'The New Adventures of Tarzan' - a 1935 movie serial
Created | Updated Oct 18, 2013
Edgar Rice Burroughs was a prolific and very successful writer. Tarzan, an Englishman orphaned in the African jungle as a child and raised by apes, is Burroughs' most famous creation. A great many films were made about Tarzan, though few with involvement from Burroughs himself. Only one of these was a sound film - The New Adventures of Tarzan, produced with actor/director/producer Ashton Dearholt in 1935 under the corporate name of Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises.
Dearholt had the idea of shooting the film in Guatemala, where the lush jungles and ruined cities provided ready-made settings for the action, adding production values to the film without raising expenses unduly. Burroughs agreed, and a story was concocted that set most all of the action in Guatemala. The finished film was released independently (MGM was already producing feature films with Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan), and was made available to distributors in one of three forms - a 12-chapter serial1, a feature film followed by six serial chapters, or a single feature film (entitled Tarzan and the Green Goddess). The serial is discussed herein.
Tarzan (Herman Brix) travels from Africa to Guatemala, seeking his friend D'Arnot, the Frenchman who was Tarzan's first friend from the civilised world. He joins forces with an expedition lead by Major Martling (Frank Baker), seeking The Green Goddess, a native statue said to contain the formula for a high explosive. Also en route to Guatemala are Ula Vale (Ula Holt), who seeks to obtain the goddess following a failed expedition by her brother, and PB Raglan (Don Castello), an unscrupulous villain who wants the explosive formula for his own purposes. Raglan gets the goddess while the others are held captive by natives in the so-called Lost City. Our heroes escape and pursue Raglan through the Guatemalan jungles.
The film was directed by Edward A Kull and runs 265 minutes in 12 chapters
Herman Brix (Tarzan) was an Olympic decathlete who won the silver medal for the shot-put in the 1928 Olympic Games. Though his acting is very crude (The New Adventures of Tarzan was a very early role in his career) he looked the part, having the physique of an athlete rather than that of a bodybuilder. He was the first actor in sound films to portray Tarzan as Burroughs wrote him - a literate, intelligent man. To escape being typecast in low-budget films Brix later changed his name to Bruce Bennett, and had a career as a supporting player (he appeared in a number of prestigious films for Warner Bros, including a small but significant role in Mildred Pierce as Joan Crawford's husband). His acting is mediocre, but then, to be fair, no one in this production's cast is better than adequate.
Don Castello (PB Raglan) was actually producer Ashton Dearholt acting under a pseudonym. Another actor had apparently been cast, but was unable to perform at the last minute.
Ula Holt (Jane) was discovered by Ashton Dearholt. This was her only film appearance.
Tarzan's chimpanzee compatriot is correctly called Nkima in this film; in the MGM features he is wrongly called Cheetah.
Working on the film entailed many hardships and complications. Herman Brix performed many of his own stunts, suffering various injuries and exhaustion in the Guatemalan jungle. Personal matters made things more difficult - Ashton Dearholt had a love affair with Ula Holt, while Edgar Rice Burroughs had an affair with Dearholt's wife, Florence Dearholt (née Gilbert), a former silent-film actress. Burroughs and Florence Dearholt later married.
The film was not a success. Though the Guatemalan settings are far beyond anything Hollywood jungles could provide, they are not well used. As the film was independently released, it could not take advantage of the studio-owned theatre chains throughout the United States. In other countries it was much more profitable.
Tarzan's victory cry is not the famous yodel used by MGM. In this film Tarzan yells in the ape-language Burroughs invented for the books, crying 'Ah, mangani'. 'Mangani' is the ape's word for human beings - 'Tarzan' in ape-speak means 'white skin'
Tarzan and Jane are arguably the best-known romantic couple in 20th Century English literature, but Jane is completely absent from The New Adventures of Tarzan. Instead, Tarzan makes eyes at Ula Vale in Chapter 12.
Serials often had a recap chapter, wherein characters reviewed events from previous chapters. It was a convenient way to save money, by using footage twice, and to keep viewers up to speed with the story. Such recaps usually occurred in the middle or mid-late chapters. The New Adventures of Tarzan includes an unfortunate blunder: the recap chapter is Chapter 12, after the plot has been resolved.
Warning: This note gives away the end of the film. The plot is a fairly standard one for serials, which often involved deadly weapons and the struggle to possess them. The natives take several chapters to decide to pursue those who stole their goddess - why so long? Ultimately, after the formula is secured by the heroes, it is decided that it is much too dangerous and should be destroyed. This was a common cliché in serials, and in science fiction of the 1920s and '30s - the 'mankind is not yet ready' ending. A wholly unsatisfying conclusion.
- The Internet Movie Database contains information on the cast, crew and characters involved.
- The official Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated website contains general histories of Burroughs and his characters.
- For a concise listing of Tarzan movies, try the Tarzan Movie Guide
- The Herman Brix biography page contains information and photographs of his Tarzan roles.