Running Time: 78 minutes
Copyright Date: January 12, 1943; Copyright renewed: December 1970
Release Date: February 19, 1943
First showing in Canada: June 3, 1943
Le Triomphe de Tarzan (Fr),Tarzan triomphe des Nazis (Belg)
Tarzan und die Nazis (Gr)
Il trionfo di Tarzan (It)
O Triunfo de Tarzan [Pg]
El Triunfo de Tarzán (Sp)
Tarzan's idyllic jungle paradise is threatened when Nazi paratroopers invade the hidden city of Palandrya in search of new sources of strategic raw materials. Unwittingly, Tarzan rescues their radio operator, Schmidt, when the latter becomes separated from his squadron.
Zandra, the beautiful granddaughter of Palandrya’s patriarch, escapes to seek Tarzan's aid. The jungle lord is indebted to her for having saved his son’s life. But the debt is quickly repaid when Tarzan rescues her from her pursuers.
On the way back to the tree house, Tarzan hears shots, and fearing for Boy's safety, races ahead. But the shots are being fired at Cheta. Schmidt is attempting to retrieve from her an essential radio coil. All seems lost, but then Boy’s pet elephant “Buli” appears and pushes Schmidt over a cliff.
For the next several days, Zandra makes numerous appeals to Tarzan to help her people, but Tarzan refuses to become involved. Frustrated, the princess decides to return home alone. But Tarzan heads her off and persuades her to return to the tree house until the invaders leave.
Meanwhile, the Germans have taken the tree-house and captured Boy, and when they cannot wrest from him the location of the radio coil, they decide to take him back to Palandrya. Just as they are about to leave, Tarzan appears. They fire at him, and thinking him dead, they head back to the hidden city.
Zandra, with Cheta’s help, finds Tarzan and somehow gets him back to the tree-house. When he regains consciousness, Zandra tells him what has happened to his son. Then he utters those now famous words: “Now, Tarzan make war!”
Using his own brand of commando tactics, Tarzan reaches Boy, but is captured along with Zandra. All are condemned to face a firing squad the following morning. But Cheta frees Tarzan, who in turn frees the Palandryans, and together they rise up against the invaders. In a rousing finish, the Palandryans destroy the paratroopers, and Tarzan pursues the Nazi colonel into the jungle where a trap and a lion finish him off.
In the jungle the strong always win!
Tarzan Triumphs was an extremely popular film, reportedly Sol Lesser's most lucrative jungle epic, adding to ERB's coffers to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars, a hefty royalty. Its popularity is not at all surprising despite Bosley Crowther's arrogant review.
“It may please a lot of people to see Tarzan banging Nazis right and left. But the jest is decidedly hollow. Cheta the chimp still has the best brain in the film. Cheta might also have been a better film critic.
While it is obvious that the film’s depiction of the Germans was caricatural, one must bear in mind the climate of the times. It was not intended to be a faithful portrayal. The Nazi movement was felt to be vicious, completely devoid of humanity; consequently, painting them stereotypically seemed to be completely appropriate.
Aside from the preceding observation, I saw nothing in the film to justify Crowther’s comment about “jests being decidedly hollow.” On the contrary, the film is a compact allegory of a socio-political reality. Nor was there anything subliminal about it. No one expected audiences to rush out and join the army to fight Germans because of this film. It simply expressed a common sentiment, and it made them feel good to see righteousness triumph over evil so conclusively, with a few insults tossed in for good measure.
The world situation made films such as this one especially welcome. The Germans were already in Africa, and the U.S. had officially declared war on Germany less than a year prior to the start of production. The State Department had purportedly been in touch with Lesser, with the expected results. The success of this film is directly responsible for the hurried follow-up film, Tarzan's Desert Mystery, although the latter did not fare so well at the box office.
When Maureen O’Sullivan declined to accompany Lesser and company to RKO, the producer of sixteen Tarzan films (seventeen, if one counts the TV film, Tarzan and the Trappers) decided to omit Jane from the initial entries. However, he did not attempt to kill off the character. MGM had already learned in Tarzan Finds a Son! (39) that the public would not tolerate such a decision. Instead the lady’s absence was explained through letters to her family indicating that she was variously involved in nursing an ailing mother or wounded soldiers. This, at least, provided Lesser with breathing space in which to locate a replacement for O’Sullivan, one such possibility being Ann Corio, a well-known stripper, who had made some succesful jungle-style "B" films for Monogram. According to Bill Feret in his book Lure of the Tropix, RKO made a bid to secure Miss Corio's contract from Monogram, but was refused. If this is true, then it opens up interesting speculation that had this been successful, the RKO Tarzan films might have had a different history.
In this first film, therefore, he introduced a jungle princess as the femme interest in the lovely persona of Frances Gifford, an excellent choice for the role, especially as she had so competently portrayed Nyoka in Republic’s first rate jungle serial Jungle Girl (41). She was very believable as the courageous, but victimized Zandra, and the publicity material played this aspect of the film to great advantage. The posters usually showed her bound with captions like “...captive of men who knew no law or mercy,” and “Pagan princess trapped by brutal beast-men!”
She was selected over thirty other actresses, including June Duprez, of The Thief of Bagdad fame.
Gifford, a Paramount contract player, was at first reluctant to accept the role, fearing being typecast, but her studio insisted, despite the fact that it had decided not to let Republic use her for their second Nyoka serial only a few weeks earlier. To smooth rustled feathers, Sol Lesser presented the lady with an orchid on her first day of shooting, and the waters were calmed.
Nor did she socialize with the rest of the cast off the set. However, between takes, she did pass the time playing checkers with either of the male leads, and she remembered the time spent on this film as very agreeable.
Among the lore that the RKO’s publicity department propagated include the story that when Gifford slapped Ridges, she failed to hold back, and the actor fell, bruising his elbow and breaking his toe; this was flatly denied by Gifford. The pressbook also stated that she was taught dance numbers for the film. If she was, they obviously never materialized on screen. But there were discussions about the ‘zandrape,’ her usual attire in the film.
Following her appearance in ...Triumphs, Gifford left Paramount for Metro.
Gifford was an established actress when a serious automobile accident brought her career to a sudden halt, an accident which left her traumatized for many years. That same year, her parents and an uncle all died. In 1958 she was admitted to the Camarillo, California State Hospital, and remained there for a number of years. In poor health for many years, Miss Gifford did volunteer work for a local library and guarded her privacy. She never understood the adulation of the public, something she had in common with Johnny Sheffield.
She died from emphysema in January 1994.
Stanley Ridges, the minacious British character actor, played the unfeeling, brutish, and ambitious Colonel von Reichart. Lusting after the helpless princess, he promises her that they may rule together in the new order. Ridges passed away in 1951. Originally, Martin Kosleck had been slated for the role of number one bad guy, but Ridges was eventually chosen.
One of the stock characters played by Sig Ruman(n), the German actor (1884 - 1967), was that of a German soldier, often played for laughs as in A Night in Casablanca (48). Even in ...Triumphs, his characterization is wholly atypical of the Nazi stereotype: he gossips, gives his superior advice, acts as a foil for both Von Reichart and for Tarzan, all of which removes him from the automaton-like personality so often ascribed to Nazi underlings. Why he plays the role in this manner is interesting material for speculation, but suffice it to say that the producer and director were probably attempting to denigrate the enemy for the satisfaction of the American public, and allow the audience a needed respite from the dramatic tension.
The Dutch actor Philip Van Zandt played Captain Bausch to perfection. Here was a man who, as a civilian, had contracted jungle fever while on safari in Africa. Found by the Palandryans, who nursed him back to health, he demonstrates his gratitude by informing the Nazi high command of the natural wealth to be found in this peaceful land. Like Ruman, Van Zandt was often cast as a German, but even when he was not, his character was usually villainous. He was a familiar nemesis for the Three Stooges. He also appeared with the Bowery Boys. In the 50s, Van Zandt tried to start an acting school with his name. Despondent over his flagging career and having squandered most of his money through compulsive gambling, he ended his life with sleeping pills on Feb. 16, 1958. During his career he appeared in more than 200 films.
Other roles are that of Oman, patriarch of Palandrya, ably rendered by Pedro de Cordoba; Lt. Scheldon Schmidt played by Rex Williams; and Achmet, Zandra’s luckless brother, in the persona of Stanley Brown, on loan from Columbia. Otto Reichow and Sven Hugo-Borg are menacing as two Nazi privates, menacing that is, until they are dragged under by dreaded “cannibal fish.”
William Thiele (1890-1975) was signed as director. Although he was in Hollywood from the thirties, he did little work. Most Tarzan aficionados agree that his directorial effort in ...Triumphs was top notch, but he was not quite so successful in the subsequent film, Tarzan’s Desert Mystery. which underwent two changes before it earned its final title.
Tarzan Triumphs was an original story penned by Carroll Young (1908-1992), upon which he and Roy Chanslor (1889-1964) wrote the screenplay, to which Hal Lang contributed. Young had been Lesser's story editor for the preceding six years, and his specialty would seem to have been jungle stories. In addition to ...Triumphs, he was responsible for Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (43), Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (46), Tarzan and the Mermaids (48), Jungle Jim (48), Mark of the Gorilla (50), Captive Girl (50), Pygmy Island (50), Fury of the Congo (51), Killer Ape (53) and Cannibal Attack (54), all Weissmuller vehicles. He also wrote the only non-Ford Beebe Bomba film Bomba and the Hidden City (50).
This was the first Tarzan film Sol Lesser made with Weissmuller. According to the biography Water, World and Weissmuller, Lesser had met the Olympic swimming champion briefly while trying to talk Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. into portraying Tarzan. Fairbanks purportedly had suggested Weissmuller for the part, but Lesser had felt that a name actor was required. Perhaps this was another invented “fact.”
Tarzan Triumphs is considered by some aficionados to be superior to the later MGM entries, which is reasonable as, following the death of Irving Thalberg, MGM was continually whittling the budget and reusing footage from previous Tarzan films.
The first of the RKO vehicles is contemporary
in setting. The Nazi menace furnished the main thematic ingredient.
Tarzan represents the US isolationist policy and Palandrya the
victimized Poland. In fact, one source suggests that the name
Palandrya is actually
Poland rya < Poland.
The jungle lord’s philosophy is succinctly presented in the following sequence.
Schmidt: Are you completely happy living
Tarzan: Tarzan happy when Jane come home. Tarzan like jungle. Jungle people only fight to live; civilized people live to fight.
Schmidt: The perfect isolationist!
Tarzan: Iso... iso... What that?
Schmidt: Oh,... isolationists are people who are very self-sufficient. They think they don’t need the rest of the world.
Even the incident in which Tarzan chides Cheta for stealing fruit from smaller monkeys helps to reinforce his basic ethics.
And Boy has learned principles from his surrogate father (and presumably from Jane). When Tarzan comes to rescue him and Zandra from the cliff above Palandrya, Boy remembers etiquette.
Boy: You are a lady. Therefore you must go first.
Zandra: And you are a little gentleman. Go ahead.
And when Tarzan evinces frustration when Jane announces in her letter that she must stay in England until her mother is entirely recovered from an illness, Boy reminds him:
Boy: It's her duty, Tarzan.
These principles are sorely missing in today's films.
When Zandra comes pleading for help, Tarzan is reluctant to interfere, thinking that the Germans will eventually leave.
Tarzan: Stay here till Nazis go away.
Zandra: They will never go away.
Later the princess tries to insist on her point.
Tarzan: Others leave Boy and Tarzan alone,
Tarzan leave them alone.
Zandra: But they won’t, and as long as they are here, Boy will never be safe.
Boy is on Zandra's side. He must symbolize at least some of the American youth that saw war as a romantic adventure. He realizes neither the danger nor the horror of war. While reading Jane’s letter to Tarzan, Boy dwells on the Nazi issue.
Boy (reading) : “What’s more, the
Germans, Nazis they call them now, are on the prowl, more ruthless
than the most savage beasts of
jungle.” I bet you could kill those Nazis,
Tarzan, just like
you killed Bolgat, the gorilla.
Tarzan: No. Tarzan kill Bolgat to save Jane and Boy. Why Tarzan kill Nazis? No more war talk.
During Zandra's pleas for help, Boy tries to devise ways to induce his father to help her. When this fails, the princess wends her way back to Palandrya. Boy follows her and volunteers his services.
Boy: You know! If Tarzan is so stubborn about it, I’ll help you... I have my knife and I’m a good shot with my sling... I can fight the Nazis.
The film is obviously contemptuous of the Nazi plague. This is shown in a number of sequences. For instance, after thinking his men have killed Tarzan, Von Reichart races to the spot where he believes the apeman fell. The sergeant assures him that he could not have fallen there, because the monkeys playing nearby would have been frightened.
Sergeant: No, he must have fallen into the
ravine, and that is the end of him.
Von Reichart: You should have been in the Gestapo, sergeant.
Sergeant: Oh, thank you, sir.
Von Reichart: Yes, you’re always so sure.
And at the film's conclusion, Cheta, using the shortwave radio, reaches Berlin. The operator, thinking he has contacted Von Reichart’s expedition, calls to General Hoffman. The general talks to Cheta, and after a few seconds concludes:
General: Idiot! This is not Von Reichart; this is der Führer.
This is followed by a close-up of Cheta. The jibe needs no further explanation.
And the contempt goes on. When the sergeant attempts to shoot at Zandra and Tarzan, and misses, he turns to the two privates accompanying him and who have been laughing behind his back, and says: “Swine, you breathed down my neck and spoiled my aim.”
In the original script, the storming of the great house where Tarzan, Zandra and Boy are imprisoned is preceded by a scene in which Oman, the leader is praying in the temple with two young priests. He says:
“O Master of the Sun, You know that I have lived my life without violence — that none of my people has ever raised his hand against any living thing. Bear with me now, God of my fathers — for what I must do — I must. (To the priests) Carry the word to the others. When the gong shall ring in the square, the men of Palandrya will attack the Great House — and liberate Zandra and her friends.”
Later he knifes a German sentry and rings the gong. Machine gun fire kills him. This is an interesting twist in that in the final version, we do not see him again after his appearance in the temple, praying.
Also in the original script, Boy and Zandra leave Palandrya before the revolt begins. To initiate the battle, Tarzan utters his cry. And when following Von Reichart in the jungle, Tarzan again utters his cry to attract the Colonel's attention.
The concluding scene takes place at Tarzan’s home
Zandra: You have released my people from bondage
Tarzan. I will never forget.
Tarzan: Tarzan not forget Zandra - Zandra teach lesson.
Zandra: Good-bye, Tarzan - I must go back to Palandrya - to my people - I am their leader now.
Tarzan: Jane teach Tarzan say au revoir, not good-bye - Tarzan bring Boy visit.
Zandra: Au revoir - but not good-bye.
And so ends the original script notions. But the tone is too somber. The Tarzan films usually ended on a happy, or comical note. The Hitler joke was the perfect ending in wartime America.
In the final battle, Cheta kills Bausch with a sub-machine gun, and Boy shoots a Nazi private who has Tarzan in his rifle sights. This particular scene might be taken by some to be gratuitous. I have never been able to make up my mind about it. I do remember that a Toronto TV station showing this film omitted the scene.
In yet another scene, Von Reichart and Bausch witness a fight between a leopard and a wild-boar. After the boar drives the leopard away, Von Reichart remarks: “The strong always win,” but he has surely missed the point. The boar was the intended victim, yet he was quite able to fend off his attacker. Interestingly enough, in the original script the fight was to be between a python and a panther. The final choice was obviously better.
The truth of the observation is clearly brought home when Tarzan lures the Nazi colonel into a lion pit, and says: “In jungle, strong always win.” (Incidentally, the original publicity material suggests that the original plan was to have a pit of pythons.)
The question of Tarzan's sense of humour and laughter have always been a bone of contention with the Burroughs’ tribe, who denounce such liberties as heresy. Not having been brought up on the Tarzan novels, I have never been upset by this transgression. There is one excellent example in this film. It occurs when Tarzan has had to give up his room to an exhausted Zandra, and moves in with Boy, who complains:
Boy: But that’s my bed!
Tarzan: Boy’s bed, Cheta’s bed, Tarzan’s bed... Good thing elephant sleep in corral.
Motion Picture Herald
Sol Lesser's first Tarzan picture for RKO Radio release under the present arrangement achieves without violence to the traditions of the series the overwhelming of a Nazi parachute troop by the jungle man, played again by Johnny Weissmuller, virtually single-handed. By a deftness of script writing accomplished by Roy Chanslor and Carroll Young, the Nazis are wafted down upon a peaceful community neighboring on Tarzan's fastness and their depredations at length arouse the peace-loving hero's ire. Quite a measure of suspense accrues during the development.
The chimpanzee and elephant seen in previous Tarzan films figure again in the proceedings, although the beasts of the jungle are not summoned to participate in the killing on this occasion, the hero attending to that with a knife which he wields and hurls with equal dexterity.
Johnny Sheffield is seen as Tarzan's son, Frances Gifford as the girl in the film, not romantically related to the hero, and a cast of dependables attend to the other roles.
William Thiele's direction maintains plausibility, although taking advantage of the liberties in that department supplied by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the designing of the original Tarzan mythology, and the production measures up to expectations.
The Toronto Star
It was bound to happen sooner or later, of course. You might have known that eventually the Nazis would invade Tarzan's jungle and give it the benefit of protection by the Reich. But who'd have thought that Tarzan would turn out to be an isolationist and refuse to take action against the swastika until the heiling boys tried to take over his tree?
That's the idea behind the plot that Sol Lesser has bestowed upon the ape man for the first of at least two pictures he's doing for R.K.O. Tarzan, who used to work out in the Metro jungle, has been taken over by another studio and, in the transition, has lost one wife, and gained another female companion. Jane is in London for a spell, visiting her mother and writing letters back to the jungle, discussing the war. That is the first her husband has heard of Nazis... but he meets them face to face when a beautiful princess appeals to him for help in driving them out of her grandfather's village.
The perpetually-youthful Tarzan (he's been swinging in and out of that tree for the past forty years) is still being played by Johnny Weissmuller, and Johnny Sheffield is carrying on as his son, Boy. Frances Gifford plays Zandra, giving the feminine touch in place of Maureen O'Sullivan, who theretofore has been Jane. The most interesting performer of all is perhaps Cheta, the ape, who seems to be forever laughing at or with her human companions.
Audience note: The young man on our left (aged about 12) spent most of the film's running time perched on the edge of his seat in a fever of excitement. We thought, on one or two occasions, that he might explode.
First of the Sol Lesser "Tarzan" pictures with Johnny Weissmuller again in the title role proves beneficial to the series Metro initiated so successfully. Picture does not stack up against first two or three Metro produced, but tops later films in series. Tarzan Triumphs will please grown-ups as well as juves, provides bangup entertainment for action fans and is graphic illustration of what careful budget production-helming can do with a budgeted picture...
More action than usual distinguishes latter portion of film, Tarzan's declaring war on Nazis who have kidnapped his son resulting in movement of serial proportions. Screenplay by Roy Chanslor and Carroll Young gives good motivation to plot, and William Thiele makes the most of his direction. Photography is well handled by Harry Wild, Hans Peter's art direction is interesting and music by Paul Sawtell adds to the general overall interest.
The original two-page trade ad from 1943