The Anima and the Loincloth: "Tarzan and His Mate" (MGM; 1934)
CAST: Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan); Maureen O'Sullivan (Jane).
Screenplay: James Kevin McGuinness
Producer: Bernard H. Hyman
Director: Cedric Gibbons
As I argued in my first movie review posted here, the Tarzan "mythos" is a Jungian melodrama told through the medium of "pulp" novels, comic books, and cinema. Absolutely indispensable to Tarzan as a meaningful pulp/comic-book super-hero is the presence of his mate, whom Burroughs famously called "The First seductress": Jane. In a perfectly complimentary manner, Jane constitutes the archetypal feminine ideal, the anima; more precisely, Jane is a higher-stage anima (symbolized by Helen of Troy, the Virgin Mary and Athena) who has descended to the sexually primitive/erotically conspicuous first-stage of femininity (or Eve, hence, Jane's notoriously "primitive" sensuality) in order to make contact with Tarzan the Ape-Man, the first-stage animus, or "purely physical man", re-presented by Burroughs as an exciting jungle superhero, in order to initiate his process of "psychic integration". In order for my pop-Jungian analysis to work, it is not necessary for Jane to be "supernatural" in order to qualify as anima; rather, we can deduce Jane's identity as the anima through the centrality of her role within the narrative/dramatic logic of the mythos. Thus is grounded squarely on her unique psychic relevance to Tarzan: the anima herself is needed as the only agent capable of imparting to the animus a libidinal, or "erotic", impulse strong enough to cause him to leave the primitive first stage ("the jungle") and undertake his long, but ultimately successful, journey towards a higher level of psychological and emotional development-Jane is the only reason why Tarzan chooses to become civilized. Therefore, the dramatic essence of Jane is as a sexual/erotic personae. Within the Tarzan film series, Tarzan and His Mate is the most successful telling of the archetypal mythos, but it is also a commercial film. The film's primary focus is, in fact, upon Jane played by the exquisite Maureen O'Sullivan (5'7"; 34B-26.5-35): her mythic descent to first-stage Eve "doubles" as a voyeuristic tale of sexual emancipation and "awakening". Hence, there are two ways to read the film: as mythology and as voyeurism. This is best conveyed by one of the most famous lines in the film describing the nubile, and clearly self-displaying, Jane Porter: "She's priceless! A woman who has learned the abandon of the savage, yet she'd be at home in Mayfair!" As this revealing line of dialogue shows, and as Jung has instructed us, every archetype, including the animus and the anima, possess a light and a dark side.
The Light Anima: Tarzan's Beauteous Mate (mythology; liberation)
Tarzan and His Mate, with its central message that sexual freedom is the basis of true psychic integration, may very well qualify it as the most subversively anti-puritanical film ever released by a major Hollywood studio: the film attempts to prove that the lost Garden of Eden can be successfully restored through the uninhibited liberation-or uncovering-of physically splendid bodies totally given over to romantic sensuality. No other film in the series attains this level of the purely mythological: the "jungle" is in reality a highly eroticized "dreamscape"; Tarzan is unambiguously portrayed as the Forest God, complete with overtones of the supernatural and paganism, and the "Great Apes" of the series have never been put to better, or more serious, use. Most outstanding of all, and encapsulating the mythic eroticism of the entire film, is the transformation of Jane; her obscene next-to-nothing costume notwithstanding (see below), Jane Porter has also acquired her own signature jungle cry: a feminised version of Tarzan's bull-ape cry of triumph and the clearest expression of the mythic descent of the beautiful English noblewoman to the erotically primitive level of a sexually exotic "she-ape". And, as the film makes clear, her jungle cry no doubt doubles as a mating, or a "love-call" to the Ape-Man. In no other film in the series is Jane as sexually resplendent as she is here, as the innumerable lascivious commentaries of her posted on GOOGLE make clear. And it is in Tarzan and His Mate that Jane utters her two most famous (and revealing) lines of dialogue: 'But darling [Tarzan], I have to put on clothes-people will think me immodest otherwise' and 'Imagination is a woman's greatest weapon.' The English Rose as nudist.
The Dark Anima: Jane-as-Pervert (exhibitionism; fetishism)
Near the beginning of Tarzan and his Mate there is a snippet of dialogue between Jane's failed suitor Harry Holt and the murderous seducer of beautiful women Martin Arlington that is truly disturbing in its erotic implications. Arlington: "So, your lady turned you down for a sort of Wildman of Borneo?" Holt: "It's a bit fantastic, isn't it?" Arlington: "A well-bred English girl living in the trees…" The question that this exchange poses unconsciously is: what kind of well-bred (aristocratic) English girl would actually live in the trees with a Wildman? And the answer, even if we do not realize it, is: a sexually perverted one. To put it simply: employing the erotically charged subliminal elements of primatology, the image of Jane that the film projects is that of a sexually licentious female putting herself on "display", proving her sexual power by attracting/possessing/seducing a primitive "alpha-male". In short, Jane is a "pervert", governed by the sexually suspect symptoms of both fetishism and exhibitionism, signalled most clearly by her outrageously feminized version of Tarzan's loincloth (the interested reader may consult the clip on Youtube that convincingly demonstrates that Jane is a borderline personality exhibiting all of the signs of acute sexual narcissism combined with delayed adolescent impulse-behavior). And if it is possible to consider Jane as an exhibitionistic "pervert", then we are forced to confront her terrible secret: Jane, as the half-naked jungle woman on constant display, is in reality a sexually pathetic woman, not truly erotically potent or even sexually competent as her desperate "play-acting" would lead us to believe.
The Erotic Death Struggle of Jane Porter: Tarzan's Mate versus Vinero's Mistress
If my reading of Jane as dark-animus is correct, then I have stumbled upon an unrecognized narrative sub-text of the Tarzan films: parallel to Tarzan's explicit physical adventures and death-struggles is Jane's implicit erotic suspense/thrillers. It is only when one is put to the test that one can be found wanting. It requires tremendous erotic courage and self-confidence to successfully exhibit oneself, which makes the threat of failure that much more exciting and suspenseful. The female exhibitionist, by displaying herself in such an aggressively narcissistic fashion, is always playing a highly dangerous erotic game, for she is always exposing herself to the threat of sexual defeat, or "humiliation", at the hands of a rival female who challenges her with a counter-display. The female exhibitionist who attempts but fails to maintain control over the male gaze is, by definition, a "fake"; that is, a pretentious woman who presents herself as sexually powerful but is, in fact, sexually weak-or, at the very least, sexually inferior to the victorious rival. Jane, by exhibiting her splendid body as a means of erotically possessing the Ape-Man, is therefore always at the centre of an unending erotic contest, under constant threat of being defeated, or "out-sexed", by an even more potent female who will replace her as Tarzan's new seductress, or "mate". In fact, the very name "first seductress" necessarily implies the appearance of others; Jane's recurrent "erotic peril" throughout the Tarzan series is of being replaced by an equally narcissistic rival of even greater sexual beauty. As Hitchcock proved, suspense equals "upsetting of audience expectations": Jane as a "fake" Eve (a higher stage anima falsely masquerading as the first-stage) is always dramatically (and, therefore, erotically) vulnerable to the "challenge" of the sexually even more potent first-stage anima who is not a fake but "the real deal"; in the novels, these are primarily La the High Priestess of Opar and Queen Nemone of the Lost City of Gold. The dramatic formula is: Jane is always the potential victim of an "erotic thriller", constantly threatened with symbolic displacement/death, just as Tarzan is periodically threatened with the loss of his alpha-male status ("The Lord of the Jungle") by a physically stronger and more deadly masculine challenger. Therefore, Jane, as a completely erotic heroine, is in a precarious position. For what is absolutely central to her status as the primary voyeuristic object of Tarzan's ultra-masculine gaze is her perfectly balanced mixture of sexual power and vulnerability: Jane is sexually beautiful enough to initially attract (or "seduce") the Ape-Man, but she is not so supremely beautiful that her continued hold on him is guaranteed; she will always be under threat from the sexually even more powerful challenger/new seductress, which is exactly what appears to take place on screen in Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, as discussed in my earlier review. In my opinion, it is no coincidence that this film, which is expressly centred on the very real possibility of Tarzan being physically over-powered and killed in bare-handed combat by a freakishly strong male challenger (Mr. Train), also implicitly invoke the (sub-textual) erotic drama of Jane being "out-sexed" by a new woman (the villain's mistress, Sophia Renault), who now totally inhabits the dramatic on-screen space formally occupied by the now off-screen jungle-girl. I simply do not believe that it is a coincidence that the one film that highlights a villain who is 100% capable of killing Tarzan barehanded (Mr. Train-although Slade in Tarzan's Greatest Adventure comes very close) also features the one woman of the entire Tarzan movie series who is 100% capable of "out-displaying" Jane. In Tarzan and the Valley of Gold both hero/animas and heroine/anima are threatened with death by the two ultra-lethal weapons in the arsenal of the international arch-criminal Augustine Vinero-his bodyguard/hired killer Mr. Train who will "eliminate" the Ape-Man (by breaking his neck), and his mistress/sex trophy Sophia Renault who will "dispose" of Jane (through Sophia's successful seduction of the White Ape). And the "suspenseful" nature of Jane's "erotic" predicament is made most clear when we put both films side-by-side and voyeuristically compare the two women: Jane Porter is an aristocratic, one who can take her natural superiority for granted; yet the sudden and unexpected appearance of Sophia Renault's magnificently voluptuous physical beauty creates an unrivalled element of suspense that the exotic she-ape will lose her desperately longed-for alpha status. To put it in the most brutal terms: unlike Jane, Sophia does not need "props" to seduce the White-Ape. As the Tarzan novels themselves make quite clear, Jane inhabits a very precise "zone" of physical beauty; the commonly deployed adjectives to describe her are: beauteous; comely; shapely; lovely; splendid; nubile; wonderful; charming. And this is the whole meaning of the erotic sub-text: although O'Sullivan is seriously lovely, she is simply no match for the peerless Kovack, the winner of innumerable beauty contests, a fact that encapsulates the erotic "truth" of "voyeur-Jane" perfectly (and that, funnily enough mirrors the real life of Maureen O'Sullivan-in her final year in High School, O'Sullivan came in second place in her school's beauty contest; the winner was none other than Vivian Leigh, who played Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind). In England, Jane is a second place beauty queen, an objectively desirable but over-rated local beauty; this is played out well in the sub-plot of the hopeless Harry Holt in Tarzan and His Mate. But in the sultry jungle of Africa, a domain that would have a powerful seductive effect on a nubile but sexually frustrated young woman, Jane narcissistically throws away her clothes and neurotically takes up the role of jungle exhibitionist by donning the loincloth-as-fetish, transforming herself into the "main squeeze" of the Ape Man, a role that she play-acts to self-dramatising perfection. Even more titillating, we come to suspect that Jane's fetish loincloth is a cheap "prop" (almost a sex toy), the trashy gimmick of a sexually insecure woman who attempts to achieve erotic dominance through the ostentatious acting out of a kinky sexual fantasy; here, one is immediately reminded of the stunning erotic transformation undergone by Princess Leia in The Return of the Jedi, magnificently "dis-played" by the young Carrie Fisher in her iconic metallic slave girl bikini, a woman whose calibre of physical beauty and body type almost exactly matches that of O'Sullivan (5'1"; 36B-27-35). It is within this voyeuristically prescribed space of Jane-as-not-quite-first-rate-beauty-the voyeuristic equivalent of Jane's archetypal status as a "fake" Eve-that the always present element of "erotic suspense"-and, therefore, of male voyeuristic pleasure-operates. And that is why if the decision had been made to re-introduce Jane on-screen during the late 1960s or early 1970s, decked out in a "swinging sixties" retro upgrade of O'Sullivan's fetishistic loincloth she could not have been played by a screen goddess such as Raquel Welch or Ursula Andress. Instead, Jane would have to be played by a seriously attractive but second-rate actress, much of whose "charm" would directly depend on her flaunting the loincloth fetish in the O'Sullivan-manner of subliminally suggested perversion. The 1960s Jane to match Mike Henry's iconic Tarzan would have been the exceptionally O'Sullivan-esque Yvonne ("Batgirl") Craig, a physically striking actress (5'4"; 37C-23-35) who combines a truly wonderful body with a pure tomboy persona. For the 1970s, although she never became well known in the United States, my preferred pick would be English actress Jenny Agutter (34B-28-38) as she was in the 1975 sci-fi film Logan's Run. A stunning combination of sexual beauty with a "whiff" of perversion, Agutter flaunts herself in a jaw-dropping Jane-esque costume and gets into a cat-fight (which she loses) to the Sophia Renault-esque drop-dead gorgeous pin-up queen of the late 1970s, Farah Fawcett. And if we were to make a Tarzan film today. I would choose the off-centre, exotic beauty Chloe Sevigny (5'7"; 34B-24-33): Hollywood's most sexy librarian who enters into the jungle in order to "let her hair down" and, then, "take it off". If, then, we were to draw an honest picture, as Tarzan and His Mate clearly asks us to do, of a comely but sexually neurotic English noblewoman who would abandon civilisation in order to flaunt her wonderfully nubile body and co-habit half-naked in an African forest with some sort of "White Ape", then our medical (and cinematic) diagnosis would have to be: interminable exhibitionism.
- reviewed by Eric Wilson
If you liked this review, be sure to read Eric Wilson's ERBzine 1753 article: ‘SEE TARZAN AND JANE FINALLY MEET THEIR MATCH!’: The Archetypal Symbols and Erotic Sub-Texts of Tarzan and His Mate and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold