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The Gorilla (Bela Lugosi)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Had Edgar Allen Poe known how many bad murder mysteries featuring gorillas would have been inspired by his classic The Murders in the Rue Morgue, he may never have written it. It should come as no surprise that 1939's The Gorilla was one of these ape-related films - featuring an ape named (what else?) Poe. It's as much comedy as a murder mystery, though, with the Ritz Brothers lending their slapstick antics to the whole affair. Most folks say that this was a bad vehicle for the comedy trio and that they really could deliver laughs aplenty, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. I've never seen the Ritz Brothers in anything before, but you'd have to have a really big funny bone to find much humor in all the bumbling around you'll find here.

Since this story, based on a play from the 1920s, had already been brought to cinematic life twice already, somebody at 20th Century Fox decided to bring in the Ritz Brothers and play it for laughs as much as suspense. Actually, there isn't all that much suspense to begin with. Some killer calling himself "the Gorilla" has been murdering folks all over town, making the cops look pretty inept in the process (since he tends to warn his intended victim a full 24 hours in advance). The latest target is Walter Stevens (Lionel Atwill), a fairly well-to-do guy who, we learn, happens to be heavily in debt. His niece (and co-beneficiary of Stevens' brother's will) Norma (Anita Louise) and her beau Jack Marsden (Edward Norris) just so happen to be on hand for the occasion, which has prompted Stevens to hire the Ritz Brothers to protect him. As the appointed hour approaches, there are plenty of wall-tapping, secret room-hopping shenanigans throwing the intrepid detectives off, and - wouldn't you just know it? - a real gorilla has escaped and headed right for the Stevens estate.

The Gorilla is an incredibly average film. It's certainly watchable, but nothing all that interesting or humorous ever happens. The main draw of the film today is the presence of Bela Lugosi as Stevens' butler. It's rather sad to watch such a talented actor as Lugosi play such a subordinate role in a film, but - as always - he steps up and delivers in a big way, despite the banality of the movie as a whole. Besides Lugosi, I think Lionel Atwill is quite a fine actor, but the most memorable player in this whole droll affair is Patsy Kelly, who plays Stevens' maid. She eventually becomes rather annoying due to her proclivity for delivering more and more one-liners as her general state of fear increases, but she's about the only character on hand with a discernible spark of life in her.

Horror and comedy can only bond effectively in the most special of circumstances, and the formula really just doesn't work in The Gorilla. Bela Lugosi certainly deserved better, and I can only hope that others are correct in saying that the Ritz Brothers were actually funny in some of their other films.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 28, 2005
THE GORILLA was the crux of a contract dispute between the Ritz Brothers and their studio -- the comedians complained about the script and walked off the set. They came back to finish the movie... but they were right. This has handsome production, atmospheric direction, and above all a solid supporting cast (Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Patsy Kelly, Wally Vernon, Anita Louise, Joseph Calleia), but the results are more noisy than funny in this stagey adaptation of an old play. Not at all typical of the Ritz Brothers, who were much more at home with musical comedy, and first-time viewers shouldn't judge the team by THE GORILLA. Lugosi fans will also be disappointed by his limited role. Video versions derive from retired 16mm TV prints.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2005
The zany Ritz Brothers (Jimmy, Harry, Al) could do it all: sing, dance, and were skilled practitioners of verbal and visual comedy. From the 1930s through the 1960s, they were hugely popular on stage and in nightclubs; their wild brand of humor, which could be extremely silly, was a major influence on such comic talents as Sid Caesar, Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle, Danny Kaye, and Mel Brooks.

Today they're generally forgotten; while their handful of starring movies contain moments of exuberant fun, most of them fail to capture what made the team so special. By all accounts-including the Ritzes themselves-THE GORILLA (1939) is one of their worst films. As screwball detectives assigned to investigate a series of murders committed by a man in an ape suit (or could it be a real gorilla?), the boys are trapped in a lame vehicle that doesn't afford them the opportunity to show off their musical abilities. Along with co-stars Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill, the Ritzes do a lot of yelling and running around, but it's all wasted energy in this virtually laughless parody of haunted house thrillers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2013
For someone like myself who has heard of the comedy team of the Ritz Brothers but never seen their work, "The Gorilla" (along with "The Three Musketeers") is a reasonably good start. Adapted from a successful stage play, 20th Century Fox bought the rights & tweaked the film version to suit the mugging, bumbling Ritzes. As the story goes, Fox began putting the brothers in "B" pictures around this time, the Ritzes complained about doing another not-so-high-quality production, and took a much-publicized walk. Fox retaliated by suspending their contracted comedy stars. Eventually, there was a reconciliation (due probably to the critical & financial success of the then-just-released "Musketeers"), and the brothers returned to work on this one.
Really, "The Gorilla" treads pretty familiar territory: An atmospheric murder-mystery full of menacing hands creeping out from hidden panels, dark passageways, and plenty of shrieks. But the brothers had a knack for punching over mediocre material with energy & good comic timing, so they can't really be blamed for a somewhat bland script.
The plot has a high-standing official being marked for death by a serial killer named "The Gorilla" who seems to commit his murders in--yep, you guessed it--a gorilla costume. This is where the brothers come in as detectives hired to protect the future victim (which is funny in itself; how can they protect him when they can't even protect themselves?). Add to the mix a REAL escaped gorilla to confuse things, and that's where the story finally takes off.
The Ritz Brothers were one of those comedy teams which elicited two different reactions: You either loved them or found them annoying or bland. Sid Caesar & Mel Brooks have both been longtime fans of the RB, and one can see their comedy influence in those two men's styles. The supporting cast is fine. The great Bela Lugosi does the best he can in his role, although it was the beginning of several "butler" roles he would take that would sadly under-use him. Patsy Kelly registers best, whose comic presence is hard to ignore.
So why 4 instead of 5 stars? The packaging is cheaply put together. The DVD producers were so lazy as to not even include a menu; not even a "play" or "scene selection" buttons. Oh well.
Not a great RB movie, but entertaining enough to enjoy!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2013
For 40 years the Ritz Brothers were among the most lauded of comedy teams. I saw them perform and they were hilarious, broke the audience up. Nothing they wouldn't do to get a laugh. Expert at physical comedy. Adept at comedy songs. Skilled imitators of other performers. Tireless and successful with almost any kind of audience. They also were stars of B movies and, for a period of time, an act in A level feature films, mostly musical. To know them only for their movies was not to know them at all. They did films. They were considered to be mainstays of the films in which they appeared. Many liked them in their films. What they did in the movies, however, was a pale shadow of their on-stage live appearances. When I saw them live, no stage was big enough to hold them. One or another was dashing around off stage. One laugh followed another. This was their home and they owned it. Some of the top younger comedians (Jerry Lewis and Mel Brooks, among them) have spoken of how much they owed to the older trio, particularly to the youngest brother, Harry, who was the centerpiece of the act.
So what about this B picture in which they star. It has the popular comedienne of the era, Patsy Kelly, it has, as butler, Bela Lugosi, who could be funny in playing against his horror film reputation, it has assorted supporting actors, among whom Lionel Atwill has a solid reputation. What it doesn't have is a script or a chance for the Boys to provide some spontaneous-seeming comedy. That old play, The Bat, several times a movie in one guise or another, just doesn't play very well with this script and Director. I enjoyed it because it reminds me of watching them and of those interviews on the Barry Gray radio show in the forties. What an audience who never got a chance to watch them in the right setting will think I cannot judge. Most likely their fate will be the same as was that of one of the Kings of Nightclub comedy, Joe E. Lewis, who did some movies and whose so-called Biography provided us with one of the best acting jobs Sinatra ever did or Frank Fay, King of the Palace Theater when Vaudeville was still alive, whose rapidly fading career (while his then wife, Barbara Stanwyck, went from showgirl to Top movie stardom) was the model for the movie "A Star is Born". (He made a great later life recovery with the stage version of "Harvey" although it didn't give him a breakthrough movie -Jimmy Stewart making it another of his hits.) They both remained, 'who is he's' as far as the national memory is concerned.
At any rate, if you watch this modest film, keep in mind that you are seeing only a pale shadow of a top comedy team.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2015
This was the movie that forced The Ritz Brothers to leave Fox Studio in 1939 (they thought the script wasn't up to their standards). I had never heard of The Ritz Brothers before this, they made very few movies, preferring stage work instead (from 1925 to the late 1960s). Their "gag" was having all three brothers behaving in the exact same manner as to make them impossible to distinguish from one another. I don't know how that was supposed to be an amusing concept, but apparently it worked for them, they were considered headliners in their day. Unfortunately, tastes change. I didn't find them funny, just confusing. For added comic relief there was Patsy Kelly as a maid who just wanted to leave but no one would let her. The story involves a mastermind called The Gorilla, who specialized in extortion. He was known for sending notes to warm his victims that he was about to kill them. Somehow, he had full run of the house belonging to his latest victim (Lionel Atwill). The place was riddled with secret passages that also included secret passages inside of them. It's a weird little movie. I liked it in spite of The Ritz Brothers and their antics.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2006
As I say, I can hardly review the film as the DVD is barely watchable. I can't believe Amazon.com is still selling films from A2ZCDs. It's not only the print which is in cause, but the manufacturing of the DVD itself. It's just a DVD-R with a lot of digital artifacts, freezing and jumps (in the print, the problem is not from the DVD Player), worse than VHS quality and terrible sound. A2ZCDs is just a guy with a lot of public domain films downloaded on [...]on his computer and a stock of DVD-R to burn I believe. If you expect better quality than [...] I guess the Roan Group DVD is the best for this film, but it's OOP. Anyway, don't be fooled by the cover of the A2ZCDs DVDs as I was.

ADDITION of July 8, 2012 : It seems the french DVD from Bach Films, released in 2007, also use the same copy. Fortunately it is a lot less expensive. There's a DVD planned soon by the french company Wild Side, and I wonder if they will use the Roan Group DVD copy.
For those that are interested by "true stories" like I am, it seems the play "The Gorilla" was inspired by the serial killer Earle Leonard Nelson (1897-1928) who was nicknamed "The Gorilla Killer".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 13, 2014
When Bela Lugosi and Patsy Kelly get more laughs than the frantic Ritz Brothers, you're in for a bumpy ride. Based on a 1925 Broadway hit, "The Gorilla" (1939) benefits from Allan Dwan's atmospheric direction, an excellent supporting cast and slick production values. The mystery element works surprisingly well, but the humor is rather strained. Perhaps the Ritzes would have fared better in two-reelers, since they cannot carry a feature film.
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At one time Ralph Spense was thought to be the highest paid writer working in Hollywood. He was certainly among the most prolific, making contributions to more than one hundred films between about 1916 and 1946. Even so, his great claim to fame was on the stage, where he wrote dialogue for both The Ziegfeld Follies and The Vanities--and in 1926 he created the mystery comedy THE GORILLA, which played about two months, not a bad run by the standards of the day. When Spense went back to Hollywood he took THE GORILLA with him, where it was filmed at least four times between 1927 and 1939.

The play, and the films based on it, is basically a riff on such "old dark house" mystery comedies as the 1920 THE BAT and the 1922 THE CAT AND THE CANARY. A mad killer known as "The Gorilla" informs his victims when they will be dispatched and has killed a half dozen or so when the story begins. He now threatens Walter Stevens (Lionel Atwell), who summons his niece Norma (Anita Louise), her lover Jack (Edward Norris), and three bumbling detectives (The Ritz Brothers) to protect him. His butler Peters (Bela Lugosi) and maid Kitty (Patsy Kelly) are also on hand for this emergency--Peters seemingly indifferent, Kitty comically terrified. But is the Gorilla a man? Is he a gorilla? Is he a man with a gorilla? Just what is really going on?

Today THE GORILLA is best known as a Bela Lugosi film; in 1939, however, it was considered a vehicle for The Ritz Brothers, a trio who were sometimes compared to The Three Stooges or The Marx Brothers. Most popular on the stage, the brothers made about sixteen films during their 1930s-1940s heyday. Filmed at 20th Century Fox, The Ritz Brothers considered the movie so bad that they famously walked out on their contract with Fox and went to Universal. The brothers, popular ingenue Anita Louise, brash comic Patsy Kelly, and frequent horror star Lionel Atwill were all billed above Lugosi, whose career had begun a major slide. Although he had a few good films remaining to him, Lugosi would spend most of the 1940s and 1950s eeking out a living in "B" movies and ultimately finishing out in several infamously bad Ed Wood films.

THE GORILLA is actually quite a bit better than you might expect. The story is silly and the script is slightly incoherent, but the movie looks good, the production values are expert, and the cast plays it very well, with Patsy Kelly especially memorable as the hysterical maid (she would repeat the same idea in the later TOPPER RETURNS.) Ironically, the one bit of casting that does not work well is The Ritz Brothers, for whom the film was created and who complained about it so extensively. Their humor has not dated well, and today they seem dull and uninspired instead of bright and amusing. The film was a flop in 1939 and quickly forgotten, and like many such films the copyright was not renewed. But even though the film is in the public domain, and even though Alpha is hardly known for pristine DVD releases, THE GORILLA's sound and especially picture elements have survived the passing years very well. Even so, this is really a movie best left to hardcore Lugosi fans--and hardcore Ritz Brother fans, if any such still exist.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2009
I grew up on the Ritz Brothers who, unfortunately, where often overshadowed by the other trio of brothers from the same era. Their comedy is classic, slapstick and hilarious and the Gorilla is one of their better movies.
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