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BRIDE OF THE GORILLA (director/writer: Curt Siodmak; cinematographer: Charles Van Enger; editor: Francis D. Lyon; music: Raoul Kraushaar; cast: Barbara Payton (Dina Van Gelder), Lon Chaney (Police Commissioner Taro), Raymond Burr (Barney Chavez), Tom Conway (Dr. Viet), Paul Cavanagh (Klaas Van Gelder), Gisela Werbisek (Al-long), Carol Varga (Larina), Paul Maxey (Van Heusen), Woody Strode (Nedo, Policeman), Martin Garralaga (Native), Felippa Rock (Stella Van Heusen), Moyna MacGill (Mme. Van Heusen); Runtime: 66; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Broder; Image Entertainment; 1951)
“…a magical film where the magic just didn’t work.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A poor reminder of those occult horror films from the 1930s and 1940s. Second-rate B film writer-director Curt Siodmak’s (“The Magnetic Monster”/”Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man”/”Curucu, Beast of the Amazon”) trashy jungle thriller is terrible but nevertheless has some entertainment value despite being inane and creaky. Told through a flashback by native Police Commissioner Taro (Lon Chaney), it opens by showing the once thriving Van Gelder plantation now in ruins. It has young hot blonde Dina Van Gelder (Barbara Payton), a former dancer, married to the elderly and wealthy South American rubber plantation owner Klaas Van Gelder (Paul Cavanagh), in a marriage of convenience where he lusts for her but she only lusts for his money. The jealous Klaas at dinner fires his hulking overseer Barney Chavez (Raymond Burr) for neglect of duties, but before Barney departs Dina expresses her love for him and the two plan to run off together. This angers servant girl Larina (Carol Varga), whom Barney was stringing along until the better offer came. When the crone servant Al-long (Gisela Werbisek), a practitioner of the Black Arts, gets wind of Larina’s rejection, she vows to get even with the cad for hurting her girl by putting a curse on him. But before she can get to Barney, she witnesses him knock down Klaas when the two argue over Dina and then watches him allow a poisonous snake to bite him without offering any help–which legally can be construed as tantamount to murder, if proven. At an inquest held by Taro, the death is ruled accidental since the doctor’s report states it was caused by shock and suffocation as a result of the snakebite. Though both the commissioner and the family doctor Viet (Tom Conway) suspect Barney murdered the vic by not helping him, they have no evidence. When Al-long offers an eyewitness report and lies saying Barney was in Dina’s room at the time of the snakebite, the case is closed. Later Al-long slips a poisonous potion from one of her evil jungle plants into Barney’s drink and casts a spell on him whereby he turns into a “sukara,” a mythical jungle demon that resembles a gorilla. Al-long shoots for jungle justice over civilized justice, as Barney will now at times take the form of the strange animal and be hunted by man. On the wedding day, Dina in a gesture of good will signs the plantation over to Barney (which makes no sense, since she was portrayed as a gold digger). While signing Barney freaks out when he sees that his hand resembles a gorilla’s and feels the call of the jungle inside him (I guess we’re looking at some psychological message that Barney’s brutal animal instincts have gotten the best of him), and on the wedding night remains out all night in the jungle killing animals and frightening the plantation workers into setting traps. Even though he returns during the day looking like a wreck and acting strange, this doesn’t deter Dina’s love. But her curiosity goes only as far as asking if he still loves her.

The love story made no sense since the two had no chemistry together, so for Dina to still profess a deep and lasting love for this batty creature was beyond belief–even in such a ridiculous film like this one that has a gorilla in the Amazon jungle when there are no known gorillas there.

The line, for whatever reason, that made me laugh the loudest was when the commissioner along with the frustrated doctor, nursing a secret love for Dina, go hunting for Barney at night when he’s a beast, and the commissioner tries to reassure the doctor that everything will be fine when he says “I know my jungle.”

Though this apeman horror thriller brings back reminders of Lon Chaney in The Wolf Man, it pales in comparison to Waggner’s supernatural suspension of disbelief film that came with sharper direction, a more intelligent script, social commentary and better performances. Siodmak’s serious manner of storytelling and stagy presentation never reaches the potential camp fun this mindless film could have been if it just let itself go ape. Though far from being one of the worst films ever, it can only settle for mediocrity as a magical film where the magic just didn’t work.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”