Tarzan on Film

Book review: Tarzan on Film – The reel ‘circle of life’

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Tarzan on FilmIf you mention the subject of ‘jungle films’ to most people today it is Disney’s The Lion King that typically comes to their minds; but, lest we forget,  decades before Simba was even a glimmer in Mufasa’s eye there was already an undisputed “King of the Jungle.”

Orphaned as a babe and raised by the great apes, he would survive, thrive and become the Lord of the Jungle and the long lost heir to the Greystoke legacy. Tarzan of the Apes, by the legendary Edgar Rice Burroughs, began as a pulp magazine story, was re-published as a novel (multiple times over), inspired dozens of imitators, and starred in dozens films of which have now been documented in a single, spectacular volume, Tarzan on Film, by Burroughs historian and author, Scott Tracy Griffin.

Tarzan has gone from magazines, to books, to movies, to a book about the movies – and if that’s not the pop culture ‘circle of life’ then I don’t know what is. Griffin’s first Tarzan-centric tome was Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration (2012), which celebrated the Ape Man’s first hundred-years as a global icon and is a comprehensive look at the hero’s many significant milestones.

Now, with Tarzan on Film, Griffin uses his encyclopedic knowledge of everything Burroughs to focus on the Ape Man’s big (and small) screen career, and the author doesn’t monkey around when sharing the minutia behind the making of each and every Tarzan film.

Tarzan on FilmIt’s possible, but there are probably not many people reading this review who are old enough to remember seeing the very first Tarzan of the Apes movie in 1918. It was one of the most successful silent films of that era, starring a stout Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan and the doe-eyed Enid Markey as Jane Porter; but whether you’ve seen the film or not, Mr. Griffin has you covered with a detailed wealth of information from the Ape Man’s very first cinematic adventure through the upcoming Legend of Tarzan (hitting theaters on July 1st.)

The very first thing you’ll notice is that this jungle-king-sized book is jam-packed with beautiful photographs from Tarzan’s illustrious big screen career, but the images that immediately captured my attention were the vintage, full-color movie poster reproductions that begin each individual film’s chapter. Being able to marvel at these early movie-marketing wonders alone is worth the price of admission.

Tarzan on FilmWhen you reluctantly pull your eyes away from the amazing imagery in this book you’ll find it also contains an incredible amount of entertainingly written detail regarding the production of each film, including highlighted quotes from the movies’ respective directors and actors, the film’s plot summary, and memorable lines from the movies themselves.

If I had one complaint (a very minor one) about Tarzan on Film, it is that the section on Cheeta does not have any photos of the simian-sidekick. The feisty chimp was arguably the second most popular character in several of the Tarzan films (especially during the Johnny Weissmuller era), so it seemed a little odd that his chapter would be missing his image. It would have been cool to see a representation of each of the chimps that played the character, but, nevertheless, you can still get your Cheeta fix on several other pages throughout the volume (and YOU try differentiating between them.)

Tarzan on Film
Tarzan on Film measures
10.3 x 0.9 x 13.1 in.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of watching Ron Ely as TV’s Tarzan, but, as I learned from Tarzan on Film, many of his 60s TV episodes were later combined and released as theatrical films (and here’s hoping that, with the success of The Legend of Tarzan, those Ron Ely films will soon be released on Blu-ray.)

Like an explorer in the Victorian era Congo, the discoveries you’ll find within the pages of Tarzan on Film are endless and fascinating; and you might wish you had an elephant to tote around this 3.8 pound treasure. To quote a certain flamboyant presidential candidate, this thing is HUGE!

Whether you are a Tarzan or Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, or simply a cinephile interested in the wonderful history of film from the silent era to the present, Tarzan on Film is a must-have book for your collection.


Interview: Tarzan on Film author Scott Tracy Griffin talks apes, actors and Edgar Rice Burroughs


Discuss Literary Adventures at the Facebook group 'For the Love of All Things Edgar Rice Burroughs.'


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Bob Leeper
Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.