1918's "Tarzan of the Apes" is certainly a novelty, the first full-length feature appearance of Edgar Rice Burroughs' legendary creation, and it's easy to laugh at the far-fetched ape costumes, exaggerated acting style of the era, and melodramatic plotline...but if you give the film a chance, you will discover a treasure, a production remarkably faithful to it's literary source, and quite well-made!
The film follows the book's early concepts fairly closely, as Lord and Lady Greystoke, unwilling castaways on the African coast (with Louisiana bayou country substituting for jungle), die, tragically, with their orphaned baby son raised by a female ape who had lost her own infant. The child actor portraying the young Tarzan, Gordon Griffith, is astonishing, nude for most of his performance, but very relaxed and believable. While barrel-chested, lantern-jawed Elmo Lincoln, 29, portraying the adult Tarzan, lacks Griffith's grace (the actor originally cast as the adult Tarzan, Stellan Windrow, was more slim and athletic, but was called into WWI military service, after filming some vine-swinging scenes, which were used in the film), he had a magnetism that was unmistakable, and commands the screen. His 'Jane', 24-year old film veteran Enid Markey, doesn't 'work' nearly as well, mimicking the eye-rolling innocence of the era's premier actresses, the Gish sisters. Traveling through the jungle with her scientist father (Thomas Jefferson...yes, that IS the actor's name!), she and Tarzan connect, and she gradually falls in love, despite her father's fears, an erstwhile suitor's evil manipulations, the pair's different lifestyles, dangerous jungle beasts (including a lion killed during filming), and unfriendly tribes.
While much of this may sound familiar (especially to fans of the first Johnny Weissmuller film), there is a freshness and simplicity to the 1918 production that later 'Tarzan' films couldn't recapture, despite bigger budgets and slicker production values. The film is a joy, and certainly worth owning!