Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981 film)

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This article is about the 1981 film. For other cinematic depictions, see Tarzan in film and other non-print media.
Tarzan, the Ape Man
Tarzan, the Ape Man.jpg
Directed by John Derek
Produced by Bo Derek
Written by Tom Rowe
Gary Goddard
Based on Tarzan of the Apes
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Starring Bo Derek
Miles O'Keeffe
Richard Harris
John Phillip Law
Music by Perry Botkin Jr.
Cinematography John Derek
Wolfgang Dickmann
Edited by Jimmy Ling
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • August 7, 1981 (1981-08-07)
Running time
107 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.5 million
Box office $36,565,280

Tarzan, the Ape Man is a 1981 adventure film directed by John Derek and starring his wife Bo Derek, Miles O'Keeffe, Richard Harris, and John Phillip Law. The screenplay by Tom Rowe and Gary Goddard[1] is loosely based on the novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but from the point of view of Jane Parker. It is the final of three filmed versions of the story released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The original music score is composed by Perry Botkin Jr. Former Tarzan actor Jock Mahoney, billed as Jack O'Mahoney, was the film's stunt coordinator. The film is marketed with the tagline Unlike any other "Tarzan" you've ever seen! The original actor cast in the "Tarzan" role was fired [or quit] early in production, resulting in the sudden casting of his stunt double, Miles O'Keeffe, in the title role. This film received extremely negative reviews, and in some circles has been considered to be one of the worst films ever made, even though it was a box-office success.


James Parker is a hunter in Africa, searching for a mythical "white ape". He is joined by his estranged daughter, Jane, after her mother's death. They discover the "white ape" is actually Tarzan, an uncivilized white man raised by apes living in the jungle. James continues to pursue Tarzan with the purpose of capturing him, dead or alive, and bringing him back to England.

Realizing that James is on his trail, Tarzan kidnaps Jane. Jane and Tarzan become fascinated by each other. Jane is then kidnapped by natives who intend to make her a wife of the tribe leader, forcing Tarzan into action.

Main cast[edit]


In a 2012 interview with the film history magazine Filmfax, co-writer Gary Goddard revealed that he had originally been commissioned to write a screenplay for Bo Derek based upon the Marvel Comics superheroine, Dazzler; a 30-page treatment was completed before the project was cancelled and work instead proceeded on Tarzan, The Ape Man which initially carried the working title Me, Jane reflecting its focus on Jane Porter as a showcase for Derek.[2]


The film was widely panned upon its release. Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin considers this one of the worst films ever to appear in his popular "TV, Movie and Video Guide" (now simply "Movie Guide"): "Deranged 'remake' lacks action, humor and charm; Forget about comparisons to Johnny Weismuller; O'Keefe makes Elmo Lincoln seem like Edwin Booth." Leslie Halliwell described Tarzan the Ape Man as "certainly the worst of the Tarzan movies and possibly the most banal film so far made; even the animals give poor performances".[3] In a discussion of Tarzan films, Thomas S. Hischak was also negative: "Produced and directed without a shred of talent by John Derek, Tarzan, the Ape Man often ranks high in the lists of the worst movies ever made".[4]

However, critic Roger Ebert offered a somewhat more positive review of Tarzan, the Ape Man, awarding it two and a half stars out of a possible four. According to Ebert, the film was "completely ridiculous, but at the same time it has a certain disarming charm." Ebert thought Harris's talents were completely wasted and the film's dramatic peak was "incomprehensible," yet he praised the forthright depiction of the sexual passion and tension between Tarzan and Jane, which had more typically been downplayed in film adaptations of the characters: "The Tarzan-Jane scenes strike a blow for noble savages, for innocent lust, for animal magnetism, and, indeed, for soft-core porn, which is ever so much sexier than the hard-core variety."[5]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Won: Worst Actress (Bo Derek)
Nominated: Worst Picture
Nominated: Worst Screenplay
Nominated: Worst Actor (Richard Harris)
Nominated: Worst Director (John Derek)
Nominated: Worst New Star (Miles O'Keeffe)

Box office[edit]

Despite the negative reviews it received, the film was a success at the box office, grossing more than US$ 36,565,280 in the United States.[6]


Tarzan, the Ape Man was released to DVD by Warner Home Video on June 8, 2004 as a Region 1 widescreen DVD.


  1. ^ Moore, David J. (Summer 2012), "Me, Jane!", Filmfax (131): 63–64 
  2. ^ Moore, David J. (Summer 2012), "Me, Jane!", Filmfax (131): 63–64 
  3. ^ Leslie Halliwell, John Walker, Halliwell's Film Guide. HarperPerennial, 1996 (p. 1119)
  4. ^ Thomas S. Hischak, American Literature on Stage and Screen: 525 Works and Their Adaptations McFarland, 2012. ISBN 0786492791 (p. 237).
  5. ^ http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/tarzan-the-ape-man-1981
  6. ^ http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=tarzantheapeman.htm

External links[edit]