Director – Edward Kull, Screenplay – Charles F. Royal, Photography (b&w) – Edward Kull & Ernest F. Smith, Art Direction – Charles Clague. Production Company – The Ashton Dearholt Expedition
Bruce Bennett (Tarzan), Ula Holt (Ula Holt), Frank Baker (Major Francis Martling), Dale Walsh (Alice Martling), Dale Castello (Raglan)
Tarzan learns that his good friend, the explorer D’Arnot, has crashed in his plane in Guatemala. He joins the expedition of Major Francis Martling to travel to a lost native city to find the rare idol known as The Green Goddess. However, they are pursued by a rival expedition led by the ruthless Raglan who also wants the Green Goddess.
Even before Johnny Weissmuller became the definitive screen Tarzan in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and its eleven sequels, there had already been a number of Tarzan films and serials made during the silent era. However, the 1932 Tarzan became the most popular of Tarzan films. Subsequent to the success of the 1932 Tarzan, several other films outside the MGM-Weissmuller series also attempted to exploit the character’s popularity – with this and the Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe Tarzan the Fearless (1933).
The New Adventures of Tarzan was made as a serial, although is usually seen in cut down feature length today. In many regards, The New Adventures of Tarzan is a better Tarzan film than most of the Johnny Weissmuller films. It is certainly more respectful of the Edgar Rice Burroughs literary creation than the Johnny Weissmuller films were. Although there is no Tarzan origin story offered here, the background of the Burroughs stories is assumed – Tarzan is referred to as Lord Greystoke and his mission is to rescue D’Arnot (the explorer who taught Tarzan English in the first Burroughs book). The film also puts Tarzan in a suit, not just a loincloth, and allows him to speak proper rather than pidgin English.
What is also notable about The New Adventures of Tarzan is that it was the first Tarzan film (and last for nearly two decades) to film in a real jungle rather than studio backlots with stock footage edited in as in all the Johnny Weissmuller entries. Most notedly, the film is not made by a production company but by a group that proudly calls itself ‘The Ashton Dearholt Expedition’. As the credits roll, they even apologise for the poor quality of sound recording forced by shooting on location, something that immediately gives The New Adventures of Tarzan a ring of authenticity that the Johnny Weissmuller films never had.
Where The New Adventures of Tarzan has it over all but the first two Johnny Weissmuller films – the 1932 Tarzan and Tarzan and His Mate (1934) – is in its mounting of some spectacular stunts – Tarzan swimming to race an alligator; the heroine thrown over a waterfall and Tarzan swinging down and diving in to rescue her; Tarzan jumping into a pit to rescue her from a menacing leopard; and the impressively large-scaled temple climax with Tarzan and the expedition fighting off hundreds of natives.
On the minus side, there is almost no plot to the film – it starts in the middle of action with little preamble and, despite the mission of rescuing D’Arnot we never do. (Although, given that this is the cut-down feature-length version of the serial viewed here, it is difficult to determine). The film is also, aside from the spectacular nature of the stunts, dull and statically directed. Bruce Bennett, outside of the necessary physical qualities, demonstrates almost no acting ability. His trademark Tarzan yell is decidedly wimpy compared to the one in the Weissmuller films.
The New Adventures of Tarzan was put together by silent film actor Ashton Dearholt who formed a production company with Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. (Indeed, during the production Burroughs fell for and later married Dearholt’s wife Florence). Burroughs was unhappy with the way the MGM-Johnny Weissmuller films and the first adaptation of his book Tarzan of the Apes (1918) had treated his character and wanted to enter into a relationship that would allow him greater creative control. Alas, this was scuppered by Dearholt’s plans to shoot in Guatemala, which proved to be an enormously problem-ridden production with financing collapsing halfway through. The film was completed but Burroughs decided this was not the way he wished to continue having Tarzan filmed and renewed his contact with the MGM series.