An African tribe devoted to the leopard cult is dedicated to preventing civilization from moving further into Africa. Tarzan fights them when the cult first attacks a caravan and next attacks Jane and Boy. Tarzan is captured. Boy is bothered by the Leopard Priestess' younger brother. Cheetah saves the day.
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
MY favorite of the Johnny Weisemuller Tarzan movies, contains great B-movie over-the-top performances and classic lines.
The Tarzan family's shopping trip to Zambezi is cut short by the arrival of a bloodied,dying man, the only survivor of a caravan apparently attacked by leopards. But the Jungle Man knows something is not quite right. "Man not killed by Leopard" he declares, pointing out that leopards use not just their claws but their teeth to kill. Challenged by skeptics to give an alternative explanation, he responds with the classic line "Something Leopard that isn't Leopard".
That something is this freakish cult of Leopard people,who enjoy dressing up in animal skins, attacking people, and ripping out their hearts to sacrifice to their god. They are led by Lea (Aquanetta) (based loosely on the character of the high priestess "La" in the Tarzan novels) and her lover, Lazar, a proto-environmentalist?- who is obsessed with stamping out civilization - a great "over-the-top performance by Edgar Barrier.("Away with them! Down with them!")
But the character to watch is "Kimba" Lea's brother, deliciously portrayed by Tommy Cook - as a conniving, sadistic little creep, who despises Lazar and harbors a not-so-secret lust for his sister and for Jane, the "lady with golden hair".
Taunted by his friends for his pretentiousness,Kimba boasts "When I come back,I will show you a heart". Kimba ingratiates himself into the Tarzan family, then turns on the unsuspecting Jane and Boy declaring "Now I take back TWO hearts". It stretches credulity when the bumbling Boy temporarily overpowers the clever and calculating Kimba.
Tarzan knows more about the ways of the jungle and its inhabitants than anyone, so of course NO ONE in the movie takes his warnings seriously until another caravan is attacked, and the "Zambezi maidens" (student teachers who have been hired to civilize the natives)are captured, along with the entire Tarzan family, and all are bound and prepared for sacrifice to the leopard god. Following classic adventure movie logic, the leopard folks bind Tarzan to the main support beam of their temple, providing him (with the aid of the ever-helpful Cheetah)not only with the opportunity to escape but to literally bring down the house. In a final moment of dramatic retribution, the dying Kimba finally gets his coveted heart - Lazar's heart.
This is one of the two best RKO Tarzan films. I must disagree with a previous comment that Johnny Weissmuller had shown signs of weight gain in this movie. On the contrary, this was probably the best he had looked as Tarzan since the MGM days. He had lost quite a bit of the weight he had in the earlier RKO films and his physique had regained quite a bit of its definition. With the weight loss, one can see his pectorals regain the muscularity that made him "king of the jungle."
Likewise, watching the movie, you can see that RKO looked to capitalize on Weissmuller's improved physique by trimming his loincloth to its perhaps briefest form since Tarzan Escapes, where quite a bit of pelvic and hip area is exposed for his adoring female fans. Additionally, RKO somehow shifted the appeal in their Weissmuller films from the romance of Tarzan and Jane and geared it more towards Tarzan's conflict or cozy surroundings with other attractive females. The titles of the later films (Amazons, Leopard Women, Huntress, & Mermaids) reflect this, which in a way is unfortunate because I felt Brenda Joyce made quite a lovely Jane and wish they would have retained more of the romance from the Maureen O'Sullivan films.
As previously mentioned, this film features a very suggestive adult scene like none other in the Weissmuller Tarzan series. While attempting to rescue the Zambesi maidens, Tarzan is attacked and captured by the "leopard men" wearing steel claws, leaving Tarzan with countless deep scratches all over his body.
Tarzan is then brought to the cult's cave and is bound before the cult's beautiful queen, Lea. Lea attempts to extract information from a weakened Tarzan, who refuses to reply. Lea then retrieves a Spanish tickler and begins to slowly approach Tarzan with intention to further inflict torture on the jungle man.
This scene strongly intimates a sexual dominatrix theme with the scantily clad Lea approaching the bound and helpless Tarzan, clad only in his loincloth, prepared to torture him with additional clawing of Tarzan's chest and body.
Indeed, a brilliant camera angle appears as Lea is slowly approaching Tarzan. The claw is held outward in a way where it appears in the foreground over Tarzan's left pectoral at all times, as if Lea intends to claw his chest open.
While Lea is stopped from further attacking Tarzan, the suggestive nature of the scene was quite different and thrilling for adult Tarzan audiences. While Tarzan had always been able to conquer giant hungry crocodiles, other wild animals, and devious men alike, here the "King of the Jungle" has been rendered utterly helpless at the hands of a beautiful woman.
Likewise, Weissmuller's chest was quite the sexy symbol of his strength, prowess, and manhood as Tarzan. And the threatened emasculation of him at the hands of Lea was a large part of the film's promotion effort, proving quite unique and titillating for both male and female audiences.
Certainly the appeal of this scene lies in viewing a scantily clad, visually appealing physique being threatened with peril they may not be able to escape from. Usually this is accomplished pulp style in monster movies where a dainty swimsuit wearing beautiful lady is captured by the monster. But here the tables are turned with Tarzan nearly naked in the submissively helpless and vulnerable state, with the hint of sexual tension between he and his beautiful torturer.
With the end of WWII, every Hollywood studio faced some major financial problems (a return of the high-priced talent, under contract and expecting to work, smaller audiences, as people had other ways to pass the time, increased production costs, government investigations into the industry), and for the smaller studios, the effect was most pronounced, as shooting budgets would be slashed on many features. TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD WOMAN marked the beginning of the decline of the RKO-Johnny Weissmuller films, with a BIG drop in quality from the previous year's TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS.
The film is a routine tale of a leopard cult which terrorizes the local African community, while attempting to thwart the government's plan to 'bring civilization' to another village, by capturing caravans and killing everyone, dressed in some REALLY cheesy, leopard-skin, clawed costumes! A dying survivor only has time to utter "leopards" before he expires, and while Tarzan quickly realizes this wasn't the work of animals (and HE would KNOW!), nobody believes him, and the cult turns loose an actual pack of leopards on the next caravan, to discredit him. Even Jane (Brenda Joyce, in her second outing in the role), thinks the Ape Man is getting a bit 'balmy', so Tarzan shrugs off his suspicions, and returns home to do some plumbing work on the tree house(??!!) Naturally, the cult, led by their 'plant' in the government, Nazi-like 'Dr. Lazar' (Edgar Barrier) and buxom, exotic high priestess, Lea (Acquanetta), worries about Tarzan again disrupting their 'Master Plan', so she sends her weaselly little brother (Tommy Cook) to spy on the Ape Man and his family.
Eventually, Tarzan DOES again get involved; he, Jane, and Boy are captured, and dragged into the cult's cave headquarters to be executed, so, of course, Cheeta has to save Tarzan (as always...) The Ape Man rescues the innocents, kills the baddies, and destroys the cult and their hideout...but, by this point, who really cares?
The film has little to offer, other than some silly, if unintentionally camp 'cult dances', the ever-reliable humor of Cheeta, and the novelty of seeing Boy (Johnny Sheffield) in the midst of puberty. Johnny Weissmuller, at 42, looked more 'middle-aged' than ever, and his once-graceful swimmer's physique had packed on some pounds!
The series was definitely on a downward slide, and things would only get worse...
# Continuity: Before Kimba goes off to spy on Tarzan and later befriend him, Lea and Kimba are both talking in front of a mirror, approximately two feet from each other. When the camera pans back for a wide shot, they are both further apart.
# Continuity: When Cheetah sneaks up on the Commissioner and Doctor Lazar, he sprays the Commissioner with the soda water from the bottle on the ground. You see him hit squarely in the face with the water, yet right after he gets up from his chair, his face and clothes are dry.
# Continuity: Two crocodiles are on the river bank that the raft with the women on it drift toward. After Tarzan goes to save the women, he moves the raft to another shore, except it looks like the same shore, minus the crocodiles, making one wonder where the crocodiles went to. For that matter, they don't even attack the women when they're close enough.