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Sunday, June 1, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Investigating Tarzan' Uncovers The Apeman

Seattle Times Movie Reviewer

----------------------------------------------------------------- "Investigating Tarzan," documentary written and directed by Alain d'Aix. American Movie Classics, 5 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Friday. -----------------------------------------------------------------

This surprisingly thorough survey of the history of Edgar Rice Burroughs' most famous creation will get several showings during a three-day AMC marathon of Tarzan movies that begins Friday.

It follows Tarzan from his 1912 birth in The All-Story Magazine through his 1918 film debut (one of the first movies to gross more than $1 million) and his success in comic books and novels, on radio and television. Perhaps the key to Tarzan's movie career was MGM's filmed-in-Africa 1929 epic, "Trader Horn," which supplied cheap jungle footage for the Tarzan series as well as several other MGM productions.

Even `yell' examined

Among the screen Tarzans interviewed are Gordon Scott, Denny Miller, Herman Brix and the late Johnny Weissmuller; also contributing memoirs are Maureen O'Sullivan (Weissmuller's Jane), Burroughs' son Danton and the knowledgeable director of the Burroughs Memorial Library, George McWhorter. The Tarzan "yell" is examined in detail, and so are the series' occasional flirtations with censorship.

"Investigating Tarzan" will be shown Friday night along with MGM's Weissmuller/O'Sullivan films, including "Tarzan and His Mate" (1934), which may be the best of the MGM series (and the most censored for its brief flashes of nudity), and "Tarzan's New York Adventure," a 1942 fish-out-of-water comedy that's been credited as the inspiration for several pictures (Tim Allen's "Jungle 2 Jungle" being the most recent example).

Saturday's schedule includes repeats of "Mate," more entries in the MGM series (11 in all) and the final Weissmuller installment, "Tarzan and the Mermaids" (1948). Lex Barker took over the role a year later in "Tarzan's Magic Fountain," which plays at 3:45 p.m. Saturday, followed by a 1951 Barker film, "Tarzan's Peril," which features Dorothy Dandridge.

Rare early gimpses

Buster Crabbe's only Tarzan movie, "Tarzan the Fearless" (1933), plays at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The first Tarzan movie, "Tarzan of the Apes" (1918), starring Elmo Lincoln, will be shown at 11:15 p.m. Saturday. "The New Adventures of Tarzan" (1935), with Herman Brix playing both Tarzan and Lord Greystoke, turns up an hour later, followed at 1:30 a.m. by decathlon champ Glenn Morris' 1938 movie, "Tarzan's Revenge," and at 2:45 a.m. by another Brix film, "Tarzan and the Green Goddess" (1938).

Next Sunday's lineup includes more Barker movies, followed by several Gordon Scott entries, including "Tarzan's Greatest Adventure" (1959), which features Sean Connery and Anthony Quayle and is often called the best Tarzan movie to date. The final entries in the marathon include Jock Mahoney's "Tarzan Goes to India" (1962) and Mike Henry's "Tarzan and the Jungle Boy" (1968).

Not all the Tarzans will be represented in AMC's marathon. "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984), starring Christopher Lambert, is mentioned in the documentary (there's even an interview with its director, Hugh Hudson). So are Ron Ely's television series and Miles O'Keefe's infamous 1981 "Tarzan" movie with Bo Derek.

But the marathon is made up mostly of the "classic" features. The host is Seattle's own Brendan Fraser, who plays "George of the Jungle" in a new Disney movie that opens in theaters in mid-July.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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