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Packaged as an Edward D. Wood film, The Bride and the Beast bears his screenplay credit, and it can be safely said that the man's philosophy has survived intact to the final product. It's a terrible movie but possibly Wood's best, even though (or perhaps because) he didn't direct it. Wood's signed films are unbelievably bad, with his fetishistic themes lying around totally undigested. Here his irrepressable weirdness finds full espression in a show that at least has minimal production values. People who like to catalog Wood's various perversions should note that the star ape in this opus is named, 'Spanky'.
A movie like The Bride and the Beast must have been initially received as unbelieveable drek, and forgotten by patrons before they got out of the drive-in movie. But its cult grew through television showings, and now it's fun to watch for two reasons. First, the competent direction creates a bizarre Z-movie limbo of artificial sets and irrational characters. And second, Laura's amour fou is so well expressed, this might be Ed Wood's surreal masterpiece. The deranged story is told with the matter-of-fact sobriety of a Perry Mason episode; I wouldn't recommend showing this to mentally disturbed people!
The script exploits the late-'50s Bridey Murphy craze, when various charlatans and dupes claimed to have been able to recall past reincarnated existences while hypnotized. Here it's taken to its logical extreme ... if we believe that Bridey Murphy was an Irish lass, why couldn't she have claimed to have memories of being a dog? Why not a Barbra Streisand musical, "On a Clear Day You Can See Gorillas in the Mist"?
Adrian Weiss was an old-time fringe Hollywood assistant director and sometime producer, who was involved in a couple of previous gorilla movies. I'm not up on my Ed Wood lore but this particular project may have come about because of his access to the ape suits and/or old jungle action footage. The package text claims that Weiss produced Glen or Glenda? but it's a George Weiss that shows up for that title in the IMDB. Perhaps the men were one and the same?
Just from the evidence here, it looks like Wood was asked for a cheap screenplay that could incorporate the ape suits and the jungle stock footage. He may have taken it upon himself to infuse the story with his natural love of Angora sweaters, which as the dialogue goes, "are as soft as a kitten". I doubt hairy apes have the fuzzy Angora feel that sent Wood into delirious rapture, but hey, who's concerned about reality in a movie like this? For all we know, Wood's original script draft may have had Bwana Dan trying on his bride's wardrobe.
Charlotte Austin gives it her all, playing an irrational, inexplicable character. It must be said that her rapturous face while dreaming of 'trottin' down the jungle trail' has a strange erotic charge ... her compulsive bliss while in the presence of a gorilla - any gorilla - tells us all we need to know. I guess it's just a modern problem that doesn't get enough coverage: Women who love Gorillas, next on Oprah. Ms. Austin may have been a superstitious choice for the role, as she'd previously turned up in Monkey Business and Gorilla at Large. This movie could very aptly have been given the old-joke title, Gorilla my Dreams. Whatever Charlotte's ambitions were in Hollywood, this film and Frankenstein 1970 were enough to get her to throw in the towel. Let's hope she had fun making them.
Wood's sexual confusion gets a bizarre workout in The Bride and the Beast. The dreams are interestingly handled. Several are rendered in a negative that appears to be slightly solarized. When Laura (the she-ape) peers into a pond and sees the reflection of a gorilla, it's a strange moment, a more extreme variant of Wood's Glen/Glenda primping at a mirror and mulling over his/her true identity.
Lance Fuller's rather thick-headed macho male is oblivious to Laura's clear signals ... she likes the monkey, you dope. His character is equally unexplained -- why he keeps a Gorilla in a (secret) room downstairs can only be approached in Freudian terms. Laura doesn't bat an eye when she's shown a secret panel in the wall. She may be a closet monkey-lover, but Dan is hiding something as well.
Fuller was a good-looking guy who read lines well and showed up in a number of pictures, most notably as the bulbous-brained Brack in This Island Earth. He may have been chosen because he was a match for the hero in the old serial footage that pads out the second half of the show (although, since Fuller had appeared in another fantastic regression tale, The She Creature, you could make another case for serendipity here). Savant would guess that Weiss grafted on the subplot about two 'Indian tigers escaped from a boat off Africa' to boost The Bride and the Beast's running time. The recycling of the old India jungle adventure scenes explains why there's an Indian woman on the safari who gives Laura a whole native outfit to wear ... so she'll match the appearance of a victim from the old footage!
The Hollywood Gorillas in The Bride and the Beast exhibit some strange behavior of their own. 'Spanky' sleeps on a cot which could never support his weight. He opens a sliding door as if he were accustomed to using a vending machine, and enters Laura's boudoir like a shy Clark Gable. Spanky's jungle cousins are pretty weird, too. They definitely go for white women, and fuss over Laura as if she were the Queen of the Apes. I'm told an angry Chimp can pull a man's arm out of its socket, but these monster gorillas have a tough time of it when wrestling with Dan.
The conclusion comes back to Ed Wood territory, when a wild jungle gorilla knocks Dan flat, grabs Laura and hauls her off in his arms -- just as Dan had earlier carried her over the threshold! Standing in her honeymoon nightie, Laura looks more than eager. A few minutes later she's a happy girl enjoying the VIP treatment of several gorillas in their cave lair (Bronson Caves, of course). Dan shows up for a typical rescue bid, only for Laura to start hitting him. The monkeys knock Dan senseless (or, more senseless) and we ripple-dissolve back to the U.S. of A., where Dan finishes telling the doctor about his strange wife. It's clear at the fadeout that Dan still doesn't get it. 1
Savant's earlier reviews of The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr. and Night of the Ghouls stressed that Ed Wood's cult fame is based on the idea of making a total Hollywood Loser into a Winner, so as to atone for the shortcomings of the loser in all of us. Besides being yet another showcase for Ed Wood's personal fetishes, The Bride and the Beast also illustrates the perfect romantic alibi for, "Why my girl left me". From the beginning of her marriage, Laura is alienated from her husband and attracted to a different kind of stud. Dan isn't capable of framing their relationship in any terms but his own needs, and remains in a state of confusion over Laura's odd behavior. From day one until the the last befuddled fadeout, he learns less than nothing. I've met guys who were dumped by females, who then told elaborate tales that carefully put all the blame on Mame. The Bride and the Beast is just the way the story would be told by the biggest Loser of them all.
Retromedia's DVD of The Bride and the Beast is a fairly fuzzy and greyed-out transfer of what looks to be a 16mm print in good condition. The sound is reasonably clear, but there's nothing very positive to say about it. The full frame presentation is okay, although the show would have matted very well to 1:66 or so.
There are several extras, but only the 35mm trailer is interesting. It has a pair of shots censored from the film itself, where Spanky is shown not only pawing Laura but ripping off her nightie and throwing it to the floor. One cut of Laura's naked back is pretty suggestive. One of the lobby card stills (pictured on the package-back) shows this from the side angle. It's interesting that the trailer and ad art could keep the shots that had to be lopped from the film -- unless of course, this DVD is from a censored TV print. There's an odd jump-cut in the scene, from Spanky to Spanky, that show where the cuts would have appeared.
The other extras are pretty dire. There's a short clip of a scene cobbled together for fun by Fred Olen Ray, from an unsold Ed Wood script called Beach Blanket Bloodbath. Barely more than four or five setups, the fragment shows a woman menaced on an operating table by Forry Ackerman, while teenagers with a surfboard run through a cheap spaceship corridor set. It's a big nothing, but it's eye candy in comparison to the featured extra, an interview and two featurettes from David 'The Rock' Nelson - Mummy A.D. and Man from Plan Nine. Both are hideously lame amateur efforts. Nelson's extended interview (which bills him as 'The New Ed Wood') is unwatchable low-grade video work. Nelson comes off as an annoying weird-o, too infantile and obnoxious to be compared to the relatively sane folk who frequent cult movie conventions. Whatever we think of his films, the old Ed Wood must have been a personable fellow to inspire the love and loyalty of his coterie.
Retromedia's menu selection for 'website' on this unrated show ('no naked girls', reads the package copy) has that same quasi-obscene photo that irked Savant on King Dinosaur.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Bride and the Beast rates:
1. The dissolve to the finish of a story being told makes The Bride and the Beast seem as if it started as a movie told all in flashback, which would be a big structural jump for Ed Wood. But there's no front bookend with Dan Fuller saying, "You probably noticed my new bride didn't come back with me from Africa ..." It would be an even stranger story if it were Dan's flashback, because all of Laura's dreams remain personal secrets, that she never divulges to him.