Cast and Credits
Running time: 95 minutes (Videotape version lasts 89 minutes)
Completed Sept. 4, 1936
Copyright Date: Oct. 29, 1936; Renewed Nov. 1, 1963
Released November 6, 1936
First showing in Canada: December 11, 1936
Working Titles: Tarzan's Return, The Capture of Tarzan, Tarzan and the Vampires
Tarzan s'‚évade [Fr]
Tarzans Rache [Gr], Tarzans Flucht [Aus]
La fuga di Tarzan [It]
A Fuga de Tarzan [Pg]
La Fuga de Tarzán [Sp]
Jane’s cousins, Rita and Eric Parker, engage white hunter Captain Fry to guide them to the Mutia Escarpment. They hope to persuade Jane to return with them to England to claim an inheritance. And Fry wants to capture Tarzan and exhibit him for profit.
Near the Escarpment, the safari is attacked by the savage Gabonis. Tarzan’s cry stops them in their tracks, and the party climbs to the top without further incident.
Jane eventually accedes to her cousins' entreaties, and Fry tricks Tarzan into stepping into a specially built cage. But a deal he has made with the Hymandis' chief backfires when the latter confiscates the cage and seizes the party for ritualistic sacrifice.
Tarzan escapes the cage with the help of his elephant friends, and they attack the village to free the safari. The Hymandis pursue them to a forbidden cave but do not follow. At the other end, Tarzan forces Fry back into the cave where he is killed by the cave’s lizards.
Rita and Eric renounce their claims on Jane’s duty to them, and Tarzan and Jane can once again lead an idyllic life in their jungle paradise.
“Uncle Peter died last spring. In his will he left ˝ million pounds to the University of London for entomological research and ˝ million to Jane, providing she returns to civilization. Otherwise, the bugs get the whole million.” Once again the prospect of financial interest motivates new intruders to seek out Tarzan’s jungle home.
The Hollywood Reporter called Tarzan Escapes a jinxed film, and for good reason. It was the last one to be overseen by Irving Thalberg. It was completed only a week prior to his death. One of the supporting players, John Buckler, was killed in an automobile accident one week prior to the film’s general release. Herbert Mundin died in an auto mishap three years later. And the film was reshot almost completely because the first version was deemed unsuitable for the younger set.
One of the episodes contributing to this feeling was an attack by giant bats in a swamp. At a preview showing, the sight of the giant creatures carrying off panic-stricken porters sent kids screaming from the theatre and irate mothers to their writing desks to protest.
In retrospect, this was hardly more gruesome than watching the Gabonis shoot arrows into the heads of fleeing porters, or seeing victims spread-eagled on bent trees to be split in half when the trees were freed, or witnessing the Ganeloni torture rites, or lowering captives into a pit to be slaughtered by a man-killing giant ape. Need I go on?
But to placate public opinion (after all, it was supposed to be a family picture), MGM did a complete overhaul, but without director James McKay, who resented Metro’s attempts to tone down the film. The film went through three more directors before settling on Richard Thorpe, who would also helm the remaining MGM entries.
While a copy of the first version of the film has yet to be located, the original version was released as a Big Little Book, and is our only source for the story line.
Eric and Rita Parker, Jane’s cousins, are travelling along a river. Rita, despite warnings from the skipper that they may be attacked by hostile natives, insists on playing her phonograph loudly. When they are attacked, the crew and passengers are forced to seek cover on a small island. The party seems unable to fend off the natives until Major Fry appears. His unexpected arrival routs the Gabonis, who have to regroup. Meanwhile, the skipper, mortally wounded, tries to warn Eric and Rita about Fry, but dies before he can.
Major Fry has animals in cages, including Cheta, Tarzan’s pet chimp. One of his designs is to capture Tarzan and put him on display, and Rita hopes to induce Jane to return to England to collect an inheritance. Eric seems to be the only “nice” member of the group.
They all decide to push onward to the Mutia Escarpment. That night, in Fry’s camp, Tarzan appears and releases the animals. He only stops to retrieve a photo of Jane that he sees on the ground.
When Tarzan returns to Jane, she is waiting with one of the great apes, Timbee. Tarzan shows her the photo and she wants to see the people who had it. Tarzan reluctantly agrees to take her there. Once there, Nimba, a great ape, from the branch of a tree, stretches his arm out to touch Rita as she is walking below. Startled, she screams and Fry shoots the great ape. Tarzan attacks, and it requires all of Jane’s strength to prevent a slaughter.
Jane, on meeting Fry, instinctively distrusts him. But she is too overcome with joy on seeing Rita and Eric to bother about it. Rita seems cold, but of course, Eric is charming.
Then the Gabonis, who have regrouped, attack again. The safari takes shelter behind some rocks, while Tarzan and Jane attempt to lead away the attackers. When all seems lost, Tarzan summons the great apes, who arrive and easily rout the natives, especially after Tarzan slays their witch doctor.
Rita has been struck by a poisoned arrow and for this reason Tarzan agrees to lead the party up the Mutia Escarpment. On the way, they are attacked by lions. Tarzan summons the elephants, who disperse the pests in short order. Then the pachyderms take the safari to Tarzan’s home. The whites make camp in a cave near the tree-house, while Tarzan prepares an antidote to the poisoned arrow.
It would appear the Rita and Fry have a kindred spirit.
Cheta in one episode misbehaves and puts Jane in a perilous situation involving a crocodile. Tarzan arrives with a spear and hurls it into the brute, which flees in pain.
Meanwhile, Rita and Fry conspire to have Tarzan lead them to “civilization.” She feign’s illness and Jane persuades Tarzan to lead them to safety. He informs his ape friends of his intentions, but promises them that he will be back.
The party reaches the swamp, which turns out to be a nesting place for giant vampire bats. Tarzan manages to kill one, but a flock appears. It is only the timely arrival of a tribe of pygmies bearing torches that the hideous beasts are routed. When Tarzan explains his mission and mentions the Gabonis, the pygmies agree to lead them away from them, i.e. to a crude rope bridge which will put them in safe territory. Most of the safari reaches the other side safely, but when Jane and Eric, who have brought up the rear, attempt to cross it, the rope breaks, and the two fall into the whirlpool below. Tarzan is dumbfounded. He decides to go back and search for Jane, but Fry takes advantage of Tarzan’s momentary distraction to capture him.
Meanwhile Eric has managed to save himself and Jane from drowning. They build a crude raft and float along the river until they find a way up the chasm. By this time, Fry has reached a steamboat and is preparing to stow Tarzan aboard. Somehow, Eric and Jane reach the boat, get aboard and release Tarzan. But Fry enters and threatens them. Jane calls for help, and the great apes descend upon the boat, panicking everyone, including the boat captain. The helm unattended, the boat beaches on shore.
Tarzan releases all the imprisoned animals, while the great apes wreak havoc everywhere. Rita, attempting to escape, is pursued by a great ape. She fires at it, but it kills her. Fry, trying to escape in the river, is dragged under by a marauding crocodile.
All that remains is for Eric to return to civilization, but without Jane. Jane and Tarzan see him safely off, and then they return to their jungle home with Cheta and Timbee.
[The cast in the original version had Granville Bates as the Skipper, and Everett Brown as Bomba, and Captain Fry was promoted to Major Fry. ]
If you want to read the Big Little Book version of Tarzan Escapes, which is the original story, click here.
For the second version, the bat sequence, which MGM personnel thought was excellent, was excised, Rita’s vicious character was revised to make her more palatable, Rawlins, a character incorporated for comic relief, was added, and Tarzan’s battle with the giant crocodile was reprised from Tarzan and His Mate.
The third entry in the MGM Tarzan series was contemplated as early as 1934, and by the end of January 1935, a tentative story titled Tarzan Returns was completed by Karl Brown. To this were added contributions by Louis Mosher, John Farrow, Wyndham Gittens and Otis Garrett. The plotline closely resembles the first version of Tarzan Escapes, except that Rita makes a play for Tarzan.
To play Jane’s cousin Rita, MGM cast English actress Benita Hume. Known by her friends as Benny, she was born in England in 1906. Her family wanted her to become a concert pianist, but despite her natural talent in this direction, she preferred acting, and was allowed to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, from which she graduated with honours in 1924.
She headed straightway for London to begin her career, changing her surname from Humm to Hume. (Consequently, MGM scripter Cyril Hume is neither her father nor her brother, as many bio notes allege.) Although her first professional work lay in the theatre, she rather quickly gravitated to films, acquiring a contract with an English studio. At age 19, she married writer/journalist Eric Siepman.
She won a role in Ivor Novello’s play Symphony in Two Flats, and when it did not have a great success locally, she accompanied Novello when he took the play to New York. Here began a series of transatlantic crossings that involved severed contracts with RKO and MGM.
Divorcing Siepman in 1931, Benita latched onto race-car driver, Jack Dumfee, but an engagement was broken off.
By 1935, unable to find substantial work in her native land, Benita once again returned to America, and was picked up by MGM as a second lead in Tarzan Escapes for $1250 per week, for a minimum of three weeks, but because of the drawn out shooting schedule caused by delays and reshooting, her wages by the completion of the film totalled $75 000.
Shortly after, she started dating actor Ronald Colman, but they did not marry until 1938.
By now, the actress had all but renounced her acting career. In 1943, their only child Juliet was born. The Colmans became close friends of neighbours Jack Benny and his wife Mary, and made several guest appearances on the latters’ radio show. And in 1950, the Colmans did a radio programme called Halls of Ivy, Ronald playing the dean of a college, with Benita as his wife. It evolved into a TV series in 1954.
When her husband passed away in 1958, Benita returned to England. But a year later, she married George Sanders in Spain, and despite predictions of dire consequences, the marriage was a happy one.
In 1967 Benita Hume passed away from cancer, with husband George and daughter Juliet at her side.
Next of the important second leads was William Albert Henry, chosen to play Eric, Jane’s other cousin.
Born in Los Angeles, California Nov. 10, 1914 (alternative dates are 1917, 1918) Henry had a link to Johnny Weissmuller even before he joined him in the cast of Tarzan Escapes.
Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian swimming marvel and Weissmuller rival in the 1924 Olympics, became Henry’s adopted brother, when the legendary swimmer and surfer needed a sponsor for his first professional outing on the mainland. And it was through Kahanamoku that Henry got his first film role, in the 1925 film, Lord Jim.
His first important film roles began in 1933, and a year later he was Maureen O’Sullivan’s œdipal brother, Gilbert in The Thin Man. In 1936, just before the release of Tarzan Escapes, he married actress Grace Durkin.
Grace decided to give up acting and was content to play housewife and mother to their son, Michael. Grace’s sister would later marry actor James Ellison, who will be familiar to fans as one of Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekicks.
Henry continued to make films on a regular basis right into the mid-60s, at which time he was also heavily into television. As he aged, he generally, though not exclusively, played a villain. He was Weissmuller’s nemesis in Fury of the Congo (51), but came back four years later to play the good guy in Jungle Moon Men.
On television he appeared in many westerns like Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill, Jr. By the late 60s and early 70s, his appearances were mostly walk-ons with a line or two in such series as I Spy, Hogan's Heroes, Emergency and Adam 12.
His last appearance on TV was as the withdrawn Thurman in an episode of the Six Million Dollar Man, titled “Stranger in Broken Fork.”
Bill Henry passed away in 1982.
John Henry Clanfergael Buckler was
born April 1, 1906 in Capetown, South Africa. Not much is known about
this actor except that he began making films in America in 1934 and
was killed in 1936 in an automobile mishap, shortly after completing
his sixth film, Tarzan
Herbert Mundin was added to the second version of Tarzan Escapes to tone down the violence in the film. Always fearful of the slightest unfamiliar sound, his character Rawlins comes to admire Tarzan, and he ultimately sets aside his fears to try to help Tarzan, but is killed by Fry in the attempt. His admiration is summed up in this sentence he delivers to Jane:
Rawlins: “Miss Jane, `e’s the finest gentleman I've ever `ad the privilege of knowin'... trousers or no trousers!”
Born in 1898 in Lancashire, England, Mundin began his theatrical career following the First World War, first in the British Music Hall circuit, later on Broadway. He entered films via the Fox studios in 1931, and was usually added to a film for comic relief, as in Charlie Chan’s Secret (36) starring Warner Oland. Perhaps his best roles were in David Copperfield (34) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (38). In the latter film, he played Much the Miller, who aids King Richard by engaging one of Prince John’s assassins before he can carry out his evil plan. His last film was Society Lawyer for MGM. Shortly after, he was killed in a car accident at the age of 40.
Darby Jones (1910 - 1986) appeared as Fry’s number one native boy, Bomba. He played similar parts in a number of films right up into the early fifties, some of which include Tarzan, the Fearless (33) with Buster Crabbe, Stanley and Livingstone (39), Congo Maisie (40), White Cargo (42), the Columbia serial Congo Bill (48), Zamba (49), Tarzan’s Savage Fury (52) with Lex Barker, and White Goddess (53) with Jon Hall as Ramar of the Jungle.
The Motion Picture Herald
Momentum given public interest, especially by the youngsters, by previous Tarzan films, plus the continued popularity of the ape man's amazing experiences as a colored supplement newspaper feature, stand in good stead for this attraction. From the standpoint of production value, story quality, caliber of action and exciting action, this production is several strides ahead of its forerunners in both potential entertainment and commercial quality. As all that is expected of a Tarzan show is intelligently delivered, "Tarzan Escapes" is almost a certainty to interest the red-blooded youngsters greatly. At the same time, it is of such a character that adults who see it are not likely to consider the time wasted.
[Previewed in the Uptown theatre, Los Angeles. The audience, made up mostly of adults , got quite a thrill out of the film. The few youngsters in attendance gave vent to an enthusiasm that augurs well for Tarzan's reception when it plays before a predominantly juvenile gathering.]
The New York Times
The interesting question is no longer whether Tarzan is going to escape from his enemies that much we may take for granted but whether his enemies will ever be able to escape from Tarzan. It seems unlikely, too, so long as the handsome pithecanthrope continues to be surrounded by rich and leisurely productions as Metro has draped about his handsome shoulders in "Tarzan Escapes," at the Capitol. From the adult viewpoint, if there is such a thing, where Tarzan is concerned, it is Africa that really saves the picture.
The flavor and the monstrous spell, the strange and horrifying beauty of the Dark Continent are all there, carefully processed and sound-tracked, to offset the comical ululations of the ape-man (and Mr. Weissmuller, by the way, is in excellent voice) or such delightful spectacles as the elephant-operated lift by which Maureen O'Sullivan, showing surprisingly few signs of exposure after all these years in the bush, elegantly ascends to her arboreal love nest. Then too, there is Cheta, the Martha Raye of chimpanzees, a comedienne who would tear herself into little bits to give you a laugh, and whose wild and Corybantic cachinnation at opportune moments is an affront and a joy to hear.
In its wealth of animal sequences, Metro has slyly propitiated the sentimentalists and zoolaters with shots of cunning lion cubs, cute fawns, etc., while withholding nothing from the lovers of savage scenes of tiger-shooting, native-spearing, war dances, sacrificial ceremonies. There is a running sound accompaniment, meanwhile, of tropical bird cries, hyenic laughter, hippopotamic grunts, leonine coughs, tom-toms Africa.
In its incidents, the film is
almost pure circus, with Tarzan doing trapeze antics in the trees,
fighting a crocodile, bulldogging a hartebeest, and a one point
making a beautiful catch of Maureen, who does a coy adagio leap from
a treetop into his uxorious arms. The action, effectively slow-paced,
begins with the perilous journey of a safari outfitted by William
Henry and Benita Hume into the apeman country to bring Maureen back
to Mayfair. John Buckler, a villain, is engaged to head the
expedition and Herbert Mundin is taken along for comic uses. Ensuing
misunderstandings and native intrigues involving ju-ju and other dark
matters threaten to disrupt Tarzan's happy home which has running
water and a kitchenette besides elevator service but you know the way
things turn out and what Maureen decides to do. Now let's see what
Mr. Sol Lesser, who has bought Tarzan from Metro, will decide to do.
It's going to be pretty tough.
Two years of ribbing between the last "Tarzan" feature and this one, has left its mark on the subject. With the constant kidding having accentuated the absurdity of the highly imaginative jungle doings, the tree-to-tree stuff has worn pretty thin for adult consumption. Appeal of "Tarzan Escapes" will be mostly for the kids, and that's not likely to mean more than mediocre returns.
While at first the sight of Tarzan doing everything but playing pinochle with his beast pals was a novelty, it's all rather silly now. Derisive laughter greeted the picture too often at the Capitol and it will probably run into similar difficulties most everywhere.
It must be pretty difficult to think up new jams for Tarz within the confines of the African game country; and the scripters apparently had quite a tussle with this one. They appear to have been n the verge of getting him out of the jungle and into a Hyde Park penthouse several times, but the lure of the jungle finally prevails and Tarz is permitted to escape from the wicked hunter's grasp.
This latest plot permits Tarzie's idyllic romance with his mate, Maureen O'Sullivan, to be rudely interrupted by a couple of the missus' relatives from London. Mrs. Tarzan has unknowingly become the heir to a late uncle's large fortune, and the relatives try to bring her back to civilization so that she may grab the coin and help them grab some of it also. It so happens, however, that their jungle guide is a dastardly rat who sees in Tarzan a cinch freak show attraction for up north, and it takes not only Tarz himself but also a big zoo full of animal friends to clear up the mess., save the lives of the white folks, give the villain his just dues, and restore Tarzan's mate to Tarzan. A big battle with a tribe of savages serves as the usual blowoff.
Among other things, Tarzan has learned a few additional English words since last seen, although his vocabulary still couldn't get him into the kindergarten class of a school for mental deficients. But he manages to get by. He has also softened up considerably in a husbandry manner. In this one he does such things as diving into the water to grapple with a 20-foot man-eating alligator in order to save the life of a young deer, and then after killing the 'gator in a terrific struggle, swim back to shore where his mate awaits him. He finds time to pick her a lily on the way in and isn't even puffing when he lands.
Another advancement for the Tarzan couple is the addition of some modern conveniences in their tree home: an elevator with motive power furnished by a pet elephant, a revolving fan operated by an ape, etc.
Johnny Weissmuller once again looks good as the jungle boy, but it's about time they found him a new set of lyrics. And Miss O'Sullivan is also okay once more as the loving wife, but considerably more covered up in clothing this time. Benita Hume and William Henry are required to look scared mostly as the visiting relatives from London. Herbert Mundin does the comedy and the late John Buckler is the heavy. Incidentally, Warren William, who has been accused of imitating John Barrymore, now gets his turn on the receiving end of some flattery; Buckler can be charged with imitating Warren William.
A female ape called Cheta is the Tarzans' pet and houseworker, and some expert handling of the monk provides the picture with its most legitimately comical and best moments.
Jungle backgrounds for the action are beautifully done. A steamy swamp scene is a standout for photography and art work. But along with the good looking views are some stock animal shots on old celluloid that don't blend.