and Greystoke (1983)
IMDb link 6.0/10 with 475 user votes -- RT-link Tomatometer not available/user rating 22% with 85 votes
Year: 1918 Director: Scott Sidney -- Writers: Edgar Rice Burroughs(novel), Fred Miller, Lois Weber -- Cast: Elmo Lincoln, Enid Markey, George B. French, Gordon Griffith, True Boardman, Kathleen Kirkham, Stellan Windrow -- Length: 60-73 min. B&W/Silent -- estimated gross: $1,000,000
The idea behind Tarzan is at once both ridiculous and compelling. Yet, it would be impossible due to time constraints for anyone to catalog all the pop culture and even real culture influences the character has had over the past 104 years.
Only six years after Edgar Rice Burroughs published his idea of a child raised by apes in the jungles of Africa who grows into an adult with unusual capabilities was published in The All Story Magazine, October 1912, a cinematic adaptation premiered. Tarzan of the Apes (1918) is just over an hour long, but it condenses the salient aspects of the novel into something trackable on the screen. Is the Tarzan that Gordon Griffith and Elmo Lincoln depict exactly like the one you had in your head as you read the words? No. Is this Tarzan like the most famous Tarzan that wouldn't debut for another 14 years? No.
If the estimated gross shown above (from IMDb) is accurate, it means that this was quite a popular film when it was released. One of the people who saw it was my grandmother. She didn't tell me that it was three hours long originally, but she did say that she enjoyed the movie. Her voice was the first voice I ever heard say "Elmo Lincoln." This man became a star, although typecast as action figures. He played Tarzan three times: Tarzan of the Apes (1918), The Romance of Tarzan (1918), The Adventures of Tarzan (1921).
Although this Tarzan seems fluent in English by the time he meets Jane, you can't hear him. This is a silent film.
Enid Markey plays Jane. She is almost the only female in the movie. Lady Greystoke and a few native girls are there, but Jane is the predominant female role. Oh, and there is Esmerelda, a racistic representation of a black woman servant to the Porters. This was the era of Birth of a Nation (1915), of course.
As you watch this film it can escape your notice that the first person ever to appear as Tarzan on the movie screen was 10-year old Gordon Griffith, credited as "Tarzan the Boy." Pre-pre-code. There is no loincloth on young Tarzan until he steals one from a native who has gone for a bathe in the river. At about 13 minutes into the movie the lad spies the untended grass-skirt type wraps that a couple of native kids have left on the shore as they swim in the river. The intertitle, "Clothes! At the bottom of his little English heart survived a longing for them." From that point on we don't see young Gordon Griffith's derriere.
Here are some aspects of the film and whether I like them or don't care for them:
Like: For what it's worth, I am not the first to note that the film follows the plot of the Tarzan debut novel very closely. In that respect it is unlike every other Tarzan film ever made.
Like: IMDb trivia is cool. It says that the film was shot mostly in Louisiana. "Louisiana was chosen as the main shooting location because of the cooperation of the residents of Morgan City, the lush jungle vegetation, bayous, waterways, abundant black extras, and facilities such as hotels, a railway-serviced wharf and an adjacent storage warehouse." So, production wasn't tied to Hollywood at that time any more than it is today. All the black faces you see actually belong to residents of 1918 Louisiana. It says they got paid $1.75 a day to play cannibal extras. The location shooting adds a lot to the appearance of the film.
Like: The previous fact leads to this: other than the woman playing the denigrating character of Esmerleda, and perhaps the man who kidnaps Jane, the blacks in the film are treated with relative racial respect by the screenwriter and producers. In other words, the script has the natives make an honest (yet comic) mistake when they see the whites arriving toting guns, and think they are under attack from these interlopers. Yet, they aren't made to look stupid as a people. Which kind of surprised me.
Like: Gordon Griffith is a truly gleeful and "realistic" little Tarzan. He makes growing up with an ape for a mom look like delightful fun. Also, the physicality of the role is something he matches perfectly. We can't say that about Elmo Lincoln.
Like: Binns. He intends well. But things don't go his way. He's slightly selfish, in that he worries that the Greystokes might have thought he didn't keep his promise. Wellll, he didn't. But it was because he was kidnapped by Arab slave traders, and held for ten years. Still, while he was a prisoner, he would minister to the slaves who were hurt. That brought about sharp words and scowls from the Arabs. So, you'd have to say that Binns is a rather realistic character, not totally heroic, but a man with a good heart, and intentions to do the right thing. He becomes the protector and teacher for little Tarzan. But the Arabs return, and the man and boy split up. Binns goes to England where he talks about the young Greystoke heir living as an ape.
Like: As would be the plan of operations for Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan (1983) the young actor and the production crew evidence no problem with Tarzan as a boy being naked, as he most certainly would be if this were a true story. No doubt some 1918 viewers were scandalized by this series of bare bottom views of the boy, as are (no doubt) some viewers today. The exact opposite of this presentation appears in the Disney Tarzan (1999) where (understandably) baby Tarzan seems to have been born wearing a loincloth. One of these extremes is ridiculous, and the other is not. I'll leave it to you to determine for yourself which is which.
Like: To cap off a scene where young Tarzan sees his reflection beside that of his ape brother in a pool of water, and he notices the difference for the first time, Scott Sidney allows Griffith to break the fourth wall and do an extended take toward the camera. This actually works quite well in the silent film format. It doesn't come across as comic, the way Laurel and Hardy's fourth wall breaking takes did. Instead, it simply and effectively telegraphs that the lad has had an epiphany. In a sense it is like similar aside glances that actors can get away with on stage without the moment turning comic. A significant part of cinemacraft was derived from stagecraft, since that was the only analogy the early years of film could muster.
Don't Like: Enid Markey is not what you would call a looker. Then again, most women (and most men) fall into that non-looker category. I don't know enough about early Hollywood to understand whether ravishing beauty was an aspect that became predominant after 1918 or not. Regardless, later in 1918 Markey played Jane Porter again in The Romance of Tarzan (1918). Of note, Griffith was Tarzan as a boy in that film, too. I have no idea if they reused his footage from Tarzan of the Apes. I'm not sure whether I dislike the fact that Hollywood eventually developed the high good looks esthetic, or whether they weren't using it for this movie.
Don't Like: The six searchers who come to Africa to find the boy that Binns has told them about are largely caricatures. Especially Jane Porter's fiancé. Jane is not herself comic relief, but the rest seem to tend in that direction.
Don't Like: Sorry to his ghost and descendants, but Elmo Lincoln is not "Tarzan." He plays Tarzan, but he is just not physically the type to be a 20-year old kid who has grown up with very hairy parents in the jungles of Africa. There was originally a different actor hired for adult Tarzan. IMDb asserts that Stellan Windrow played that character for five weeks of shooting before quitting to go join the US Navy in The Great War. All the Tarzan in the trees footage is allegedly this more athletic actor's work. Honestly, you expect Lincoln to be huffing from his physical exertions, although you couldn't hear it in a silent film. He was only 29 when the movie was released, but he looks ten years past that.
Don't Like: When we first see young Tarzan he is braiding a rope. Come on! Who taught him to do that? Wait! I forgot. Humans always braid ropes. It's just what we do. We do it naturally. Hell, I'm braiding one right now as I type this. I stand corrected.
Don't Like: For all these older films I seem to always mention this, but it's only because so many actors and actresses of the time didn't use The Method. For George B. French who plays Binns to be in the same scene with the totally natural Gordon Griffith is quite a contrast between what would nowadays be called "good acting" and what nowadays would be called "very bad acting" so far as cinema goes. French simply goes too far in transmitting his character's emotional state after Binns discovers the Greystoke cabin with its three skeleton occupants. Did Scott Sidney, the director purposely have French play the part in such an overwrought style? Or did he not notice? Or did he try to get French to hold back some, without success? I believe I've asked these same questions before in this thread.
Don't Like: The movie just quits. Now that's probably because over two hours of the original 3-part film has been lost (so they say). But when Jane calls Tarzan back to her, they kiss and "The End" pops up on the screen. Kind of abrupt. But I realize that it might not always have had such an abrupt ending.
Alice Guy turned down an offer to direct this film, which is why Scott Sidney's name appears on the posters. I wonder if a woman's touch would have made the film substantially different.
Now the trivia page also says that this film was originally three hours long, divided into three parts. Only 73 minutes of the film remain known today. I wonder if the three hours were divided across the three sections of the current edited version of the movie. If so, each section has been truncated to fit into the shorter space, and the ending would have been the same as what we see, now. Honestly, I could never have sat through three hours of this film. Or, maybe that isn't true. I watched all 15 episodes of the 1920 serial film The Son of Tarzan starring the muscular, believably athletic Kamuela Searle as the adult Korak. Interestingly, the kid in that film, Jack, the young son of Tarzan, who returns to the jungle to ultimately become Korak, was played by Gordon Griffith. So he played Tarzan first, and he also played the son of Tarzan first.
As with all these very early movies, I feel a need to say that they exist today mainly for the interest of film historians. Not everyone wants to watch movies without color, and without synchronous audio. Still, some silent films are as literary and cinematic as anything that has come since. This is not a bad film, and might have been an even better presentation in the lost longer version. It's worth a diversionary hour of your time to see it if you can get a DVD copy from your library, or just watch one of the posts of the film made to YouTube.
I bought the only version I could find at the time I started this Rematch Round Four, and it's a fairly cheap 61-minute Alpha Home Entertainment release with an original synth score by Don Kinnier. Parts of the image look like a newer transfer, but some scenes look like they were mastered to DVD from a second generation VHS copy. Part of this may have to do with image compression and the relative amount of movement in the frame at times. More has to do with the low image resolution!
It is wonderful whenever a very clean copy can be restored from such an old film. I've seen very crisp DVD images from films that are from the same era, or before. It's a judgment call whether the expense of cleaning up a film is worth it in revenue terms, even in the long run. And I suppose no one has thought they could make back tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands spent to find and restore the elements of the existing 73 minutes of the 1918 movie.
We have what we have. At least most of the dramatic intent is still recognizable.
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Gordon Griffith (1907-1958) at IMDb. He played parts in 86 titles between 1913 and 1936. He was still acting in 1931 at which time he began moving over to 2d unit and assistant directing, and producing which lasted until 1956, adding another 28 screen credits to his listings. As a child, according to IMDb, he was the first to play Tarzan, Tom Sawyer and Penrod on the screen.
Elmo Lincoln (1889–1952). IMDb. 'A former Arkansas peace officer, Elmo Linkenhelt worked in D.W. Griffith's The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1912). In a fight scene his shirt was partially torn off, displaying his powerful chest. Griffith noticed, called him over, and told him "That's quite a chest you have there". Griffith changed the name to Elmo Lincoln and featured him in several of his films.'
Enid Markey (1894–1981). IMDb. 'In a career on stage, screen, and television covering more than six decades, actress Enid Markey is probably best known for two roles almost fifty years apart: The original Jane Porter in the first-ever Tarzan film (1918's Tarzan of the Apes, opposite Elmo Lincoln's Tarzan) and in the recurring role of Mrs. Mendlebright on The Andy Griffith Show in the 1960s.'
George B. French (1883–1961). IMDb. "George B. French was born on April 14, 1883 in Storm Lake, Iowa, USA. He was an actor, known for Tarzan of the Apes (1918), Crazy by Proxy (1917) and Her Speedy Affair (1915). He died on June 9, 1961 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA."
Stellan Windrow (1893–1959). IMDb. 'At the University of Chicago Stellan was an outstanding athlete (swimming, shotput, discus), took an Associate in Philosophy (1915) and was a member of Alpha Tau Omega, the Society of Tiger Head and the Blackfriars Drama Society. He worked summer jobs at Chicago's Essanay Studio and there became friends with Wallace Beery, Ruth Stonehouse and Francis X. Bushman. In 1917 he was hired by producer 'Bill Parsons' to play the part of Tarzan, becoming the first actor ever contracted for the part. After several weeks of shooting, on Bayou Teche LA, the tree-work all but completed, the United States entered World War I and Stellan became an ensign in the navy.'
Scott Sidney (1874–1928). IMDb. 'American director and erstwhile actor. Originally a performer on the stock and vaudeville circuits, especially the Mittenthal Bros. circuit, he appeared with his wife Josephine Foy in a vaudeville show entitled "The Inspector." Noticed in this show by producer Thomas H. Ince, Sidney entered films in approximately 1913 as a performer and quickly was promoted to directing pictures.'
Alice Guy (I) (1873–1968). IMDb. 'Generally considered to be the world's first female director, French-born Alice Guy entered the film business as a secretary at Gaumont-Paris in 1896. The next year Gaumont changed from manufacturing cameras to producing movies, and Guy became one of its first film directors. She impressed the the company so much with the output (she averaged two two-reelers a week) and quality of her productions that by 1905 she was made the company's production director, supervising the company's other directors.'