There is bad, and then there is epically bad.
And then there’s Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.
Look, there just aren’t enough words out there to convey how dreadful this thing is. Although “Sammy Petrillo” would be a good start.
He and the official star of this film, Duke Mitchell, were the nightclub act you might have considered booking back in 1952 if Martin and Lewis weren’t available — and you were really, really desperate.
Only Duke doesn’t have any of Dean’s suave appeal or Dean’s ability to really sell a song. He also has an odd sort of delivery to the many, many songs he sings here. It isn’t bad, or unappealing, you might even enjoy it. It’s just very…
Sammy on the other hand…
Look, I can’t believe I’m saying this. It’s like some unspeakable, unfathomable horror to even suggest that such a thing is possible, but…
Sammy Petrillo is far more annoying than Jerry Lewis.
Now, frankly, I’ve never got the whole Martin and Lewis thing, and I can see why it didn’t last very long in the movies. I don’t believe that Dean ever needed a comedy relief sidekick to sing comic duets with him in a squeaky voice, and I don’t think Jerry was ever very funny.
And I definitely do not agree with the French who think Jerry was some sort of great comic genius.
But Sammy Petrillo is living proof that Jerry had talent. His painful attempts at humor are so bad you almost end up appreciating the real thing.
Now don’t get too worked up about the story of this thing. Obviously no one working on the film did, either: our two heroes somehow fall out of a plane and end up a tiny island. The natives accept them readily, thanks to the college-educated daughter of the Chief, only they’ll be stuck there for a few months, waiting for the next supply boat.
And we are most of the way (and several song and dance numbers) into the film before they finally go to visit the castle where the one man who might be able to get them off the island, Dr. Zabor, is carrying out his researches into evolution.
The name alone should be enough to tell you that this is where we finally meet Bela Lugosi.
Now my impression of the Poverty Row features Bela made in the Forties, like The Ape Man (1943), Return of the Ape Man (1944) and Voodoo Man (1944) is that Bela was giving these roles everything he had. Yes, that was mostly in a hammy, over the top sort of way, but he was always fun to watch.
But you cannot say that about Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.
Bela definitely isn’t hamming Dr. Zabor up as much as he sometimes did. In fact, he barely seems interested in what he’s doing. I’ll admit that I don’t entirely blame him as his part was little more than a few tired mad scientist cliches. But he doesn’t add a lot of value to the film beyond putting his name on the marquee.
For what little that was worth in the Fifties.
He then transforms one of our heroes into a gorilla (hint: the less annoying one, for some weird reason) and things just go downhill from there. Heck, Crash Corrigan even puts in an appearance as a second gorilla. Both gorilla suits are looking a bit moth-eaten, and neither Gorilla is allowed to even try to be scary.
But then, why should they be allowed to be exciting when nothing else in the film is?
This all leads to an absolutely awful (and painfully familiar) final twist, which descends into to one of the classic, all time worst film endings.
If not the absolute worst.
Look, if you really want to see Bela Lugosi, you’d be better off ignoring this thing. If you are looking forward to seeing a guy running around in a bad Gorilla suit, you won’t find much joy here, either.
In fact, you have to wonder if anyone, other that Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo’s fans, would find anything particularly interesting in this film.
And I’m not even sure that Mitchell and Petrillo’s fans will be that interested. Surely they did something better than this so-called comedy.
But I’ll admit, I have my doubts…
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