Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic character Tarzan made his big screen debut in 1918 in the silent film Tarzan of the Apes. It starred Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan and stayed true to Burroughs’ novel. The movie only adapted the first part of the book. The second half was adapted as the sequel The Romance of Tarzan which is a lost film. The Revenge of Tarzan was the third film and it was made in 1920. It too is a lost film.
For the fourth film the producers decided to try something different. Instead of making a standard movie, they decided to make a 15 chapter serial. The novel The Son of Tarzan was adapted. Hawaiian actor Kamuela C. Searle was cast as the son of Tarzan, John Clayton aka Korak.
The story has Tarzan and Jane living in London, England. Unlike the latter movies that would follow, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan was a smart, intelligent and civilized jungle man. He spoke numerous languages and despite being raised in the jungle by apes, he could pass for a normal person quite easily. Of course he preferred to wear a animal skin loin cloth to “strip off the thin veneer of civilization”. The early films followed this character instead of the latter MGM Johnny Weissmuller “Me Tarzan, You Jane.”
After summarizing the first three movies, the film features a tuxedo wearing Tarzan, reassuring Jane that their son has not inherited his jungle ways. Young John though wants to be like his father. Tarzan’s archenemy Ivan Paulovich kidnaps John and takes him to the jungle were he escapes with captured ape Akut. John soon learns to live like his father did and is given the ape name Korak. He also rescues a young girl from slavery.
The film was a huge success, leading to another serial The Adventures of Tarzan (1921) with Elmo Lincoln reprising his Tarzan role. Kamuela C. Searle was seriously hurt during a stunt and was rumored to have died because of the injuries. The serial was released as they were still shooting the movie and the news helped generate interest in the serial. A double was used for some of the final scenes. Searle didn’t actually die from his injuries but did die a couple of years later from cancer.