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DVD SAVANT

Bride of the Gorilla


Bride of the Gorilla
Image Entertainment
1951 / b&w / 1:37 / 66 70 min. / Street Date December 10, 2002 / $19.99
Starring Raymond Burr, Barbara Payton, Tom Conway, Gisela Werbisek, Lon Chaney Jr., Paul Cavanagh, Paul Maxey, Carol Varga, Woody Strode
Cinematography Charles Van Enger
Art Direction Frank Sylos
Film Editor Francis D. Lyon
Original Music Raoul Kraushaar, Mort Glickman
Produced by Jack Broder, Edward Leven
Written and Directed by Curt Siodmak

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Reaching out to see old movies somebody recommended in some old conversation can be complicated. I'd been told to look out for a bizarre gorilla movie called Bride of something or another with Raymond Burr, so last June I grabbed at Retromedia's The Bride and the Beast, which turned out to be a different movie altogether, a warped Ed Wood-written pastiche. Now Image has the original, equally strange Bride of the Gorilla available for our disbelief. The Hollywood jungle movie is just as confused as its Z-level semi-remake, and carries a mixed bag of associations and Hollywood stories to boot.

Synopsis:

A plantation in 'the jungle.' Two men hover around the attractive wife of planter Klaas Van Gelder (Paul Cavanaugh), Dina (Barbara Payton): her quietly admiring doctor, Viet (Tom Conway), and hothead overseer Barney Chavez (Raymond Burr). When Chavez is fired for his obvious interest in Dina, he arranges for Klaas to be killed by a venemous snake, thus clearing the way for his marriage. But a witch who lives with the Van Gelders (?), Al-long (Gisela Werisbek) puts a curse on Barney with leaves from a forbidden plant. It turns out that Barney was after Dina's love and not her money, but it matters not: every night he wanders into the jungle, enraptured by either a voodoo-like illusion, or the fact that he is transforming into a savage beast.

Titled The Face in the Water during production, Bride of the Gorilla is a real head-scratcher. True, the level of talent on display would probably have snapped at any available role, but anyone who read the script and signed on had to be in denial, or totally unaware that writer-director Curt Siodmak's bizarre jungle story was a Career Choice of No Return.

Bride of the Gorilla probably began with good intentions, with Siodmak envisioning a steamy bit of delirious amour fou. But everything that the story implies - Barney's newfound utopian existence as a savage beast, or a number of possible sexual interpretations - is lost in a production that is devoid of any touches that might express anything beyond the letter of the script.

In one of those plantation settings that only occur in Hollywood, a lavish house exists in the midst of a manicured, tame jungle of rented greens. Is it the Dutch East Indies? Talkative police commissioner Taro (Lon Chaney Jr) is the civil authority. He has a black deputy named Nedo (A capable Woody Strode), so is this Africa? Old-crone witch Al-long is of indeterminate origin, but uses magic that resembles Voodoo. Sexppot chambermaid Larina (Carol Varga) is definitely Latin. Confusing matters further, the trio of plantation workers we see dress and talk like Hollywood versions of Columbian coffee bean pickers. Yet another odd clue is the presence of Tom Conway in a setting similar to Val Lewton's superior I Walked with a Zombie, which was set in the West Indies.

Curt Siodmak was the screenwriter of Zombie (until Lewton totally re-wrote it as Ardel Wray), so Savant finally decided on the West Indies, only with lots of stock-footage jungle cats lurking in the bushes.

(spoiler)

The show has similarities to the Lewton film, with the unbelievable proceedings centering around Raymond Burr's monkey mania. Burr furrows his brow and stares with such intensity, you'd think his head were about to explode. After Al-long slips him the magic potion, he's beset by the Beast With 5 Fingers - like hallucination that his hands are turning black and ape-like. Then, the cast starts making mention of a mythical beast that walks on its hind legs, which has suddenly started claiming animal and human prey. Doctor Conway and policeman Chaney behave so archly, we have to assume they know it's Burr, and are just humoring the script. Al-long lurks about like Maria Ouspenskaya, prepping little herbs. Naturally, the sexy maid has already been dishonored by Burr, but her couple of scenes look like payment for services rendered, as they have no real function in the script. She just continues moping about like Tondelayo on a bad day. As in Zombie, the mismatched lovers come to an untimely end, with Tom Conway again grieving over a female who loved another man.

Barbara Payton is a special case. She has presence, but not enough experience; compared to her contemporaries, Shelley Winters and Jan Sterling, she comes out a poor third. I've seen her in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, where Helena Carter is much more impressive; and in Four-Sided Triangle, which has a script that does everyone in. Payton seems to work in Bride of the Gorilla because her abilities aren't taxed. She takes the ridiculous story seriously, and somehow comes off as less foolish than everyone else.

Payton's is one of the sadder Hollywood cases; from co-starring with James Cagney, she took a real tailspin into misery & ignominy, along with boyfriend Tom Neal (Detour). Between her notoriety, Lon Chaney's belabored acting, and Raymond Burr's total intensity, Bride of the Gorilla has enough to entertain those seeking the obscure and bizarre.

Siodmak, whose name adorns a number of very good movies, capsizes his sloggy script with poor direction. The camerawork is flat, even in the elaborate if unatmospheric jungle sets. Payton is introduced wearing a revealing low-cut tropical outfit, mambo-ing to the record player, and the males gather 'round like salmon in mating season. About the only interesting shots, movie-wise, are the monster point-of-view angles creeping through the greenery, and a truck up to the reflection in a pond, to reveal a gorilla suit staring at us in. Bride of the Beast stole this shot, and might be called a concept spin-off of this film.

Some interesting names crop up. Later monster-maker Herman Cohen was an assistant here, and was still struggling to make a good monkey movie 20 years later, with Trog. Frank Sylos was art director for a number of top Noir titles, and editor Francis D. Lyon has his share of 'wow' credits too, like Things to Come.


Image Entertainment's DVD of Bride of the Gorilla looks pretty good, either excellent 16mm or so-so 35mm. Film damage is minimal. The trailer is serviceable. Wade Williams liner notes again misrepresent the film, as being about mysterious experiments. The story sticks to standard Voodoo hokum.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Bride of the Gorilla rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 13, 2002





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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