Director – Lee Sholem, Screenplay – Arnold Belgard & Hans Jacoby, Producer – Sol Lesser, Photography (b&w) – Russell Harlan, Music – Paul Sawtell, Production Design – Harry Horner. Production Company – RKO Radio Pictures/Sol Lesser Productions.
Lex Barker (Tarzan), Vanessa Brown (Jane), Denise Darcel (Lola), Arthur Shields (Dr E.E. Campbell), Tony Caruso (Sengo), Robert Alda (Neil), Hurd Hatfield (Prince of the Lionians), Robert Warwick (High Priest)
Tarzan comes to the aid of a native chief whose daughter has been abducted by the mysterious Lionians. He apprehends one of the captors. When the man collapses ill from a disease, Tarzan goes to Randini to obtain the help of Dr Cummings. While they are tending the man and the tribespeople infected by the disease, both Jane and Cummings’ nurse Lola are abducted by the Lionians and taken back to their city to be slave girls to help repopulate. As Tarzan races to their rescue, as Jane and Lola try to stand up to their captors only to be locked inside the tomb of the prince’s father.
Tarzan and the Slave Girl was the second Tarzan film starring Lex Barker. The series had begun at MGM nearly two decades earlier with the hit Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) starring Johnny Weissmuller. Weissmuller appeared in twelve Tarzan films, although the series was sold to RKO Radio Pictures after the seventh of these. Maureen O’Sullivan, the quintessential screen Jane, quit around the same time and it took Weissmuller several more years of being shuffled through one backlot adventure after another before he did so too. Immediately after Weissmuller departed, former college football player Lex Barker assumed the loincloth, the first in a string of actors to do so. Barker made his first appearance in Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949) and would go on to play in a total of five Tarzan films (see below for these).
Under producer Sol Lesser, who took over producing the Tarzan series at RKO, little changed between the films. Throughout the 1940s, the Tarzan films were honed down to a formulaic and little varying series of B programmer efforts. Once again here, all the usual plot devices are wheeled out – lost native cities in the jungle; Jane abducted; Tarzan struggling to bring white medicine to combat superstitious plague-ridden natives. There are the customary comic relief scenes with Cheeta, who is even seen getting drunk in the opening scenes.
The film offers up the familiar cheap backlot jungle adventure. There is the interesting addition of the new tribe whose chief feature is that they wear a good deal of camouflage and seem almost invisible until they appear out of the jungle right in front of travellers. The lost city looks as though the film had simply cannibalised the sets from a B-budget Ancient Egyptian spectacle. Nothing particularly interesting happens once everybody arrives at the lost city. The oddest aspect is one extra who gives the appearance of crawling on their side through the background of several scenes. Why and who they are is never made clear – it just makes for this completely WTF aspect happening in the background.
Lex Barker was never the most expressive of actors cast as Tarzan – something that is painfully evident during the Cheeta comic-relief scenes where he seems to be too straight-faced and simply fails to get into the chirpy spirit that Johnny Weissmuller brought to the part. Vanessa Brown is petulant and girlish, making for one of the worst Janes up until the casting of Bo Derek in Tarzan the Ape Man (1981). The most intriguing addition is Denise Darcel who plays up all she can as a seductive strumpet. The film’s most eyebrow-raising scenes are when Jane starts to get jealous of Lola’s attentions towards Tarzan, culminating in a catfight between the two of them that succeeds in trashing much of the treehut.