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October 22, 2007

The Double Feature Blog-a-thon: Bride of the Gorilla at Large

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Bride of the Gorilla
Curt Siodmak - 1951
Alpha Video Region 1 DVD

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Gorilla at Large
Harmon Jones - 1954
20th Century-Fox Region 1 DVD

One of the sillier genres of the Fifties involves gorillas on the loose with a reasonably attractive white woman in peril. What these two films also have in common is that the women in peril are both the screen wives of Raymond Burr. Any film with Raymond Burr and a gorilla will probably strike some as visually redundant. Both are tall, dark, and large. Even before he really started to pack on the pounds, Burr was virtually compared to an elephant, playing a character in Great Day in the Morning named Jumbo Means. The similarilty of Burr to a gorilla was probably not lost on anyone at the time these films were made and the films, as trivial as they are, can stand as a testament to one actor's perseverance before becoming the symbolic kind of the TV jungle with "Perry Mason".

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Bride of the Gorilla has a storyline that is almost a reworked version of Curt Siodmak's The Wolfman. Lon Chaney, Jr. is in the film for good measure, oddly cast as the chief of police in the small jungle town. Filmed in the wilds of a West Hollywood backlot, Bride of the Gorilla is one of those fantasies made up of almost random cultural and geographical elements. What may raise more eyebrows than the cutaway shots of animals in this mythical South American jungle, is the dialogue between Burr and beloved bad girl, Barbara Payton.

Those familiar with the personal histories of these two actors will recognize the skill involved when Burr and Payton discuss the sanctity of marriage. Almost as convincing are the special effects when Burr, the victim of an old woman's curse, turns into a gorilla. Siodmak had the sense to minimize the shots of the guy running around in the bad gorilla costume, a lesson probably learned from his time with Val Lewton. Just as Burr and Payton were going in different directions with their respective careers, the cast also includes Tom Conway doing what he can with life after The Falcon, and Woody Strode in one of his earliest performances. Best of all are the big eyes of veteran character actor Gisela Werbisek.

Harmon Jones edited films for William Wellman, Joseph Mankiewicz and several times for Elia Kazan. During all that time, he didn't seem to learn much about film directing. There is a scene in Gorilla at Large where Jones cuts between the carnival audience, Anne Bancroft on the trapeze, and the gorilla. It took me a couple of minutes to realize that that everything was taking place in the same space. The plot involves some murders at the carnival originally blamed on a gorilla named Goliath.

What makes Gorilla at Large worth watching, if not too closely, is to see two future Oscar winners, Bancroft and Lee Marvin, plus Lee J. Cobb and Cameron Mitchell from the original stage production of Death of a Saleman, all in the same film. There may be an intended moment of recalling Arthur Miller when Cobb's paternal feelings towards Mitchell are discussed. The best scenes in the film belong to Marvin, hilarious as a clueless, sleepyheaded cop. The nod to King Kong, when Goliath tries to grab Bancroft in her bed, may elicit a chuckle. Calling to mind another tall, dark and oversized actor, there is the one scene in Gorilla at Large, a reworking of the funhouse mirrors scene in Lady from Shanghai, with a guy in a bad gorilla costume in place of Orson Welles.

Readers continue seeing double at Broken Projector.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 22, 2007 12:54 AM


Peter- Great double feature and a great post! Thanks for participating.

Posted by: Gautam at October 22, 2007 03:42 AM

Really nicely written post, Peter! I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the asides about Burr and Payton.

I'm afraid, however, that I have a huge aversion to monkeys in movies (especially chimps, but gorillas often make me queasy, too). I probably won't be sitting down to this double feature, as tempting as you make it sound. But I bet the hubby will!!!

Posted by: Marilyn Ferdinand at October 23, 2007 03:45 PM

Peter! Dropping by to let you know the 2nd Edition of the Double Bill blogathon begins tomorrow. It would be a great pleasure to have you contribute again!

Posted by: Gautam at October 4, 2009 11:50 AM