The Back Row’s Weekly Serial Review: The New Adventures of Tarzan

Quick Facts
Released in 1935
Directed by Edward Kull and Wilburt McGaugh
Written by Edwin Blum, Bennett Cohen, Basil Dickey, and Charles Royal
Starring Herman Brix, Ula Holt, and Ashton Dearholt

Basic Story Line
Tarzan and a group of companions travel to Guatemala to find and the Green Goddess idol and a lost friend.

The story behind The New Adventures of Tarzan is more compelling than the serial itself, and considerably better than the bizarre film version that was released at the same time.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was unhappy with some of the portrayals of his beloved Tarzan. Often they either portrayed him as a wild man or performed by someone who looked the part but couldn’t act. He also had a problem with the studios that were making millions off of his properties while paying him as little as they could. So, Edgar decided he would produce his own Tarzan movies and formed Burroughs Tarzan Enterprises. The New Adventures of Tarzan was their first and last film. Because they were a new production company they thought it would be cheaper to film on location in Guatemala. They thought wrong. There was no film industry in Guatemala so they had to lug tonnes of movie equipment with them. The infrastructure of Guatemala meant they were lugging this equipment on dirt roads, mud trails, washed out trails, or no trail at all. The insects were unbearable, everyone in the cast or crew came down with some disease at some time, and at one point Herman Brix complained that, while he was shooting a scene in the river, the only thing protecting him from the crocodiles was a single sharp shooter. The production quickly ran out of money and they had to spend a good deal of time hiding in the jungle from creditors. When it came to distributing the film things didn’t get better. Edgar had needed money so he licensed the character to MGM. They quickly knocked off another Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan and scheduled to release it the same year. All the theatres decided that, if they were going to show a Tarzan movie, they would show the MGM movie, as opposed to Edgar’s serial. To try and make their property more appealing, Edgar’s company offered it as both a 12 chapter serial and a 75 min movie.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are problems with this serial. Most of them have to do with the production company’s inexperience and the harsh conditions they were filming under. In fact the film version opens with a thank you to the cast and crew and an apology for the poor sound quality. The story, despite being stretched thin, holds together. There is a solid narrative, and not the episodic quality that most serials strive for. Unfortunately things all falls apart in the last chapter. Instead of the final chapter being an exciting climax, it has Tarzan, and his friends, safely back at Greystoke’s Manner, (for some unknown reason in Bavarian costumes) and then, very quickly becomes a flashback episode. I was watching this with my friend Vic, an Edgar Rice Burroughs enthusiast, and simultaneously the word, “Lame” came to us.

The characters in this serial are a bit of a mix bag. Despite his performance being a little wooden at times, Herman Brix makes a good Tarzan. He looks the part and his character is written as the noble and intelligent man Edgar always envisioned. They also have one of the most able female leads I have seen in a serial. Ula Vale is capable, resourceful, and not afraid to use her gun. In the less useful character category we have, George. In the first two chapters George is a little dense but you forgive that because he, for the most part, keeps his mouth shut, and when the party is attacked by an army of angry natives, the box, George has been carrying, contains a machine gun. That, however turns out to be George’s highlight moment. For the next ten chapters he is whinny and useless. The leader of the expedition brings along his daughter and her fiancé. They are both so useless that they are dropped after the second chapter.

Despite its many flaws, The New Adventures of Tarzan is still a decent serial and miles ahead of the 75 min. film version. It has a solid story, with likeable heroes and an interesting variety of cliff hangers. It’s a shame that the Burroughs Tarzan Enterprises company didn’t last longer. With more experience they could have done some good work.

Things to watch for
-A smiling skull with a conquistador helmet.
-A native priestess with blond hair.
-An Indian elephant with fake ears.
-Tarzan jumps into the water wearing shorts but comes out wearing his loin cloth.

The Back Row Weekly Serial Drinking Game
While watching a serial, anytime you or a friend point out a plot hole or inconsistency, take a drink. (Note: If you’re watching the 75 min. movie version the odds are High to Very High.)
Odds of getting sloshed: Medium to High

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