Tarzan and His Mate

Tarzan and His Mate

Theatrical poster
Directed by Cedric Gibbons
Produced by Bernard H. Hyman
Written by James Kevin McGuiness
Based on characters created
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Starring Johnny Weissmuller
Maureen O'Sullivan
Neil Hamilton
Paul Cavanagh
Cinematography Clyde De Vinna
Charles G. Clarke
Edited by Tom Held
Release dates
  • April 16, 1934 (1934-04-16)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,279,142 (est.)

Tarzan and His Mate is a 1934 American Pre-Code action adventure film based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was the second in the Tarzan film series to star Johnny Weissmuller. In 2003, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.


The film begins with Tarzan and Jane Parker living in the jungle. Harry Holt and his business partner Martin Arlington meet up with them on their way to take ivory from an elephant burial ground. Holt tries to convince Jane, who was with him on his first trip to the jungle, to return with him by bringing her gifts from civilization including clothing and modern gadgets but she tells them she would rather stay with Tarzan.

When Tarzan learns that the two men wish to loot the elephant's graveyard, he will have nothing to do with it; so Martin shoots an elephant so it can act as an instinctive guide. Only Jane's intervention keeps Tarzan from murdering Martin. But Martin's attempt to remove the ivory is thwarted when Tarzan appears with a herd of elephants. Martin feigns repentance, and promises to leave the next day without the ivory.

Early the next morning, Martin attempts to kill Tarzan, and Jane thinking him dead, decides to return to civilization. Meanwhile, Cheeta and his ape friends nurse Tarzan back to health in time for him to stop the men who shot him. But they are attacked by lion men, who summon lions to help them kill the members of the safari. Both Martin and Holt lose their lives through lion attacks, and Jane is in danger from lions. Then, Tarzan and an army of apes and elephants arrive in time to rout both the lion men and the lions, after which they return the ivory to the elephants' graveyard.


Tarzan and His Mate being shown in Shanghai's Nanking Theatre

In 1932 M.G.M’s Tarzan The Ape Man cost $652,675 to make, and took $2.54 million at the box office. Edgar Rice Burroughs, keen to capitalize on the success of the first film (as were M.G.M), began negotiations in March 1932 for future Tarzan films. Discussions between Burroughs’ representative, Ralph Rothmund and M.G.M executives, Irving Thalberg and Sam Marx, had begun in March 1932, and a new contract was signed in May of that year for a second Tarzan feature, with an option for a further two. Burroughs’ received $45,000. Also in May, Burroughs contacted producer Bernard H. Hyman with the suggestion that Tarzan films be released as seasonal events. In mid-June 1932, The Hollywood Reporter announced that former independent producer Bud Barsky was to write the "original yarn" for the yet to be titled Tarzan sequel, and was to be assisted by M.G.M staffers R. L. Johnson and Arthur S. Hyman.[1]

Story conferences were held in March, with the author of the play White Cargo Leon Gordon, producer Bernie Hyman, supervising art director Cedric Gibbons, and production manager Joe Cohn. These early drafts toyed with the idea of a fight with a huge mechanical crocodile, and a spectacular jungle fire. By May 1933, a dialogue continuity by Howard Emmett Rogers was completed. This and earlier script and conference ideas became the basis for the various drafts of the eventual screenplay credited to James Kevin McGuinness.[1]

Special effects were to be overseen by Cedric Gibbons and executed by M.G.M’s A. Arnold Gillespie and Warren Newcombe, James Basevi and Irving Reis. For its day it was to be complex, involving such devices as matte paintings, miniatures, split screens, and rear projection.[1]

A June 29, 1933 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that W. S. Van Dyke (director of the first Tarzan The Ape Man), was to be Gibbons' co-director. By July 1, 1933, Van Dyke was dropped from the project, and Gibbons was announced as the film's sole director. In September 1933, however, the Hollywood Reporter announced that Jack Conway, was to take over the direction of one of Gibbons' units.[2]

Filming on Tarzan and His Mate began August 2, 1933. Joining Mr Weissmuller for the sequel were Rod La Rocque (who had just appeared in S.O.S. Iceberg (1933), co-starring Leni Riefenstahl, one of the last German-U.S co-productions, due to the rise of the Nazi party), Murray Kinnell (The House of Rothschild), and Frank Reicher (one of 17 films he appeared in 1934). Problems soon developed. After 3 ½ weeks of shooting, the first unit was shut down; Gibbons had shot a lot of excess footage, and costs were spiraling. When it resumed, Gibbons was no longer the director, in his place was Jack Conway as dialogue director with James C. McKay directing a number of animal sequences. A late August 1933 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Rod La Rocque had been pulled from the cast, and replaced by Paul Cavanagh in the role of Martin Arlington, ‘because of miscasting’. The roles of Tom Pierce and Van Ness were also changed, and Frank Reicher and Murray Kinnell were replaced by Desmond Roberts and William Stack, respectively.[2]

Some sources report Jack Conway directed most of the picture; however Maureen O’Sullivan has said James C. McKay actually directed the film. His official credit on the picture was Animal Director. McKay (1894-1971) had an resume full of various credits, and he jumped back and forth between the jobs of director and editor. McKay had received a Production Assistant credit on Trader Horn (1931) directed by W.S. Van Dyke. McKay was initially given the directors chair for the sequel, Tarzan Escapes (1936), indicating M.G.M must have been happy with the work he did on Tarzan & His Mate; however there would be many changes to cast and crew on that film too (including Elmer Sheeley replacing Cedric Gibbons as art director!). A scene which took McKay a week to shoot that featured Tarzan fighting vampire bats was cut after test audiences found the scene too intense and John Farrow was handed the director's chair. Reportedly he then practically re-shot the whole film. Regardless, Richard Thorpe ended up getting final director's credit. John Farrow (who had a fling with Dolores del Río) married Maureen O’Sullivan before the year was through.[2]

Plans to film in Africa were scrapped and several locations around Los Angeles were used, including Sherwood Forest, Lake Sherwood, Whittier, Big Tujunga and China Flats.[3] Bert Nelson and George Emerson, the M.G.M animal trainers, doubled for Weissmuller. Trapeze artists Alfred Codona and the Flying Codonas, who had performed in the first Tarzan film, also doubled for Weissmuller and O'Sullivan, and acted as the elder Cheeta. Dressed in ape suits, The Picchianis performed in the film, and one of the troupe doubled for Weissmuller in a tree jumping sequence. Nelson also doubled for Paul Cavanagh. As with Tarzan the Ape Man, Indian elephants taken from M.G.M's zoo had attachments fixed to their ears and tusks to suggest African elephants. During the crocodile wrestling scene, a mechanical crocodile, equipped with nigrosine dye sacks to simulate blood, was used. Perhaps the highlight of the action sequences occurs with the elephants vs. lions battle. Travelling matte shots were used to depict lions leaping up and holding on to elephants, who then seized them with their trunks and hurled them down, or crushed them beneath their feet.[2] Tarzan rides a rhinoceros in one scene - a first for film. The rhino, Mary, was imported from the Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg, Germany. Weismuller did the scene himself, sustaining only minor scrapes to sensitive places from Mary's rough hide.[1]

Filming was not completed until the end of March 1934, because of re-takes and additional aerial scenes involving Jane and Tarzan. Betty Roth, wife of lion owner Louis Roth, doubled for O'Sullivan in some close contact scenes with lions near the film’s conclusion. O’Sullivan was absent for over a month recovering from an appendectomy. M.G.M had spent $1,279,142 on the production. In early April 1934, after previews M.G.M cut the film, editing out fourteen-and-a-half minutes.[2]

Although a hit, it did not earn as much as the first Tarzan film in the United States. Internationally it was a huge success, despite the fact that it was banned in Germany by the National Socialist Party on the grounds that it showed a Nordic man in brutal surroundings.[4]

The film's cult status is largely due to O’Sullivan wearing one of the most revealing costumes in screen history at that time; a halter-top and a loincloth that leave her thighs and hips exposed. Because Jane is a ‘lady’ from England (not Baltimore, as in Burroughs' novel), with manners and poise, her wearing such a provocative outfit is particularly naughty and symbolic of her sexual freedom. In this Pre-Code film Jane sleeps in the nude, swims nude with Tarzan, is constantly touched by Tarzan, has a scene in which she’s stranded in the jungle without clothes on, and is seen nude in silhouette when dressing in a well lit tent. That Jane and Tarzan sleep together is all the more startling by Hollywood standards because they aren’t married; the end credits list O'Sullvan as Jane ‘Parker,’ emphasizing that she was single and living in sin.[5]

The scene that caused the most commotion, the ‘underwater ballet’ sequence, was available in three different versions that were edited by M.G.M to meet the standards of particular markets.[1] Gibbons' wife Dolores del Rio had performed a risque nude swim in Bird of Paradise (1932), a sequence that is said to have inspired the one in Tarzan. Tarzan and Jane (O'Sullivan's swimming double, Josephine McKim, who competed in the 1928 games with Johnny Weissmuller), dance a graceful underwater ballet with a completely nude Jane. When she rises out of the water, Jane (now Maureen O’Sullivan) flashes a bare breast. Such big-screen impropriety was rare at the time, and if seen at all was usually done by dancing girl extras, or non-white actresses due to the time's double-standards (witness the topless ‘native’ girls at the start of the film, or the topless ‘natives’ in the 1935 classic, Sanders of the River). The new Production Code Office thought O'Sullivan's scant costume coupled with her sexual charisma was too much. In April Joseph Breen, director of public relations of the MPPDA, reported to his president Will Hays that Tarzan and His Mate had been rejected because of shots in which "the girl was shown completely in the nude."[5][3]

Breen: "The man in the shot wore a loin cloth, but a critical examination of the shot indicated that the woman was stark naked. There were four or five shots of the woman… which showed the front of the woman's body."[5]

When M.G.M production head Irving Thalberg protested the jury's decision by claiming that the 1928 film, White Shadows in the South Seas had "fifty naked women" in it, the jurors screened that film and determined that none of the women were naked. According to film historian Rudy Behlmer: "From all evidence, three versions of the sequence eventually went out to separate territories during the film's initial release. One with Jane clothed in her jungle loin cloth outfit, one with her topless, and one with her in the nude.[5] However, by April 24, 1934, all prints of Tarzan and His Mate in all territories were ordered changed. Additionally, the New York Censors previewed the film, and insisted that the scene involving Cavanagh lowering his nude body into a portable bathtub be eliminated as well. It wasn’t until Ted Turner took over the M.G.M film library that a positive print of the original film was discovered in the vaults and released in 1986.[5]


Critical reception

Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 100%, based on 14 reviews, with a rating average of 7.4/10.[6]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 See John Taliaferro's biography of Burroughs, Tarzan Forever, p. 282, ISBN 0-684-83359-X
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Media History Digital Library accessed 6th January 2015
  3. 1 2 http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/501073/Tarzan-And-His-Mate-Movie-Clip-Did-You-Get-Your-Worm-.html
  4. http://www.geostan.ca/mate.html
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Vieira, Mark A. (1999), Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood, New York: Harry N. Abrams, p. 180, ISBN 0-8109-4475-8
  6. "Tarzan and His Mate (1934) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  7. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016.
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