Directed By: Cedric Gibbons
Starring: Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan, Neil Hamilton
Tag line: "Johnny Weismuller is back again!"
Trivia: The "African" elephants were actually Indian elephants fitted with prosthetic tusks and ears
A sequel to the immensely popular Tarzan the Ape Man and the second in the Johnny Weissmuller / Tarzan series, 1934’s Tarzan and his Mate contained as much action and excitement as its predecessor while, at the same time, giving pre-code audiences a few extra thrills they probably weren’t expecting.
A year has passed since Jane Parker (Maureen O’Sullivan) disappeared into the jungle with her new beau, Tarzan (Weissmuller). Yet try as he might to forget her, Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton), a former business partner of Jane’s father, is still very much in love with her, and is planning another expedition to the elephant graveyard in part to try and talk Jane into returning to civilization. Harry is joined this time around by his old friend Martin Arlington (Paul Cavanagh), an aristocrat who is flat broke, and is hoping to retrieve enough ivory from the graveyard to rebuild his fortune.
Soon after their journey begins, Harry and Martin do indeed meet up with Tarzan and Jane, and to Harry’s disappointment, Jane says she has never been happier, and is quite content to spend the rest of her days at Tarzan’s side. The expedition is further complicated when Tarzan, who is guiding the two explorers to the elephant graveyard, tells Harry and Martin that under no circumstances are they to remove any ivory from this sacred spot. But Martin has come too far to go home empty-handed, and concocts a plan that, if successful, will get Tarzan out of the way once and for all.
Like Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan and his Mate is jam-packed with action; before their initial encounter with Tarzan and Jane, Harry and Martin chase down fellow explorers Pierce (William Stack) and Van Ness (Desmond Roberts), who stole the map Harry made during his excursion to the elephant graveyard a year earlier. Harry and Martin do eventually recover the map, only to find themselves immediately surrounded by a bloodthirsty tribe of cannibals! The excitement continues once Tarzan and Jane show up, with Weissmuller’s Tarzan again fighting off lions and crocodiles in an effort to keep Jane safe; and a late run-in with another hostile tribe results in what is easily the film’s most intense battle sequence (which, before it’s over, will pull gorillas, lions, and even a few elephants into the fracas).
Along with the action, Tarzan and His Mate features a number of risqué moments that likely had the censors seeing red. Martin, who is also infatuated with Jane, makes several aggressive passes at her and at one point stares at Jane’s nude silhouette (while she’s in a tent trying on clothes). Yet the movie’s most erotic sequence comes a bit later, when Tarzan and a completely naked Jane perform what appears to be an underwater ballet. Though tastefully shot by director Cedric Gibbons, this scene nonetheless drags on longer than it should have, and we see much more than Jane’s silhouette as she and Tarzan playfully swim in circles (these nude scenes were handled not by O’Sullivan, but her underwater stand-in, Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim).
As you might imagine, this brief bit of nudity didn’t go unnoticed; Joseph Breen, the P.R. director for the MPPDA, refused to give Tarzan and His Mate a seal of approval because it showed a girl “completely in the nude”, and within a few weeks of its release, an order was sent out that all prints of the film had to excise this scene prior to any further public exhibition (for the DVD, this sequence was edited back into the movie).
Without its more suggestive elements, Tarzan and his Mate is still a rip-roaring action film, and one of the best sequels ever made. With them, it stands as a shining example of just how far pre-code Hollywood was willing to push the envelope. Either way, it’s well worth seeking out, and together with Tarzan the Ape Man would make for one hell of an afternoon double feature.