Tarzan of the Apes (1918) is a silent, black and white action adventure film directed by Scott Sidney starring Elmo Lincoln, Enid Markey, George B. French and Gordon Griffith. The movie was the first Tarzan movie ever made, and is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' original novel Tarzan of the Apes. It adapts only the first part of the novel, the remainder becoming the basis for the sequel, The Romance of Tarzan. The film is considered the most faithful to the novel of all the film adaptations. Its most notable plot change being the introduction of the character Binns and his role in bringing the Porters to Africa; the novel brought them there through the improbable coincidence of a second mutiny.
John and Alice Clayton, Lord and Lady Greystoke (True Boardman and Kathleen Kirkham), are passengers on the Fuwalda, a ship bound for Africa. When the vessel is taken over by mutineers the sailor Binns (George B. French) saves them from being murdered, but they are marooned on the tropical coast. After their deaths their infant son is adopted by Kala, an ape, who raises him as her own. The young Tarzan (Gordon Griffith) grows to maturity among the apes, becoming their king. Binns, returning to find the Claytons after ten years’ captivity among the Arabs, discovers the ape man and travels to England to report his survival to his family. An expedition led by scientist Professor Porter (Thomas Jefferson), a scientist, is launched to investigate. Meanwhile, Kala has been killed by a native, who is killed in turn by the now-adult Tarzan (Elmo Lincoln). The villagers kidnap Porter’s daughter Jane (Enid Markey); Tarzan rescues and romances her, and she comes to accept his love.
- While Elmo Lincoln is generally credited as the first movie Tarzan, that distinction actually belongs to Gordon Griffith, who plays the character as a boy. In any case, he was technically the first to play the adult Tarzan.
- Lincoln, a powerful but beefy actor, does not conform to the modern expectation of an athletic Tarzan. Nonetheless, he came closer to the ideal in one respect, killing a lion that went berserk on screen. The lion, an aged specimen, was also somewhat handicapped in the struggle by having been drugged for its screen appearance.
- Rex Ingram was used as an extra in this movie.