Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953) poster

Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953)


USA. 1953.


Director – Kurt Neumann, Screenplay – Karl Kamb & Carroll Young, Producer – Sol Lesser, Photography (b&w) – Karl Struss, Music – Paul Sawtell, Art Direction – Carroll Clark. Production Company – Sol Lesser Productions, Inc./RKO Radio Pictures.


Lex Barker (Tarzan), Joyce McKenzie (Jane), Raymond Burr (Vargo), Monique van Vooren (Lyra), Tom Conway (Fidel), Michael Granger (Philippe Lavarre), Henry Brandon (M’Tarra)


The hunter Vargo comes to Dagar, joining forces with the trader Lyra and announcing he wants to obtain a big haul of ivory. To round up the elephants needed, Vargo captures the men of Lacopo tribe to force them work for him. The Lacopo women flee to Tarzan and appeal for help. Tarzan goes and breaks into Vargo’s compound and frees the Lacopo men. Vargo then decides he wants to enlist Tarzan to herd the elephants. When Tarzan refuses, Vargo and his men set out to capture Jane. In doing so, they set the treehut on fire. With Jane presumed killed in the fire, Tarzan is made a prisoner until he agrees to cooperate.

Tarzan and the She-Devil was the fifth and last of the Lex Barker Tarzan films. Barker had inherited the role from Johnny Weissmuller with Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949) and passed through Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950), Tarzan’s Peril (1951) and Tarzan’s Savage Fury (1952) before ending his run here. This was the seventeenth film overall in the series that began with Weissmuller in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) at MGM before the rights were sold to RKO Radio Pictures in 1943. Following Barker’s departure, the role was next inherited by Gordon Scott in Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle (1955) and he went on to play in five other films during which time the series changed hands to another producer.

The previous film Tarzan’s Savage Fury had introduced interesting new elements to the series in the form of the threat of Communism, the big fear of the era. However, She-Devil returns to the tried and familiar. The plot does no more than recycle cliché tropes – the greedy ivory traders/poachers; both Tarzan and Jane captured at various points in order to force their compliance; Jane believed killed and so on. For Barker’s last outing, it feels like everything is coasting on autopilot.

There are some impressive animal scenes – notably a sequence where a full-grown python attacks a black panther, plus the elephant stampedes that climaxes the film (although I have a feeling that these have been recycled from other films). There are all the usual Cheeta comic relief antics with it using a boomerang, stealing ostrich eggs and then being attacked by the ostrich, and carrying water to take to the imprisoned Tarzan. Thankfully, the series retired Cheeta as a character after this point.

Tarzan (Lex Barker) on elephant in Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953)
Tarzan (Lex Barker) and elephant friend

The cast list does have some interesting faces. The most famous of these was Raymond Burr who the very next year gained attention at the neighbouring killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) and shortly after became the title lawyer in tv’s Perry Mason (1957-66), followed by the wheelchair-ridden detective in Ironside (1967-75) and enjoyed a long career. Here Burr uses his bulk and swarthy looks to play villainy.

Monique Van Vooren was a Belgian-born dancer who led a minor acting career. She plays arch but for someone who is supposed to the title ‘she-devil’ she is no more than a supporting character – there have been female villains in the Tarzan series more worthy of being called a she-devil than her. Tom Conway was George Sanders’ brother and enjoyed a minor acting career, most notedly as the lead in RKO’s Cat People (1942).

Lex Barker subsequently went on to appear in assorted Westerns and then moved to Europe where he appeared in a number of German and Italian Westerns, adventure and spy films throughout the 1960s. He passed away of a heart-attack in 1973 aged only 54,

Kurt Neumann’s other genre films are:– several of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films – Tarzan and the Amazons (1945), Tarzan and the Leopard Man (1946) and Tarzan and the Huntress (1947); Rocketship X-M (1950), the first space exploration film of the 1950s Golden Age; the Arabian Nights fantasy Son of Ali Baba (1952); the interesting Kronos (1957) about an alien energy-devouring machine; the mad scientist cheapie She Devil (1957); and the classic monster movie The Fly (1958).

Trailer here

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