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.
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.
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
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.