The Gorilla (1939)

Back what seems like a thousand years ago, my first job had dirt cheap DVD packs that I absolutely needed to buy. Were they anything good? Typically no. These packs included things like the Prey of the Jaguar and The Conspiracy of Fear two-pack that I’ve already talked about here. One such pack was a “Horror Classic” pack of 5 movies featuring the legendary Mr. Bela Lugosi. So things like 1931’s Dracula or even Plan 9 from Outer Space? Uh… no. More like his utterly forgotten films that fell into the public domain like The Devil Bat and today’s film, The Gorilla, a slapstick “horror”* comedy that only has one redeeming element: Patsy Kelly.

There’s a killer going by the moniker of “the Gorilla,” and his latest target is a man named Walter Stevens. He hires three bumbling detectives, played by the Ritz Brothers. Stevens goes missing, then so many people get added that the story doesn’t make sense. The butler is played by Bela Lugosi, who creeps out the maid, Kitty (Patsy Kelly). Steven’s niece and her fiancé show up and are certainly present. An actual gorilla is let loose on the property, and that comes with its trainer. There’s a guy who barges in and says that Stevens is a crook and swindled him out of thousands of dollars. Then there’s a sailor who… I have no idea who he was or what he was doing. And then there’s a mustachioed stranger who’s been sneaking around and trying to break into various hidden safes. Turns out the stranger is a detective, Stevens was the Gorilla–capital G for the killer, lowercase for the ape–and the whole thing was a ploy to kill his niece and take her inheritance. But ah ha! The lead dumbass detective actually does one thing right! The detective is actually the real Gorilla killer, who was offended that someone was impersonating him. The whole thing was actually Stevens working with the police to set a trap for the killer. Sure, why not.

The Ritz Brothers are just a poor man’s version of the Marx Brothers. Time and waning cultural relevancy make me wonder how many people today know the Marx Brothers, but just in case, both sets of comedic brothers were in the same comedic genre as the Three Stooges–exaggerated slapstick comedy. The Ritz Brothers were painfully unfunny throughout, so I’m not going to fault anyone for not knowing who the hell they were. Really, the only funny moments in the comedy were because of Patsy Kelly.

I’ve mentioned her enough, so let’s get into it. Patsy Kelly was a comedian who was an out and proud lesbian in the 1930’s. A self-professed “dyke,” she was not shy about her sexuality and supposedly had an affair with Tallulah Bankhead, a bisexual actress and name your father or grandfather would know. Kelly’s schtick was playing a wisecracking and blunt lady, which she fits to a t. She made a series of shorts alongside Thelma Todd, the only heterosexual I mention in this paragraph. But the times were not kind to Kelly, who was blacklisted from movies for decades because of her lifestyle. But she did eventually come back to film and is probably now known best as Laura-Louise in Rosemary’s Baby, AKA the old lady with the thick glasses who sticks her tongue out at Rosemary at the very end. She’s a treat and I hope to feature some more films from her here later on.

Also weirdly enough, this wasn’t the first time Patsy Kelly acted in something featuring a guy in a gorilla suit? I don’t know what to do with this information except inflict it on you.

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* This is the third movie I’ve watched this month that I wouldn’t personally classify as “horror.” I skipped the other two, but skipping this one would put me way back on my schedule, so here we are.


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