Tarzan the Ape Man (1932 film)

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Tarzan the Ape Man
Tarzan the Ape Man 1932 poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by W. S. Van Dyke
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Written by Cyril Hume
Based on Tarzan of the Apes
1912 magazine 
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Starring Johnny Weissmuller
Neil Hamilton
Maureen O'Sullivan
C. Aubrey Smith
Music by George Richelarie
Cinematography Clyde De Vinna
Edited by Tom Held
Ben Lewis
Distributed by MGM
Release dates
  • March 25, 1932 (1932-03-25)
Running time
99 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $652,675
Box office $2.54 million

Tarzan the Ape Man is a 1932 Pre-Code American action adventure film featuring Edgar Rice Burroughs' famous jungle hero Tarzan and starring Johnny Weissmuller, Neil Hamilton, C. Aubrey Smith and Maureen O'Sullivan. It was Weissmuller's first of 12 Tarzan films. The film is loosely based on Burroughs' novel Tarzan of the Apes, with the dialogue written by Ivor Novello. The film was directed by W. S. Van Dyke. It was remade in 1959 and in 1981 with the same title but each was a different adaptation of Rice Burroughs' novel.


James Parker (C. Aubrey Smith) and Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton), in Africa on a quest for the legendary elephant burial grounds (and their ivory), are joined by Parker's daughter Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan). Holt, attracted to her, tries somewhat ineffectively to protect her from the jungle's dangers, notably failing to prevent her abduction by the jungle's guardian, the mysterious Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and his ape allies.

The experience is terrifying to Jane at first, but as their relationship develops, she finds herself happy: "Not a bit afraid, not a bit sorry." As she returns to her father, her feelings are brought to a test. She wants Tarzan to come with her to London, to be part of her world, but Tarzan turns his back on her and returns to the jungle. Her father tells her that's where Tarzan belongs, she cries, "No dad, he belongs to me." The expedition is captured by a tribe of violent pygmies. Jane sends Tarzan's ape friend Cheeta (Jiggs) for help, bringing Tarzan to their rescue. Jane's father dies and she decides to stay in the jungle with Tarzan. In the end-scene, to the music of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, the happy couple appears on a rock below the heavens, Jane holding Cheeta like a baby.



  • Tarzan the Ape Man was the first Tarzan film to star Weissmuller and O'Sullivan, and marked the first appearance of the character of Cheeta the chimpanzee, and the animal actor who created it, Jiggs. The character of Cheeta was created for this film, never having appeared in the original Burroughs novels.
  • The film was the first of a long series of franchised Tarzan films running from 1932 into the 1970s, initially starring Weissmuller and later other actors.
  • Tarzan's distinctive call was first heard in this film; it was reportedly created by sound recordist Douglas Shearer using special audio effects, including an Austrian yodel played backwards at quickened speed. Weissmuller himself always claimed he had created the trademark Tarzan yell in a yodeling contest he won while he was a boy. He later learned to mimic the famous call so well people assumed that he was the one doing the yell in the films.


  • As in other Weissmuller Tarzan films, the elephants were Indian, which have smaller ears, rather than African. Large fake ears, and fake tusks, were fitted onto the animals in an attempt to make them look authentic.[1]
  • The tribe of African pygmies (all males) portrayed in the film was actually a cast of several white little people wearing blackface.[1]
  • The stock footage was added to location work shot in the then-undeveloped Toluca Lake region north of Los Angeles.[2]



  1. ^ a b Ethington, Phillip J. (2008). "Global Spaces of Los Angeles". In Prakash, Gyan; Kruse, Kevin Michael. The Spaces of the Modern City: Imaginaries, Politics, and Everyday Life. Princeton University Press. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-691-13343-0. 
  2. ^ Miller, Frank, Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932), tcm.com
  • DVD commentary for the Tarzan Collection DVD set released in 2005.

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