Essay:Thanatos Reviews: Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla
Since I want to start doing some reviews here, I have chosen the oldest non-Hitchcock film in my collection to start off with, Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952).
The film opems with some nice shots of jungle animals such as lions, hyenas, and such despite taking place (According to the back of the DVD case) on a Pacific Island, until it cuts to two bearded men (Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo) unconscious in the jungle, where they are found by natives. After taking the men back to their village, shaving them and dressing them in Hawaiian shirts, the men awaken. Duke and Sammy were going to do a show for the Pacific troops in Guam when they opened the wrong door and fell out of an airplane (but where luckily were wearing parachutes). They then landed on the island of Cola-Cola and got lost in the jungle.
Duke falls in love with the beautiful daughter of the village chief, Nona (Charlita), Nona went to college in the U.S.A. and is the assistant of Dr. Zabor (Bela Lugosi,), a mad scientist who is doing evolutionary experiments on the island. He is also in love with Nona.
Zabor, jealous of Duke, turns him into a gorilla in order to prevent Duke and Nona being together. Duke tries to tell Sammy he is the gorilla through charades, but has to resort to singing to inform his dim-witted partner. Another gorilla ,attracted by Duke's cries, enters Zabor's Castle and chases our heroes, with Zabor in pursuit. The other gorilla leaves and Sammy and Duke return to the village. The good doctor shows up and shoots at Duke. Sammy takes the fatal blow and then wakes up.
Yep, it was all a dream. The boys are back in New Jersey, where Nona is Duke's girlfriend and rest of the cast work in the club where Duke and Sammy perform. Sammy and Duke perform their act.
Going into this film, I have to admit expecting something along the lines of a Ed Wood, but director William Beaudine did an alright job with this film.
I really liked Sammy Petrillo knocking off Jerry Lewis. He really was the star of this show (despite Lugosi have his name in the title). He's whiny, annoying, but downright hilarious. I originally though it would be painful to sit through all 74 minutes of this movie after he started talking. The first lines he delivers are truly terrible jokes that he alone laughs to . As time goes on, he grows on you, as a sort of Gilligan. His meeting with Bela Lugosi is very entertaining, where he makes mention of Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula and has some cute scenes with Ramona the Chimp.
I did not care for Duke as much. With good looks, exposed chest-hair and a few musical numbers, this guy fades in with other actors of the era. His singing is not that great, not that is bad either, but I just tune out during his numbers. He falls in love with Nona pretty fast, deciding to marry her after knowing her for about a day. The straight man of the comedy duo, most of the jokes he makes are about Sammy. So really, Sammy Petrillo provides all of the humor in this film.
When I saw Bela Lugosi in the title, I thought of Ed Wood. I don't know if that is just me, but I automatically associate Lugosi with Wood. (Especially when you have names like Dr. Zabor) Lugosi plays the mad scientist very well in this film. In fact, this really doesn't feel like an Ed Wood film at all. The inclusion of Lugosi in the title is the only thing that I can say is Wood-like. Wood always gave Lugosi top billing and the title of the film seems a little strange. The alternate title, "The Boys from Brooklyn", is incredible vague.
It takes about 55 minutes for Bela to turn Duke into a gorilla. The movie takes too much time getting there and afterwards then fast-forwards to the ending (granted, they only spent 9 days shooting this). The transformation effect is really dull. Just the image of Duke that fades into a gorilla suit. Not even wavy lines. The parts where Duke is a gorilla are not as funny as one would expect. The real chimp was more funny.
I was going to complain about how some of the actors don't really look like they are from some Pacific Island, and I can rationalize them having Hawaiian shirts, but the ending threw me. It was all a dream. The worst of cop outs. It kind of explanes people looking white although Dr. Zabor is the only white man on the island, but come on! Instead of Dr. Zabor being punished for his actions in some fitting way, like being turned into a monkey (or possibly a bat) it throws everything out the window. It really destroyed some of my respect for the film. Before that, I was going to rate it higher, but I cannot do that in good conscious after seeing that. There are times when you can pull off "it was just a dream"...but this wasn't one of them.
Overall, I had a better time with this movie than I thought I would. However, I am not going to give it a strong recommendation. With the cheap ending, the Jerry Lewis impersonations, and forgettable musical numbers, I can understand people not picking this up. However, it is still funny, and the presence of Bela Lugosi draws you in. I wonder if I looked directly into his eyes? You can probably find this in a discount bin at the dollar store (you know, with all the other movies in thin DVD cases.). If that is the case, I say go for it. There are worse ways to spend an evening, and worse movies as well.
Final Rating: 3/5 stars (watchable)
- Sammy Petrillo is hilarious at impersonating Jerry Lewis.
- Bela Lugosi explaining evolution is kinda hypnotic
- Duke and Sammy feel like a cheap knock off of a better comedy duo, even if you don't know who (They were impersonating Martin and Lewis).
- Duke Mitchell shows off his hairy chest alot
- Cop out ending
- Forgettable songs