Tarzan and the She-Devil is Lex Barker’s last outing as the vine-swinging Lord of the Jungle, and sadly he leaves the series on a rather lame note. Once again Jane has been recast and once again white man has entered the jungle to poach ivory, but worst of all what this movie lacks in originality it also lacks in action.
Two nasty ivory hunters; Vargo (Raymond Burr) and Philippe Lavar (Michael Granger), whip and beat their native bearers to get their latest shipment of ivory to the town of Dagar, where they will meet up with Lyra (Monique van Vooren) and Fidel (Tom Conway), their partners in the ivory business. Unbeknownst to Lyra, Fidel Vargo had sent Lavar to make a deal with an Arabic ivory trader, a deal that would cut the French couple out of the action.
It seems there is a massive herd of elephants that will net the group thousands of pounds of ivory, but the local bearers aren’t up to the challenge, so Vargo and company plan to enslave the sturdy people of the Laikopos tribe, who just so happened to be friends of Tarzan. That people still consider Tarzan nothing more than a nuisance, when operating in his territory, is beyond stupid, as he is pretty much guaranteed to wreck your shit, but then again this Tarzan is probably the least effective ape man in the history of the series, so in this case maybe Vargo and friends shouldn’t be too worried. While all this is going on Tarzan (Lex Barker) is yanking Jane (Joyce MacKenzie) out of bed so that she can make breakfast, and when she discovers they are out of eggs they both give Cheeta, their chimpanzee pal and apparent servant, grief for forgetting to pick up some, as she had asked.
When Jane tries to go back to bed for some extra shut-eye, and while Cheeta is out stealing ostrich eggs, Tarzan scoops Jane up and tosses her into the river, just to prove how big of a dick he is I guess. This scene of domestic bliss is broken when a group of Laikopos women shows up to tell Tarzan that their village was attacked and that all able-bodied men have been captured and marched off. Tarzan immediately swings into action and heads to Dagar to free them. He stealthily takes out the sentries, dumps a bunch of rifles in the well, and then cuts free the captured Laikopos, and as the natives escape Tarzan faces off against our villains. Lyra sends one of her henchmen to fight Tarzan, instead of letting Vargo just blow the Ape Man away, because she likes the look of this hunky mostly naked man.
Tarzan defeats the big thug and makes his escape, but this does not deter Lyra, who organizes her nefarious cronies to march into the jungle to track him down. They catch up to Tarzan, and Lyra asks him if he’d be so kind as to help them lure the elephants to be slaughtered. This is beyond idiotic, as everyone knows who Tarzan is and who his top jungle friends are, so what kind of response was she expecting? I’m assuming the only reason Tarzan doesn’t just kill them all is that Lyra is a white woman and that Jane may have taken exception her murder, but that would certainly change if Jane knew that Lyra’s plan “B” involved attacking the Laikopos AGAIN, and luring Tarzan away so that they could sneak in and kidnap Jane, and thus force him to do their bidding.
This is where the already lame and tired story completely derails, Tarzan upon, hearing the sounds of the attack on the Laikopos, rushes off to help them, but he finds them all captured by Vargo and his men, even though after Tarzan rescued them the last time they vowed that they’d never be caught off guard again. We even had a scene where the chief showed Tarzan how awesome their archers were, and that they had a deadly boomerang squad at the ready. (Note: Tarzan never asks where the hell they got this uniquely Australian weapon). And it gets worse, for when Tarzan arrives to aid the Laikopos he fails utterly, as Vargo shoots the branch that Tarzan was standing on, causing the ape man to fall and be knocked unconscious. He is then captured.
When Tarzan overhears that Jane’s kidnapping was botched and that his mate is most likely dead, he goes ape shit. He breaks his bonds, fights his way out of the enemy camp, and makes his way to his treehouse home, only to find it a burned ruin. Cheeta retrieves the necklace worn by Jane out of the wreckage, which seems to seal the deal that Jane is dead.
Now in the Edgar Rice Burroughs book Tarzan the Untamed, set during World War One, invading German troop’s burned down the plantation home of Tarzan and Jane, and it’s there that Tarzan discovered the burnt corpse of his wife (later revealed to actually have been the maid). Tarzan goes completely ballistic, he captures a lion, starves and beats it until they reach the trenches of the front lines, and then pushes the lion in. As the Germans leap out of the trenches, to escape the enraged jaws of death, they are greeted by Tarzan, now toting a rather large machine gun, who then proceeds to mow them all down. This is the kind of reaction one would expect from the Lord of the Jungle after he’s found out his wife had been murdered, but in this movie he just gets sad. Worse is that he is so depressed he meekly allows himself to be taken prisoner again.
Of course, Jane didn’t die in the fire, she had managed to swing to freedom via a burning vine, but the vine had snapped, giving her a rough landing and a bit of a concussion, but that only slowed her down a bit. Jane then proceeded to stagger through the jungle, while being chased by various man-eating denizens, until eventually, she finds out from the Laikopos women that Tarzan has been taken, so she runs off to Dagar to get him back. You wouldn’t think a person who barely escaped a kidnapping would immediately run off to confront said kidnappers, at least not without some kind of back-up, but that’s Jane for you. She is strangely allowed to waltz in and waltz out after Lyra informs her that Tarzan is deep in the jungle with Vargo, and it’s then that Lyra finds out from Fidel that Vargo and Philippe Lavar were planning to double-cross them, by selling the ivory and cutting them out. So Lyra rallies a posse, and they go off to follow Jane. Meanwhile, Jane is running into more stock footage of dangerous animals, and in one case she witnesses a black leopard being eaten by a python.
For those of you who want to see Tarzan kicking butt and taking names this is not the film for you, as in this film he spends most of his time in captivity, and being tortured, but if watching Raymond Burr taking a bullwhip to Tarzan is your thing then maybe you’ll get some enjoyment out of this movie. And how does Tarzan get out of his sticky predicament, you ask? If you guessed elephant stampede then you’ve proven that you’ve seen a Tarzan film or two.
“By the ranks or single file. Over every jungle mile. Oh, we stamp and crush. Through the underbrush. In a military-style!“
This is certainly one of the weakest Tarzan movies ever produced, and director Kurt Neumann adds nothing new to the lore of the Jungle Lord, and I’d like to know who thought a mopey Tarzan, one who gets constantly captured, was a good idea. The two women in this movie are not terrible, Joyce Mackenzie is pretty good as Jane, does more than usual in the part of Tarzan’s mate, and she actually evades her abductors, which is more than Tarzan can say. Monique van Vooren, as the titular She-Devil, tries to bring a little extra to the standard femme fatale role, for which I am grateful, as she’s easily the most interesting character in this movie. Seeing Raymond Burr as the villainous Vargo is fun, but he’s nothing more than your snarling baddie we’ve seen in countless serials.
You can find all my Tarzan movie reviews here: Tarzan at the Movies
Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953)
Tarzan and the She-Devil is a disappointing entry in what is normally a fun series. This is the last time for Lex Barker as Tarzan and though he wasn’t terrible he will not be missed.