Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941)


USA. 1941.


Director – Richard Thorpe, Screenplay – Myles Connolly & Paul Gangelin, Producer – B.P. Fineman, Photography (b&w) – Clyde de Vinna, Music – David Snell, Special Effects – Warren Newcombe, Art Direction – Cedric Gibbons. Production Company – MGM


Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan), Maureen O’Sullivan (Jane), Johnny Sheffield (Boy), Tom Conway (Medford), Barry Fitzgerald (Dennis O’Doul), Cordell Hickman (Tumbo), Philip Dorn (Vandermeer), Reginald Owen (Professor Elliott)


Boy finds a handful of gold nuggets in a riverbed. His curiosity is raised when Jane introduces him to the concept of monetary value and so he decides to set out to find civilisation. Instead he is captured by a native tribe that have been struck with plague. Believing Boy responsible for their illness, the tribe decide to burn him alive. He is saved from the pyre by the arrival of an anthropological expedition. The expedition is in search of the lost Vanusi tribe and Tarzan agrees to show the men a shortcut to their destination via the Mutia Escarpment. When Boy inadvertently blurts out about the plentiful supplies of gold on The Escarpment, the men’s greed is aroused and they contrive a plan to force Tarzan to take them to the gold by abducting Jane and Boy.

Tarzan’s Secret Treasure was the fifth of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films. (See bottom of page for listing of the other Johnny Weissmuller films). It was the second film in the series to feature Johnny Sheffield’s Boy who had been introduced in the previous entry Tarzan Finds a Son (1939). Within only the space of one film, Boy had come to dominate the show – there is a long preamble to main action where Boy discovers gold, learns about the notion of money, decides to leave and find civilisation, befriends a young native boy (Cordell Hickman) after saving him from a charging rhino and is nearly sacrificed by the boy’s tribe because he is thought responsible for bringing a plague – clearly showing that the series’ focus was moving in the direction of juvenile audiences.

The rest of the film is a thoroughly ordinary run through of the by now well-established formula of the series – superstitious natives, white men come to The Escarpment and getting greedy after discovering potential treasure, plots to kill off Tarzan. Indeed, much of the plot follows the earlier Tarzan and His Mate (1934). This even extends to the exceedingly liberal re-use of stock footage from the other films and Tarzan and His Mate in particular. Despite this, the climax with the attacking animals, where Johnny Weissmuller gets to demonstrate his Olympic swimming prowess, is exciting. At least, if the bad guys are entirely generic, the casting is quite reasonable with the always classy Tom Conway lending dignity as the leader of the expedition, while Barry Fitzgerald proves a scene stealer as a drunken Irish photographer.

All the Jungle Happy Families business that took over the series from this point is getting rather absurd with eggs boiled in hot pools, tables of caviar and winch ropes to swing out of treehuts. There is an earnest sense of family decency that underlies much of the MGM Tarzan films, although the point where Jane tells Boy to: “Go right home, say your prayers and go to bed,” defies belief. There is also getting to be more of an emphasis on the comic exploits of Cheeta who at one point gets drunk on Barry Fitzgerald’s whiskey.

The other Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films are:– Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Tarzan and His Mate (1934), Tarzan Escapes (1936), Tarzan Finds a Son (1939), Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942), Tarzan Triumphs (1943), Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943), Tarzan and the Amazons (1945), Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946), Tarzan and the Huntress (1947) and Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948).

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