Deep deep in the African jungle, chimpanzee Cheetah finds a little
babyboy in a planewreck, & brings him to Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller)
& Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan). & while Jane immediately feels her
motherlly instincts coming through & wants to take care of the boy,
Tarzan, suddenly feeling he is no longer the most important man in Jane's
wife, needs a little more convincing.
5 years later, the baby has developed into a young boy called Boy
(Johnny Sheffield) - a name handpicked by Tarzan - & turns out to be a
typical young rascal on a big playground (in his case the jungle), always
getting into jams. But Tarzan's & Jane's love & care always saves
him from serious trouble.
Then one day an expedition - made up of Austin Lancing (Ian Hunter),
his wife (Frieda Inescort), his uncle Sir Thomas (Henry Stephenson) &
their guide Sande (Henry Wilcoxon) - arrives at Tarzan & Jane's place,
& they turn out to be looking for Boy & his parents (who were
killed by savages shortly after their plane crashed). Jane, who doesn't
want to give away Boy, at first lies about Boy's origins, claiming him to
be her own son. Sir Thomas however soon sees through her lies, makes her
confess & even persuades her to hand Boy over to them. With Tarzan
though it is a different matter, since he doesn't understand why a life
outside the jungle would be more suitable for Boy, & he'd rather die
than give him away. So Jane makes up a plan to trap him in a valley where
he can't get out on his own ... all for Boy's sake, even if it might mean
the end of their relationship.
But with Tarzan out of the way, Austin & wife show their true
colours, they only want Boy to, as their legal guardians, get their hands
on his inheritance, & they would sop at nothing to get what they want,
even if that means to shoot Sir Thomas - who in contrast to them really
cared about Boy.
Of course, on their way back to civilisation, with Jane & Boy as
captives, the Lancings soon run into a tribe of savages, & they take
the whole group prisoner & plan to sacrifice them all. Now Jane
figures Boy is their only hope, as he is small enough to slip through a
hole in the walls to the savages' village & furthermore he knows the
jungle well enough to find his way to Tarzan & get him outof his
valley prison. but when covering Boy's escape, Jane gets a spear in the
On his way to Tarzan, Boy runs into all the usual perils of the jungle,
but survives all of them unscathed, frees Tarzan & the 2 of them, with
their army of apes & elephants, head for the native village, which the
elephants flatten (probably footage taken from earlier Tarzan
films), & soon enough Jane is saved, along with Austin & his wife,
whom Tarzan disgusted sends away. At first he wants to send Jane away too
... until he sees the wound in her back that makes him notice how much he
loves her, & everything's back to normal ...
It's a safe bet to say that if you like (pulp) jungle adventures, you
will like Tarzan the Ape Man
& you will love its sequel Tarzan
and his Mate. The third film of the series, Tarzan
Escapes, was still somehow ok but already very formulaic &
didn't have anything new to offer. But with this one, the fourth in the
series, it really got hokey: The sense of adventure & the love for
exotica are really lost here in favour of a cheesy family story with some
greedy heirs thrown in, all in front of a jungle background ... it's pure
kitsch, & while it might have some campy qualities, it's not very good
(neither so-bad-it's-good for that matter).
Probably, this one should have been the last of the series, but
Weissmuller did make 2 more for MGM,
then 6 for RKO.
Johnny Sheffiled as Boy was in all but the last one (Tarzan and the
Mermaids, 1948) of them. He also made the 12-film-series Bomba,
the Jungle Boy at Monogram.