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Tarzan Movies - The MGM Years

Updated on September 11, 2014

Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Hollywood's greatest Tarzan!

When I was a child growing up in England during the 1970s, classic Tarzan movies of the 1930s and 40s were still a staple of BBC programming, particularly during school holidays when we would watch those short films on morning television right after breakfast and before going out to play!

The films that I loved best were those starring Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller, together with Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane and John Sheffield as their adopted son Boy - I still remember my disappoint when we would switch on the TV only to discover that the Weissmuller Tarzan movie series had finished and they had moved onto the Lex Barker era!

This lens is an unashamedly biased look at the MGM Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller...the greatest cinema Tarzan ever!

The RKO Tarzan movies coming soon, to a lens near you!

Buy all six MGM Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller in a boxset! - The definitive collection!

The Tarzan Collection Starring Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan the Ape Man / Escapes / and His Mate / Finds a Son / Secret Treasure / New York Adventure)
The Tarzan Collection Starring Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan the Ape Man / Escapes / and His Mate / Finds a Son / Secret Treasure / New York Adventure)

* Contains six Tarzan films on three discs:

* Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)

* Tarzan Escapes (1936)

* Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

* Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939)

* Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941)

* Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942)

* Bonus disc contains:

* All-new documentary "Tarzan: Silver Screen King of the Jungle"

* Vintage shorts: "Scharzan the Conqueror," starring Jimmy Durnate; "MGM on Location: Johnny Weissmuller;" "Rodeo Dough"

* Trailers


Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan call!

The Tarzan yell is the distinctive, ululating yell of the character Tarzan, as portrayed by actor Johnny Weissmuller in the films based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, starting with Tarzan the Ape Man (1932). The yell was a creation of the movies, based on what Burroughs described in his books as simply "the victory cry of the bull ape."

'Tarzan, the Ape Man' (1932)

Directed by W. S. Van Dyke

Tarzan, the Ape Man - Watch the original 1932 trailer!

Focus on 'Tarzan, the Ape Man'

"I wonder what you'd look like dressed."

This was the Tarzan vehicle that set the mode for all future Tarzans - the illiterate, yet noble savage - the movie-going public cared little for the fact that this was miles away from the original character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. With sparkling dialogue written by none other than Ivor Novello and perfect on screen chemistry between the impossibly handsome and still svelte Johnny Weissmuller in the title role and Maureen Sullivan as Jane Parker, this film is a winner!

What the critics said back in the day!

A jungle and stunt picture, done in deluxe style, with tricky handling of fantastic atmosphere, and a fine, artless performance by the Olympic athlete that represents the absolute best that could be done with the character [created by Edgar Rice Burroughs].

Review - Variety, December 31, 1931


Tarzan, the Ape Man is frankly and gorgeously spurious. It was not made in Africa [...] but on the home grounds of Hollywood, where the apes, crocodiles, lions, tigers, dwarfs, elephants and gorillas are better acquainted with their histrionic duties and can discharge them more effectively. Almost as effective as the animals is Tarzan Weissmuller [...] he acquits himself creditably. His spare frame is not too skinny for the role; he swims faster than Miss O'Sullivan can run and his thick-featured face is what one would expect in a foster brother of wild beasts. He wrestles bravely with animals, stuffed or otherwise, and rides a hippopotamus as though it were a Shetland pony. Best of all is his first appearance-swooping through the trees in huge quick parabolas on a succession of trapezes made of ropy vines and branches.

Review - Time Magazine, April 4, 1932

Read more about Johnny Weissmuller in 'Tarzan, My Father' - The definitive biography written by his son Johnny Weissmuller, Jr

Tarzan, My Father
Tarzan, My Father

An authoritative biography of the first Tarzan—Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller—this account offers an intimate look at the actor's life, from Olympic triumphs and failed marriages to his life in Hollywood and television career. Penned by Weismuller’s only son, this definitive chronicle is a sensitive yet unsentimental portrayal of the man who was Tarzan to movie fans around the world.


Movie Legends - Johnny Weismuller - A wonderful tribute to our Tarzan star!

'Tarzan and His Mate' (1934)

Directed by Cedric Gibbons

Tarzan and His Mate - Watch the original 1934 trailer!

Focus on 'Tarzan and His Mate'

"Good morning, I love you. You never forget, do you, Tarzan?"

The year was 1934 and this was pre-code Hollywood. If sparks of eroticism were flying in the first Tarzan movie, Weissmuller and O'Sullivan's second outing is positively steamy by comparison, with the legendary nude underwater swimming scenes (albeit body doubled by Weissmuller's fellow Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim). Definitely the sexiest Tarzan movie of the lot! Eat your heart out Bo Derek!

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.

How did the press react in 1933?

In Tarzan and His Mate, second of the Metro series with Johnny Weissmuller, the monkeys do everything but bake cakes and the very human elephants always seem on the verge of sitting down for a nice, quiet game of chess; yet the picture has a strange sort of power that overcomes the total lack of logic.

Review - Variety, December 31, 1933

Read more about Maureen O'Sullivan - The definitive biography of the actress who gained her widest fame in her role as Jane Parker

'Tarzan Escapes' (1936)

Directed by Richard Thorpe

Tarzan Escapes - Watch the original 1936 trailer!

Wonderful reproduction - 1936 design

Focus on 'Tarzan Escapes'

"Miss Jane, he's the finest gentleman I ever knew - trousers or no trousers. "

The third of the Weissmuller / O'Sullivan outings is a decidedly more chaste affair than the previous movies with costume designers adding more material to Tarzan's skimpy loincloth and Jane's jungle dress! There some nice recycled footage of the Murchison Falls in Africa, originally filmed for Trader Horn, which gives the film some authentic location shots, not to mention some excellent team work between Cheeta and the elephants to help Tarzan escape. Worth watching!

"...this third in the series still has lots to enjoy"

The weakest of the six Weissmuller/O'Sullivan Tarzan films, this third in the series still has lots to enjoy. Friends of Jane journeys out into the jungle to find her and tell her about a fortune she stands to inherit if she returns to civilization. But their safari guide has his sights set on capturing Tarzan. Compared to future Tarzan films, this one had a relatively high budget, and it shows - this is a rich, colorful film - yet it is marred by a languid pace and an unusually dim-witted Tarzan.

Review - At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Watch 'Tarzan Escapes' on demand - Rent this movie to watch online or buy now and download to your TiVo or PC!

Tarzan Escapes
Tarzan Escapes

Tarzan is taken prisoner by a big-game hunter who wants to put him on exhibition in England. Leonard Maltin gives this three stars, praising the high-energy direction and action that was considered too graphic at the film's release.

* Starring: Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan

* Directed by: Richard Thorpe

* Runtime: 1 hour 24 minutes

* Release year: 1936

* Studio: Warner Bros.


'Tarzan Finds a Son!' (1939)

Directed by Richard Thorpe

Tarzan Finds a Son! - Watch the original 1939 trailer!

Canvas poster from vintage movie design

Focus on 'Tarzan Finds a Son'

Jane: What's the matter? Tarzan: People!

The very first movie to star the immensely talented Johnny Sheffield as Boy, the child Tarzan and Jane find as a baby in the jungle after his parents are killed in an air crash and adopt as their own son. Prudish Hollywood would never have allowed the unwed couple to have had a child of their own, so a foundling, he had to be. Boy arrives like a breath of fresh air and gives the series a new lease of life!

What Variety said back in 1939

Tarzan Finds a Son (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Not stork-borne, this son is the adopted survivor of an airliner wreck on Tarzan's own African escarpment. Reared by Tarzan's mate, Maureen O'Sullivan, on antelope milk, the youngster at five looks like Johnny Weissmuller through the wrong end of an opera glass. He swims like a loon, rides turtles and elephants, fights lions singlehanded, lives just the life every tree-climbing young Tarzan-imitator yearns for.

Review - Variety, June 26, 1939

Johnny Sheffield
Johnny Sheffield

Who was Johnny Sheffield?

Read more about the child actor who played Boy

Johnny Sheffield (April 11, 1931 – October 15, 2010) was an American child actor.

He was born as Jon Matthew Sheffield Cassan in Pasadena, California, the second child of actor Reginald Sheffield and Louise Van Loon. His older sister was Mary Alice Sheffield Cassan and his younger brother was William Hart Sheffield Cassan (actor Billy Sheffield).

His father was himself a former juvenile performer when he came to the United States from his native England. His mother, a native of New York, was a Vassar College graduate with a liberal arts education who loved books and lectured widely.

In 1938, Sheffield became a child star after he was cast in the juvenile lead of a West Coast production of the highly successful Broadway play On Borrowed Time, which starred Dudley Digges and featured Victor Moore as Gramps. Sheffield played the role of Pud, a long role for a child. He later went to New York as a replacement and performed the role on Broadway.

The following year, his father read an article in the Hollywood Reporter that asked, "Have you a Tarzan Jr. in your backyard?" He believed he did and set up an interview. MGM was searching for a suitable youngster to play the adopted son of Tarzan in its next jungle movie with stars Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan. Sheffield was taken to an audition where Weissmuller chose him over more than 300 juvenile actors interviewed for the part of "Boy" in Tarzan Finds a Son (1939). In that same year, Sheffield appeared in the Busby Berkeley movie musical Babes in Arms with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, classmates of his at the studio school.


Read 'Johnny Weissmuller: Twice the Hero' - With a foreword by Johnny Sheffield, the actor who played "Boy" to Weissmuller's Tarzan.

Johnny Weissmuller: Twice the Hero
Johnny Weissmuller: Twice the Hero

Fury [...] author of other filmographies and biographies [...] has written more a tribute than a biography of Weissmuller, known for his Olympic medals and his portrayal of Tarzan. With the constant use of parenthetical asides and exclamation points, Fury's writing style reminds one of fan magazines of the 1950s, and the book is introduced by Johnny Sheffield, who played Boy in numerous Tarzan films, making this even more of a tribute.


'Tarzan's Secret Treasure' (1941)

Directed by Richard Thorpe

Tarzan's Secret Treasure - Watch the original 1941 trailer!

Focus on 'Tarzan's Secret Treasure'

"Too much talk. Tarzan way better."

For the fifth film in the Tarzan series, the formula was pretty much set in stone, but the introduction of Boy had rendered the films more an entertainment for younger audiences, and indeed he has almost as much screen time as the titular hero, if not more. As ever, the tension between the jungle man's simple, back to nature ways and the encroaching civilisation is ever-present, yet this time it was made clearer by having Boy find the prospect of living in a world of aeroplanes - which he covets - more attractive than the one he has grown up in.

Review - Graeme Clark at The Spinning Image

Whilst tending towards the formulaic this movie is still lots of fun with the young and innocent Boy inevitably getting to be more of a handful as his curiosity about the outside world grows, creating problems for Tarzan and leading to dangers from which only he can save his family!

Watch 'Tarzan's Secret Treasure' on demand - Rent this movie to watch online or buy now and download to your TiVo or PC!

Tarzan's Secret Treasure
Tarzan's Secret Treasure

Tarzan becomes involved with an expedition in search of treasure. Greedy gold seekers dupe Tarzan into helping them in their quest by holding Boy and Jane hostage.

* Starring: Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan

* Directed by: Richard Thorpe

* Runtime: 1 hour 22 minutes

* Release year: 1941

* Studio: Warner Bros.


'Tarzan's New York Adventure' (1942)

Directed by Richard Thorpe

Tarzan's New York Adventure - Watch the original 1942 trailer!

Tarzan's New York Adventure, 1942 Giclee Print


Focus on 'Tarzan's New York Adventure'

"Jane lead way. Tarzan follow always."

One of my absolute favourites as a child, this Tarzan movie takes place in Manhattan where our hero swings from skyscrapers and the Brooklyn bridge, rather than jungle vines, in an inspired story that sees Boy kidnapped and puts Tarzan in an urban context. Part action-movie, part court room drama, this is a classic by Richard Thorpe, who would later go on to direct the Elvis Presley vehicle Jailhouse Rock! This was Maureen O'Sullivan's final appearance as Jane.

For once it is Jane...who must lead the way!

For once it is Jane, with her knowledge of civilization, who must lead the way — otherwise the mighty Tarzan would be lost. Briskly paced, with more comedy than action, this is the silliest of the films but a definite (and needed) change of scenery; it's the one the kiddies will most readily enjoy. Cheeta the chimp gets a starring role, engaging in all sorts of comedic hijinx, and Tarzan's 'fish out of water' experiences in New York are quite amusing as well. It's thoroughly cornball but still works as clean, wholesome fun.

Review - by Brian Lindsey at

Watch 'Tarzan's New York Adventure' on demand! - Rent this movie to watch online or buy now and download to your TiVo or PC!

Tarzan's New York Adventure
Tarzan's New York Adventure

When kidnappers take Boy to the United States as a circus attraction, Tarzan swings in to the rescue over the Brooklyn Bridge. Featuring Maureen O'Sullivan's last appearance as Jane.

* Starring: Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan

* Directed by: Richard Thorpe

* Runtime: 1 hour 11 minutes

* Release year: 1942

* Studio: Warner Bros.


Vote for the greatest movie Tarzan! - Time for you to have your say!

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The RKO Tarzan Years

A preview of Tarzan Movies Part 2!

Buy all six RKO Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller in a box set! - Complete your collection!

The Tarzan Collection Starring Johnny Weissmuller: Volume Two (Tarzan Triumphs / Tarzan's Desert Mystery / Tarzan and the Amazons / and the Leopard Woman / and the Huntress / and the Mermaids)
The Tarzan Collection Starring Johnny Weissmuller: Volume Two (Tarzan Triumphs / Tarzan's Desert Mystery / Tarzan and the Amazons / and the Leopard Woman / and the Huntress / and the Mermaids)

* Box Set Includes:

* Tarzan Triumphs (76 mins.)

* Tarzan and the Amazons (76 mins.)

* Tarzan and the Huntress (72 mins.)

* Tarzan's Desert Mystery (70 mins.)

* Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (72 mins.)

* Tarzan and the Mermaids (68 mins.)


'Tarzan Triumphs' (1943)

Directed by Wilhelm Thiele

Tarzan Triumphs - The most famous scene - Cheeta's Hitler impression!

Tarzan Triumphs, Johnny Weissmuller, Frances Gifford, 1943 Giclee Print


Focus on 'Tarzan Triumphs'

"Now Tarzan make war!"

Tarzan joins the war effort and boosts cinema goers morale! After years of fighting the white man and his guns, Tarzan is prepared to break his own rules in the face of a terrible evil and takes on the Nazis in the first of the Sol Lesser productions distributed by RKO Radio. This is also the first film without Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane, whose absence is explained away in a letter read by Johnny Sheffield as Boy early on in the movie. Frances Gifford fills in as the mysterious woman from the hidden city. This is the also the movie that features Cheetah's now legendary impression of Hitler!

What the critics said in 1943

Virtually all jungle stuff, Tarzan Triumphs [from a screen story by Carroll Young] has good portion of stock animal shots and includes a hidden city for convenient takeover by a squad of Nazi paratroops and subsequent battle in which Tarzan, with the aid of the subjugated natives, knocks off the invaders and restores peace in the jungle territory.

Usual tree-swinging, dashes through the jungle undergrowth, and other familiar Tarzanian ingredients are again on display. [...]

Weissmuller and Sheffield run around as usual without necessity of displaying much acting ability. Direction by William Thiele hits usual standard for the Tarzan features.

Review - Variety, 1943

Me Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood - The chimpanzee's fictional 'autobiography' - nominated for the Booker Man Prize

Are you a Johnny Weissmuller fan too? - Please leave a comment before you go!

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    • greggers lm profile image

      greggers lm 4 years ago

      Me and the missus DVR'd the first 3 Tarzan films when TCM showed them earlier this year. Great stuff! We tried to watch one of Weissmuller's Jungle Jim flicks, too, but couldn't do it. :) It just wasn't Tarzan. And sorry to the other actresses, but there ain't no Jane except Maureen O'Sullivan!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm a huge Johnny Weissmuller fan! Thank you for the tribute to one of my favorite childhood actors.

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      I used to love Tarzan as a kid. I even read a bunch of Tarzan books. Johnny Weissmuller was the best Tarzan.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Yes, for sure. I remember getting to stay up late on Friday nights just to watch Tarzan, when I was little. Always loved all the Tarzan shows, by Weissmuller was the best. :)

    • Gerald McConway profile image

      Gerald McConway 6 years ago

      Haven't thought about these movies since I was a kid, but man did the memories come racing back. Johnny was the best Tarzan though, can remember the scenes of him ripping through the water. Great and very entertaining lens :)

    • profile image

      Positivevibestechnician 6 years ago

      wow this brought back memories of watching these great old movies

    • chrisqw profile image

      chrisqw 6 years ago

      I'm certainly a Johnny Weissmuller fan. Thanks for a very interesting lens.