The Gorilla (1939)
For today’s audiences it is practically impossible to watch this film and not compare the Ritz Brothers to the enormously popular The Three Stooges. The Ritz Brothers (Jimmy, Harry and Al) don’t stand a chance. Having said that there is nothing to dislike about this familiar old dark house thriller with a giant killer on the loose in the form of a gorilla.
To get the plot moving along we have the traditional newspaper clippings splashed across the screen which was a very popular prop in storytelling back in the thirties and forties. Next up we have a screaming Patsy Kelly as a house maid trying to be calmed down by butler Bela Lugosi and the soon to be threatened Lionel Atwill. Atwill has been marked for death at the stroke of midnight which has prompted him to hire a trio of private investigators. Yup. The Ritz Brothers. It’s Jimmy Ritz that does most of the on camera mugging where his two brothers get the odd line but nowhere near the screen time of their sibling. The trio made a handful of films in the late thirties but by the mid forties their careers in films had died out. With plenty of red herrings and secret passages the film follows the genre’s usual path of plot twists and turns.
For today’s viewer it’s Lugosi that is the reason for watching as the Lugosi Cult still attracts followers and Bela gets a decent amount of screen time in a rather cheerful role. Bela was fairly busy from this point in 1939 up until about 1945 when things began to dry up for him. Our director Allan Dwan gives him the customary eerie close ups that his fans expect. Atwill along for the ride is always good at playing in these spooky thrillers so he fits right in as well.
Rounding out the cast we have Anita Louise and Joseph Calleia in this quickly paced 66 minute comedy thriller from Darryl F. Zanuck Productions. The film was actually produced by Harry Joe Brown who western buffs will recognize as the man who teamed with Randolph Scott for many fine oaters. As for our director Allan Dwan, he is another Canadian export who directed an overwhelming number of films from the silent era including Fairbanks’ Robin Hood in 1922 to the Duke’s Sands of Iwo Jima 1949.
The Gorilla should be an easy film to see if you feel the urge as it passed into public domain years ago and was one of the first VHS tapes I recall actually owning way back when. Some of the humor may have worn off over the years but if you like old movies……..