September 15, 1981TARZAN, THE APE MAN. Written by Tom Rowe and Gary Goddard, based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Music by Perry Botkin. Cinematography and direction by John Derek.
UNLIKE BROOKE SHIELDS, currently on view in Franco Zeffirrelli's adolescent angst epic Endless Love, Bo Derek performs her own nude scenes.
In common with Brooke, Bo's no great hell as an actress, but she's a good scout and works hard both on screen and off (where she found time to act as producer for her own movie).
Bo's husband, former actor John Derek, works hard, too. He both directed and photographed their film, which pretty well kept all the big jobs in the family.
As a creative team, the Dereks are okay. Their Tarzan, the Ape Man tells the story from the point of view of Jane Parker, a young woman on safari with her father James (Richard Harris). They are tracking the "white ape," who turns out to be the jungle lord, Tarzan (Miles O'Keeffe).
When nature boy meets hunter girl complications ensue, resulting in a credible bit of screen entertainment, a film that is not only faithful to its pulp novel and comic strip source material, but a genuine thing of beauty to look at.
Consider one problem area. Anybody who remembers Roger Moore's wrestling match with the rubber snake in Moonraker (1979) will appreciate the Dereks' ingenuity with a similar scene.
The film's most intriguing threesome consists of Bo, a boa constrictor and mute muscleman Miles.
The snake is real and large enough to actually crush the life out of our leading lady. I presume that the critter was well drugged before being draped around Bo.
I presume that, because Derek's clever combination of close-ups, rapid cutting and slow motion photography turned the battle into something that looked real enough and felt just right.
Given all the Playboy-centred publicity, the Dereks' new take on Tarzan turns out to be surprisingly ingenuous and inoffensive. With the exception of Bo-as-Jane's mostly innocent (and almost always inadvertent) nudity, the picture would be acceptable as kiddie matinee fare.
And, come to think of it, even the dress dummies at Woodward's department store come complete with nipples these days.
The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1981. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.
Afterword: The reference to Brooke Shields reminded me that this review ran on the same day as my notice for Endless Love (1981), one of two pictures that Italian director Franco Zeffirelli made in the U.S. (The other was 1979's The Champ). Zeffirelli's serious credentials — including lush adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew (1967) and Romeo and Juliet (1968) — gave what was essentially a teen sexploitation film cultural cover that it really didn't deserve. Tarzan, the Ape Man's comparative honesty, and the fact that I'd met the Dereks two years earlier (a story for another time), made me more sympathetic to the less serious film. Looking back, it's clear that Zeffirelli was out of his creative comfort zone. The Dereks, by contrast, were completely in tune with a time of cheeky rebellion. Their collaboration, as well as their choice of material, reflected the underground comics sensibility that energized many of the artists whose work I admired then and now. Though he was 30 years older than his wife, their marriage lasted for 22 years, only ending with John's death in 1998.