Tarzan of the Apes (1918)
Director: Scott Sidney
Screenplay: Fred Miller and Lois Weber based on the novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Starring: Elmo Lincoln, Enid Markey and Gordon Griffith.
Tagline: Tarzan did not know why he caressed her… He had never seen a white woman before!
The Overview: Beware of Spoilers…
Tarzan of the Apes is the first movie appearance of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ iconic character. The film’s popularity led to three sequels: The Romance of Tarzan (1918), The Son of Tarzan (1920), and The Adventures of Tarzan (1921).
Tarzan of the Apes is a fairly straightforward retelling of the novel. After a mutiny, John and Alice Clayton are marooned in Africa. Soon Alice gives birth to a son. Both parents die shortly after the child is born. Kayla, an ape, raises the baby as her own. The boy grows to adulthood among the apes.
Years later another survivor of the mutiny spreads word that the Claytons survived. An expedition is sent to Africa to locate them, but instead they find Tarzan of the Apes! When Jane, a member of the expedition, is captured by natives, it is up to Tarzan to save her.
Tarzan of the Apes consists of iconic scenes from the novel which covers decades, Gordon Griffith plays Tarzan as a young boy. So technically, Griffith is the first person to play Tarzan! Take that, trivia buffs. Elmo Lincoln plays the adult Tarzan. His Tarzan is a strongman with a headband. Having only seen stills from the movie before, I was surprised at how quickly I adjusted to Lincoln’s portrayal of the Ape Man. Although Enid Markey had a long acting career, she doesn’t have much to do here but scream, faint and look lovingly at Tarzan.
Tarzan of the Apes suffers from the actors in (poorly designed) monkey suits playing the apes. The lion that Tarzan fights doesn’t look overly threatening. Keep in mind that audiences of the day had never experienced better effects. With that said, I’ve always enjoyed the different adaptations of Tarzan – movies, tv shows, comics, cartoons, etc. I’m glad I finally got to see the 1918 Tarzan of the Apes. It gets 3 of 5 stars.