Edgar Rice Burrough’s story, Tarzan of the Apes, as a 10-reel screen feature produced by the National Film Corporation, lacks much of the pep of the original. When Tarzan first appeared as a serial in the Evening World there was no thought that the story would have so widespread an appeal, but it attracted universal attention, republished in a popular fiction magazine and later in book form. The occasional touches of the extraordinary are the film’s greatest asset, and listed among these will have to be the work of Gordon Griffith, as Tarzan, a 10-year-old boy.
Tarzan in film is divided into three chapters. The [five-minute] intermission occurs after the first two chapters which consume approximately one hour and 20 minutes.
The early sections are almost wholly devoted to planting the underlying theme of the story, which in the original was of a secondary nature. Much time is devoted to the reason for the parents of Tarzan going to South Africa; also tremendous footage is held by the succeeding holder of the title of Lord Greystoke (Colin Kenny), his escapes, marriage to a bar maid (Bessie Toner) and subsequent heir.
Lord and Lady Greystoke (True Boardman, Kathleen Kirkham) are in England in 1897, and all South Africa is in an uproar over the slave trade. Greystoke is delegated to ferret out the inside of the slave trade. The final stage of his journey is on a sailing vessel, ruled by three brutal officers. Then a mutiny and the final disposition of the Greystokes by the crew. This is followed by their Robinson Crusoe existence; the birth of their child; the death of the parents and the adoption of the baby by an ape.
The film jumps 10 years. This is the second chapter, about equally divided between the development of the ape boy and the rearing of the son of the successor to the title in England. Then there is another leap [to the third chapter], and Tarzan is 20. He has become King of the Apes, while in England the heir apparent is a dissipated youth. [When news comes] that a son of the Greystoke who went to Africa is living, an expedition is organized, and in Africa Tarzan is brought on the scene again.
The ape family has been achieved by the medium of a flock of acrobats in skins and very foolishly a number of closeups are shown which kill the illusion. Otherwise from a production angle the picture is passable. Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan at 20 is all that could be asked for. Enid Markey [as the rich American, Jane Porter] fails to register effectively. Picture needs cutting in the first hour and a half. [Film was shown on US TV in a 55-min. version.]