets just rough enough with her that you can only hope this is as far as it got:
It takes a special kind of director to add a "♥" next to the name of orangutan who you just filmed molesting your wife. And they say Roman Polanski is skeevy!
What to say about Tarzan The Ape Man? Well, of course its a total mess; its not a good Tarzan film by any metric, the action is poorly shot, the acting is horrible, and the nudity so absurdly jammed in that its just laughable. The film keeps cutting back to Richard Harris, looking for Jane, cursing Tarzan to high heaven, so much so it becomes completely comical.
That said, the film is relatively handsome to look at. Bo Derek--the whole reason this film exists--looks drop-dead gorgeous, nubile, sexy as hell. If I had seen this whole movie at age twelve or whatever, I would have totally fallen for her, the way I did for other gorgeous movie gals from that time, like Valerie Perrine and Jane Seymour.
Apparently the spoilsport Edgar Rice Burroughs' estate tried to sue to have the film halted or shelved. It didn't work; the film was released and went on to make over thirty million bucks, a fortune in 1981 money.
We live in an age of almost instantaneous franchise reboots. So its fun to notice that "rebooting" kinda went on in the 80s too: Tarzan was given the serious movie treatment just three years later, with Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, about as far away from this film as possible. So if you think of Greystoke as a sort of Batman Begins, that makes Tarzan The Ape Man the equivalent to Batman and Robin. Which is about right.