Cast & Crew
In early twentieth-century Africa, British hunter Col. James Parker welcomes his daughter Jane who is returning from England after many years. Jane arrives on her father's boat, piloted by Parker's partner, hunter and guide Harry Holt. Unaware of the heated tribal conflicts in the area, Jane naively supports a lone Watusi, Riano, on the boat and is bitter about Holt's indifference to the native's precarious situation. After docking, Jane lets Riano out of his locked quarters, which causes a riot by local natives on the pier. In the ensuing commotion, the boat is accidentally set on fire and sinks. Parker and Holt rescue Jane, while Holt's native aid guides Riano to safety. Later at Parker's dilapidated lodging, the colonel admits to Jane that over the years his business has faltered steadily and has been particularly hard hit by the simmering tribal warfare. Jane explains that when her father's financial support dwindled, her fiancé abandoned her, prompting her return to Africa. Holt recommends that the Parkers depart, as without the safety of the boat, they will be vulnerable to the imminent native uprisings. When Riano tells Holt that he intends to return to his tribe, Parker scoffs about the native's ability to survive as he travels through dangerous territory. Upon examining the markings on Riano's bracelet, Holt excitedly realizes the man is from a distant tribe that resides in an uncharted area long rumored to have a vast supply of ivory. Having failed at farming and trading, Holt decides to accompany Riano and, spurred on by the idea of restoring her father's lost personal fortune, Jane persuades the colonel to join Holt. After bribing some natives to serve as bearers and gathering supplies in a wagon, the group sets off and over several days struggle through the heat and jungle. Unknown to the group they are observed by Tarzan, a white man who has spent his entire life living among the animals in the jungle. One night while Tarzan watches the camp, a leopard cub accidentally slips inside Jane's tent and when the mother leopard stalks the tent, Tarzan kills the animal before returning to the jungle unseen. The next day, the group comes upon an elephant herd and when charged by an old bull, Holt kills it, but the native bearers are frightened away. The gunshot starts a charge by another elephant and, hoping to divert it from the wagon, Holt runs toward the trees but is entangled in a native rope-trap. Jane distracts the bull and flees into the jungle, before fainting in fear. Having heard the shots, Tarzan arrives and halts the elephant, then carries Jane away to his treetop lair. Meanwhile Parker rescues Holt and, joined by Riano, search for Jane. When Jane revives later, she is startled by her location, then frightened by Tarzan, who offers her fruit and flowers. Terrified that she is about to be assaulted, Jane prays, then is perplexed when Tarzan uncomprehendingly mouths some of her words. Reassured when Tarzan leaves her alone for the night, Jane ventures down to river the next morning and is awed by Tarzan's unique and peaceful relationship with the surrounding animals. Later, Jane swims with Tarzan and is touched by his playful gentle nature. That afternoon while Jane naps in the tree house, one of Tarzan's pet chimpanzees plays with her mirror, and Parker, Holt and Riano spot the reflected light. Seeing Jane and believing her to be in danger, Parker orders Holt to kill the monkey, then the men pull Jane away. Jane explains that Tarzan rescued and cared for her kindly, but Holt dismisses her explanation and insists they resume their expedition immediately. Attracted by the gunshots, a local native tribe pursues the group, but Tarzan, who has followed at a distance, summons animals to stampede, thus driving off the would-be attackers. Afterward, Holt declares he will continue with Riano, despite the loss of the wagon in the stampede and the bearers' desertion. When Parker and Holt argue about proceeding, Tarzan attacks Holt, believing he intends to harm Parker. Jane stops the fight and, confused, Tarzan returns to the jungle. Jane urges her father to remain with Holt and the expedition continues. Tarzan's surviving pet chimpanzee accompanies them and after a long difficult journey through the jungle and desert, they arrive at the base of a mountain range behind which Riano informs them lies elephant country and his homeland. While climbing the dangerous peaks, Riano falls to his death, terrifying Jane. Under Holt's prodding, the Parkers proceed and find their way to a cave where the group is amazed to discover an enormous statue of a part animal and part human creature. Moments later, doors to the cavern entrance close, trapping the group inside. Left outside, the chimpanzee hastens back to the jungle to summon Tarzan, while the trapped explorers realize they are not in a cave but an oversize pit, dug by pygmy natives. The pygmies soon gather and light a fire in the pit, forcing the Parkers and Holt to climb up the enormous statue. The pygmies attempt to force their victims into the flames and to Jane's horror, her father falls and is burned alive. While crossing a river to reach Jane and Holt, Tarzan becomes embroiled in a fierce battle with a giant crocodile. Upon reaching the pygmy village Tarzan, with assistance from an elephant herd and his chimpanzee, destroys the village and rescues Jane and Holt. Tarzan then takes the pair astride an elephant to the other side of the mountain. The next morning, Jane laments that her recklessness has cost her everything she values. When the elephant, wounded by a poisonous pygmy arrow, wanders away to die, Holt and the others follow and are led through a waterfall to a beautiful jungle and the elephant "cemetery" of legend, filled with the bones of hundreds of dead elephants. Holt is ecstatic by the amount of ivory, but dismayed when Jane declares that she intends to bring Tarzan back to England to share their wealth. After Holt points out that Tarzan is likely to be corrupted by British high society, Jane realizes that Tarzan would be unhappy outside of his jungle paradise. Acknowledging that she would be unhappy apart from Tarzan, Jane receives Holt's approval to remain with Tarzan in the jungle.
Robert C. Bradfield
Charles K. Hagedon
Robert R. Hoag
Paul C. Vogel
Tarzan, the Ape Man (1959)
The movie does return to the original in more ways than one. It focuses on Tarzan's first meeting with Jane, who was eventually dropped from many of the ensuing movies in the popular series. It also uses footage lifted not only from the 1932 release but from MGM's sequel Tarzan and His Mate (1934), throwing in costumes and stock shots from another of the studio's African-set adventure flicks, King Solomon's Mines (1950). The pygmies whose village is wrecked by elephants are played by students from Los Angeles' Fairfax High School in the later release; in the 1932 version they were played by real pygmies.
Casting followed the tradition of having a former athlete play Tarzan. James Pierce (Tarzan and the Golden Lion, 1927) was an All-American college football hero. Bruce Bennett, still billed under his real name Herman Brix when he made a series of Tarzan movies in the 1930s, had been an Olympic shot-put champion. And Buster Crabbe; star of Tarzan the Fearless (1933), and later famous as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, was an Olympic swimming medalist like the movies' most popular Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller. So, if Denny Miller, star of the 1959 version, looks more like a Southern California jock than a denizen of the jungle, it's because he was a basketball star at UCLA when he was signed by MGM. To his credit, Miller has the physique and attitude for the role and is certainly not the worst Tarzan ever to swing from a vine. But for good measure, the producers dubbed in Weissmuller's trademark jungle call anyway. The role of Jane, originally created by Maureen O'Sullivan in 1932, was assigned to Joanna Barnes, who was appearing at the time in the TV series, 21 Beacon Street. Neither she nor Miller displayed as much skin as Weissmuller and O'Sullivan were allowed to show in 1932 before the more stringent enforcement of the production code.
Producer Al Zimbalist was also responsible for the story and production of Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) and later wrote the lyrics to the theme from Taffy and the Jungle Hunter (1965). The script was written by Robert Hill, author of She Gods of Shark Reef> (1958), Sex Kittens Go to College (1960), and the Joan Crawford vehicle Female on the Beach (1955). The original score was composed by jazz musician and arranger Shorty Rogers.
Director: Joseph Newman
Producer: Al Zimbalist
Screenplay: Robert Hill
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, Hans Peters
Original Music: Shorty Rogers
Cast: Denny Miller (Tarzan), Joanna Barnes (Jane Parker), Cesare Danova (Harry Holt), Robert Douglas (James Parker), Thomas Yangha (Riano).
by Rob Nixon
Tarzan, the Ape Man (1959)
A November 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that producer Al Zimbalist intended his production of Tarzan, the Ape Man to be "more or less" a remake of the original 1932 M-G-M film of the same title (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40), the first in the studio's long-running "Tarzan" series. The 1959 version incorporated black-and-white footage from several earlier M-G-M productions starring Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, including the crocodile fight from the 1934 production Tarzan and His Mate (See AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). Some of the older footage in the 1959 film was in black and white, while other footage was tinted. An audio recording of the famous Tarzan yell attributed to Weissmuller was also used in the 1959 film. Portions of the stampede scene in the film was actually footage shot for M-G-M's 1950 production King Solomon's Mine (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). In the 1959 film, Tarzan is never called by name and is referred to as Tarzan only in the opening credits. Star Denny Miller only played the role of "Tarzan" for the 1959 production.
According to a 1961 Daily Variety article, Edgar Rice Burroughs' estate sued M-G-M following the release of Zimbalist's 1959 Tarzan, the Ape Man, which the estate claimed was an altered version of the original story. According to the article, a Superior Court judge "sustained a demurrer made by M-G-M in a suit brought against [the] studio by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. over the remake of its original `Tarzan of the Apes,' and found in favor of the studio that it had not breached a 1931 contract." The contract stipulated that the studio could film a remake of this story only if no substantial changes were made. Judge Frank S. Balthis ruled against Burroughs, Inc., stating that the remake was "substantially the same as the original" and that the studio was not in breach of contract.
The 1959 Tarzan, the Ape Man was related only in original source material to other Tarzan series films, including those produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s by Solar Film Productions, Ltd. for Paramount release. For more information about the M-G-M and other Tarzan series, see the entries for Tarzan, the Ape Man in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 and Tarzan Triumphs in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50, and consult the Series Index.