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The Gorilla (1939)

by on 2012/10/21

“I stopped thinking two hours ago.”

* * * *

I am about to say something I’ve never said about anything, ever.

Here goes: The Gorilla was a hoot. A hoot.

There, I said it. I will probably never say something like that again, ever.

I have a fun impairment. I don’t like slapstick. Capering. Goofiness. These things make me weary.

But watching The Gorilla one Saturday morning with my favourite teenager Miss_Tree, we found ourselves laughing and laughing and laughing at slapstick, capering and goofiness.

Maybe it was the setting. Fall leaves outside, a crackling fire in the fireplace, a few plushy blankets, and this black-and-white Bela Lugosi (Dracula) movie on the screen. If that isn’t a little piece of secular heaven, I don’t know what is.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, knowing only that Bela Lugosi was in it. The first few minutes sucked me in utterly. Patsy Kelly as Kitty the maid, delivered a performance so awe-inspiring, so hilarious, I knew was hooked.

We are all terribly familiar with the usual movie trope of the poor maid, alone in her room, being frightened senseless by a monstrous intruder. Kelly detonates this old chestnut with a screaming, jumping, running fit that lasts, and lasts and lasts.

After being grabbed by a furry primate hand while reading Shakespeare, she shrieks and shrieks and shrieks with a Brooklyn-accented gusto the likes of which I’ve never seen, and I’ve ridden the New York subway system more than most Northern Albertans.

Kelly’s performance showed me that this was a gorilla movie with a difference.

Enter Bela as Peter’s as the sinister butler to the shifty man of the house Walter Stevens (Lionel Atwill). Stevens is receiving threatening letters signed by the “Gorilla.” Lightning flashes outside the oak-panelled den. All good signs.

Frightened Stevens recruits three freelance detectives in the form of Garrity, Harrigan and Mulligan (The Ritz Brothers, Jimmy, Harry and Al respectively) to protect his life. These “detectives” are full, free-form, seltzer-down-your-pants Vaudevillian broad comedy. And I do mean broad.

The Ritz Brothers were all men born to be stalked by a guy in a bad gorilla suit. And this gorilla suit was hilariously bad. Poe the Gorilla (Art Miles) looked as though he was made entirely of garbage bags, old shoe leather and dead raccoons. That fact just made things funnier to Miss_Tree and I.

With Atwill playing the straight man, joined by his posh, delicate niece Norma (Anita Louise), the Ritz Brothers shlemiel and shlimazel their way around the mansion. While not in the film as much as I wanted or hoped, Bela cut through the goofy like a razor-sharp incisor through a marshmallow.

Don’t think, just watch The Gorilla. It is a hoot. Yes, you heard me.

* * * *

66 minutes


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