Abandoned in the jungles of Africa, Lord and Lady Grreystoke (True
Boardman, Kathleen Kirkham) have found shelter in a small hut, where they
have their only son ... but both die soon after his birth. However, the
little boy is soon adopted by a couple of apes, who have just lost their
own baby, as one of theirs.
It's not until years later until the boy,
who's named Tarzan (and played by Gordon Griffith), notices there is a
distinct difference between him and the other apes, especially when he
realizes that there are more similarities between him and the natives than
between him and his ape parents. Thus, TArzan starts to imitate the
natives and even starts to wear cloths to be more like the humans.
Eventually, he finds his parents hut, where he teaches himself to read
from a picture book, and where he finds a knife with which he soon enough
kills a gorilla to earn himself respect amond his ape-friends.
Binns (George B.French), the Greystokes' servant who has been in captivity
for ten years, returns to the hut where he finds Tarzan and starts to
teach him the ways of man. Eventually though, the slave traders who had
Binns in captivity for all those years, return to the jungle, and on their
escape, Binns and Tarzan part ways, and while Binns makes it to Great
Britain, Tarzan is left behind in the jungle, where he grows up to be a
strong man (then played by Elmo Lincoln).
Years have passed before Binns
has managed to convince the Greystoke family to go to Africa on an
expedition to try and find the young Lord Greystoke - Tarzan of course -,
but now that they're here, they can't find a trace of Tarzan, even if
Tarzan always watches them from close by, but he's just too shy to reveal
himself to them. He is especially interested though in Jane (Enid Markey),
the daughter of the expedition's head (Thomas Jefferson), and does save
her from a lion when she's attacked, without the others ever getting close
enough to get a hold of him.
Later, Jane is abducted by a native, and
Tarzan has to fight and kill the native to free her. When the others come
looking for Jane, they become captives of the local tribe of natives, and
to save them, Tarzan sets the natives' village on fire. Freed from their
captors, the expedition moves on, safe for Jane, whom Tarzan has strong
romantic feelings for, and who starts to feel for him as well ...
very first film adventure of Tarzan is a (for its time)
well-made little escapist adventure with Elmo Lincoln giving a powerful
portrayal as the king of the jungle - but somehow one can't but notice
that as a film, Tarzan of the Apes lacks a certain stringency, it
simply sticks too closely to the novel that portrays the whole evolution
of Tarzan to really focus on the adventure at hand, and thus the finale
lacks the impact it could have had. Still, the film is paced well enough
to make one forgive certain shortcomings, and not only as a
film-historical document, it's definitely worth a look.