Tarzan and the Leopard Woman
Cast & Crew
When an injured man rides into a Zambesi village and reports before dying that the caravan he was traveling with was destroyed by leopards, Tarzan is baffled. Knowing that leopards kill with their teeth as well as their claws, Tarzan tells the commissioner of Zambesi that the man, who only has scratch wounds, could not have been attacked by leopards. The commissioner dismisses Tarzan's verdict and forms a safari to hunt the killer leopards. Before the safari leaves for the jungle, the half-white Dr. Emir Lazar, who seemingly embraces the white man's culture, informs his secretive, cave-dwelling tribe about Tarzan's suspicions. Lazar and Lea, the tribe's high priestess, decide that in order to protect their homeland of Bagandi, which is being invaded by Westernized Zambesis, they must ridicule Tarzan and continue their attacks on Zambesi caravans. To that end, they order real leopards to attack the safari, which has been joined by Tarzan, his wife Jane, their son Boy and their pet chimpanzee Cheetah. Although Tarzan kills several leopards himself, he still doubts that they were responsible for the caravan deaths and is mocked by the commissioner. Unknown to Tarzan and the safari, the hunt is being watched by Lea's young brother Kimba. The petulant Kimba, who is disliked and mistrusted by Lazar, decides that he will earn his manhood by killing Tarzan and his family. Pretending to be lost and hungry, Kimba appears at Tarzan and Jane's jungle home and asks for refuge. Although Tarzan and Boy are suspicious of Kimba, Jane insists that they care for him until his tribe is located. While Tarzan and Boy are collecting bamboo for their outdoor shower, Kimba steals a knife from Jane and dresses up in his tribe's leopard skin attire. Tarzan and Boy return home just as Kimba is about to lunge at the unsuspecting Jane. Later, as the commissioner reassures a group of young Bagandi-bound Zambesi teachers that their caravan will be safe, Lea and Lazar rally their warriors to ambush the teachers. Then, while the young Zambesis are set upon by the warriors, Boy is nearly mistaken for Kimba when he unwittingly dons his leopard skin. Alerted by Cheetah, Tarzan rescues Boy from the Bagandis' clutches and almost saves the teachers, but is caught. Kimba then tries to kill Jane and Boy, but is knocked out by the ever-resourceful Cheetah and is locked in a bamboo cage by Boy. In the Bagandis' cave, meanwhile, Lea demands that Tarzan, who is tied to a pole, tell him where Kimba is, then orders her men to kidnap Tarzan's family. After a fierce fight, Boy and Jane are overwhelmed by the Bagandis and brought to their cave. There Lea and Lazar order that all of the teachers and Tarzan and his family be sacrificed to their leopard god. As the warriors are performing their sacrificial dance, however, Cheetah sneaks in and unties Tarzan, then frees Boy and Jane. When Tarzan brings down the pole to which he is tied, he causes the ceiling to collapse and precipitates a cave-in. Moments before the cave's total destruction, Tarzan witnesses Kimba shoot Lazar and then be crushed by the falling rocks. Their ordeal over, Tarzan, Jane, Boy and Cheetah happily return to their jungle home.
George J. Lewis
King Kong Kashey
Scott R. Beal
John R. Carter
Robert O. Crandall
Tarzan and the Leopard Woman
The story has Tarzan battling a cult of jungle men who worship a leopard god and are led by the High Priestess Lea (Acquanetta). The men dress in leopard skins and claw their victims to death before cutting out their hearts. Eventually, Tarzan, Jane (Brenda Joyce) and Boy (Johnny Sheffield) are all captured, and it's up to Cheeta to start saving the day.
This was Brenda Joyce's second turn as Jane following two entries in which Jane was not even present, as Maureen O'Sullivan had left the role following Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942). Johnny Sheffield, in his seventh film as Boy, had his first significant fight scenes here, saving Jane from having her heart cut out by the deadly Kimba, High Priestess Lea's younger brother.
Tarzan and the Leopard Woman made money, and the series continued. But while it stands today as a satisfying, action-packed entry in the series, critics of the time were dismissive, with The New York Times declaring the "one thing which apparently has the ape man stumped [is] how to find an author who will write him into a really lively adventure." Variety thought Tarzan and Weissmuller were both getting too old and too stale, and complained that "the film is bogged down by stock situations and unimaginative production and direction... Leopard men's dances, staged by Lester Horton, resemble a high school gym class warming up... Acting honors, if there are any, go to little Cheeta."
The Los Angeles Times made special mention of the Leopard Woman herself: "The head push of this movie is a vicious star named Acquanetta. If Tarzan is the lord of the jungle, Acquanetta is most definitely the lady. This is a star in the making." In fact, Acquanetta had been a "star in the making" for a few years, but she was already growing disillusioned with Hollywood and after this film would take a five-year hiatus from the screen.
Acquanetta was one of several "exotic," foreign-looking actresses whom Hollywood tried to make into stars in the 1940s, but she never reached the level of Carmen Miranda or Maria Montez. Born on an Indian reservation in Cheyenne, Wyo., as Burnu Acquanetta, which means "Burning Fire, Deep Water," her mother was an Arapaho Indian and her father was of French and English descent. Given up for adoption, she was raised in Norristown, Penn., by a new family who renamed her Mildred Davenport. At 16, she became a fashion model in New York, and a few years later she took a trip to Hollywood just for fun; she was quickly discovered by a talent scout and the next thing she knew she had signed with Universal and was being promoted as "the Venezuelan Volcano" in such films as Arabian Nights (1942), Rhythm of the Islands (1943) and Captive Wild Woman (1943). The Universal publicity machine played up her exotic looks by dropping her first name and telling the press she slept in a teepee and other such nonsense. Tarzan and the Leopard Woman was her most notable picture, but her film career would soon sputter out as she lost interest in the roles being offered to her. Eventually she married a car salesman in Phoenix and settled there to raise a family.
Following Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, Weissmuller would make Swamp Fire (1946), opposite Buster Crabbe. "I took one look at that picture and went back to the jungle!" Weissmuller later said. Indeed, after Swamp Fire he starred in two more Tarzan pictures and then began a new franchise, playing "Jungle Jim" for virtually the rest of his career.
The studio pressbook for this film notes that Tarzan is required to deliver 30 lines of dialogue, "setting an all-time record" for a Tarzan movie. Look for Dennis Hoey in the role of the commissioner -- a comic part quite similar to that of his Inspector Lestrade in the Sherlock Holmes films of the same period.
Producer: Sol Lesser
Director: Kurt Neumann
Screenplay: Carroll Young (story and screenplay); Edgar Rice Burroughs (characters)
Cinematography: Karl Struss
Art Direction: Lewis Creber
Music: Paul Sawtell
Film Editing: Robert O. Crandall
Cast: Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan), Brenda Joyce (Jane), Johnny Sheffield (Boy), Acquanetta (Lea, the High Priestess), Edgar Barrier (Dr. Ameer Lazar), Dennis Hoey (Commissioner), Tommy Cook (Kimba), Anthony Caruso (Mongo).
BW-73m. Closed Captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold
David Fury, Johnny Weissmuller: Twice the Hero
David Fury, Kings of the Jungle: An Illustrated Reference to "Tarzan" on Screen and Television
Howard Mutti-Mewse, obituary of Acquanetta in the U.K. Independent, 8/19/04
Tarzan and the Leopard Woman
The working title of this film was Tarzan and the Leopard Men. The opening credits read: "Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and the Leopard Woman." Tarzan and the Leopard Woman was the fourth film in the Sol Lesser/RKO Tarzan series. Bank of America archival records indicate that Lesser borrowed $950,000 from the bank to make the picture. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Sol Lesser Productions borrowed unit manager Clem Beauchamp from RKO and art director Lewis Creber from Twentieth Century-Fox for this production. For more information on the "Tarzan" series, consult the Series Index and see the entry below for Tarzan Triumphs and the entry for Tarzan, the Ape Man in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40.