Original running time: 85 mins
A C.D.I. production
Distributed by C.D.I.
Director: Mario Mattoli
Story: Vittorio Metz
Screenplay: Vittorio Metz, Marcello Marchesi, Age, Furio Scarpelli
Cinematography: Mario Albertelli
Music: Armando Fragna
Editor: Otello Colangeli
Art director: Piero Filippone
Cast: Totò (Antonio Della Buffas), Marilyn Buferd (Iva), Bianca Maria Fusari (Marta), Alba Arnova (Sonia), Adriana Serra (Giacomina Roy, wife of the judge), Luigi Pavese (Roy, the judge), Luisa Poselli (the teacher), Mario Castellani (Stanis), Tino Buazzelli (Spartaco), Galeazzo Benti (the parachute trainer), Vinicio Sofia (Barone Rosen), Enrico Luzi (Finotti, a lawyer), Rino Togniaccini (Bongo, a gorilla), Guglielmo Inglese (a stationmaster), Mario Siletti (Rosen’s butler), Sophia Loren (a girl in the Tarzan camp), Carlo Croccolo (Sposino), Guglielmo Barnabò (parachute squadron colonel), Aldo Giuffré (a parachutist), Nico Pepe (Micozzi, a lawyer), Giacomo Furia (cook on the train), Eduardo Passarelli (a controller), Totò Mignone (a railwayman), Alberto Sorrentino (Anselmo, head train guard), Bruno Corelli (hotel porter), Nino Vingelli (Stationmaster in Naples), Clara Bindi (lady with the hat), Riccardo Billi (Stationmaster in Sicily), Ughetto Bertucci (Stationmaster in Rome), Ciro Berardi (Police Commissioner), Alberto Fiorentino (a train guard), Vira Silenti (Dora)
Ostensibly a parody of the hugely successful American Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller (and, in later years, Lex Barker), Totò Tarzan actually harks back to the Edgar Rice Burroughs source novels, in which Tarzan travels to America and is faced with having to integrate into the modern world. Also, of course, it’s a vehicle for Totò, the rubber faced comedian who was a big star following his successful performances in films like I due orfanelle (47) and Yvonne la nuit (49). By the early fifties, he was churning out numerous films, almost all of which proved popular with audiences throughout Italy, and today he’s viewed as an Italian equivalent of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin.
Explorers Stanis (Mario Castellani), Spartaco (Tino Buazzelli) and Iva (Marilyn Buferd) are excited to hear that there’s a strange creature, a kind of white ape man called Tarzan (Totò), who lives in heart of the jungle. Using Iva as bait they’re able to capture him, but their excitement is rather curtailed when they discover that he’s a pretty handy speaker of Italian. In fact, they discover that he is actually the son of a wealthy adventurer who accidentally left him in the jungle back when he was a child. What’s more, now that his father is dead, he’s worth a considerable amount of money.
Hoping to cash in on his inheritance, which he obviously won’t need living in the middle of the jungle, they bring him to Rome, with the intention of having a court entrust him into their care. Their scheme, however, hits a considerable snag with the appearance of Baron Rosen (Vinicio Sofia), a distant relative of his who wants to obtain guardianship of him (and his money) for himself. After much wrangling, the explorers and the Baron decide that possibly the best course of action would be to just get rid of him and split the money. Tarzan, however, proves to be rather more resilient than anyone could have expected.
Based on a script two reputable pairs of comedy writers – Age and Scarpelli and Metz and Marchesi – this is essentially a ‘fish out of water’ comedy in which a ‘savage’ man discovers just how crazy the civilised world actually is (see also Crocodile Dundee or, at a stretch, King Kong). Much of the humour comes from the protagonists befuddlement when confronted with telephones, revolving doors, table lamps, hand grenades etc etc, as well as from highlighting the inherent lunacies and selfishness of modern life. Some of the gags are decent, some less so, and as with many Italian comedies of the time much of it seems to be made up of people shouting and slapping each other. The central concept, though, is suitably ridiculous and well sustained throughout the running time, and there are some sequences – such as when Tarzan trains to become a parachutist for some reason or other – that are very funny indeed.
Mostly filmed in the Titanus studios, it also looks as though some of the exteriors might have been shot in some kind of wood or botanical gardens. It’s not particularly realistic, for sure, but it’s pretty much the same technique as was still being used for the Jungle Girl movies of twenty years later. In fact, considering this was made in 1950, when even the most prestigious films could appear a bit rickety (and even made a virtue out of it), this looks pretty good. It’s crispy photographed, and some of the camerawork is rather fluid, with some great and wholly unexpected tracking shots utilised on occasion. There are also some hokey effects shots using model aeroplanes and, most particularly, a train set, that are as endearing as they are unconvincing.
As for the performers, Totò is great, obviously, although the more melancholic side to his character, which gradually began to emerge in his performances as the decade progressed, is kept well hidden; Tarzan here is essentially a mischievous child, not a character with any kind of real depth. His love interest is played by Marily Buferd, a former Miss America who appeared in a handful of films in Italy during at the time, such as Maracatumba… ma non è una rumba (49) and Giorgio Simonelli’s Io sono il capataz (51). Lower down the cast are several names who would go on to have a big impact on Italian cinema, from the future divas Sofia Loren and Vira Silenti to the underrated comic actor Aldo Giuffrè.