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TARZAN’S SECRET TREASURE (director: Richard Thorpe; screenwriters: from the characters by Edgar Rice Burroughs/ Miles Connolly/Paul Gangelin; cinematographer: Clyde D. Vinna; editor: Gene Ruggiero; music: David Snell; cast: Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan), Maureen O’Sullivan (Jane Parker), John Sheffield (Boy), Reginald Owen (Professor Elliott), Barry Fitzgerald (O’Doul), Tom Conway (Medford), Philip Dorn (Vandermeer), Cordell Hickman (Tumbo); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: B.P. Fineman; MGM; 1941)
“Competently made but predictable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This was the fifth film in MGM’s Tarzan series starring Johnny Weissmuller. It’s solidly directed by Richard Thorpe (“Malaya”/”Ivanhoe”/”Vengeance Valley”), who keeps it competently made but predictable. It’s well written as pulp by Miles Connolly and Paul Gangelin.It was released in 1941, just a few weeks after Pearl Harbor.

Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) and their adopted son Boy live a simple life in the middle of the jungle. While the carefree Boy swims in the lake near their escarpment home, he finds on the lakebed several gold nuggets. Jane tells the lad that in civilization gold is valuable because it buys things. The kid wants to use the gold to buy an airplane and plans to go to civilization to make this trade.

Boy sneaks out of the family tree house at night and leaves a note that reads, “Gone to see civilzashun – back tomorrow.” Crossing the river, Boy saves a native boy named Tumbo (Cordell Hickman) from a charging rhino and the two bond as friends.

At Tumbo’s village there’s a plague that takes many lives, including Tumbo’s mother. This leaves Tumbo as an orphan, who is told by Boy he always has a place with Tarzan. The superstitious witch doctor blames Boy for the plague and attempts to burn him at the stake as a sacrifice to the gods. But Boy is rescued by a scientific expedition, riding in a truck through the jungle armed with guns. When Tarzan arrives, the expedition head scientist, Professor Elliott (Reginald Owen), says they are here to find the lost Van-usi tribe and introduces the rest of his team: the friendly Irish photographer Dennis O’Doul (Barry Fitzgerald), associate professor Medford (Tom Conway), and their guide, Vandermeer (Philip Dorn). When Boy tells Medford and Vandermeer about the gold in the lake and in the mountains where he lives, the two vile men conspire to get that gold even if it means doing criminal deeds such as letting their scientist head die of the plague without helping him, attempting to murder Tarzan and kidnapping Jane and Boy. It’s up to Tarzan to handle these troublesome greedy sleazes, as he uses his jungle smarts to see to it that these baddies can’t escape from the jungle with the gold.

The family pet chimp, Cheetah, is around for comic relief (even gets drunk); but he has competition in this pic from the stereotyped Irishman character played broadly for comedy by Fitzgerald, who also gets drunk.

The popular series was given first-class treatment by MGM, releasing a new film every two or three years. But both O’Sullivan and MGM were growing tired of this series, and in 1942 RKO took over and replaced the unhappy O’Sullivan with another actress while retaining Weissmuller.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”