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Tarzan, the Ape Man

Forty-two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. That's how long director John Derek waits to show off his wife Bo's "perfect ten" body in the allegedly erotic Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981), a film of thorough, unremitting ineptitude that treats Edgar Rice Burroughs's famed pulp creation like a service station urinal cake. Reconfiguring the tale as a confused metaphor for female sexual liberation, what it actually winds up saying about women is a whole lot more offensive than was likely intended, but who can say for certain? Intent, outside of capitalizing on his wife's natural gifts, is obviously a secondary concern in the oeuvre of John Derek, as are coherence, intelligence, and — in a laxness regrettably extended to Richard Harris — clothes. Former Playboy covergirl Bo Derek stars as the adventurously libidinal Jane, who, after burying her mother, has arrived in Africa to reconcile with her explorer father (Harris) and join him in his quest for stupid things. What she finds is a bold, callous, and excruciatingly loud man who has fallen in love with the untamed continent, taking a native woman as his wife and enlisting the indigenous people as his colleagues. He's also joined by a slightly more enlightened photographer (John Phillip Law), who threatens to become a love interest for Jane before Derek forgets about (i.e. if it wasn't beyond his ken in the first place) the need for conflict in classical narrative storytelling. As the party heads out into the wild, they begin to hear stock Tarzan sound cues, which occasions Harris's relating in hushed tones the legend of an enormous white ape that just might be an actual man (and 100 feet tall, at that). Jane soon finds out for herself when she takes a bath in the ocean, at which point Miles O'Keefe and his abdominal muscles show up to rescue her from a hungry lion (the film's most memorable moment finds the animal taking a pretty vicious and clearly unexpected swipe at Derek). Jane, it turns out, has a penchant for getting attacked by animals, and, later, Tarzan is forced to rescue her again, this time from an anaconda that he wrestles in a series of endless dissolves that compares unfavorably to Bela Lugosi struggling with a rubber octopus in Ed Wood Jr.'s Bride of the Monster. A courtship ensues, as does another kidnapping, this time at the hands of an evil African tribe whose idea of torture is a vigorous bath. Though all of the performers are dismal, save for the primates, it's Harris who truly embarrasses himself by either shouting or whispering all of his dialogue. Warner presents Tarzan, the Ape Man in an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras are limited to the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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