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THE TARZAN COLLECTION (1932-1942). Of all the men who over the decades have donned the loin cloth to portray Edgar Rice Burroughs' jungle swinger, the most popular has remained Johnny Weissmuller, the former Olympic swimmer who starred in 12 Tarzan pictures between 1932 and 1948. Yet equally as important to the success of the films was Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane; her sexy, spirited work matched up beautifully with Weissmuller's tight-lipped stoicism, and the series largely lapsed into pure formula once she departed after the first half-dozen titles in the franchise. This four-disc boxed set contains all six Weissmuller-O'Sullivan teamings, and besides serving up grand entertainment, the collection offers some fascinating insights into the Hollywood of the era, from the heavy dependence on stock footage (entire scenes, from elephant stampedes to alligator wrestling, are used over and over in these movies) to the uncomfortable racist elements (when an African servant carrying a heavy load falls to his death from a high precipice, the first question out of a white hunter's mouth is, "What was in that pack?"). Most interesting of all, though, is the difference between the pre-Code Tarzan films and the ones produced after the Hays office put a tight lid on "immorality" in the movies.

Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) is a wonderful kick-off to the series, while Tarzan and His Mate (1934) remains to this day the best Tarzan film ever made. Yet what's most noteworthy about the pair are the levels of violence and sexuality, which are startling in their explicitness. Captured hunters are killed in rather grisly ways (arrow through the forehead, bodies torn apart), while natives are ground into dust under the weight of rampaging elephants. As for the carnal aspect, there's never any doubt when Tarzan and Jane swing off for the sole purpose of making whoopee (Weissmuller and O'Sullivan remain an incredibly sexy couple), and this version of Mate even includes the restored nude swimming scene (incidentally, that's not O'Sullivan but a body double). Tarzan Escapes (1936), made after the Code was established, suffers from too much stock footage yet is still a slam-bang effort, but the homogenization of the series was all too apparent in Tarzan Finds a Son (1939), which introduces Johnny Sheffield as Boy. Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941) benefits from the presence of future Oscar winner Barry Fitzgerald and the antics of Cheeta the chimp (who increasingly received more screen time as the series progressed), while Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942) obtains extra mileage by bringing the clan to the Big Apple. Extras in this collection include an informative documentary and a Tarzan spoof starring Jimmy Durante.
Tarzan the Ape Man: 1/2

Tarzan and His Mate: 1/2

Tarzan Escapes:

Tarzan Finds a Son: 1/2

Tarzan's Secret Treasure: 1/2

Tarzan's New York Adventure:
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GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES (1984) / TARZAN THE APE MAN (1981). Think we were through with the King of the Jungle? Hardly. In addition to the aforementioned boxed set, Warner has also seen fit to release two other Tarzan films not related to the Weissmuller series. Greystoke was a serious attempt to follow the Burroughs book more closely than any other Tarzan picture: It's an interesting experiment, a bit too rigid to offer the proper degree of high adventure synonymous with the Tarzan trademark yet full of memorable sequences and strong performances. Christopher Lambert and Andie MacDowell (making her film debut, though her voice was dubbed by Glenn Close) are fine as Tarzan and Jane, though it's Ian Holm (as the Belgian explorer who discovers the ape man) and Sir Ralph Richardson (as Tarzan's grandfather back in England) who provide the picture with its heart. Richardson (who died before the film was released), the screenplay, and Rick Baker's fabulous makeup designs all earned Oscar nominations. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Hugh Hudson and associate producer Garth Thomas and the theatrical trailer.

As for the 1981 Burroughs knockoff, Leonard Maltin had the right idea in his annual Movie & Video Guide when he stated that the film "nearly forced editors of this book to devise a rating lower than BOMB." The man isn't grandstanding, folks: This cinematic atrocity truly is one of the all-time worsts, a soft-core snoozer devised merely as a means for director John Derek to show off the nude figure of wife Bo Derek. This amateurish mess spends more time examining Jane's strained relationship with her explorer dad (an unbelievably hammy Richard Harris) than in pairing her with Tarzan (dull Miles O'Keeffe), though there is that classic scene in which Jane discusses her virginal status with Tarzan while nibbling on a phallic banana. The only extra on the DVD is the theatrical trailer.
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Tarzan the Ape Man:
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THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975). In the first screen adaptation of Ira Levin's novel, Katherine Ross and Peter Masterson star as the married couple who trade the big-city hustle for the serenity of a small New England burg -- one in which perennially chipper wives dutifully tend to their husbands, feverishly clean their houses and quote TV jingles as if they were Scripture. The new women in town (Ross and Paula Prentiss) try to discover what's behind this domestic bliss, and their confrontations with the various townsfolk are what make the movie such a creepy blast. For all its self-conscious rallying for female solidarity and railing against suburban conformity, The Stepford Wives is actually pretty simple-minded in both its structure and in the delivery of its cautionary messages; still, the film maintains a satisfying level of suspense, and if nothing else beats the stuffing out of the lame remake currently polluting theaters. DVD extras include interviews with the principal cast and crew (many of whom confirm that screenwriter William Goldman has always been an egotistical bastard), a bio on director Bryan Forbes, and the theatrical trailer.
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