Tarzan en Français

on June 3, 2011 in Misc

Here are a couple facts:  I’m trying to get back into studying French, and I love love LOVE the old Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies.  I was weaned on them.  Grew up on them.  Fantasized about living in the jungle in a treehouse just like him, only as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

So anyway it’s only logical that a few weeks ago I at long last used an Amazon gift certificate I received at Christmas and bought the brand-spanking new double TCM sets of all eight Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies.

Talk about being a happy kid again.

Who knew that these DVDs could be educational?  I mean, these babies have French and Spanish subtitle options!  So of course I just had to check out Tarzan Escapes with the Frenchie part turned on.   And you know what?  My French is plenty good enough to know that 1) half of what’s being said ain’t being translated, which is typical for a lotta dubbed movies, and 2) punchy, colorful, slang-filled Tarzan movies just don’t translate so well.  You might say in another language they lack a certain je ne sais quoi.

Here’s a sampling:

Miss Parker:  “Before we accept your very kind offer.”  (Avant de partir… “Before leaving…”)

Tarzan:  Jane sorry?  (Jane triste?)

Jane:  I’ve never been so happy in my whole life (Au contraire.  Très très heureuse.)

Great white hunter:  Come on, speak up, man!  (Parlez!)

Or:  Get the men ready to move! (Il faut partir, i.e., “One must go.”)

What really doesn’t work for me is Tarzan saying stuff like “Jane partir?  Jane pas heureuse?”

At least there are a couple of bright spots in the translation.   It being a 1936 movie, there’s the inevitable and embarrassing racism.  A couple times the Great White Hunter refers to the native porters/guards as “boys,” as in “Send the boys for water.”   Happily this order is translated as “Envoi chercher de l’eau” – just a neutral “send” with no boy mentioned.  The “boys” reference is dropped elsewhere too.

In other scenes, these grown African men are at least referred to as men (hommes), as in “Get the men started, Bomba, we’re going up,” which nevertheless gets chopped down to a mere “Nous montons, Bomba.”  Then there’s “Men say no go, Bwana.  Men say ju-ju,” which becomes “Hommes pas vouloir, Bwana. Ju-ju.”

Oh well.  At least by turning on the French subtitles I can tell people that I’m not really vegging out while watching a fun old movie.   I’m busy studying French.

2 Responses to “Tarzan en Français”

  1. Ciara Knight says:

    I use to watch these with my dad all the time. Oh, what great memories!

  2. Helena says:

    Ciara — Sharing them really must have made them special.