4 February 2005 | lugonian
Tarzan's Boy Wonder
TARZAN FINDS A SON (MGM, 1939), directed by Richard Thorpe, the fourth installment to the popular movie series based on the characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, marks a new beginning for Tarzan and Jane as they become parents and accepting the responsibility in raising a child. No, Jane did not have a blessed event in the traditional sense, nor did Tarzan start passing out bananas in place of cigars in the waiting room to other expectant African native fathers in the waiting room of a jungle cottage hospital, nor did Cheetah act as the midwife. Three years have passed since the last installment of TARZAN ESCAPES (1936), which provided enough time for the writers to come up with something original. While the plots and situations were starting to repeat themselves by this time, something new has been added, a son for Tarzan and Jane, with delivery not by way of stalk but by air delivery. Because no marriage ceremony was ever indicated since their union, the rulers of the production code couldn't permit Jane to become pregnant and bear forth a child of her own since Tarzan and Jane were obviously living together. So the writers have thought up a the solution to the problem:
A young British couple (Morton Lowery and Laraine Day), aboard a private airplane with their infant baby, learn that they are in danger when the plain acquires engine trouble. After the pilot (Gavin Muir) makes a crash landing, everyone perishes except for the child. He is later picked up by chimpanzee's before Cheetah takes the infant, offers it to Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller), who in turn vine swings himself back to the tree house where he presents the child to Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan). At first Tarzan becomes jealous of Jane's full attention towards the child, but in time becomes fond of him also, and being the "father," names him Boy. Five years pass. The introduction of Boy (John Sheffield in his movie debut) is shown in full swing as he hangs on to the vine, doing everything Tarzan does. He even learns the ape call like Tarzan, and uses it whenever in distress, such as one instance as he is caught and being covered by a big web and nearly getting attacked by a flock of large-size spiders. But outside of that, all seems to go well for the jungle family until a searching party, (Ian Hunter, Frieda Inescort, Henry Wilcoxson and Henry Stephenson), enters the scene. Revealed as relatives of Boy's deceased parents, they learn the truth of the boy and try to persuade Jane into deciding to giving up the youngster so they can take him back to England where he belongs (especially since he happens to be the heir to several million dollars). While Tarzan has already made up his mind in keeping Boy with them, the scheming relatives, with the exception of Sir Thomas (Stephenson), now being held captive, have other plans.
TARZAN FINDS A SON is a grand scale production and the only one in the series set in a time frame of more than the standard months or weeks, in this instance, five years, although the movie itself gives the impression of taking place solely in 1939 instead of from 1934 to the present, especially since Maureen O'Sullivan's 1940s hairstyle is evident throughout, but otherwise, makes little difference to the plot since it's the story and action the viewers come to see. As credited in the opening titles, underwater swimming scenes were filmed in Silver Springs, Florida. What a pity it wasn't done in Technicolor to take advantage of the fine location scenery. But with its usual dose of elephant stampedes, Cheetah's comedy relief and Tarzan's race to the rescue and a one man fight against hundreds of African natives, is enough adventure and excitement during its 81 minute time frame not to be a disappointment.
TARZAN FINDS A SON, along with the other MGM entries, have become available on either the VHS or DVD format, and formerly shown on the American Movie Classics cable channel from 1997 to 2000. It later shifted over to Turner Classic Movies where its premiered June 4, 2004, Bob Dorian, former AMC host, once profiled this chapter as being the one in which Maureen O'Sullivan, who wanted out of the series, to have her Jane character killed off, but preview audiences objected and a new ending was substituted. It's also been mentioned that is was Weissmuller who personally selected little John Sheffield, out of hundreds of candidates, for the role of Boy. He must have made a great impression since he would reprise his role seven more times until he outgrew the part by 1947. Next chapter: TARZAN'S SECRET TREASURE (1941). (***1/2)