Tarzan the Ape Man

If it were any worse, it would be ten times better
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1981
Director: 
John Derek
Starring: 
Bo Derek, Richard Harris, Miles’O’Keefe, John Phillip Law
The Setup: 
‘Sensuous’ retelling of Tarzan with Bo Derek and a Chippendale’s dancer.
Discussion: 

Oh God, the pain is unbearable. The pain! Having just watched two Pia Zadora movies back to back [as part of my personal Piapolooza] I was all about SOFTCORE. And that made me think “Holy shit! I need to watch that Bo Derek Tarzan this instant!” I was really looking forward to it, and it may in fact be the worst movie ever made. And I mean that in a ‘bad’ way.

This was directed by former photographer John Derek as a way to showcase the hot charms of his wife, Bo. You will recall that John Derek used to be married to Linda Evans, who looked remarkably like Bo: blond, blank, blue-eyed. This is part of why I was looking forward to the movie: I am all for sleazy bearded sensual photographers who marry women for their looks alone and use them for projects in which they are leered at and exploited. But I’m just sassin’—I have no idea how deep the love between John and Bo really was. And Bo Derek IS credited as having produced this movie… which one suspects was arranged to pre-empt arguments that she was exploited.

The horror begins before the movie even starts, as we hear the classic Tarzan yell issuing from the MGM Lion’s mouth. You stare at the screen like “Is that supposed to be funny?” It’s a feeling you’ll be experiencing a lot of.

So while the screen is still black we hear the voices of two old English coots telling this story. These people never appear and their voices are never heard again, making one suspect that they were added later. Nevertheless, they tell us that it’s West Africa, 1910. Bo is Jane, on a mission to find her father. The last thing we hear from the narrator is “This brave girl has no way of knowing her strange destiny… her incredibly strange destiny…” Then we have the title. Please note that while Bo Derek’s name is first, Richard Harris’ name is about five times as big. You can imagine the behind-the-scenes resentments behind that. We also learn that John Phillip Law, Pygar from Barbarella and Diabolik from Danger: Diabolik, is in this, and that Tarzan will be played by Miles O’Keefe. As soon as I get to work I’m going to find out the whole backstory on this movie, like for instance WHERE this Miles O’Keefe came from [though I have a strong suspicion bachelorette parties figure prominently in his history], and where he went.

So Bo takes this long journey on this puttering boat to find her father, who runs around screaming like an idiot. After a short time, you realize that the man is bonkers. Dad is not exactly thrilled to see the daughter he abandoned at one year old. Then Bo gets off the boat and pets the mangey dog, only to spontaneously fall back into the water. They act like it was an accident, but she obviously just falls back. It’s around 10:10. Look for it if you watch this movie, which is not in any way recommended. This would be one of the elements that would make this movie a total hoot if the rest of it weren’t such a goddamned annoyance.

Then John Phillip Law appears, which is good because I had forgotten Richard Harris was in this [short-term memory loss, you know] and was sitting there looking at the craggy old dad like; “Is THAT John Phillip Law? OH Dear.” JPL has a stache and is wearing hot explorer clothes, but is still just as bland as ever and still retains no ability to deliver a line.

So Jane confronts her Dad about abandoning her and lets him know that his former wife, his mother, is dead, which causes him to launch into a huge scene about his deep feelings for her, yawn. By this early time one will have already thought “Woah, that dude pontificates a lot,” but it wasn’t bothering me yet, because I was already fast-forwarding. And this is only 13 minutes in.

So dad gets all up in Bo’s face about how she “is” her mother, and you’re like “Oh my God, are we going to have some ‘Dad-wants-to-schtupp-his-daughter’ softcore action a la Don’t Go Near the Park? But no, that retreats pretty far back right quick. Then Bo has a chat with John Phillip Law [JPL], wherein she delivers this long lecture about how women don’t have the same rights men have, and are there just for men’s pleasure. “I envy men’s freedom… I resent not having the same.” This is obviously just there to make up for the fact that the rest of the movie consists of leering at Bo’s body.

So it’s time for some sort of plot, don’t you think? Dad wants to find this graveyard made out of ivory, which is behind this huge rock wall and next to “the inland sea.” They climb up the huge rock wall and a guy falls, causing Harris to curse God, which is immediately followed by a long clap of thunder. You see, HE listens. Once over, they start hearing Tarzan’s yell, which causes more than half of the natives to desert the mission. Harris and JPL have heard of “Tar-ZAN,” JPL saying he’s “half-man, half-ape and ten feet tall.” By now, Harris’ incessant ranting and pontificating and self-righteous proclamations may have you, like me, shouting “Shut the FUCK UP!” at your TV screen. And amazingly, you’d think you get used to it, but he is such a genuinely grating loudmouth ass you really will keep shouting at the screen through the whole movie. Just give in, it’s cathartic.

So they find the inland sea, and Bo takes a nude dip, but what is this coming along the beach but a big-ass male lion? She puts on her thoroughly sheer white thingy that she has gotten wet so it completely clings to her body [showcasing the pubes], but retreats into the water when she finally sees the lion, but then Tarzan comes along and doesn’t exactly rescue her but kind of wrestles her, at one point dragging her out of the water by her legs. But it kind of works because she is terrified of him. At one point, Tarzan is holding her and you can see the lion is getting more excited, and it finally rushes at them and really claws at her! It really looks unscripted and unplanned, and I was SURE I was going to find some trivia note about how there was an accident on set or something. But no. Tarzan is played by Miles O’Keefe, some guy who was in the air force and played football. He totally looks like a Chippendale’s dancer—great, really sculpted body and pretty [wayyy too pretty for me] face with a straight nose and chiseled cheeks and all that. Total male stripper, in that very 80s clean-scrubbed, pretty-boy kind of way.

So then Dad and JPL come along, and Harris starts going on about how he’s going to kill “that ape” and have him stuffed and mounted as a trophy. He keeps calling him an ape, regardless of how many times Bo says he’s a man, leading to even further homicidal feeling toward Harris. They should invent some new kind of interactive movie technology that will allow you to reach in a scene and bludgeon the annoying characters. Then Bo is carried off by T-Zan [let’s give him a hip-hop moniker], but she has a gun, and as he approaches she’s saying “Stop! Please! Oh mother of God, please stop!” Then she fires the gun, and when he runs off, she says “Oh, wait! Don’t go!” Not long after this she is attacked by a giant python, which director Derek apparently thought could be best brought to life by showing the scene in slow-motion and double-exposed, making it look like she’s supposed to be writhing around in sensual ecstasy—and maybe she is. Anyway, so obviously T-Zan rescues her, but somehow gets knocked unconscious, leading to a scene where Bo examines his body, accompanied by T-Zan’s best friend the orangutan. Now Bo has this thing where she’s always got the tips of her fingers in her mouth—I guess this is supposed to be really sexy—but eventually had me shouting “GET YOUR FUCKIN’ HANDS OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!” I guess I have to admit that this movie really got me involved.

Now I was fast-forwarding through so much of this because it is an unforgivable two full hours, has long scenes with nothing happening, and is boring anyway. I’m afraid I am unable to offer my straight male or gay female readership any insight into whether one would want to watch this if you were into Bo Derek. Maybe… I mean if we were to switch her out for late-career Hulk Hogan I would be absolutely riveted. As it was, I started wondering if I left this running while I went into the other room, would it still count as “watching?”

Which brings us to the banana scene. Bo and T-Zan are hanging out in this beautiful pool while she informs him that she’s a virgin [causing viewers to say “What? Oh that’s right, she’s not supposed to be BO DEREK”], wonders if he is but figures he must be [don’t rule out the charms of the natives or that orangutan, Bo], but while she’s doing this she is slowly peeling a banana and finally putting it in her mouth in an extremely phallic way. This is in the trailer—you should watch that and spare yourself the agony of the entire film. There may be a bunch more hootworthy elements that I missed, but the whole experience was so agonizing I was fast-forwarding through almost all of it by this time. You ever get that feeling with a really awful rented film of “I want this movie OUT OF MY HOUSE?” Yep, I was there.

SPOILERS > > >
Then Bo and Tarzan are in some other pool or maybe the same pool, and she starts talking about “Do you know you’re more beautiful than any girl I know?” and such, but he’s so far away you start asking the screen “WHOM, exactly, are you addressing?” She seems to be just babbling to herself. Then it’s time for some major action so we can have an ending to the movie, so Bo gets kidnapped by a bunch of natives led by a big guy who looks like a professional wrestler with a painted-on goatee and a Mohawk. Okay, finally something in this movie I can get interested in!

So Wrestler-dude had also kidnapped Dad and JPL, and his natives take Bo and hold her naked on her hands and knees and wash and scrub her. In front of her father, btw. Apparently Bo has some line in here about being scrubbed like a horse that I missed because I was fast-forwarding through. Then they paint her white and something makes her eyes super-red so she looks like a horror-movie figure, and she calls out to her father “Be a good Daddy, tell me a story.” I am SO not even making this up. He goes on with this long non-story that makes you glad he is not your father [and renews calls of “SHUT! THE! FUCK! UP!”], until wrestler dude takes a huge ivory tusk and impales the pontificating patriarch, which brought a cheer from my corner of the room. At last!

So the wrestler wants something with Bo, we don’t know what, but I suspect it’s something dirty, until Tarzan shows up and they struggle [in excitement-deadening slo-mo, like a lot of the “action” here], until the wrestler dies, and I was like “Oh yeah, there goes the best thing about this movie.” Then we see that Dad is still alive to blather on some more, until finally he dies, and then Bo and Tarzan frolic on the beach with his orangutan while the credits roll.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was the most godawful boring thing I have seen in quite some time. Holy shit was that crap. I thought it would be great campy fun, but no. I thought it would be even the teensiest bit erotic. No. I thought it would be sleazy fun. No. They never even get it on, which is a lot of what anyone expects to see when they wander in for this. It was just incredibly boring pain with a really fucking irritating jackass father. I can’t imagine having seen this in the theater and not being able to fast-forward.

The trailer for the film [which should be watched in place of the film itself] contains the amusing line “The most beautiful woman of our time, in the most erotic adventure of all time.” But I don’t know—is Bo Derek really that pretty? I mean sure, she’s pretty, but she’s kind of bland and projects all of the personality of a cotton ball. Come to find out she’s a right-wing republican and campaigned for both Bushes.

So I did a little research and it turns out that John Derek was married four times, and his last three were Ursula Andress, Linda Evans and Bo, all of which look pretty much exactly alike, which is a little creepy. I bet it would get even creepier if we were given access to a picture of his mother. He was 30 years older than Bo, and photographed her nude for Playboy. You can draw your own conclusions from all of this.

Oh God, it still hurts.

Should you watch it: 

I wouldn’t for any reason. Even if you’re drunk or otherwise enhanced, it’s so boring it’ll bring you down fast.