One character that has been an enduring presence on movie screens pretty much since the movies were born is Tarzan. Well over 75 films have been made featuring the famous ape man. Today we’re going to look at a film featuring one of the most famous versions of Tarzan…the one played by former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller. In twelve films he went up against all sorts of jungle dangers, but in today’s film, 1943’s “Tarzan Triumphs,” he must tangle with a bigger threat…Nazis.
The film begins with Tarzan’s son Boy (Johnny Sheffield) and Cheetah (by the way, Cheetah’s a chimp) getting into trouble when they get caught on a small ledge while trying to catch a look at the jungle city of Pallandria. Zandra (Frances Gifford), daughter of the cities ruler, tries to save Boy, but she gets stuck too. But, leave it to Tarzan (Weissmuller) to save the day.
Now, Jane (often played by Maureen O’Sullivan) is absent this time around. She’s had to go back to London to assist her sick mother, but she does send her jungle man a letter. In this letter, she describes the Nazi threat that is affecting the rest of the world. Little does Tarzan know that he will soon experience this first hand. A plane load of German’s ends up flying over Tarzan’s jungle in search of resources they can use in their war effort. Several soldiers parachute out, but one, Lt Schmidt (Rex Williams) gets separated. He tries to radio for help, but a flock of startled birds ends up ramming into the plane sent to rescue him, causing the plane to crash. I think it’s very likely this sequence inspired a similar scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
Tarzan soon rescues Schmidt, unaware that he is a Nazi. Back at Tarzan’s pad, the soldier tries to get his radio working again, but keeps having trouble as Cheetah keeps stealing a vital piece. Meanwhile, the other Nazi soldiers have come to the city Pallandria. At first they are welcomed, but Zandra soon starts to see their evil ways and flees after they kill her brother. She sets out to get Tarzan’s help, but the ape man refuses to join the fight. Zandra, on the other hand, believes she must go back and help her people. Probably a good thing too since if Jane ever found out how cozy she was starting to get with Tarzan there’d be big trouble.
Zandra heads back for the city and Tarzan follows her. While he is gone, the Nazis come for Schmidt’s radio, but they are still missing the piece Cheetah has been stealing. The Nazis are just about to start torturing Boy until he tells them where the piece is when Tarzan arrives to save him. But they manage to shoot him down as he swings from vine to vine. The Germans then take off with the radio and Boy, but good old Cheetah leads Zandra to Tarzan and they nurse him back to health. Now, it’s personal and Tarzan sets out to lead the people of the city in fighting against the Nazi invaders.
Doing a fairly detailed synopsis of the film’s plot is always a part of my reviews, but if you’re like me, the words “Tarzan fights Nazis” would’ve been enough to convince you to check this one out. I mean let’s face it, you’ve got one of the ultimate screen heroes battling the villains that beat all villains. How can you go wrong?
All elements work very well together here. Weissmuller is great as Tarzan! I’m sure for some modern viewers, it’ll take a little time to get used to the “Me Tarzan, you Jane” style of delivery. It’s been so parodied over the years, many might not be inclined to take it seriously. But give it some time. The payoff is so worth it! I loved hearing him rally the villagers to fight with simple orders like, “Take gun, kill Nazis.”
Frances Gifford does a fine job filling in for the absent Jane. Her character is beautiful and strong and certainly not helpless, even though she often goes to Tarzan for aid. Hey, it’s his movie, after all. She does seem to get a bit too close to our hero with the Mrs out of the picture for a while, but Tarzan, of course, stays ever-faithful to Jane. The scene stealer of the supporting cast, however, is Cheetah. This talented chimp provides a lot of comedy and contributes to some of the actions scenes as well. Believe it or not, Cheetah actually gets to gun down several Nazis in the film’s climactic battle.
Tarzan films are not deep…they don’t represent great cinematic achievements. What they are is a lot of fun! Watching “Tarzan Triumphs” today, it’s interesting to try and put yourself in the mind of a kid growing up in 1943, dealing with living in a world at war. It’s tough, but you get go to the movies on Saturday and watch your hero take down those dirty Nazis on the big screen. Yeah…that’s fun at the movies, folks!