*Not to be confused with the silent screen actress of the same name
John Jacoby, Marjorie L. Pfaelzer
Running Time: 76 minutes
Copyright Date: April 15, 1945; Copyright renewed: June 1972
Release Date: Mar. 20, 1945
Reissued in 1950
First Showing in Canada: August 9, 1945
Tarzan et les amazones (Fr]
Tarzan und die Amazonen [Gr]
Tarzan e le amazzoni [It]
Tarzan e as Amazonas [Pg]
Tarzán y las (intrépidas) amazonas [Sp]
When Cheta gives Jane a stolen bracelet as a coming-home present, Sir Guy Henderson, the head of a scientific expedition recognizes the design and arouses the interest of his companions, when it is learned that the bracelet may originate with an obscure Amazon society rumoured to exist in the area.
Tarzan, who knows the way to this fabled land, refuses to disclose its location, but Boy who has followed Tarzan there, naively agrees to act as guide. The safari is subsequently captured and imprisoned by the Amazons and Boy further complicates matters by seeking out an Amazon saved by Tarzan and persuading her to free them.
Their freedom regained, the men chance upon the treasure chamber and prepare to loot it, after Henderson is accidentally killed and the Amazon knifed. In her dying moments, she manages to give the alarm. In the ensuing battle, all but two of the men are killed, and Boy is recaptured and sentenced to death.
But Cheta races to Tarzan, who heads off the two surviving vandals, disposing of them in quicksand. Then he returns the golden symbols purloined from the citadel to the queen and secures his son’s release.
Amazons have inspired a number of films over the years. It started in the silent film era with The Amazons (1915). Other films that incorporated the theme are Queen of the Amazons (46), with Patricia Morison and Robert Lowery, Fury of the Congo (51) with Johnny Weissmuller as Jungle Jim, and Sherry Moreland in the role of the “Amazon” leader, Hercules (57) with Steeve Reeves, Love Slaves of the Amazons (57) with Don Taylor, Gold of the Amazon Women (79) with Bo Svenson and Anita Ekberg, and of course the most famous Amazon of them all, Wonder Woman.
Nor was this the first time that Amazons figured in the Adventures of Tarzan. Tarzan the Magnificent (the novel, not the film) dealt with two tribes of women warriors; the comic strip has made repeated use of the Amazon myth; the Saturday morning cartoon version of Tarzan had an episode featuring an Amazon village; and there is even a read along book with cassette called Tarzan and the Amazons, although it bears no similarity to the film. There is also an episode in the television series starring Wolf Larsen, entitled Tarzan and the Amazon Women, although why it is necessary to say Amazon Women is beyond me.
It is not certain who came up with the idea to use the Amazon theme for a film. Marjorie Pfaelzer thinks it was probably her father, Sol Lesser; or perhaps Edgar Rice Burroughs, with whom he was in constant communication. But Burroughs was in Australia at the time, and in a letter to Sol Lesser he pointed out he had nothing to offer for this film. The only thing she is sure of is that it was not her idea. I suspect, however, that writer John Jacoby came up with the first version of the script.
The ancient Persian city of Palmyra, suggestive because of its legendary warrior queen, Zenobia, is undoubtedly the inspiration for the name of the fabled jungle city. The variant name Palmyria is to be found in books written in the late Middle Ages, such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Christine de Pizan's The City of Ladies. A film about Zenobia was announced in the Hollywood Reporter August 16, 1944 and was set to star Maria Montez . But the film was never made.
At any rate, on August 8, 1944, the Hollywood Reporter announced that director Kurt Neumann was on the lookout for 48 femmes, six feet tall and athletic. They would portray the “glamazons,” as insiders would call them.
Most of them turned out to be show girls and Sheffield remembers how few of them had any real archery skills, so the shooters had to be carefully selected. A couple of them were stunters, like Babe de Freest, who also doubled for Shirley O'Hara in her fall over the bluff.
This was Johnny Weissmuller’s ninth film as the jungle lord, and Sheffield’s sixth as Boy. Jane re-appeared in this entry in the lovely shape of Brenda Joyce, who had come into acting via modelling. She made three more films with Weissmuller, one film with Lex Barker, and then she retired permanently from the screen.
Maria Ouspenskaya (1876-1949), the diminutive Russian character actress, was chosen to play the stoic and impassive Amazon queen. She was born in Tula, Russia July 29, 1876. Her first ambition was to be a great singer, and to that end she studied at the Warsaw Conservatory. A lack of money sent her to Moscow to study acting. In 1911, she was chosen to study with Stanislavsky. During the next ten years, she appeared in more than 100 plays. In 1923 and 1924, she toured the U.S. After her second stint, she decided to remain in the U.S. When her visa was about to lapse, she was offered a position in the American Laboratory Theatre by Richard Boleslawsky,remaining there until 1929. When it closed, she opened her own school of Dramatic Arts while continuing to appear in plays. In 1936 she went to Hollywood to do the film version of Dodsworth, then returned to Broadway where she continued to teach. She returned to films in Conquest (37). Following this came more films and in 1940, she moved permanently to Hollywood, renaming her school the American Repertory Theatre and Studio. In 1943 it was back to Broadway in Outrageous Fortune. The play proved a flop, but she remained with the show, even through a bout of pneumonia. During WWII she did much canteen work for the armed services and was made an honorary member of the crew of the U.S.S. New York. On November 30, 1949 her bed caught fire when she fell asleep smoking. Three days later she died from a stroke and burns suffered from the fire. She had no family.
Shirley O'Hara [ Krims](1924 - 2000) played the Amazon, Athena, who precipitates all the trouble by failing to heed her homeland’s prime directive: never venture outside Palmyria. Besides making films, she was a movie critic for The New Republic, a Los Angeles based newspaper, during the forties and did live theatre.
She turned to television in the sixties and appeared in countless series like The Detective, First Love, Future Cop, Manhunter,The Man from Uncle, Perry Mason, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Twilight Zone, Family Affair, Laverne and Shirley, Chico and the Man, Mannix, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Rockford Files, The Outer Limits, The Invisible Man (1975), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Emergency, The Incredible Hulk, The Waltons, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, The Untouchables, Sea Hunt, Bonanza, Gunsmoke and The Bob Newhart Show. In the latter she played the semi-recurring role of zany substitute secretary, Debbie Flett, in which she showed some natural comedic ability.
Later she worked at Warner Bros as a public relations executive.
She passed away from complications due to diabetes.
Henry Stephenson played the gentle, incorruptible Sir Guy Henderson. He had played a similar role in MGM’s Tarzan Finds a Son! (39).
Considering he was only 42 years old when he died in 1947, Don Douglas had a remarkably prolific career in films, at least 66 films starting in 1929 with The Great Garbo.
Originally, Lesser had announced Edgar Barrier, Sept. 5, for the role that went to Douglas. Barrier would later show up as the fanatical leader of the leopard cult in Tarzan and the Leopard Woman.
Douglas’s character, Anders and Shirley O'Hara’s, Athena, are the only two that undergo a change. They both undergo a kind of evolution, rare in a “B” movie. Ironically, our Mr. Nice-Guy, who was courageous enough to wrest a stick of dynamite from Cheta and extinguish it, fails to stand up to Ballister, played by Barton MacLane, when the latter accidentally kills Sir Guy and begins manhandling Boy. Instead, he becomes a henchman. Athena, on the other hand, who has twice betrayed her people, musters sufficient strength, when knifed by Ballister, to rouse her people in order to prevent the invaders’ escape. She realizes in her dying moments, the wisdom of the prime directive. It is to be sure on a small scale, but this final act makes her a tragic heroine.
The remainder of the cast were mostly seasoned veterans and included J. M. Kerrigan, Steven Geray, Lionel Royce, Frederic Brunn, Christine Forsyth, Frank Darien, Jr., and a new Cheta.
The screenplay was written by John (Hans) Jacoby, who also wrote the script for Tarzan and the Slave Girl (50), and co-scripted on Tarzan's Savage Fury (52), and by Marjorie L. Pfaelzer, who became, in 1945 a regular writer within her father’s newly-formed Sol Lesser Productions, Inc. While she had input on several of the Tarzan features, she was credited only with Tarzan and the Amazons. She recalls:
“My interest in the Tarzans developed when I was living at my parents’ home during the war and my father would come home disturbed about the silliness of the dialogue. He would ask what should have been said and when I would reply he would say ‘Write that down.’ The progression to bona fide script writer was very rapid.”
Indeed, the script is literate, balanced and cohesive, with a sophisticated dialogue seldom heard in a Tarzan film. Consider the following extracts:
. . . Ouspenskaya’s thematic supplication to the sun-god:
“Throughout the history of our land, o sun-god, strangers, entering thy domain, have ever sought to despoil Palmyria of the treasures we dedicate to thy glory. For the protection of us, thy servants, thou hast ordained that all such intruders shall forfeit their lives. Grant me the strength to carry out this, thy sacred decree.”
. . . Brenner’s humorous observation when Sir Guy says of Boy that he swims like a fish:
“Nothing is more inaccurate than to compare the aquatic locomotion of a human being with that of a fish.”
. . . Tarzan’s response to Boy, when the latter asks him why he refuses to aid the scientists:
Tarzan - Not good for man to look straight
Boy - What's the sun got to do with it?
Tarzan - Sun like gold; too much sun make people blind.
Neither Jane nor Boy understands the simile, but when Ballister accidentally kills Sir Guy, Boy realizes what his father meant.
. . . the dialogue between Sir Guy and Anders when Tarzan aphoristically reminds them that not all discoveries bring happiness:
Anders - Personally, I refuse to be pacified
by jungle platitudes.
Sir Guy - You must admit, the world will hardly cease to revolve on its axis because of our disappointment.
. . . Anders’ dictation to Sir Guy during their brief confinement:
“And now it is confirmed; the matriarchal society can and does exist in its purest form.”
. . . and finally Ouspenskaya’s lament on the dubious future of Palmyria:
“Now has everlasting evil fallen upon us. The grass will wither, and the shadow of death will cover our fair land, never to be lifted until thy sacred symbols are returned to thee.”
The script was obviously not written for children, although it must have been recognized that children would form a major part of the audience, at least in America. But because of the action, this dialogue never impedes the comprehension of the plot. This is especially important in that much of the income generated from a Tarzan film came from abroad. It was therefore imperative that dialogue be minimal because of language barriers.
There were apparently other scenes planned or filmed that were discarded along the way. Johnny Sheffield recalls filming the climax in Palmyria, in which Tarzan returns the idol’s stolen symbols. His recollection is confirmed by the original script.
Queen: (Looking at the idol) Thy images have been restored to thee. But soon invaders will return to despoil our land. (Turning to Tarzan) We thank you, Tarzan, but alas, it is too late.
Tarzan: Men will never return. Secret of Palmyria buried in swamp.
Then Tarzan turns to Boy and says:
“Boy like eaglet - who left nest before he could fly.”
A swimming sequence was also planned, but never filmed. Yet the advertising material made use of it. Another swimming incident in which stuntwoman, Babe de Freest, battles a crocodile may have been filmed at Silver Springs, but if it was, it too was cut.
In the scene in which Cheta seeks out Athena, the original idea called for a visit to the Amazon dormitory, where all the Amazons were sleeping, except her. Cheta hides behind a shield, and then moves slowly towards Athena. Also in the original script, Athena comes to the treasure chamber and sees with horror the vandalism that is being committed, then turns and runs. At this point, Sir Guy has already been killed.
Sheffield also remembers that one of the assistant directors suggested that he learn the lines from Hiawatha during his school time. The idea was immediately rejected. It was felt that his professional work should not trespass on his school time.
Both Johnny Sheffield and Brenda Joyce have commented on the beautiful Palmyria sets, three of them side by side on a huge sound stage. In one, the huge gong, painted in antique gold with a silver outline, is suspended from the gaping jaw of a giant coiled serpent.
And the wardrobe designers took great care in creating the costumes and ornaments. Notice the queen’s headband with the tree symbol, whereas those of the warrior maidens bear the symbol of the serpent. Undoubtedly, the tree represents the wisdom of the queen, and the serpent the guardian of the hidden valley. In fact, the Hollywood Reporter noted that Lesser, enthused at viewing a rough cut of the film, decided to pump another $100 000 into the film. $500 000 had already been spent.
Robert E. Lee "Bob" Brown was hired to create the original design of the sun, a tree, a snake that appeared on the various ornaments used in the film. Being a premiere leather craftsman, his primary job was the creation of the leather belts and headgear for the Amazons. Earl Moser approached Bob Brown to create the leather belts that would simulate metal from antiquity. He came to his shop at 5910 Hollywood Blvd., near Bronson Ave. He informed Brown that he wanted the belts and headbands to appear to be metallic and from the Bronze Age.
To start with, Brown made a line drawing in mirror-image format and carved it as a template, then gave it a coat of shellac to harden it. He next had a student rough out the leather and stamp it with the template, but Brown did the actual carving for all the belts. Then he “chased it down” or bevelled it using his trusty converted screwdriver to give the design depth. Then the belt was “aged” using a gooey product called rottenstone. It fills the crevices. When it wipes off, the dark material in the bevelling gives it the aged look. Rottenstone also confers a shine to the item. Then came the actual carving.
Bob created the original design in one day. The entire collection of belts, headbands and bracelets took about a month to complete. And despite the fact that only one of the girls had to be measured, Bob decided to measure each one. “I was called on to go to Culver City to measure girls for belts of leather to look like bronze. I went there on stage where they had 75 girls just like a chorus line. I measured them all and got their names. Little did they know that one measurement would fit them all [since they were to be laced in the back]. It was a tough job but someone had to do it. They were all good -looking babes around 6 ft. tall. [Brown is 6' 4".] They would carry bows and arrows in the picture. I made them arm bands and head bands. Some of the names of the girls were Dorothy, Terry, Diana, Marian, Laura, Roberta, Vangy, Marylin, Lorraine, Helen, and Charlene.”
fig. 1 Bob Brown's template is the lower image.
See how it is mirrored so that when applied to a piece of leather to
create the design, it shows up as seen in Brenda Joyce's belt above
it. This is the belt she used when the studio took publicity shots
for magazines and other advertising for the film.
fig. 2 A recently created belt by Bob Brown (front view). You can see that the master at 90 years of age has retained all his skill.
fig. 3 A side view of the belt seen in fig. 2
fig. 4 The two styles of headbands created for the Amazons. The two-headed serpent was worn in a circular shape making it look like a tiara. The one below it is the more recognizable headband that the majority of the women wore.
The above is the original line-drawing that Bob Brown did for the Queen's headband.
When I asked Sheffield about the bracelet that was worn first by Athena, then by the queen, he thought the lost wax process might have been used, in which the molten metal displaces the wax, producing the finished product.
The matte paintings showing the mountains, and the Amazon logo over which the credits were photographed, may have been done by Fitch Fulton and Mario Larrinaga. Mario is famous for the many glass mattes in King Kong (33). Indeed, the tops of the foliage in some of the Tarzan tree-house mattes and mountainous rock surfaces are stylistically similar to ...Kong. Unfortunately, once the film was in the theatre, Mario would scrape the paint off the glass so that it could be reused in subsequent productions. Thus it is unlikely that these gorgeous matte paintings are around today.
I should add that Mario’s family is not aware that he did any work on any of the Tarzan films.
And as a final note, we must recognize the selection of Kurt Neumann as director and Associate Producer on this film. After the last film, William Thiele had to be replaced, and since Neumann had performed well as Associate Producer on Tarzan’s Desert Mystery, he was given a chance to direct the follow-up film. Lesser’s satisfaction with his efforts can be judged by the fact that Neumann continued as director for the next two films, Tarzan and the Leopard Woman and Tarzan and the Huntress.
Sheffield has also commented on his preference of Neumann over Thiele. For one thing, the former seemed to understand better how to work with the animal actors.
For instance, in the scene in which MacLane is sitting on the log next to the chimp, he had to be more careful about making any sudden movements, than about shouting at the animal.
Of course, Neumann clowned around with the chimp too. He would poke his wooden leg at him, inviting him to take a bite.
When the script was sent to the Hays Office for its approval, they recommended it without elimination with the following admonitions.
It is very important at all times that you exercise the greatest caution with reference to the costuming of the women in the picture, including Jane and the numerous amazons, so that there will be no unacceptable exposure of their person at any time.”
Lesser was told to delete the phrase "hell-hole." However, as history shows, it was not.
“When together, Tarzan and Jane should not be lying both side by side. One should always be in a sitting position.”
“There should be no showing of the knife in Athena's back.” However, in the longshots of Athena about to strike the gong, one can see the knife.
Comments by theatre owners of the day...
“I got so tired of playing westerns on weekends that I put this [Tarzan and the Amazons] in as a single feature and did capacity business both nights.” Eminence, Kentucky Mar 46
“Picture played on a double bill with a repeat run on a Hopalong Cassidy picture. Both pictures together were box office tonic.”
“This outgrossed everything I have played in the
past 8 months. It is just another Tarzan picture that all my trade go
nuts about. Wish I could play one every month.” Milan, Indiana
Hollywood Film Daily
Sol has turned out another entertaining pic based on the characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, with sufficient variety to whet the satisfaction of young and old alike. Cheta, the chimpanzee, still supplies the comedy in his ingratiating manner, and Johnny Sheffield handles the role of Boy in credible style. Complemented with such seasoned performers as Madame Maria Ouspenskaya and Henry Stephenson, director Kurt Neumann has injected enough jungle business into the somewhat mild, however, fantastic, screenplay to add the required pace and action.
In this one, Boy led to believe that he is aiding the cause of civilization, disregards Tarzan's refusal to help a group of scientists in their search for the Palmyrians, a tribe of women warriors, and leads them to the Amazons' secret valley. On arrival, the men discover a fabulous gold supply which they attempt to steal.
Boy is about to be sacrificed to a Sun god for his misdeed when Tarzan saves him by retrieving the stolen ornaments of the god.
Motion Picture Daily
Packed with action and thrills, "Tarzan and the Amazons" is one of the best of the Tarzan series, not only in its original story content, but because of an excellent supporting cast, able direction and photography, all of which make the film good box office.
Tarzan and his son are eagerly awaiting the jungle lord's wife, Jane, from England. As the apeman heads downstream to meet his wife, he pauses to rescue an Amazon from the clutches of a black panther, returning the girl to her homeland beyond the mountains. Tarzan's wife arrives accompanied by a group of scientists who desire to obtain information concerning the Amazons, which is refused by Tarzan. The apeman's son, however, leads the party to the lost city of the Amazons where the party repays good treatment with rifle fire and looting. The warlike women, although their losses are heavy, kill all but two of the visitors and capture Tarzan's son, who is doomed to die. Tarzan arrives in the nick o' time, for the rescue, after killing the two scientists who had escaped, and returning the stolen loot.
The jungle scenes with lions, leopards, monkeys and elephants, are highly realistic, and the excellent photography of the lost city of the Amazons makes an incredibly beautiful picture. Johnny Weissmuller in this one has much more ease as Tarzan, making him a powerful and thoroughly sympathetic character, while Johnny Sheffield, as Tarzan's son, is also entirely credible. Brenda Joyce is Jane, wife of Tarzan, and she plays her part with simplicity and grace.
Henry Stephenson, as the leader of the scientists, is excellent in support, and so is Maria Ouspenskaya as the Amazon Queen. Barton MacLane makes a strong an evil villain. Others of the fine supporting cast are: Don Douglas, J. M. Kerrigan, Shirley O'Hara and Steven Geray.
Sol Lesser, who recently signed a 20-year producing deal for the Tarzan characters, was in charge of production and Kurt Neumann produced at a thrill-a-minute clip. The screenplay, by Hans Jacoby and Marjorie L. Pfaelzer, from the characters by Edgar Rice Burroughs, is tense and tight, and Archie Stout has performed a magnificent job of photography. - Ed Smith.
Patterned along the fanciful lines which have built and held a generous public, "Tarzan and the Amazons," latest to exploit the adventures of Africa's No. 1 jungle lord, adheres to the pace set by predecessors in series and emerges a capital escapist film. Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan is in there pitching with his usual aplomb, Brenda Joyce is a charming Jane and Johnny Sheffield again is Boy.
Screenplay by Hans Jacoby and Marjorie L. Pfaelzer, after measuring opening plunges Tarzan into another of his inner-Africa excursions. This time he is faced with protecting a tribe of Amazons who for centuries have dwelt in a hidden city of fabulous wealth. When a party of archeologists try to prevail upon him to lead them to this undiscovered city of antiquity, Tarzan refuses, whereupon Boy, who knows the way, offers to guide them. All this builds up to a fast-moving climax which is entirely satisfactory for this type of entertainment.
Sol Lesser has tossed plenty of production values in picture, on which Kurt Neumann acted as associate producer and director. Neumann, after slow start, kept his action moving and made characters as believable as series allows. Archie Stout's photography was up to standard, and Walter Koessler provided proper atmospheric settings.
Star trio acquitted themselves with their usual flair for character roles and had benefit of a new Cheta, the chimpanzee, who was responsible for a number of laughs. Henry Stephenson headed supporting cast, standout in his role, and Barton MacLane did neat job as heavy. Balance of cast were up to par.
"Tarzan pictures invariably offer technical rather than acting achievements and in this case the producer lined up an unusually gifted staff. Kurt Neumann, in the dual assignment of associate producer and director, performs a commendable job in both departments.
Archie Stout's photography captures the rich, lush jungle scenery beautifully, and the art direction by Walter Koessler is praiseworthy. The musical score is outstanding and no fault may be found with the deft, clear editing."