Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mixed Genre Tuesday - The Gorilla (1939) - starring Bela Lugosi and The Ritz Brothers

Take a cold, dark night, add Bela Lugosi (doing judo!), Lionel Atwill, a guy in a gorilla suit, and a threat of death, then toss in the Ritz Brothers as three bumbling, slapstick detectives from the ACME detective agency, and what have you got? Well, obviously, kiddies, it's the next feature in this week's look at cross-genre mashups. Today we mix the old dark house mystery thriller with Three Stooges-style slapstick (minus the eye-gouging, thankfully) and come up with 1939's The Gorilla.

Largely forgotten today and definitely in the shadow of both the Stooges and the Marx Brothers, the Ritz's (Jimmy, Harry and Al) were once extremely popular, not only as comedians but also as a song and dance trio. They began performing in 1925, and were headliners by the early 30's. In 1934, they made their first movie, a short subject entitled Hotel Anchovy. Pleased with the Brothers' performance, Twentieth century Fox signed them to a contract to perform in feature length musicals and comedy features.

The Ritz's developed a very strong following, though unlike Both the Marx's and the Stooges, they really didn't develop the type of individual on-screen personalities that would not only allow them to flourish, but also for their fans to distinguish between them. Nor did they ever really leave their vaudeville roots behind, as even in their comedies, they would often break into song and dance.

Though the Brothers seemed to be quite happy with each other and to work well together, one thing they definitely were not happy with was their studio and the increasingly (as they saw it) low quality scripts they were being given. All of this actually climaxed during the production of today's feature as the Brothers walked off the set and out of their contracts during the filming of The Gorilla. The film was finished without them, and the next year the Brothers were hired on by Universal Pictures. Still, they never quite reached the stardom that the other two teams achieved.

Despite what the Brothers themselves might have thought of the film (and honestly, this is the first of their movies that I've seen, so it definitely may have been a huge step down in comparison to their other efforts), The Gorilla is actually fairly entertaining both as a comedy and as a somewhat slight little mystery. The Brothers acquit themselves well, never completely digesting the scenery, and Lugosi (as a mysteriously-appearing and disappearing butler) and Atwill (as the threatened man who may have a secret agenda of his own) definitely lend an air of prestige to the proceedings. Also of note is Patsy Kelly, the household maid who first encounters the gorilla when he reaches into her bedroom window only to pin a note to her shoulder. Never quite reaching Una O'Connor levels of hysteria, she nonetheless provides even more comic relief and has some of the sharpest lines in the film.

Instead of a trailer today, I'm simply going to embed this short clip which will not only give you a pretty good taste of the humor in the movie, but features one of the highlights I mentioned in today's opening paragraph:

Ok, kids, what time is it? That's right, time for the skinny:

Title: The Gorilla
Release Date: 1939
Running Time: 66 min
Black and White
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, The Ritz Brothers
Directed by: Allan Dwan
Produced by: Harry Joe Brown
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The Gorilla is available to watch or download for free here.
If your preference is DVD, it's available in that format from Amazon: The Gorilla
Or, if ya just want to rent it, it's also available from Netflix: The Gorilla

And if you've seen the flick (or any other Ritz Brothers movies and have recommendations), whether you agree or disagree with my take, be sure to let me know by clicking on the "comments" link below. Feedback (about the film or any other aspect of the site) is not only welcomed but encouraged.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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