Friday, July 8, 2016

Bride of the Gorilla (1951)

Is there anything better than a man in a monkey suit?

Well, probably, but in an old movie, well...  Yeah, I guess there are still things better than a man in a monkey suit.  However!  It's still pretty great.  As is Lon Chaney, Jr. who was the Wolf Man.  Not to mention this also stars Raymond Burr who not once, but twice faced Godzilla and lived to tell the tale.  He was also Perry Mason.  I love me some Perry Mason.

Top billed, though, is Barbara Payton.  She has a story all her own about being drop dead gorgeous, who could make it in movies with her looks, but also had little real talent.  She died only about 15 years after the release of this movie after her life spiraled out of control and into booze, a horrifically violent relationship, and even prostitution.  She did write a tell-all book about her sorrowful life called I Am Not Ashamed.

This is not to be confused with the Christploitation movie I'm Not Ashamed coming out later this year.  My guess is her life would not have jived much with the messages of those Pure Flix produced movies.

So what's this movie all about?  According to Disc Three of my Sci-Fi Classics set from Mill Creek Entertainment: "Ramond Burr stars as Barney Chavez, a plantation manager working deep in the South American jungle. Barney has a yen for the beautiful wife of his employer, and decides to murder the old man to have her for himself. Unfortunately for Barney, a native sorcerer witnesses the crime, and puts a curse on him that transforms him by night into a murderous gorilla."

I know it is too much to ask that Raymond Burr is in the gorilla suit himself, but, I'm just going to assume he is because that would be awesome.  He had to work his way up to Perry Mason, so for a movie that was this low of budget and this silly, he HAD to be in that suit, right?  Oh well, let's talk about Bride of the Gorilla!


Perry Mason making his case for that booty.
Our tale begins with some narration about the jungle from the main detective from a county adjacent to the Amazon.  He speaks amazing English for a local cop.  Anyway, whatever. He talks about this plantation home that is now destroyed.  It fades back to Dina (Payton) dancing to some saucy South American music.  Barney (Burr) walks in to take a break from the heat.  Barney tells Dina this is no place for a woman as beautiful as her.  Already, he's putting the moves on to try to get her to leave her stuffy, old husband.

Barney's boss, and Dina's husband, comes in and says there's been a death on the plantation and they show some animosity toward each other.  They, with a plantation doctor, Dr. Viet, sit for dinner where a rather telling passage from I suppose is the bible is read before dinner about deceitful hearts.  This turns out to be a terribly strange grace before the meal since it is kind of dark and about cheating lovers, and read from a book that looks like it could wake the dead if the right passage is read.  Dina's husband essentially fires Barney, and he is kinda fine with that, but Dina begs him not to go, which he says is all he needs to hear.

Larina, lady #2 for Barney.
Now, I will say that Barbara Payton is absolutely gorgeous, but I get what I read about her prior to watching this.  She is basically saying, between the lines, that she is hot for Barney.  Yet, she says it with dead eyes and little inflection on her voice.  It's just kind of a bland, "No. Don't go."  There's no desire behind it aside from her desirable looks.  This is kind of important to note because as Barney leaves the dinner table, he's approached by the maid, who also doesn't want Barney to go.  She's warm for his form too, but he's not into her as much as he is Dina.  He told her he'd take her with him but that was just because she wanted to hear that.  Still, she seems to be more fiery about fighting for Barney than Dina is.  Just sayin'.  This is important to convey if you are going to build a passionate affair between two characters.  If you can't put the passion in it, it falls super flat.

So Larina cries to this creepy old lady that hangs around the plantation about Barney lying to her.  The old lady swears he won't hurt her anymore.  Outside, Barney confronts Dina's husband and tells him they love each other.  When he punches Barney, Barney pushes him down and lets him get bitten by nearby poisonous snakes.  The creepy old broad sees this and slinks off.

Barney tells Dina that he's leaving and wants her to come with him.  He promises her happiness.  Outside, the creepy old broad does some voodoo to the dead old man's body, thus putting that gorilla curse on Barney.

Now...  I might be mistaken here, but I don't think gorillas live in the Amazon.  They have monkeys, but I don't think the Amazon has any large apes.  So, old lady, your curse is... kinda dumb.

This movie is lousy with MeTV stars and I love it!
The next morning, Lon Chaney comes in and questions everyone on the plantation about the death of the old man.  Lon Chaney, by the way, plays Commissioner Taro, and also, by the way, kinda makes everything better in a monster movie.  I love Perry Mason.  I do.  When I found out Raymond Burr was gay, I was like, "You know, I probably would have been down for that if I was in those circles."  He's amazing in everything he's in, and you can't help but like him no matter who he's playing, but Lon Chaney, Jr. is a different beast (no pun intended) altogether.  Here's a guy who can walk into any horror movie and just make it better.  Maybe it's the affection for his old Classic Universal Monsters and Inner Sanctum roles, but I'll see him pop up every now and then and it instantly makes the movies better.  I digress...

Taro mentions that there was a leaf found near the body of the dead old man.  It's known in those parts as the "plant of evil".  Barney has no idea what that is,  Taro explains that they are fabled to place an evil curse on someone.  Taro calls forward the creepy old lady forward and says she saw the death of the old man from the snake bite.  She also says that Barney was not present, but in Dina's room.  One of Taro's men takes the old lady to her room and they search for the plant.  He finds the plant and she convinces him to not get rid of it.  Meanwhile, the inquest is closed and Barney and Dina feel pretty swell about now being able to be together.

Some time passes and Barney and Dina get married.  When he signs the marriage license in front of the party, he sees his hand start to turn darker and into that of a gorilla.  He had the doctor take a look at it.  When he shows it to the doctor, it appears normal.  When the doc tells him to come back out to the party, Barney gets angry and says he wants to be left alone.  That night, Dina asks if he's mad he married her because he is acting strangely.  I think this chick is cursed.  Her first husband was distant to her and now her new husband is acting strange.  Even in the movies, Barbara Payton's relationships are shit.

So this first night of their marriage, Barney goes running off into the jungle as if it was calling to him.  He wanders the jungle and changes into a gorilla.  The different monkeys in the jungle flip their lids because, holy shit!  There are no gorillas in the Amazon.  They have NO idea what the fuck this thing is!  Not to mention, he's Raymond Burr sized too.

In the morning, Barney is found on the ground and the doc gives him a shot to help him.  He also says he's not too sure that her first husband's death was as accidental as it was convenient.  So the doc goes to Taro.  Taro talks about a legendary jungle demon that locals whisper about from time to time.  He also says he knows in his gut that Barney is guilty of killing Dina's first husband.  He says the jungle demon will pass judgment and Barney will pay for the murder.  As the doc leaves, Taro gets a call about the plantation reporting some dead animals.  The doc seems suspicious that there is any kind of monster in the jungle and says he wants a call when they find it so he can cell it to the circus and make money off such a crazy animal.

Back at the plantation, Barney's cracking up a bit.  He starts to see his gorilla form in the mirror.  This does lead to the most clever shot of the movie.  You see him looking at the gorilla in the mirror and he punches it (the guy in the gorilla suit doing the same thing on his side) and the mirror breaks.  It's an old school effect of having two actors mirroring each other, but it was still clever to show it from behind Barney so we can see it all.

That night, Barney, as the monkey, goes into the room Dina is sleeping in and nearly attacks her.  Oddly, she's sleeping head to foot instead of her head on the pillows at the head of the bed.  She pulls a gun and shoot when she thinks she heard someone or something outside the home.  The doc and Taro come in and tell her the neighboring plantation has set traps.  After finding out that Barney is in the jungle, Taro says he's out there hunting and that he doesn't need any weapons to do that.  Oddly, no one really reacts to that notion.  Me?  I would have been like "The fuck he doesn't need weapons!  What is he, some sort of monster gorilla or somethin'?"

Dina follows Barney out to the jungle where she sees a gorilla.  She follows, and even tries to fire a warning shot from her rifle.  Barney does call to her and she finds him trapped in one of the animal traps.  After she takes him back to the plantation, he tells her he wants to get out of here with her and wants to go to Paris.

Dina and Barney prepare to leave for good.  Dr. Viet comes to speak to Dina and says he believes Barney has been poisoned.  She goes to look for him, but the creepy old lady says she saw him crossing the garden into the jungle.  Viet, Dina, Taro, and a man who is waiting for the paperwork to be signed for him to purchase the plantation all wait until late for Barney to return.  He comes back a couple days later and tells Dina that he doesn't want to leave anymore.  He wants to stay in the jungle.  He tells her that he's stronger and more powerful in the jungle.  He also says that he will show her the jungle at night to prove he is telling the truth.  The plantation workers quit and ask for two weeks worth of pay owed to them.  When he pulls out the money to pay them they freak out because he has dried blood on his hands.

At Viet's office, Dina talks to the doc who thinks Barney is crazy or taking some sort of drug that is causing him to hallucinate that he's an animal.  Moreover, he believes he is entitled to kill like an animal.  Viet admits that he loves Dina but that's not exactly why he wants to put Barney away.  He wants to protect Dina.  She comes home and Barney says all the servants have run away.  He questions why she hasn't, but she says she will stay with him.  She begs him not to go back to jungle, but she follows.  She tries to stop him with a gun, but he says they don't belong together anymore and takes off for deeper parts of the jungle.

Viet and Taro search the home and Taro finds the plant that was used to curse Barney.  Viet and Taro chase into the jungle to find Dina.  Meanwhile, Gorilla Barney stalks Dina because we can't have a monkey movie without a woman being carried by a giant ape.  Our dynamic duo hear her fire shots and scream and head in the direction of the sounds.  They finally find them and fire until they hit Barney.  Viet takes care of the passed out Dina, while Taro watches Barney crawl to the water to see his reflection turn back to a human before he dies.

This movie could have been much worse, but I do actually have two major issues with the movie.  While I definitely can see that Barbara Payton is a very pretty woman, she's hardly seductive.  I have to wonder if she was something more in real life than what she could portray on screen.  I mean, the real life Payton had two men fight to near death for her.  I shit you not.  It's not like she's mystically beautiful.  I would dare say that the servant girl in this movie, Larina, was far more exotic and sultry.  But she is very beautiful on a level that is more classy than a Van Doren or a Monroe.  That's just me.  That said, she had no less than three people in love with her in this movie.  Not just by the way they acted, but they actually stated and professed LOVE for her.  Now, I did mention she had a hard time really expressing passion early on for Burr's Barney?  She was seemingly even-keeled and measured for most of the movie.  She was more cool than fiery.  However, her coolness had no context like it would if she played a mob boss' hard boiled mistress or wife.  So without the context for her coolness, she was lacking personality.  I mean I can fall in love with a picture of Kayden Kross (and have), but it's just a picture.  There's no further context or personality, so to really profess true love for her is meaningless.  Three men fell in love with a beautiful woman with little context to her personality, just based on her rockin' bod.  Like falling in love with a single photo of porn star Kayden Kross.  It's shallow.

The bigger issue though is much simpler to convey.  The creepy old lady who cursed Barney, Al-Long, was an interesting character, but the curse is a strange one.  It's irresponsible to turn this guy into a monster.  Why?  I get that she was trying to punish him and ultimately cause him to lose everything.  Not KILL him, but drive him into the jungle and away from his love and home and all the creature comforts civilization has to offer.  I really do understand that.  However, Dr. Viet brings up something that really places a dark cloud over the whole movie - he thinks he is entitled to kill like an animal.  So, what happens if he kills Taro, or Dina, or just some poor sap near the jungle?!?  Suddenly, Al-Long's curse is ugly and makes her a murderer while also trying to make amends for a murder she witnessed.  That's kinda nutty and pretty irresponsible.  I mean it is definitely as irresponsible as Barney not helping the old man up after he pushed him down near a scared snake.

So the whole movie is built upon a curse that could have, and probably should have, resulted in innocents dying all over the place because this old broad wanted to make Barney pay for the murder of some guy who paid her.  Maybe if she loved the old man too that would have added extra motive, but that wasn't there.  She just didn't like Barney for reasons never explained.  Maybe she had the hots for Dina too!  At this point, that's as easy to buy as anything else.

Goddammit.  Now I'm in love with Dina too.

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