Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)

This film is one of those So Bad that it's Great offerings. Besides the presence of horror master Lugosi and other familiar B players we have the unique comedy team of Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo doing their Martin & Lewis impersonation. (Petrillo's Jerry is so dead-on that it's scary!). In the 40s, the team of Wally Brown and Alan Carney did a similar take on Abbott and Costello.

The plot (what there is of it) involves entertainers Duke and Sammy stranded on a jungle island encountering friendly natives (the lovely Nona takes a shine to Duke and her hefty sister Saloma goes after Sammy) and the evil Dr. Zarnoff (Bela) who is conducting strange experiments and turns Duke into a gorilla when he sees Nona (his lab assistant!) getting too chummy with Duke. It's all good silliness in the tradition of the 3 Stooges, Abbott & Costello and the Bowery Boys.

The film was released by the Realart studio and produced by Jack Broder. The director, William Beaudine was known as "one-shot" for his ability to make a film in record time, quality notwithstanding. He made many low budget affairs for Monogram and American-International.
The screenplay was by veteran actor Tim Ryan who acted in and wrote many Monogram classics.(he and wife Irene-"Granny" of the Beverly Hillbillies had an act similar to Burns and Allen). Also contributing dialog was Leo "Ukie" Sherrin, an actor and writer for many Monogram cheapies. Duke Mitchell got to sing two songs (a la Deano) , the favorite Deed I Do and Too Soon( based on La Paloma).

A bit about the All-Star cast: Bela Lugosi at age 70 was at a low point of his career, beset by years of B movies and drug addiction. He pretty much sleepwalks thru the film, but occasionally raises an eyebrow or does a "take" to show he's getting a kick out of the comics.

Duke Mitchell(1926-81) and Sammy Petrillo (1934-2009) were nightclub entertainers who took advantage of the popularity of Martin and Lewis.(Duke had a bit part in Martin & Lewis' Sailor Beware (1951 ). They worked in and out of the business for years, Petrillo ran a comedy club in Pittsburg called the Nut House. Jerry Lewis threatened the team with a lawsuit and they dropped out of sight. Despite the obvious impersonation, they had good chemistry and Petrillo showed good comic timing.

Charlita (Regis) as the lovely native girl, Nona (complete with college education!) made a career of exotic and jungle type roles. (similar to B favorites Acquanetta and Lita Baron).
Mickey Simpson as Bela's hulking servant, Chula was a former boxer who specialized in tough guys and body guards with the likes of Abbott and Costello, Tarzan, Jungle Jim and the 3 Stooges. (Stooge fans will remember him as strongman Rocky Duggan in Gents in a Jam (1952).
Muriel Landers as Saloma, was a former dance partner of Ray Bolger and played many comic suporting roles in the 50s. She played "Tiny" in Sweet and Hot (1958), one of the worst 3 Stooges shorts.
We can't forget Ramona the Chimp, who Zabor plans to turn into a gorilla. When Duke gets hot with Nona, he turns him into the gorilla instead.

Petrillo's antics get to be a little too much ( of course so were those of the the real Lewis) and Mitchell's singing has a strange mix of Frankie Laine, Billy Daniels and Elvis! They do have good chemistry, it's too bad the Martin and Lewis take-off was so obvious, they could have developed into a good B comedy team ala the Bowery Boys. Likewise, the Mitchell/Charlita romance has a nice, genuine chemistry to it.

Things get sillier and sillier with the Duke gorilla, Romana and Nona all running around the jungle with Zabor after them. We seem to be getting melodramatic when Zabor shoots at Duke and buddy Sammy takes the bullets for him. But it turns out Sammy was dreaming all of this in his niteclub dressing room! To boot, all the lead players turn out to be employed at the club (with Bela as headwaiter!). The boys put on their tuxes and go into their act with Duke singing and Sammy mugging. (here they look just like the real Martin and Lewis club act). On this upbeat note we end this wild, little film.

Although a real cheapie 50s jungle comedy, this film has it's moments and is always amazing watching the Martin & Lewis takeoff of Duke and Sammy. My DVD copy came from a label called Digiview. I was pleasantly surprised at the exellent quality of the print, it was a pleasure to watch.
Until next time, Keep on Laughing.

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