Tarzan the Fearless

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Tarzan the Fearless
Poster - Tarzan the Fearless 01.jpg
Poster for episode 12
Directed by Robert F. Hill
Produced by Sol Lesser
Written by Basil Dickey
George Plympton
Walter Anthony
based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Starring Buster Crabbe
Jacqueline Wells
E. Alyn Warren
Mischa Auer
Cinematography Harry Neumann
Distributed by Principal Distributing Corporation
Release date
  • August 11, 1933 (1933-08-11)
Running time
71 minutes (feature), 12 chapters (serial)
Country United States
Language English

Tarzan the Fearless (1933) is a 12 chapter American Pre-Code film serial starring Buster Crabbe in his only appearance as Tarzan. It was also released as a 71-minute feature film which consisted of the first four chapters of the serial version. Actress Jacqueline Wells co-starred; she later changed her name to Julie Bishop. The serial was produced by Sol Lesser, written by Basil Dickey, George Plympton and Walter Anthony (based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs), and directed by Robert F. Hill. The film was released in both formats on August 11, 1933.[1]


Tarzan rescues Dr. Brooks, an elderly scientist, who is held by the followers of Zar, God of the Emerald Fingers, in their lost city. Mary Brooks, his daughter, and Bob Hall have also been searching for him, led by villainous safari guides, Jeff Herbert and Nick Moran.

Tarzan goes in search of Mary, and soon all are captured by the people of Zar and brought before Eltar, their high priest. Jeff and Nick are killed, but the others are free to go, provided they never return. Mary and her father decide to stay with Tarzan instead of returning to civilization with Bob Hall.



Producer Sol Lesser had acquired the rights to five Tarzan films that Edgar Rice Burroughs had optioned to an independent producer in 1928. That producer went bankrupt and the contract was thought to have lapsed. However, due to the wording of the contract the courts found in Lesser's favour and held that it was still valid. Lesser announced his own Tarzan production a few weeks into the filming of MGM's Tarzan the Ape Man. MGM paid Lesser to delay production until their film was released.[2][3] Tarzan the Fearless was the first of Sol Lesser's Tarzan productions. Lesser never made another serial with his options, moving to feature films instead.[3] Burroughs had assured MGM that their contract was exclusive, so the rival production was an embarrassment. However, despite their initial problems, Lesser and Burroughs became friends and later worked out a five-picture deal (at one per year).[2]

The "serial was extremely crude" and "almost devoid of music" as well as suffering from poor sound. A score was later taken from old westerns and "minutes passed" with silent (no sound effects, music or dialogue) stock footage of distant animals.[3] The "Tarzan yell" was the James Pierce version, taken from the radio series.[3] The serial was shot under the working title Tarzan the Invincible and was released as Tarzan the Fearless.[2]


Lesser's contract included a clause that Tarzan must be played by "Big Jim" Pierce, Burroughs' son-in-law and the star of Tarzan and the Golden Lion. Pierce had married Joan Burroughs on 8 August 1928 and Edgar Rice Burroughs included the clause in the contract as a wedding present.[2] Lesser wanted a more svelte athlete for the part and was appalled at the thought of casting the large, ex-football player Pierce as Tarzan. He insisted that it would make the film a comedy and hurt the character. Burroughs responded that it was Pierce's choice and that nothing seemed to be able to hurt Tarzan as a character. Lesser actually had a comedy script written by Correy Ford with Jane in the masculine role but he was not happy with it.[2] Instead, Lesser tricked Pierce into giving up the role. He offered him $5,000 and a screen test at MGM to step aside, which Pierce naively accepted. The screen test turned out to be a reading of a Shakespearean soliloquy for which he was not suited. Pierce never worked for MGM.[2]

Lesser wanted an athlete like Johnny Weissmuller to play Tarzan. At this time Paramount released King of the Jungle with Buster Crabbe as Kaspa the Lion Man (a Tarzanesque character), which brought him to Lesser's attention. Like Weissmuller, Crabbe was also an Olympic swimmer, fitting the producer's requirements. Lesser contracted him "on a loan-out from Paramount."[2][3] Buster Crabbe had actually been tested for the part of Tarzan with MGM in 1931 but, in his own words, "the test wasn't fair." The studio had taken a quick group test during filming of That's My Boy but "didn't give any of us a chance."[2] Crabbe and Weissmuller had been friends for years. However a "rivalry" was heavily publicised, which amused both of them.[2]

Lesser insisted that Crabbe play Tarzan in the same monosyllabic style as Weissmuller.[2][3] To further increase the connection between the separate productions, Lesser included Cheeta the chimpanzee in the cast.[3] However, to be different from the MGM film, no Jane was written into this serial. Instead, the love interest is Mary Brooks. She is searching for her missing father, Dr Brooks, who has been captured by "worshippers of Zar, god of the Emerald Fingers". This deity is portrayed by the idol from Universal's The Mummy (1932).[3] Jacqueline Wells (later Julie Bishop) was hired as Mary Brooks; she was an obscure actress at this time.[2]



An unusual simultaneous serial and feature film versions' release was planned. The feature film was 71-minutes long but consisted only of the first four chapters spliced together as one film; it was not complete, ending with none of the villains accounted for and Tarzan having carried the girl off to his cave, unchaperoned. Eight further chapters of the serial (at two-reels each) were intended to follow the film, but it was sometimes booked as a stand-alone feature, without objection by Lesser's distribution franchise agents. The serial was also available as a complete story in twelve chapters.[2][3]

Home media[edit]

The version of the film most readily available to the public since World War II, is an 85-minute feature comprising material from the entire serial, which was prepared by Lesser for release in the United Kingdom in 1933 in lieu of the serial itself. The serial itself is considered lost, although an attempted "reconstruction" - using material in the feature version, recently-found intermittent additional footage from the lost serial, stills, and descriptive inter-titles, became available on DVD in 2016 from the serial fan website "Serial Squadron".

Critical reception[edit]

Many theaters played the feature only without the following chapters. This led to a confusing and unsatisfactory experience and the film received bad reviews as a result.[2] William Tray, writing in London's The Nation: "If Mr Burroughs' Tarzan books are not beyond the reach of an eight-year-old mind, the movie versions of them may be said to reduce the age limit by three or four years. In fact, even an intelligent child may find something embarrassing in the manner in which an unfortunate young athlete named Buster Crabbe is required to jump from tree to tree, caress synthetic Hollywood apes, and make hideously inhuman noises."[2]

Chapter titles[edit]

  1. The Dive of Death
  2. The Storm God Strikes
  3. Thundering Death
  4. The Pit of Peril
  5. Blood Money
  6. Voodoo Vengeance
  7. Caught By Cannibals
  8. The Creeping Terror
  9. Eyes of Evil
  10. The Death Plunge
  11. Harvest of Hate
  12. Jungle Justice


See also[edit]


  1. ^ ERBzine
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Essoe, Gabe (1972). Tarzan of the Movies. Citadel Press. pp. 56, 72–73, 77–82. ISBN 978-0-8065-0295-3. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "6. Jungle "Look Out The Elephants Are Coming!"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. pp. 127–129. ISBN 978-0-7130-0097-9. 
  4. ^ Cline, William C. (1984). "Filmography". In the Nick of Time. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 209. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X. 

External links[edit]