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Insomniac Movie Theater: Tarzan, The Ape Man

by Trevan McGee on June 3, 2010

in Columns,Insomniac Movie Theater

64 million people a year suffer from insomnia and every so often, I am one of them. But rather than use the extra time I’ve been given during a given insomniac episode to be productive, balance my checkbook, study for the LSAT or exercise, I instead fool myself into thinking the time isn’t my own and can therefore guiltlessly waste it.

Netflix instant queue is the perfect response to this mentality as it gives me access to countless B and C movies all of which I willingly watch while everyone else is fast asleep. Enter Insomnia Movie Theater, where I subject myself to some of the worst, campiest and outright terrible movies the world has to offer … and the occasional cult classic.

This week’s installment of Insomniac Movie Theater comes from the Hollywood powerhouse of John and Bo Derek. One was a beautiful young actress that rose to prominence playing the definition of blonde beauty in “10,” at the tender age of 23. The other one fucked her.

To the trailer’s credit, it does an adequate job of masking just how horrible “Tarzan, The Ape Man” truly is. I know what you’re thinking, “That trailer looked awful. What’s he talking about?” Well, it gets worse. Much, much worse.

“Tarzan, The Ape Man” exists for two perky, perfect reasons: Bo Derek’s breasts. And everyone involved knows it.

Her naked silhouette climbs out of the water during the first five minutes and it isn’t long after that she erotically bathes in an oasis, taking care to get down on her knees in the shallow water and give herself a good once over. You know, like most people would in that situation.

The movie that surrounds her lady business exists solely to move us and Bo Derek from one nude scene to the other until the film’s credits roll, unsurprisingly, to a topless Bo Derek wrestling with Tarzan and an orangutan.

Sidenote: I should point out that despite the many references to naked Bo Derek throughout the post, don’t expect any images or video of Ms. Derek aside from the trailer and the movie poster. If you want to see more of her head to the super-secret, comprehensive image and video database found here. You won’t be disappointed.

Screenwriter Tom Rowe tried to stitch together a story around the various shots of Bo’s nude body, but he must have been just as distracted by visualizing her naked as the audience was when they saw “Tarzan, The Ape Man”: The story and dialogue are abysmal.

Derek’s Jane Parker travels to Africa to meet her estranged father, played with scene-chewing avail by the late Richard Harris (the original Dumbledore). Mr. Parker is going on adventure to find an oasis on the other side of a large cliff face.

Naturally, the plucky Jane tags along and is soon separated from the rest of the Super Adventure Club, leading to her first nude scene and subsequently, her first encounter with Tarzan, played by Miles O’Keeffe. “Tarzan, The Ape Man” is supposed to be told from Jane’s perspective and to Rowe’s credit, the first 45 minutes are Tarzan-free as we see Jane meet her dad and his explorer friend Harry Holt (played by John Phillip Law) and generally act befuddled by everything.

But Rowe’s decision also means that nothing, and I mean nothing, happens. Once Tarzan meets you know who, here’s the plot in list form to maximize the ridiculousness:

  • Awkward voiceover intro
  • Nude Jane (Bo Derek) silhouette
  • Boring rock climbing segment
  • Nude Jane on the beach
  • Jane meets Tarzan
  • Tarzan and Jane bathe in a pool
  • Jane and father are captured by tribesman
  • Jane stripped naked and washed on all fours
  • Jane’s nude body is covered in white paint by female villagers in preparation for impending rape at the hands of the evil tribal leader we’ve never seen before
  • Tarzan dispatches tribal leader in most homoerotic way possible
  • Jane and Tarzan hose off in another river
  • Jane and Tarzan wrestle with an orangutan during the credits

There, much better.

It’s kind of implied by everything already mentioned, but John Derek is a horrible director. He doesn’t even bother to reign in Richard Harris and doesn’t even attempt to coax expression out of O’Keeffe, whose Tarzan is speechless throughout the movie.

And like another movie profiled in Insomniac Movie Theater, “Tarzan” is full of unnecessary slow motion. John Derek loves it–and not just for capturing the erotic detail of his wife being scrubbed down by nude African girls while on her hands and knees, but during fight scenes like this one:

It’s important to understand that the video or audio wasn’t slowed down for comedic effect: THAT’S HOW IT RAN IN THEATERS. Now take that and apply it throughout the movie anytime anything remotely physical happens and you have a pretty good idea for how John Derek approaches action. He’s like a reverse Sam Peckinpah. Instead of slowing the violence down so that we can be exposed to the full savagery of the acts and the brutal men who do them, Derek robs them of any impact at all, leaving campiness that can only be fully appreciated by an exhausted 20-something unable to sleep at 2 a.m.

Also, did you catch Tarzan’s ass at 1:24? That’s what slo-mo gets you.

It’s understood that the dialogue is terrible, but I am compelled to share a few choice lines from “Tarzan, The Ape Man” before wrapping this up.

“You know you’re more beautiful than any girl I know. A lot more,” said by Jane to Tarzan shortly after admitting to him that she’s a virgin and shortly before he grabs her breast while the music swells.

“They’re washing me like a horse!” Also Jane, this time while being washed like a horse by some African tribeswomen.

“If he is to touch you, he is not actually touching you. You are not of the flesh, you are of the spirit. That is why you must leave your body right now!” James Parker giving his daughter last-minute metaphysical advice before her impending rape at the hands of a tribal leader. Thanks Dad!

The tagline for “Tarzan, The Ape Man” is, “The most beautiful woman of our time in the most erotic adventure of all time.” If there were truth in advertising, it would have read, “Hey teens without access to Playboy, come see Bo Derek completely naked for what amounts to be 10 minutes.” Mr. Skin was made for movies like this.

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