Friday, May 10, 2013

Who's the Best... Tarzan?



42 comments:

J.A. Morris said...

In my book, there's no question it's Johnny Weissmuller.

Edo Bosnar said...

What? No Miles O'Keeffe?! ... :P

More seriously, though, I don't think I can really give a good response to this question, because except in snippets, I've never seen any of those old classic movies with Weissmuller or Crabbe.
The first live-action Tarzan I recall seeing was Ron Ely in the TV show when I was a kid, and I liked him well enough then. However, once I started reading the books later, I realized how ill-suited he was for the role.

Otherwise, I rather liked Lambert's take on the character, even if overall that movie, Greystoke, was a bit too somber and pretentious.

Doug said...

Edo, it's funny that you bring up Miles O'Keefe. When double-checking everything last night to make sure the post was ready I actually did consider adding a photo of him. For my money, and of the four listed, O'Keefe probably looked the part better than any of the other actors. Christopher Lambert brought life to Tarzan in an authentic way, closely resembling the youthful Tarzan of the ERB books.

You know, I always held some disdain for "Greystoke" once Tarzan went to Europe because it was so different from the ERB take on the character, as an infallible hero adaptable to any circumstances. Yet, the creators of that film probably gave us a more honest and realistic approach than ERB himself did. Perhaps "Greystoke" is worth another look from me.

Doug

Matt Celis said...

Weismuller. Ron Ely is #2 just because he was also Doc Savage. Crabbe doesn't need it because he's already the #1 Flash Gordon.

david_b said...

Not a big follower, but I grew up on the Ely series, I liked his compassion as a leading man. I watched a few of the Weismuller films as a kid.

As for looks, I'd agree Lambert looks the closest.

William said...

For me it's Johnny Weissmuller, hands down. (Even though my first exposure to Tarzan was Ron Ely).

It's really a crime that there hasn't been a decent version of Tarzan on the big screen since the 1940's. It seems like a no-brainer, and something that could be done really cool.

Even the Disney animated version wasn't all that great to me.

Someone really needs to make a Tarzan movie on par with Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman and others in that same vein.

Matt Celis said...

Given the technology available, the only real barriers to a good Tarzan film are (1) quality script, (2) correct casting, (3) ERB estate if adapting a copyrighted story, and most of all (4) political correctness. I can see cries of racism if you aren't careful with your tale of a European lord of the African jungle.

Anonymous said...

A local TV show host, while introducing a Tarzan movie, once said, "One's loyalty is usually to one's first Tarzan." (That probably goes for James Bond and Doctor Who, too.) My first was probably either Ron Ely on TV or Jock Mahoney in "Tarzan's Three Challenges," although I was more familiar with the character from the Gold Key comics. Those were adapted from Burroughs' original novels, so Tarzan spoke whole sentences instead of the "Me Tarzan, you Jane" dialect. For that reason, Mahoney and Ely were closer to "my" Tarzan than the 1930's-1940's portrayals. When I was younger, I was a stickler for accuracy and authenticity, so I disliked those older movies with Weissmuller and Lex Barker. Later, I lightened up, and could accept them (and even enjoy them) on their own terms.

Karen said...

What's funny is that all of those guys that Doug pictured are all in great shape, but in today's world of steroid-enhanced monsters, they would all be considered small or not muscular enough.

I can't say I really have a favorite. I do recall watching Ely in Tarzan shows in syndication, but I was never a fan of the show. I saw the Weissmuller movies too as a kid. I enjoyed the Greystoke film later on, but much of it did seem tedious.

My favorite Tarzan was actually the animated show from the 70s, from Filmation. I think for a while it was paired with Batman. I haven't seen it since I was a kid, but I recall it being a pretty entertaining show, and Tarzan seemed to be much like the book Tarzan -for what I know, I only read two or three of the books.

Mike said...

Matt on #4: unfortunately i think you're correct on the PC thing. There's many films that I've enjoyed that I know would never be made today because of PC.

As to topic: "There can be only one!" ... and for me that's Christopher Lambert.

Anonymous said...

Miles O' Keefe and Christopher Lambert looked the part, but the 1981 remake was a mess, and "Greystoke" was a pretentious bore. Gordon Scott starred in the last three or four films produced by Sol Lesser (which emulated MGM's "me Tarzan-you Jane" version), and the first two produced by Sy Weintraub (in which Tarzan got to speak in normal, unbroken sentences). So Scott has the distinction of playing both interpretations. Crabbe may hold some kind of record for jungle heroes; he played Kaspa in "King of the Jungle" and T'hunda in "King of the Congo." And Bruce Bennett deserves at least an honorable mention; his portrayal was faithful to the novels. He may be one of the few screen Tarzans to go on to have something resembling a successful career as a serious actor. He had supporting parts in Sahara, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Strategic Air Command. He may be best known for playing joan Crawford's ex-husband in Mildred Pierce.

Anonymous said...

Agree about the PC problem. I've even heard the complaint that Tarzan is inherently a white supremacist icon, beating the African natives at their own game. It would have to be done very carefully, and either way, it would probably end up offending someone.

david_b said...

Eh, PC..? Hate the stuff..

I saw some 'viewer warning' a few months back cautioning viewers about scenes involving violence, sexual situations..

..AND SMOKING.

Seriously..? I'm supposed to be offended by that..?

I know, I know, we're trying to stop kids from smoking, but I just found it a bit ridiculous.

Karen said...

I laughed my you know what off the other night when I saw a car ad on TV. It showed a kid riding in the back of the car, sticking his hand out the window, joyfully moving it up and down as the car sped along. A blurb appeared at the bottom of the screen, stating that it could be dangerous to put your hand out the window of a moving car and it should be done with caution. Geez!!

mr. oyola said...

I grew up watching the Weissmuller movies and thus always thought of him as "the best," though I honestly cannot imagine watching a Tarzan movie nowadays for much the reasons listed here regarding the perpetual negative or one-dimensional representation of Africa and Africans in that franchise (I think only the Disney version didn't have "natives" - though it has been a long time since I've seen that one, too so I may be misremembering).

Making sure it is period piece might be a beginning way around that, but I think you'd have to take some serious liberties from the source materials to get something actually interesting.

Matt Celis said...

Pretty sure that was the Tarzan-Lone Ranger Action Hour.

Doug said...

From Wikipedia, re: the Tarzan Saturday morning Filmation cartoon:

There were 36 total episodes, produced over four seasons.

The first season (premiered September 11, 1976) consisted of 16 half-hour episodes. The second season (premiered September 10, 1977) added six new episodes, and aired with the half-hour series The New Adventures of Batman as the Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour. The third season (premiered September 9, 1978) added six new episodes, and aired with a number of other series as the ninety-minute Tarzan and the Super 7. The fourth season (premiered September 15, 1979) added eight new episodes, and aired as part of the second season of Tarzan and the Super 7.

The "fifth season" (The Tarzan/Lone Ranger Adventure Hour), and the "sixth season" (The Tarzan/Lone Ranger/Zorro Adventure Hour) were all Tarzan reruns aired with other series.

Doug

Karen said...

It might have been, the memory is not always accurate any more.

Speaking of the Lone Ranger, he's another hero that I think has problems in modern times. I've seen some trailers for the new film, and it looks pretty goofy, but what can you expect from the people who made all those Pirates of the Caribbean movies? I can't get a read on Tonto really - he seems as weird as Johnny Depp's Captain Jack. The whole thing looks like it's being played mostly for laughs, but I'm sure there will be an effort to portray the Native Americans in a better light than some of the films of the past. Probably no Pidgin English anyway. I guess that's something. I don't want to see Indians portrayed as saints, nor as savages, just as people.

david_b said...

I generally liked the Filmation action offerings of the early/mid '70s, except for the obligatory 'moral' message at the end, and some of the ecological leanings of some scripts and dialog.

PLEEEEEASE, ACTION without GUILT TRIPS, OK..???

Another reason why I liked Filmation's Trek TAS, they didn't resort to any cute characters, and was early enough not to have to incorporate the educational, safety or moral messages. As said before, in many aspects it was better than live Trek's final 3rd Season.

Karen said...

Didn't see Doug's post before I posted. So - Matt and I were both right!

david_b said...

Yes, there were several title changes during the 70s era for these shows.

Garett said...

I don't remember watching the Tarzan cartoon, but the animation looks good in the intro:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i__2vabLGxY

I like Weissmuller, enjoyed his movies with Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane. Even the B+W stills look good. I'd never seen Ron Ely before, but from this photo he looks like a dude going out to the beach house for a few beers! Lambert looks the most ape-ish.

On a comic note, George Wilson painted some nice Tarzan covers for Gold Key.

That is funny about the smoking warning, David. Things have changed. : )

Who is the Tarzan actor on the far right?

Doug said...

The guy on the far right is Christopher Lambert (Lam-bare) in a still from 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, which also starred Andie McDowell as Jane. For my money, it's the closest adaptation on film of the ERB books.

And yes, I too grew up on the Weissmuller and Crabbe films. And I loved the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials!

Doug

Doug said...

Wait -- far right or far left? On the left is Buster Crabbe.

Doug

Garett said...

Ah must be Buster Crabbe. Didn't recognize him--he was a great Flash Gordon, sparky energy!

Edo Bosnar said...

Wait, what? We can talk about the cartoon versions, too? I loved the Filmation version, that was a Saturday morning must for me, together with Batman. The Tarzan depicted there did indeed correspond much more to version in the books than others.

By the way, not to sidetrack the discussion too much, but a great way to avoid PC concerns would be if somebody did a high-quality film version of Charles Saunders' Imaro novels (basically sword & sorcery set in a mythical, precolonial Africa).

Doug said...

I haven't read The Return of Tarzan or Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar lately, but perhaps those stories would avoid some of the issues with portraying Blacks as savages. Of course, the "fifty frightful men" would probably tick off advocates for little people.

Doug

Inkstained Wretch said...

The best Tarzan? That would be the one drawn by Joe Kubert. Cased closed.

Edo Bosnar said...

Sorry Inkstained, the best comic book version is the one drawn by John Buscema.

Doug said...

In regard to the comics, it's interesting that the Hogarth and Manning versions, the staple for years, mirrored the depictions of the Ape Man in film. It was only into the '70's and '80's that Kubert and then Buscema showed him as a little "wilder" than the formerly clean-cut version.

I would never want to be asked to choose between Kubert's and Buscema's versions...

Doug

Doug said...

Let me ask this about the old B&W films: when you were a kid watching those, did you think they were really shot in the jungle? Man, I did and was just taken away into that fantasy world. It's funny to think now that it was all on a sound stage -- same for the Universal Monsters films.

And was there ever a time when a vine was needed, and there wasn't one?

Saying that, I was surprised when I read my first Tarzan novel that the Ape-man did not use vines for mobility at all.

CGI does amazing things today, but there was a definite charm to the sets, backgrounds, and backdrops created by set designers before all of the special effects.

Doug

Matt Celis said...

Growing up in Southern California and going to Universal Studios, I always figured most stuff was sets, backlots, Bronson Canyon, or Malibu Creek.

Anonymous said...

Weissmuller's definitely the classic movie Tarzan. I haven't seen too many of the TV versions...the only one that comes to mind is the early 90s version with Wolf Larson as Tarzan. He was OK; Lydie Denier was a VERY attractive Jane.

I'm still waiting for a really authentic Tarzan movie, but we'll probably never get one because the mass appeal just isn't there these days.

Mike W.

Matt Celis said...

That's what they said about Sherlock Holmes.

Karen said...

As a child I bought into those old films whole-heartedly, even if on some level I knew they weren't real. It's the willingness to be swept up into the story, which it seems we are more open to as children then we are later on in life.

In my mind's eye I still picture Europe at the turn of the century as one of those villages from one of the Frankenstein films, even though I know better.

Karen said...

Note that Mike W. said an "Authentic" Tarzan film. The Robert Downey Sherlock Holmes movies can be called many things, but I think authentic is not one of them.

Garett said...

Just to go off on a real tangent here, has anyone seen the movie Zero Effect? It stars Bill Pullman as the world's greatest detective Daryl Zero, who is based on Sherlock Holmes. I remember liking it, but I don't think it's well known.

William said...

Concerning the PC pitfalls of a modern Tarzan movie, they could always make the native Africans the good guys and they could be friends and allies of Tarzan.

As in a lot of the old Weissmuller films, the bad guys could be foreign white devils. A good plot could involve Tarzan going up against white slave traders trying to capture some of Tarzan's peaceful native friends. Or poachers trying to capture his peaceful animal friends. Or treasure hunters out to destroy a local village because the village is sitting on top of a gold mine or some such as that. No wait, I think that's the plot of "Avatar"?

Hey, what a bout a movie called "Ava-Tarzan"? It could be in 3D and feature a lot of day glow paint. :)

Anonymous said...

Johnny Weissmuller!

- Mike 'Tarzan yell' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Edo Bosnar said...

William, with reference to your idea about Tarzan going against slave-traders, there was an extended story arc in the Marvel series where he did just that. However, as I recall, the leader of the slave-traders was an evil Arab. Hmmmm....
Even so - and mind you, I'm making this assessment based on reading this stuff ages ago - it seemed like the writers in the Marvel series made a genuine effort to feature positive portrayals of native Africans.

Rip Jagger said...

I'm partial to Herman Brix. Brix was in the only Tarzan movie in which Burroughs himself actively participated, and brought to the screen for the first time the literate and learned Tarzan. I like the Ape Man, but I have to say seeing him played repeatedly as a naive lunkhead gets tiresome. Gordon Scott did it next effectively and later Ron Ely (my first Tarzan) was also in that club. Brix and Ely probably look more like what I think Tarzan should look like than anyone who has played the part.

Rip Off

Randy J said...

Miles O'Keefe LOOKS like Tarzan of the Apes. I don't think the forthcoming Tarzan, Stellan Skarsgaard, will "look" the part. With today's technology, why can they not get the character accurate, much less the story. Why even bother...

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