Tarzan the Ape Man (1981) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's notes in yellow


Tarzan the Ape Man is the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs story told from Jane's point of view.

In theory.

While the film has characters in common with the novel, that is where the similarity ends. Jane (Bo Derek) arrives in Africa to find her father, an adventurer, who abandoned her and her mother shortly after her birth. Dad is out to discover a fabled elephant burial ground. Jane, something of an adventurer herself, insist on going on the expedition. When bearers start getting picked off, daddy blames Tarzan, who we have heard in the distance. The bad guys are actually a whole tribe dedicated to body painting and movie villainany.

Jane and her father's party are finally captured by the body painters. The stay just long enough for a bunch of topless body painters to wash a naked Jane, then paint her white. The head of the body painters stabs daddy with an elephant tusk and is set to take her virginity when Tarzan saves the day. Jane leaves with Tarzan. (Jane had first encountered Tarzan while bathing nude earlier, so he was not a stranger  when he snatched her.)

This is rated 3.1 at IMDb, which puts it in the bottom hundred films with enough votes to count. Bo received a well deserved Worst Actress Razzie for her effort. Richard Harris, as her father, was way over the top, Miles O'Keeffe as Tarzan was almost as bad as Bo, and the best performance in the film was turned in by C.J, who actually demonstrated acting ability, especially by comparison to the humans in the film. C.J. is an orangutan and played Cheetah.  The film garnered many nominations, including Razzies for Worst Actress, Worst Film, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Actor and Worst Newcomer.

Let's look at Bo's career:

1977 Orca 4.4
1979 10 5.7
1980 A Change of Seasons 4.9
1981 Tarzan, the Ape Man 2.9
1981 Fantasies 2.4
1984 Bolero 2.4
1990 Ghosts Can't Do It 2.2
1992 Hot Chocolate 2.4
1993 Woman of Desire 3.9
1995 Tommy Boy 6.4
2000 Frozen with Fear 4.3
2000 Horror 101 4.3
2001 Sunstorm 2.5
2001 Life in the Balance 5.6
2003 Malibu's Most Wanted 4.9

This gives her a career average of 3.6. She has been appropriately awarded for her efforts.

  • 1984 Sour Apple award

  • Razzie Nominations for worst actress of the year in 2003, 1996

  • Razzie Nomination for worst actress of the Century 2000

  • Won Razzie for worst actress of the Decade 1990

  • Won Razzie for worst actress 1982, 1985, 1991

To be fair, I never heard her, or anyone else, claim that she could act. She has always been billed as a woman who got naked and looked great, and she did a lot of that here. But couple her usual bad performance with almost universally bad acting, a garbage script and terrible dialogue, and there isn't much here, except eye candy, both because of the nudity, and the locations.


DVD info from Amazon

  • No features except the original theatrical trailer
  • The transfer is widescreen, anamorphically enhanced (16x9). The quality is mediocre.


Bo Derek shows breasts, buns, and hints of bush in too many scenes to mention, including a nude swim during the opening credits, and a topless frolic with Tarzan and Cheetah during the entire ending credits.

In the few minutes of running time when we don't have Bo Derek at least topless and painted light green, we have native women showing their breasts.

Richard Harris showed his butt.

Scoop's notes in white

The most scholarly film historians agree that there are two distinct types of films produced by John and Bo Derek:

  • The ones in which Bo takes four baths.

  • The ones in which Bo takes three baths.

Unfortunately, it is not clear which category Tarzan belongs to.

There are three undisputed baths:

(1) When the explorers find the "inland sea," Bo says, "I'm going to take a bath." Ka-ching.

(2) When Bo is captured by the Evil Africans, she is bathed by Evil African Women before they paint her white. (They have to - because to Africans, Bo Derek is just not white enough.)

(3) When Bo is rescued by Tarzan, she is bathed by Tarzan and a chimp, who scrub off all the evil white paint. Interestingly, the evil white paint seems to be edible, because the chimp seems to think it tastes mahvelous (right). This raises a complex set of questions about mankind's development in Africa. Did Evil Africans develop Evil Edible White Paint first, or did they start with Evil Poisonous White Paint, and later change in response to circumstances. Or did they start with Good Edible White Paint, only changing to the Evil Brand Paint after they themselves became evil? Or were they always evil? Or did the evil paint itself make them evil? These questions may never be answered because, frankly, we can't even answer the bath question.

You see, in addition to the three clearly identifiable baths, there is a scene in which Bo goes for a skinny dip behind a boat in an African river. Is this just a pleasure swim, or is she bathing? The script offers no clues, and I fear we may never know for sure, despite the dozens of Ph.D. dissertations written on the subject.

Despite Tuna's cynicism, I guess it is possible to argue that Tarzan, the Ape Man is the greatest of all John and Bo's works. Many cogent arguments have been advanced to support this assertion, the best of which are summarized in the following list:

1. It features the greatest star to take a major role in any of the four films - Richard Harris, when he was still in his acting prime or maybe just a hair past it, and still close to the A-list. (Tarzan was made the year before Harris revived his King Arthur role for HBO's take on Camelot.)

2. When things don't go his way, Richard Harris curses the heavens and shakes his fist at God. All right, I know that Richard Harris does this in every role, but that's pretty high-falutin' stuff for a Bo Derek movie.

3. The final credits sequence - a frisky romp featuring Bo Derek, Tarzan, and an Orangutan - is actually very charming. In fact, as Tuna noted, the Orangutan turned out to be a subtler actor than Richard Harris, and was considerably better groomed to boot. Also, he scratched himself less.

4. It is rated highest at IMDb. (Information shown in the chart below.)

5. It is the only one of the four films which was not scripted by John Derek.

John Derek's roles in the John/Bo filmography:

(IMDb score) - Film Title (Year) Director Cinematographer Screenwriter Editor
(3.12) - Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) Yes Yes No No
(3.02) - Fantasies (1981/I) Yes Yes Yes No
(2.63) - Bolero (1984) Yes Yes Yes No
(2.45) - Ghosts Can't Do It (1990) Yes Yes Yes Yes

Although Tarzan may indeed be the best of the four films, I recommend Bolero if you want to watch one. Bolero is completely fatuous, but you don't watch a Bo Derek movie for the deep existential truths. The crucial fact of the matter is that Bolero has more explicit nudity from Bo, and the DVD is a beautiful transfer. The Tarzan DVD is a bit grainy, and Bo never delivers a nice, clear, unobstructed frontal.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 3.1/10, and it places among the worst 100 films of all time, despite being the best of the John/Bo collaborations.
  • Astoundingly, this film grossed $36 million dollars.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Tuna says, "I will elevate this to F+ on the strength of the nudity and locations/cinematography." Scoop says: "To tell you the truth, it doesn't really offer enough Bo Derek nudity, either in quality or quantity, to permit me to award a generous C- as I did with the even more execrable Bolero. That means I have to evaluate it as a fantasy/adventure film. It can't be an F because the photography is quite nice, so I suppose it is an E."

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