The Gorilla

Yes, yes. Very Scary.

As of 9/12/12, this film can be watched on YouTube

No name in movies is as synonymous with shoddy quality than the Ritz brothers, and as the stars of our film, this recognition does not bode well for the viewer. Even the name, “Ritz Brothers” seems like a veiled and unconvincing reference to the Marx Brothers in a second rate novel set in 1930’s Hollywood. Derivative or not, this film has problems. It  doesn’t just fail, it fails big time.

This frozen image is all the Ritz Brothers you need

Like their more successful peers The Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges, the Ritz Brothers acting credentials come from Vaudeville, the definitive performative precedent before film. A mixture of comedy, song and dance, Vaudeville was a veritable proving ground for many future actors, including Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, The Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.  All of the three incorporated vaudeville style comedy into their film careers, a sort of a mix of witty one liners and general slapstick humor. However, where as the Marx Brothers are normally associated with dry wit, and the Three Stooges with physical comedy, the Ritz Brothers seemed to encapsulate neither style.

Enter The Gorilla, released in 1939. In the same year, the Three Stooges would release eight short films, one of them the classic “A-Ducking They Will Go.” The Marx Brothers would release “A Day at the Circus,” not a monumental film, but produced in the wake of “A Day at the Races” and “A Night at the Opera,” both opening less than five years prior (1937 and 1935, respectably.) The Ritz Brothers, on the other hand, had released ten films prior to this, none of which have become as timeless as the works of The Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges.

Aww…what a sweetheart!

Set in a spooky mansion owned by a wealthy businessman, “The Gorilla’s” main plot revolves around a string of murders being perpetrated by a trained gorilla. Admittedly, the opening montage is very striking, with images of newspaper presses rolling torrid stories about the gorilla attacks, interspersed with footage of women screaming before being strangled by the gorilla. Really sensational, engaging stuff. Even when the actual story begins to unfold, with a Brooklynite maid (Patsy Kelly) becoming hysterical after receiving a hand delivered note from the gorilla, the movie remains engaging. Performances by Bella Legosi were spooky and mysterious, and a feel of malice and forbearance permeates the film.

Then the Ritz Brothers show up, and on cue everything gets a little less likable. Starring as a trio of detectives, the brothers start questioning every body and everything, making half-witty remarks all the time. The leader, Hannigan, frequently exclaims “Make a note of that!” every time somebody says something. These are the jokes.

In general, the movie had a good hold of tension during the first 15 or so minutes in the movie, with actual engagement coming from the actors. Then, it all fell apart when the Ritz Brothers came into play. It’s like the beginning of a Three Stooges short, where the background story is fleshed out through exposition of a plotline. It usually ends right when the wealthy dowager says “That must be those three wallpaper hangers I ordered.”

Now imagine that, except when the paper hangers show up, they actually try to hang wallpaper. And instead of it progressing into mayhem in a

Aww…what a sweetheart!

spectacular way (like with the stooges using sledgehammers to tear the walls down during a high society party) it turns into the wallpaper hangers trying to lay down a sheet of wallpaper, messing up the alignment, removing it and trying again. And again. And again. And again.

Eventually, the movie turns into sequences of lights mysteriously going out and people disappearing. The Gorilla hits people on the head, hilarity ensues. The jokes aren’t really all that funny, or memorable, even. Patsy Kelly and Bella Lugosi are great as character actors, but really, the film couldn’t be saved. Everything about the film seems incredibly dated, like hearing somebody say they “tripped the light fantastic” last night at the dance hall. I’ll admit that calling a film that involves a man in a gorilla suit “dated” is like calling Fast Food greasy and unsatisfying; it’s almost a given. Still, this film doesn’t work on so many levels that the man in a gorilla suit is the least of it’s problems.

Talk to any film-critic type. If you ask about the state of movies today, they will probably answer that films today are garbage, equivalent to factory produced fake dog feces. There is no real artistic value, its only there for comedic or entertainment value. They probably will say films of the 1930’s and 40’s were of a higher quality in general. Don’t believe them. Some movies are good, a lot of them are garbage. “The Gorilla” was the latter.

1/5

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Bluebeard

PRC- Penile Replacement Corporation

As of 9/8/12, this film can be seen on Hulu

Bluebeard is one of those insanely mismatched films that could have only been produced in the 1940’s. It’s a Noir AND a period piece. John Carradine is in it, and he isn’t the only one who can act. There’s intrigue and tension, and it isn’t manufactured. Still, it isn’t bulletproof, and has it’s own trappings, but overall, it’s a movie worth watching.

I’M NOT GONNA HURT YA

Produced by Poverty Row studio, PRC Pictures, Bluebeard tells the story of a terror stricken Paris in the 1700’s. Bodies are being routinely found in the Seine river, all of them attractive young women. The writers do a good job building up the frenzy that takes over the city, showing mothers scolding their daughters about how “they were worried Bluebeard got hold of them.” The film really succedes in capturing Paris in the 1800’s, apart from some sketchy foley art. One scene in front of Notre Dame de Paris really sticks out as looking almost laughably fake.

Even before we know it’s him, John Carradine fits the bill of a killer. He skulks and slithers, looking creepier than usual, like a high school nerd in a trench-coat. He plays a Puppeteer (!) with a propensity for killing his muses. An unlucky seamstress is drawn into his creepiness, and dodges death while Carradine pines away and slays innocent young girls. I cannot understate how good he is at being a total creep. If it weretoday, he’d be following girls to their cars at Walmart and asking if they wanted to see his band/puppet show/what’s in his pant leg.

Deer in the Headlights

In a way, Bluebeard feels like a poor man’s “M”. The stories are similar, the feeling of a whole city going into hysteria is a common theme, andthe Noir style use of shadow plays a big part in both films. In all honesty, I didn’t expect to see such engaging use of light and shadow. The director of Bluebeard, Edgar G Ulmer, also directed “Detour,” a key movie in American Film Noir. Knowing this, it’s easy to understand how he sets the ambiance so well.

From the art gallery in your nightmares

This film isn’t completely without fault, though. The music, attributed to Erdody (whoever that is) works about half of the time. When it doesn’t, it feels as if they weren’t even scoring the same movie, with dramatic swells and builds coming at lulls in the action. The movie also use themes from Classical music, notably Pictures at an Exhibition, as well as some others. It isn’t all terrible, but the times that are definitely stand out.

In addition, the ending is completely rushed, so much so that the denouement doesn’t feel satisfying at all. The whole movie builds to a fever pitch, and then ends so rapidly, the viewer has trouble making sense of the whole thing. Surely, you know how it ends, but the resolution is empty. It would be as if Gaston had to leave because “his planet needed him.”

Still, no film is perfect. I liked this film a lot. It was an unexpected surprise in a genre that can be full of dreck, and even though it fell flat some places, it is still a brilliant and under-appreciated noir.

3.5/5

Creature from the Haunted Sea

Nice “Real World” font, dude.

As of 9/5/12, can be seen online on Hulu.

The first review is a Roger Corman classic, The Creature from the Haunted Sea. Filmed in a tropical setting in post-revolution Cuba, Corman once again shoots for the bleachers and ends up popping a flyout. The story really plods along as a mixture of monster movie, spy film and farce all wrapped into one. All this is compounded with a bad audio track and a lot of dead space. However, for the right viewer, this film is somewhat of a diamond in the rough, if the rough is a pile of dog mess.

Have you ever seen a student film? I’ve seen a few. Too many, probably. Some work, most crash and burn. The common hallmark to student films that just don’t work is that the writers and directors are too heavy handed. They have this grandiose “God complex” that established directors only get out of doing tons of cocaine and banging interns.

A future Coppola chews the scenery

In the first few seconds of this film, you get the same feeling. It’s a cold opening; no title or credits. Suddenly, a young man runs from two sinister looking people. There is a serviceable chase sequence, but the actors are sluggish. It feels like watching the fat kids finish running a mile in Gym class. Still, our belief is still suspended: this seems to be a dire situation. After escaping his persurers, our unnamed hero visits a bar to meet a secret agent incognito, wearing a Poncho Villa mustache, sunglasses and a bent cigarette. At this point, I still feel the film is serious, and yet, this guy couldn’t spy his way out of a paper bag. It’s as if someone recut Naked Gun 2 with James Bond, or Remmington Steel with James Bond, or Roger Moore James bond with any other James Bond.

Thankfully (or unfortunately), the film gets a whole lot goofier. The soundtrack gets more whimsical and Elfmanesque. Our fears of this being a very unbelivable spy film are qualmed, and the story unfolds. Revolving around an expedition to smuggle Cuban Gold and Refugees to America, we are introduced to Lorenzo Capetto, a mafia stooge remnicient of Bogart. There’s a love interest, a southern fried hick, a guy who makes animal noises (which are dubbed in and actual animal noises), a few cuban soldiers, and our hero, secret agent XJ-150.

Sea Cucumber with eggs

Overall, this film is not good. The problem is simple; the writing isn’t good enough for comedy, the budget isn’t big enough for action. Half of this film feels like waiting for a root canal, the other half is split between genuine entertainment and painful agony. Painful, like watching a hackneyed love triangle with truly bad dialogue, or joke after joke using chicken noises where all of them fail. Wow, Hilarious! It’s like listening to Fibber McGee and Molly, except you can actually claw your way out of the living room instead of being forced to listen while your grandmother clips coupons and cries about how fat your mother has gotten.

The parts that are good are fleeting. The monster who terrorizes the crew isn’t very scary, but he lays people to waste. The kill count is in the double digits, and the killing scenes are definitely not as goofy as the other scenes. They have a sinister quality to them that is not unlike an actual monster movie. Also, they make the opening sequence to Malcolm in the Middle more watchable.

The setting is also immersive and quite beautiful. The scenes shot from a shipwreck were genuinely of high quality, with fish, turtles and other aquatic creatures swimming around. Also, there are a few comedic gags that genuinely work, like a telephone on the middle of a shipwrecked island. Still the working joke ratio is pretty small, 5 bad jokes for 1 good one. In general. I would only recommend this for Roger Corman fans and people who like sleeping through bad movies.

2/5