GORILLA, THE(director: Allan Dwan; screenwriters: from the play by Ralph Spence/Rian James/Sid Silvers; cinematographer: Edward J. Cronjager; editor: Allen McNeil; music: David Buttolph; cast: Jimmy Ritz (Garrity), Harry Ritz (Harrigan), Anita Louise (Norma Denby), Al Ritz (Mulligan), Patsy Kelly (Kitty), Lionel Atwill (Walter Stevens), Bela Lugosi (Peters), Joseph Calleia (Stanger), Edward Norris (Jack Marsden), Art Miles (The Gorilla), Paul Harvey (Conway), ; Runtime: 67; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Harry Joe Brown/Darryl F. Zanuck; 20th Century Fox; 1939)
“The Ritz Brothers are a low-rent version of the Marx Brothers.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Allan Dwan’s adaptation of Ralph Spence’s play (two previous film versions in 1927 and 1931) features The Ritz Brothers. The comedy is framed around a creepy old-dark-house mystery story, that’s considerably helped in maintaining its suspenseful mood by supporting actors Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill. The Ritz Brothers are a low-rent version of the Marx Brothers, lacking any kind of verbal humor, never mind anything sophisticated, who favor pratfalls, sight gags and calling attention to how dumb they behave.

The film opens with screaming headlines from a number of NY newspapers about a serial killer of five victims known as the Gorilla, who could be either a man or a beast. The maniac killer’s M.O. is to leave threatening notes at the homes of his victims before striking. When live-in maid Kitty (Patsy Kelly) is in bed reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a gorilla sticks his arm through her open window and pins a note to the back of her gown saying he is going to kill Walter. The Gorilla always strikes within 24 hours after sending the note. With that threat and knowledge of the recent newspaper headlines, the wealthy insurance broker Walter Stevens (Lionel Atwill) hires the bumbling private detectives Harrigan, Garrity, and Mulligan (The Ritz Brothers-Harry, Jimmy and Al) to protect him rather than call the police, and invites his niece Norma Denby (Anita Louise) and her soon-to-be husband Jack Marsden (Edward Norris) to stay over that night because he has something urgent to tell her. We learn Norma’s father left a will that stipulates Walter and his daughter are to share his inheritance in a joint trust account, but if anything should happen to either one the other gets it all.

Bela Lugosi plays the butler, in a straight role where he’s around to put a scare in everyone in the household but not be the butler who did it. Most of the film is filled with strange occurrences that include a series of disappearances via a maze of secret wall panels, a real carnival gorilla who escaped from his keeper and is roaming around the house unattended and knocking people over the noggin, an eerie message coming over the radio announcing that the Gorilla will strike at midnight and finally the arrival of a mysterious stranger (Joseph Calleia) who claims to be a security detective investigating the fraudulent Stevens. During all these incidents the private detectives act as if they were scared of their own shadow, and are totally useless (I, also, might add, totally unfunny).

It’s brought to a conclusion in a highly improbable and contrived manner with a twist that conforms to the conventional way most such B film thrillers were done in those days.

I found the comedy disappointing but, at least, it was fast-paced.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”