The recent release and my reading of Robin Maxwell’s Jane got the wheels turning in my head about Tarzan movies and Jane’s role in them. I know I have seen a bunch of bits and pieces of the old school Tarzan films on TV, where Jane stands in a bird’s nest (or something like it) stranded while Tarzan fights some foe on the ground to save her. Obviously the damsel in distress angle. But I wanted to see if the way Jane has been portrayed over time has changed. Take in these Tarzan films and let me know what you think. Have you seen them? What about your perspective on their Jane?
Tarzan of the Apes (1918)
I love silent movies because they are a fun, vastly different, change of pace from today’s movies. This was the first Tarzan film, starring Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan and Enid Markey as Jane. This film which tells the first part of Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, and its sequel, The Romance of Tarzan, which tells the second, are remarkably true to the novel. If you want to see true damsel in distress angle for Jane, this is the place. Certainly worth the watch for classic movie sake and to see how a film can stay true to a novel.
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
This was part of that series that I mentioned above. Tarzan the Ape Man was the first in a series of films starring Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan and Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane – there would be 5 sequels starring the two through the 1940’s. While watching any movie from this period now can look cheesy, in terms of special effects, this series is a fan favorite - I can’t get past the cheesiness myself. While I think that O’Sullivan looked like a modern woman stuck in the jungle (not really period authentic), and Weissmuller was gorgeous, he didn’t look like Tarzan to me. Despite all the remakes of this film, this will be the film/series that will be remembered for generations because it is from the golden period of film.
Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981)
This is probably the first Tarzan movie that I heard of or saw – although this one came out before I was born. This incarnation of Tarzan was loosely based on the first Tarzan novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes. Bo Derek plays Jane and this movie was one of the first to be from the Jane perspective. I don’t remember the film being particularly all that great, and Derek won a Golden Raspberry award for her performance, so her Jane must not have been that wonderful. Nudity present as expected in a Tarzan film but some of the scenes were a little…weird. While considered a box office success, this movie was grossly panned by critics. While a great concept, as Robin Maxwell carried off a Tarzan from Jane’s perspective well, the film failed in its execution.
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984)
This film takes of the idea of Tarzan returning to England to take on his role as Lord Greystoke and the problems that you can imagine ensue. Much of this film is based on the Burroughs novels, however they do incorporate angles of more modern science into the film. This Tarzan (Christopher Lambert) and Jane (Andie MacDowell/voice by Glenn Close) look much more like what I would envision for the time period. I have not seen this film but reviewers seem to say that it is a pretty good Tarzan adaptation and character study. Jane has the role of teacher in this movie, helping Tarzan (who is not called by that name in the movie) to adapt to European life – she never appears in Africa which sort of breaks with the tradition and leaves us unable to really compare this Jane with other incarnations.
Disney’s Tarzan (1999)
This film is the first animated version of Tarzan and was a commercial smash hit for Disney. Growing up during this time period I of course saw, and loved, this movie. The music is fantastic and there is a great voice cast – including Tony Goldwyn as Tarzan and Minnie Driver as Jane. Much of the story is based on the Tarzan novel by Burroughs, however as with any Disney film there is a romanticized and much more PG version of the story. Jane is feisty (which I liked), a teacher to Tarzan and enjoyable. This film launched several direct to video sequels, a tv show, a Broadway musical and much more. I recommend this film for any Disney fan.
What do you think? Have you seen any other versions of Tarzan not mentioned above? Who is your favorite Jane and why?
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