April 23, 1934 [Tarzan and His Mate]

Here, on the verge of Will Hays' flat-handed slap to keep the movies in line, the Production Code leaving a broad, lasting mark, red with--what? Anger? Embarrassment?--again: At this moment, standing on the studio-lot African plain, Valentino's old desert garb--serenely encircling willing damsels, silken bedclothes worn anywhere--falls at his feet; and there stands Johnny Weissmuller in the jungle clearing, stripped and staring down Bishops and the Bank of America, God and Mammon cowed, one last time, so that the Ape Man and his Mate can go swimming as Nature intended. And lucky us, we get to watch.

And what violence that underwater ballet, silent and staring, demands! Tribal attacks, bloody and piercing--both the cries of hapless bearers and the spears of the ambushing horde--and boulder-flinging Great Apes, menacing pythons--and the rhinoceros battle, a mad amalgamation of life-sized puppet, life-sized rhino, and life-sized Tarzan clutching his father's knife, astride the beast, driving it to the ground. And Cheetah the First is dead, and both pith-helmeted adventurers and cads are grimly schooled in the finer points of savage victory, lions devouring everything, Tarzan defeating all.

My son was with me, and he remained silent as a churchman--and in church he was, the holy temple of boyhood mayhem. Many years ago I saw that same shining, solemn look on the faces of men at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition watching their first Hoochi-Coochi show, the bare bellies and adamant breastplates encouraging their lonely hearts to beat. And while my son squirmed as the Jungle Lord and Lady had their morning swim, his own boy's heart swelled with noiseless passion when the knife flashed and the elephants trumpeted. We all find our moment of vicarious exultation--and Tarzan and His Mate provided enough primal shenanigans to fill my penny-ante heart of darkness.


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