In 1886 John Clayton, also known as Lord Greystoke (True Boardman) is sent to Africa to crush the Arab slave trade. His wife Alice, also known as Lady Greystoke (Kathleen Kirkham) goes with him. Aboard a ship bound for Africa, the crew mutinies and kills the captain. One sailor, Binns (George B. French), saves the Greystokes from being killed. The crew set the young couple ashore on the coast. Binns escapes the mutineers only to be captured by the Arab slave traders.
In the meantime Lady Greystoke gives birth in the jungle. When the child is a year old Lady Greystoke dies. In the jungle an ape called Kala is mourning the death of her baby. The apes invade the Greystoke hovel. Kala steals the Greystoke’s child and Lord Greystoke is killed. Kala raises the human baby as her own. The young Tarzan (Gordon Griffith) grows strong.
Ten years later Binn manages to escape captivity and searches for the Greystokes only to find their skeletons. Binn does find the young Tarzan and teaches him how to read. Unable to get Tarzan out of the jungle Binn travels to England to report the survival of the Greystoke baby to his family.
Eventually an expedition by the family members along with Professor Porter (Thomas Jefferson) and his daughter Jane Porter (Enid Markey) set out to verify Binn’s claims. By now Tarzan (Elmo Lincoln) has grown to adulthood. Tarzan’s adoptive mother Kala is killed by a native chief. Tarzan seeks revenge and kills the chief. The natives, now in fear of Tarzan, worship him and make offerings to him. When Porter and the expedition reach the Greystoke hovel they are noticed not only by Tarzan but by the natives as well. When one of the natives kidnaps Jane Tarzan is put to the test to rescue the first white woman he’s ever seen.
“Tarzan of the Apes” was released in 1918 and was directed by Scott Sidney. It is a silent adventure film based on the first part of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 novel. Originally, this movie was three hours long and was divided into three parts. The longest existing print is seventy-three minutes in length but the only one available is about sixty minutes long.
The censors had a field day with this movie. Both city and state film censorship boards required various cuts. The Chicago Board of Censors cut the following: In Reel 1, the ship captain shooting man and his falling, two scenes of men with the ship captain being shot and falling, one man being struck on the head. In Reel 3, the scene when young Tarzan is frightened by a lion and jumps up showing his genitals for one second, a woman standing over a kettle showing her breasts. In Reel 5, the first two scenes of Esmerelda the maid on a man's lap in a closet and three choking scenes. In Reel 7, two close-ups of a black native leering at Jane in his arms and four scenes where he is carrying her off."
The film stars Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan. Lincoln was the first Tarzan on film. Lincoln also starred in two subsequent films “The Romance of Tarzan” 1918 and “Adventures of Tarzan” 1921. Lincoln also had a part in Johnny Weissmuller’s film “Tarzan’s New York Adventure” 1942 as a roustabout in the circus and in Lex Barker’s film “Tarzan’s Magic Fountain” 1949 as a fisherman.
Originally Stellan Windrow was hired to play Tarzan. After a few weeks of shooting he quit to enlist in the Navy at the start of World War I. Elmo Lincoln was then cast to replace Windrow. Since Lincoln was a little heftier and had trouble doing the tree work the filmmakers used the Windrow footage of him swinging from vines. Even though all the tree work was of Windrow he wasn’t credited in the film. Producer William Parsons did invite him to the premier as a guest so he got to see himself on screen.
The film was shot on location in Morgan City, Louisiana. The bayous of the area were great for a jungle movie yet it was near hotels, warehouses and other amenities needed for filmmakers. Add to that the black population of the area offered a lot of people willing to be extras. Reportedly over 300 residents of Morgan City were hired as cannibal extras for $1.75 a day and guys belonging to the New Orleans Athletic Club played the apes.
Lincoln is not exactly the sexiest looking Tarzan out there but he was known as a strong man so it’s understandable, sort of, why he got the part. Of course to be fair Enid Markey isn’t exactly Maureen O’Sullivan either. It is interesting what 1918 thought Tarzan should look like. In those days he-man were weight lifters not gymnasts. It’s not my favorite Tarzan film by any shakes but it is basically true to the story. Parts of the movie are scratched and a little faded. It could do with a restoration, not because it’s good but for historical reasons.