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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Back With Brooklyn Gorillas

A guy named Steve Calvert played the titular gorilla in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. He'd bought the skin from Ray "Crash" Corrigan, a previous ape-enactor. Steve tended bar for a day job, according to the Tom Weaver/Herman Cohen sit-down. How many tavern keeps kept gorilla pelts for such moonlighting occasion? Alex Gordon assumed majordomo duty for Lugosi, holding his cigar off-camera and such. Alex was acutely sensitive to indignities visited upon his idol, Duke/Sammy being a continual affront. To my eyes, "Poor Bela" was here well in front of Poorest Bela of Black Sleep and state in-patient ordeal. He's in command and dwarfs the comics (tall guy, that BL). Maybe there was adlibbing on their part, but Lugosi grooves with it. He also streams pages of gobbledygook dialogue without a hitch. Unlike Alex, I never found myself pitying an old duffer ritually degraded. To the contrary, Bela seemed equal to whatever Gals, Goofs, and Gags (see the trailer) got thrown at him.

Scott MacGillivray and Ted Okuda did a nifty interview with Sammy Petrillo for Filmfax # 53. SP remembered Duke being "like a father" and about eight years his senior. Unlike Dean and Jerry, these two stayed friends. Herman Cohen said Jerry came over to Realart and got in a cuss fight with Jack Broder. Big-shot Hal Wallis wanted a piece of Jack too for imperiling jack the former was hauling out of Martin/Lewis tills. But for Broder's integrity (and the fact Wallis didn't offer enough for the negative) BLMBG might have been sold to the senior-league producer and destroyed. That certainly was Hal's objective. Reflect then, upon Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla sharing with Citizen Kane more than mere greatness. Both came perilously close to being lost forever to us!

A Pressbook So Hurriedly Done As To
Mix Up The Photo Captions
1952 trades treated Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla like something smelly in the punch bowl. Wagons circled to deny legitimacy to Broder's effort. Variety saw "irony" in Jerry having given Sammy Petrillo a spot on his Colgate Hour, and now comes the upstart  poaching Lewis (and Paramount) preserves. Hal Wallis' calling for a print of BLMBG was reported, much as President Truman might have ordered his next White House screening. Well after all, 'twas players like Wallis and Paramount who were buying ad space in Variety, not low spades of Broder ilk (I looked, but found no trade ads for BLMBG). Carbon copies never pay off, said I Love Lucy scribe Carroll Carroll to Variety columnist Jack Hellman. He was put out with Lucy/Desi and other acts being aped: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis will still be great when Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo are just two names in the phone book, said the truculent team-player.

Jack Broder managed a tail-end of August '52 opening for Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla at Broadway's House Of Horror, the Rialto. Duke and Sammy were thrilled enough to head down on their own dime from Jersey club-dates for fan signings and patron greets. Hadn't Dean and Jerry lately stopped traffic on Broadway? Hal Wallis office this week was reported doing a burn over the promotion build-up given (the) indie pic, said Variety, and insult to injury here was the Rialto blowing up news articles about the tiff and lobby displaying them. Broder boasted of legal threats he'd gotten, and Duke/Sammy had temerity to deny "any resemblance" between their act and Dean/Jerry's. Broder called the mirror images "coincidental," and said he'd like to do follow-ups with Realart's new fun-makers. Duke Mitchell showed his magnanimity thus: We're not trying to take anything from them (Martin and Lewis). We plan to continue in this business and we think the public accepts us on our own talent.

Variety's review put the stiletto in deep, calling BLMBG a  clumsily titled film that reaches hard for laughs which seldom eventuate (sez them!). M&P's copy of M&L was totally without success. They said Sammy lacked Jerry's "polish" (Wha?). Jack Broder meanwhile sought a co-feature to support wider release of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. What he got was Brit-made House Of Darkness, "a psychological murder film" with Laurence Harvey and Leslie Brooks. Broder wanted into first-run Los Angeles sooner, but faced a seeming embargo on "B" product in that crowded territory. Other low cost pics were finished but unable to get bookings, RKO's Tim Holt western Overland Telegraph and Bob Lippert's Tales Of Robin Hood among small-fry that would wait a year for LA playdates. Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla squeezed into four houses for mid-October play with Untamed Women, an independent with perhaps more marquee sizzle than plainer House Of Darkness. Grosses for the pair were strictly from hunger ... a first week the last week at three of the venues, with a "thin" $9,500 counted (compare that with $60,000 MGM's Ivanhoe took in two theatres during the same frame).

Soft was most subsequent biz, Buffalo in November with $8,000 or close, Denver doubling BLMBG with Yankee Buccaneer for $6,500. Showmen that used Realart oldies might take Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla  --- others wouldn't be bothered. It all had faint aroma of a boxoffice freeze-out. Was Paramount applying pressure upon theatres not to book Mitchell and Petrillo? The frolicsome team meanwhile sought gigs where they could be found. Duke and Sammy appeared with BLMBG in Philly, then were Vegas Flamingo bound to appear with other impressionist acts. Two lads suffer from weak material, and after Petrillo's first Lewis image palls, nothing happens of yock-worthy humor, said Variety. An unkindest cut was Duke and Sammy's from a Los Angeles supper club that had booked them for two weeks during January 1953. Proprietor Larry Potter of same-named night-spot became somewhat ired over the boys' sandwich bit when a piece of bread fell on a salad, spattering a young customer. According to trade reportage, Potter did a burn and the verbal battle ended in an early exit for (the) team.


Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

Enjoyed reading Part 2 of your Brooklyn Gorilla remembrances, John!

One thing worth noting is that this film was written by Tim Ryan. Ryan was both an actor and a screenwriter.

He was also half of the husband-wife comedy team "Tim and Irene," Irene being the same Irene Ryan that would find 1960s fame as Granny on TV's "Beverly Hillbillies." The couple were married until 1942 but continued to work together after their divorce.

A quick look at Ryan's filmography as both an actor and a writer reveals that horror-comedy was familiar territory for Ryan: before "Brooklyn Gorilla" he penned "Spook Busters" for the Bowery Boys and "Crazy Knights" for the oddly-paired trio of Shemp Howard-Billy Gilbert-Maxie Rosenbloom. He also wrote a Tim and Irene short for Educational Pictures called "Heir Today" that I've never seen but based on the title has a good shot at involving a "haunted" house I'd say.

Further perusing his filmography you note that he either wrote, acted or served both functions in several "series" films such as the Blondie and Maggie and Jiggs films, turned up "Detour" and "The Buster Keaton Story" and even did a spot on "The Abbott & Costello Show."

I'm fascinated by Ryan for what seems very obvious by his filmography: he worked almost exclusively for "poverty row" studios. I've often wondered about guys like Ryan and "Brooklyn Gorilla's" director (and director of countless films) William Beaudine who post-silent helming also worked almost exclusively for the cut-rate outfits. I've wondered what their outlook was - if they just took the work because that was what was offered or whether the attitude was more, "here in the smaller pond I'm the bigger fish, with little or no competition."

Last but not least, as I type this I need to mention a rather pleasant surprise. A 1944 musical screwball comedy called "Hot Rhythm" is currently an "instant streaming" selection from Netflix. Ryan co-wrote the screenplay for Monogram and has a major role as does Irene Ryan. Also on hand is former silent comedy star Harry Langdon in one of his final feature films. The film is very entertaining viewing. Ryan comes off a bit like the character actor who portrayed Mr. Lipman on the "Seinfeld" TV show, having a similar appearance and presence. Irene Ryan is 20 years younger than how most folks remember her and plays a city character (she sings, too). Some would say it's a sad comedown for Langdon but pro that he is, he imbues his brief bits with his stock comic touches. Recommended!

5:18 AM  
Anonymous fredde duke said...

such a coincidence that you are writing Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla this week...because I just got this article I wrote published on Wednesday and then someone told me about your blog the following's about the Oscars it is

1:46 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Really enjoyed your Oscars article, Fredde, and recollections about your father, Maurice Duke.

A comment was just posted at Part One of BLMBG from a Petrillo family member, by the way.

Paul, I just watched this morning, upon your recommendation, "Hot Rhythm," on Netflix, and really liked it. Irene Ryan was a riot in this! --- and Harry Langdon gave his usual expert character comedy performance. There's actually quite a lot of him in the first half. Overall, a terrific Monogram musical, and I thank you for the tip.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Jim Thompson said...

I found an old scanned newspaper page that had a graphic ad for this film immediately next to one for what was then the current Martin/Lewis feature.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous r.j. said...


Would you not agree with my opinion that "20th Century" is the -- but THE -- funniest film of all-time? I find myself screaming everytime I watch!


1:37 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

R.J., it has been years since I watched "20th Century." Maybe it's time to renew acquaintance. As I recall, the Columbia DVD looked nice.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I suspect William Beaudine viewed himself as a hired gun: somebody who could sign on for a job and clean it up in five or ten days. That's why the budget outfits employed him so often, and why Disney gave him quickie assignments in the '50s.

Sammy Petrillo loved Beaudine, for the same reason Huntz Hall loved him: he let them improvise. There's a choice example in BROOKLYN GORILLA where Sammy is holding Ramona the chimp, and Bela is occupied with another matter. Looking away from Sammy, Bela dismisses him with "Take her back in her cage." End of scene, but Sammy says, 'What?" Bela, startled, bellows, "TAKE HORRRRR BACK IN HORRRR CAAAAAAGE!", sending Sammy swiftly out of frame.

Thanks, John, for digging through the trades and running the numbers on BROOKLYN GORILLA. I've seen trade ads for BRIDE OF THE GORILLA and other Broder productions, but I don't recall seeing anything on Duke and Sammy.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous r.j. said...


You really owe it to yourself. Just the pre-code scene of Lombard in her undies is worth the price of admission!

Swell masthead today, as well -- Ty, Colbert, Colman -- quite a parlay. (They really do put today's so-called celeb's to shame, don't they?)

Regards, R.J.

3:32 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer speaks to the greatness of "bad" movies:

I love the movies. Sitting in a darkened room, watching images projected on a screen, seems to open my heart and mind to truth and beauty and love in a way other art forms do not. A film like "The Constant Nymph" or "The Earrings of Madame de" carries me away on tides of passion, and afterwards I am far removed from where I was. For this I bend the knee to such masters of the medium as Hitchcock, Max Ophuls, and Edmund Goulding.

So why is it that the weird and strange and--let's face it--really bad movies hold such fascination for me? "Maniac"? "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorrilla"? Sure, break out the Cheerwine and pour some popcorn in the kettle. Let's go!

From the comments I've read to your essay, it seems that I'm far from being the only one. Maybe it's because, in a way, something this atrocious reveals what we really love about the movies. Its very badness serves as a counterpoint to what is good about them. A bad movie may be like camp, a lie that tells the truth.

Or maybe there is something else. I would have become acquainted with such movies when I was first discovering the movies themselves. In the motley packages bought by UHF stations hungry for cheap programming, or showings at second run theaters on Market Street in Philadelphia, or the VHF stations still having to fill time with local content, I might have seen the offerings of Monogram, PRC, and American International or other producers of cheap time fillers that were still worth more for that purpose than being turned into a million guitar picks or a few cents of silver.

When I watch a "Creation of the Humanoids," "King of the Zombies," "Carnival of Souls," "Dementia 13," or even "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla," I'm sitting down with the person I was, who is alive not merely to the weird and strange and absurd, but to the very wonders that can be found from this particular perspective, of being in a darkened room and watching images on a screen. I cross the threshhold into his inner world and become, for a little while, as young again as he shall always be.


1:25 PM  

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