TARZAN OF THE APES
Edgar Rice Burroughs was directly influential on the production. Burroughs was interested in producing a version of the film himself but the idea was rejected by the studios. Burroughs then sold the rights to the book to insurance salesman turned actor William Parsons who formed the National Film Corporation of America to produce the film. Shooting took place in Louisiana with the bayous standing in for the African jungle. The role of Tarzan was initially cast with Winslow Wilson, however Wilson walked off the set soon into the production to enlist in World War I and the role was then recast with D.W. Griffith bit player Elmo Lincoln. (Some footage of Wilson does survive in the finished film in the vine-swinging scenes due to the fact that Elmo Lincoln had difficulty with heights). Edgar Rice Burroughs, even though he retained five percent interest in the company, parted ways with Parsons over the casting of Elmo Lincoln. Burroughs conceived of Tarzan as someone gracefully athletic and regarded Lincoln as brutish. Parsons won out by reminding Burroughs that he had ceded control over the production by selling the books rights.
Tarzan of the Apes 1918 comes closer to the plot of Edgar Rice Burroughs book than any other Tarzan film. The film adheres to the text and adapts closely from the book on most points. Unlike any of the films that followed up until Greystoke: The Lord of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), this film begins with the introduction of the Greystokes, their journey to Africa and being abandoned on the coast of Africa after a ships mutiny, their deaths, the introduction of Kala and her adoption of the infant Tarzan as her own child after her son dies. The story is extremely accurate to the sections of the book with the young Tarzan growing up, discovering the hut, finding the knife, realising who he is after seeing his reflection in a pool of water, finding the childs primer, the skeletons lying in the hut, the babys skull left. There are also details that none of the other films incorporate such as the maid Esmeralda and Tarzans terrorising of the native tribe who fearfully regard him in awe (the latter two get removed today because they venture into some dubious racial portrayals). One of the additions to the story is the character of the sailor Binns who is abandoned along with the Claytons and taken in by Arab slavers. Binns largely performs the role of the explorer DArnot who teaches Tarzan to speak English in the book. The film also cuts the final chapters of the book where Tarzan follows Jane back to Baltimore and proposes to her. Other than that, the film is surprisingly faithful to what Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote.
Notedly, this version of the story is called Tarzan of the Apes while most of the other adaptations change the title to Tarzan the Ape Man. This is because it incorporates Tarzans background growing up among the apes in Africa thus being of the apes whereas his background as the son of a British lord and being raised among the apes was written out between the first Johnny Weissmuller film Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Greystoke, the fifty year period during which most Tarzan films have been made. In these opening scenes, Tarzans origin story is told faithfully, albeit with mixed results. Unfortunately, these sections are hamstrung somewhat by the primitive film technology of the time. In order to show a child being raised among the apes, the film is required to portray the apes as characters. All that was available at the time the film was made were monkey suits, which look tatty today, or having the actors interact with real primates. The film tries both of these but the apes never develop the characters they do in Greystoke where they were played by sophisticated animatronics and makeup effects it may well be that the decision by filmmakers to eliminate Tarzans background from the 1930s to the 1980s was a canny one based on what the technology could provide.
Elmo Lincoln was a former marshal and stevedore who had a 52 chest. Though Edgar Rice Burroughs hated the casting, Lincoln has a great primality and majesty in the role and holds up fine against the other screen Tarzans. Elmo Lincoln went onto play the role of Tarzan in three subsequent silent films, The Romance of Tarzan (1918), The Revenge of Tarzan (1920) and the serial The Adventures of Tarzan (1921). Jane, played by Enid Markey, is very much cast in the role of a Mary Pickford heroine, although seems far too wallfowerish and fails to stand up against the other great screen Janes Maureen OSullivan, Andie McDowell, Minnie Driver.
The version of the 1918 Tarzan of the Apes that remains in existence today is unfortunately not the complete original. The original version of the film is purported to be three hours long but the existing print that is seen today has been cut down to 73 minutes in length.
Other adaptations of Tarzan of the Apes include:- Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), the classic version with Johnny Weissmuller who went onto appear in a further eleven Tarzan films; Tarzan the Ape Man (1959) starring Denny Miller; Tarzan the Ape Man (1981), a softcore version featuring Bo Derek and with Miles OKeeffe as Tarzan; Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), a lavish version starring Christopher Lambert; the Disney animated version Tarzan (1999); and the motion-captured animated Tarzan (2013) starring Kellan Lutz.
Full film available online here:-