Tarzan and the Trappers is the result of producer Sol Lesser trying to get a Tarzan television series off the ground but when all three networks turned it down he decided to edit three pilots together into one 70 minute long black and white movie. Who cares if it’s a bit of a disjointed mess?
After an endless narration, telling us all how awesome and dangerous Africa really is, the story finally kicks off with Tarzan (Gordon Scott) teaching Tartu (Rickie Sorensen), his and Jane’s adopted Jungle Boy, some rudimentary vine-swinging techniques, all while Jane (Eve Brent) is blissfully napping nearby. But as established earlier, Africa is a dangerous place, so shortly we see a venomous mamba slither towards poor sleeping Jane, but luckily Cheeta the chimp was there to beat the snake to death with a stick. sigh – Note: If you find yourself being saved by Cheeta you may want to re-examine your life – Eve Brent’s Jane is probably given the least to do of all the Janes in the series as in this cobbled together movie all she does is keep house for Tarzan and their adoptive son, even when the villains need a hostage or bait to control Tarzan they capture Tartu or some local friend of Tarzan’s, Jane is apparently not worth anyone’s time.
The first portion of the movie once again deals with evil white hunters who have come into forbidden lands to poach the local wildlife. This is your standard Tarzan plot here. Schroeder (Lesley Bradley) and Rene (Maurice Marsac) have captured numerous animals but Schroeder, the clearly more villainous of the pair, won’t leave until he gets a baby elephant. Schroeder shoots a mother elephant and has two of his native bearers chain the poor baby to a tree while he and Rene go back for the trucks. Schroeder is warned numerous times that Tarzan enforces the law of the jungle around here but he’s not afraid of any stupid ape-man.
Tarzan shows up, confronts the natives, and embarrassingly makes them dance to prove that they are local natives and not from another territory. Unfortunately for them, their dancing reveals that they are, in fact, from out of town, so Tarzan beats the crap out of them and he then frees the baby elephant. Meanwhile, the ever-annoying Cheeta manages to get caged by Schroeder and when Tartu shows up demanding they release his chimp they take the kid hostage. So not only are these idiots poaching in Tarzan’s territory, which is monumentally stupid, but they decide to up the stakes by kidnapping his kid. Criminal masterminds these two are not, and the fact that this was made for television is the only reason these two morons don’t end up getting a gruesome death, instead, Tarzan calls for the standard elephant stampede that frees all the caged animals and allows Tarzan to rescue Tartu and Cheeta.
Commissioner Brandini (Bruce Lester) shows up to arrest Schroeder and Rene and thanks Tarzan for taking the place of the deputies he needs but can never get. The imprisonment of Schroeder leads to the film’s second villain arriving in the form of Sikes (Sol Gorss), a sadistic hunter who just happens to be Schroeder’s brother. Sikes wants revenge for what happened to his brother and he teams up with local criminal kingpin Lapin (William Keene), a man who would like Tarzan out of the way for his own reasons.
Lapin believes that the Lost City of Zarbo is located in the lands guarded by Tarzan and if the Ape Man was out of the picture all that gold and jewels would be easy pickings. Sikes, to prove he’s stupider than Lapin, has decided that his revenge will come in the form of hunting, “The Most Dangerous Game.” This is one of the more used plotlines, it having appeared in dozens of movies and television shows over the years, but even the world’s craziest villain wouldn’t pick Tarzan, on his own turf, as prey for such a sport. Worse is the fact that Sikes confronts Tarzan, explains his plans to hunt him, and then gives Tarzan a two-hour head start. You may as well grant this guy the Darwin Award now. Shockingly Sikes finds it difficult to track a man who can swing through the jungle, so it’s up to Lapin to devise a better plan. They kidnap Chief Tyana (Scatman Crothers), who is a known friend to Tarzan, and who may also know the location of the lost city. This plan starts off working great, as Tarzan walks right into a net trap, but then the Tyana’s warrior’s attack, freeing both their Chief and Tarzan. The warriors, who are well-armed and outnumber the white hunters, for some reason just grab their chief and go, instead of slaughtering the white invaders who’d captured and tortured their leader.
The movie ends with Sikes, Lapin and his group of expendables finally finding the Lost City of Zarbo, but only after Tarzan blazed a trail for them to follow. These idiots thought Tarzan had finally gotten sloppy and walked right into his trap. So while the group tramps through the ruins of Zarbo, Tarzan picks off the native bearers one by one, until eventually, he decides to attack the remaining whites, beats them all soundly. Sikes and Lapin are arrested, and the day is saved.
This is not one of the better Tarzan movies but as it was meant to be individual television episodes it’s not all that surprising it fails. Standards and Practices for television shows of the time would certainly have forced the writers to curb Tarzan’s ability to kill his enemies, so in this film, Tarzan is basically just a jungle cop and Africa is his beat. The use of the “Most Dangerous Game” plotline failed in this setting as well as the villains were just too dumb to be a credible threat, and the actor playing Sikes gave possibly the worst performance of any actor in a Tarzan film. There is some decent action to be found here, Tarzan is a serious brawler in this one, but the writing is so atrociously bad, with dialogue so haltingly awkward that it was painful at times to watch.
You can find all my Tarzan movie reviews here: Tarzan at the Movies
It’s no surprise that the networks gave a pass on this one as it’s just not very good. Years later Ron Ely will star in a Tarzan series that actually works.