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.
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.
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
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:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 13, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson