Pros: Soft core porn; Tarzan and Jane as innocent savages. Miles O'Keeffe and Bo Derek.
Cons: Miles O'Keeffe never speaks. Bo Derek does. Plot is thin as her blouse. Richard Harris.
Tarzan the Ape Man (1981) Directed by John Derek, with apologies to Edgar Rice Burroughs.
"Don't you know how to smile? Do you know you're more beautiful than any girl I know? Oh, you're a lot more." Jane Parker.
After reviewing the dreadful Princess of Mars I found I wanted another fix of good old fashioned Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp wonderment. So I searched around and found 1981's Tarzan the Ape Man, starring Miles O'Keeffe and Bo Derek.
One of the perennial questions asked about Tarzan is exactly what is his relationship with Jane? Johnny Weissmuller, in all of his loin-clothed outings never definitively answered who he was more involved with; Jane, or Cheetah? Even Boy, who you would assume sort of puts paid to the whole did they or didn't they question, was in fact adopted.
Well, 1981 was a whole different world from 1935, and John and Bo Derek set out to answer the question once and for all, and definitively.
What you have is one of my favorite bad movies ever. Even the founder of the Razzies John Wilson admits that some of his winners are among the most fun films ever made. The movie focuses almost entirely on the relationship between Tarzan and Jane's breasts. Jane Parker (Bo Derek) is a woman in search of a man; her father, James Parker (Richard Harris), the famous explorer. Abandoned as an infant for his life of adventure and fame, Jane sets out to find her father, and learn who he is. The short answer is a manic depressive with more ups than downs, a huge ego and an almost completely narcissistic personality. Richard Harris plays him so far over the top it is painful. And knowing the quality of the man's acting, you realize he had to be directed into this. Shame on you, John Derek.
Anyhoo...off they go into the jungle to find the Elephant's Graveyard, where untold fortunes of ivory lie on the ground for the taking. But there are a few problems along the way; unfriendly natives with far too much makeup, and the mysterious 500 foot tall white ape; Tarzan.
Needless to say, Tarzan if fascinated by Jane. Who wouldn't be? And he handles the matter with the directness of the jungle, by taking her. In a really neat historical side note, Jane was bathing in Lake Victoria when a lion came up on the beach. Jane, taking to the water, is found by Tarzan, who tries to drag her back on dry land where he can get a better look at her. Well, the lion did not like the way Miles O'Keeffe was handling Bo and rushed to her rescue. It was obvious he was much more interested in protecting Bo than in hurting Miles, but Miles never got physical with Bo again without first checking the lock on her impromptu protector's cage, to make sure they did not have another misunderstanding!
Anyway, Tarzan is chased off by the arrival of the great white hunter, who is determined that Tarzan should die, and then be stuffed and mounted. Jane also wants to die, be stuffed and mounted, but not necessarily in that order.
Tarzan is determined to capture Jane again, and does, and carries her to the point of exhaustion, where upon he collapses and Jane is left to tend to him with only two chimpanzees and an orangutan as chaperones. Her frank exploration of Tarzan's absolutely magnificent body is both erotic and innocent, and the steamy sort of thing that is so much more arousing than hard core porn. To their credit, they both manage to pull of the noble innocents surrendering to primal forces without making it seem tawdry. That is a really good trick.
And of course, there is a lot of nudity. Miles O'Keeffe is never less than ¾ nude, unfortunately, he is never more than three quarters nude either. Of course that loin cloth is almost more erotic than complete nudity, at least from the back as his tush is flashed seductively as he moves.
Bo Derek is a lot more straight forward about her nudity. And there is a lot of it. And it is Bo Derek, the perfect "10". And she really is; heck, she gives me wood, and I'm gay! The scene where she is being painted white in preparation for her rape at the mud people's champion's hands is just...well, too much.
And really, these elements boil down to the only reason to watch this movie. Miles won a Razzie for his performance, and he had not one speaking line. Bo was nominated, and should have won; with her habit of biting her nails anytime she thought of being naughty (they should have been gnawed down to her wrists!) And Richard Harris; Oy vey! But for all the horrid dialogue and overdone acting, and abysmal direction (John Derek should have won that Razzie; the only thing that saved him was the fact he ran opposite Xanadu!)
Of course the worst thing about this whole movie was the unevenness of it; Jane is perpetually half naked, mostly naked and wet, or completely naked. Yet the only completely naked butt we see, and the only glimpse of full frontal is Richard Harris. What a waste.
But for all the flaws, when you hear that yodeling cry and see Tarzan swinging in to the rescue, your heart flutters, and you think, yeah, this is what Edgar had in mind.