Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bride of the Gorilla

A sweltering South American jungle is the setting of a torrid love affair tainted by a heinous crime of passion, and a pitiless voodoo curse. Man, that sounds promising, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, in Bride of the Gorilla (1951), the action is more tepid than steamy. 
Our story begins with a narration by Lon Chaney Jr., who plays the role of a superstitious yet canny police commissioner. As a general meditation on the folly of man, his opening speech is decent enough, but it’s kind of a weird way to start a film. Anyway, nearly all the action of the movie takes place on a rubber plantation owned by a fairly dapper old gent called Van Gelder. He just happens to have beautiful young wife (played by the truly appealing Barbara Payton). And it just so happens that Barney Chavez, a young, virile worker on the plantation, is coveting the hell out of her.

As you may well have predicted, Barney decides that the best way to make a play for the fetching Dina Van to bump off her husband. He does this with the assistance of a particularly cute and harmless looking baby python...standing in for some dangerous poisonous snake, of course. (why do films always cast constrictors as vipers or something? Do they really think no one will know the difference?) The murder is ruled as an accidental death, but both Dr. Viet, an old friend of Van Gelder’s, and the aforementioned Commissioner Taro, are suspicious.

Unfortunately for Barney, his killing was observed by an old native woman, Al-Long, and she places a hideous curse on him with the help of some leaves from a mysterious voodoo vine. Despite her husband being laid low by a serpent mere moments before, Dina Van Gelder is pretty quick to shack up with Barney, and they drum up an immediate wedding ceremony. But all is not well as the nature of Al-Long’s curse becomes clear. Let’s just say the film is not inaccurately titled...

So, what’s good here? Barbara Payton, for certain. I’m not saying she’s the best actress, but she holds her own in strictly B-movie fashion. Mainly, she’s just a joy to look at. The tiny waist, the modestly sized yet delightfully pointy boobs...and those eyebrows. It’s official, I’m in love with her eyebrows. Two dark, perfectly sweeping little curves, arched just so as to make her seem perpetually shocked and a little bit quizzical. Must be fun talking to her; she can’t help but look interested. But enough with my objectification of women...though I’m not kidding when I say she’s really the films only highlight.

“But, But...Lon Chaney Jr.! A Vindictive voodoo curse! The classic theme of man’s struggle against his primitive nature, illustrated in the most literal sense! Um, a really goofy gorilla suit!”
Yes, I’d be lying if I said Bride of the Gorilla did not contain these things. Unfortunately, they don’t make the movie any good. Chaney seems more embarrassed to be there than anything, and delivers his lines in a awkward, stilted mumble. I’ll grant you that the scenes taking place in the (impenetrably) dark jungle, and Barney’s maddened ranting on the freedom being a gorilla allows him verge on effective. However, they never quite make it to good. As much I I deeply love voodoo curses, this is one plodding, poorly paced, drawn out voodoo curse. Really, that’s the main problem I have with Bride of the Gorilla; it’s a very short film, but feels like a two and a half hour mess. 

Ultimately, Bride of the Gorilla is an hour of your life you’ll never get back, but all things considered, you might as well. Be honest with yourself, you would’ve spent the time on facebook, anyway.

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