Tarzan of the Apes (1918) – Scott Sidney

DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies moves on to Monstrous Apes now, so I expect to see variations on Tarzan and Kong a lot over the pages of this chapter, and I will be quite delighted to see variations of the classic stories I already know.

This version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ tale is new to me, I hadn’t seen it before, so I was quite delighted to settle in for a silent version of the story. Running 73 minutes the film brings all the known elements of the classic narrative to the screen.

In fact, it doesn’t bring anything really new to the story, and keeps it pretty much inline with the basic story that everyone knows. The Greystokes set off for Africa, become marooned on the coast, give birth, die, and young baby Tarzan is brought up by apes.

This, for me, was the most interesting segment of the film, as we follow young Tarzan (Gordon Griffith) discovering he’s not an ape, parts of his heritage, the need for clothes, and how to use tools and weapons.


This is also the sequence that heavily features the monstrous apes as indicated by the chapter I’m on of Monsters in the Movies. The ape costumes, from what can be seen of them in the film, look pretty solid, and fairly convincing for the time. There’s a gorilla that attacks the apes at one point, and that costume is just bizarre, it’s like whoever had designed the head had never seen a gorilla before.

The rest of the story is fairly run of the mill, check the box moments; a fight with a lion, Tarzan (Elmo Lincoln) meeting Jane (Enid Markey) and an expedition coming from England to search for the missing Greystokes.

There is conflict, romance (after a fashion), some funnier moments with Tarzan the younger, and some cringe-worthy moments, not to mention the horrible look that was implemented for Tarzan, it’s just unappealing all around.

Better, and some interesting takes on the character have been done since this incarnation of Tarzan, but this one, being the first, helped pave the way for the iconic character to swing onto the screen. And the depictions of the apes, whether men in costume, or animals would always cause problems in creating a reality for the characters and the world.

But I don’t think anything can look as bad as the ‘gorilla’ in this version of the story.

Still, it’s a lot of fun to see how creature design, makeup and costumes have developed over the years. So take a look at this take on Tarzan, or pick up a copy of DK Book’s Monsters in the Movies and find something monstrous to watch tonight.



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