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Tuesday 11 October 2011

Burl reviews Gorilla At Large! (1954)

Hi, it’s Burl here to get something straight with all of you pals: I love carnival movies! That is to say, pretty much any movie set in a carnival, and the seedier the better, will get my attention! Freaks, Carnival Rock (starring the legendary Dick Miller), Carnival of Blood (starring Burt Young), The Funhouse – they’re all great! Ha ha, I even didn’t mind that recent coming-of-age picture Adventureland! And please, don’t confuse carnival movies with circus pictures! An entirely different genre, ha ha!

Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s talk a little about another fine carnival movie, Gorilla At Large! I first saw this one on TV many, many years ago, when it was the big Television Event of the season! They were broadcasting it in 3-D, and you could get the glasses down at 7-11! Boy, was it exciting! I’m not sure why they picked this particular film, which came along toward the end of the original 50s 3-D boom – I guess it was more easily-licensed than better-known pictures like Creature From the Black Lagoon or Dial M For Murder!

I like gorilla pictures nearly as much as carnival ones, so having them doubled up like this is a real treat! Cameron Mitchell (of Without Warning) plays a barker/aspiring lawyer in Raymond Burr’s circus! Burr’s vampish wife Anne Bancroft is the trapeze artist who swings over the head of the mighty gorilla Goliath, who apparently went bad after somebody fed him a loaded banana! It took me a while to realize that Goliath was supposed to be a real gorilla and not a guy in a suit, but once I figured that out, it was no problem! Anyway, there’s quite a bit of behind-the-scenes intrigue going down at the carnival: a blackmail is in progress, Bancroft’s loutish ex-husband is giving everybody the hairy eyeball, Burr is uptight, and an amiable midget cadges cigars!

When the murders begin, it’s time for rumpled cop Lee J. Cobb, pretty much playing his Lt. Kinderman chracter from The Exorcist, to begin an investigation, aided by that other great Lee of cinema, Lee Marvin! It’s pretty charming to see the two Lees go toe-to-toe, with Cobb shouting “Ha ha, you’re a cop, not a ballet dancer!” at the gangly Marvin! And Marvin is pretty good in his minor role, but frankly you’d never guess from it that he was ever going to become a star!

Everyone assumes it’s the gorilla who’s going around giving people some pretty stiff neck-twists, but Gorilla At Large has a few tricks up its sleeve! I can’t say I didn’t see them coming, though – I’m not usually too proficient at guessing twists, but after they make a big deal of Anne Bancroft’s brute strength, which she’s apparently gained from years of acrobatics, I had it pretty well sewn up!

There’s plenty of weird stuff in this picture, and near the top of the list would have to be Anne Bancroft’s taste in men! He ex-husband is a scowly, slobby apekeeper, her new husband is Raymond Burr (a fine-looking man but frankly no sex symbol) and she puts some heavy moves on ginger-headed Cameron Mitchell, who’s a well-built guy and a lot younger here than we usually see him, but still basically looks like Cameron Mitchell! Ha ha, Mrs. Robinson groping the Toolbox Murders killer makes for a bizarre moment in cinema, I can tell you!

The gorilla is pretty good too! The costume will look familiar to anyone who’s seen Robot Monster, or any of a million other gorilla pictures (White Pongo being an exception, of course!), and it includes what I call the Gorilla Skirt: a strange, furry fringe that hangs down around the monkey’s knees! This particular simian isn't a chest-beater, but he grunts a lot, and at one point he hides in a bathysphere! Naturally he ends up at the top of a roller coaster with a lady slung over his shoulder, and when he’s shot down, he falls like a bag of dirty laundry! The movie doesn’t try to wring any King Kong-style pathos from the moment, but I found it pretty sad anyway! That gorilla didn’t hurt anyone!

I really enjoyed Gorilla At Large, from the carnival setting to the incredible cast, and I think you’ll like it too! I award it three loaded bananas!

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