You Ain't Seen Me, Right? - Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)


30th September 2011

In our last ever You Ain't Seen Me, Right?, Daniel talks to us about Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla. Who else thinks he's now just dicking with us?

You Ain't Seen Me, Right? is brought to you by Daniel Palmer, of Part-Time Infidel web fame. He's so good, several films actually run a blog about him.

Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)
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Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla

What William 'one take' Beaudine lacked in ability he more than made up for with indomitable self-belief. Having worked as an assistant to D.W. Griffith on The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916), Beaudine was on hand to witness the venerable old racist in full flow, and who's to say that some of that magic didn't rub off? Beaudine made over 350 films encompassing every genre known to Man, crafting gems like the unsettling and largely unseen Black Market Babies (1945), the ambiguously titled Incident (1948) and the quite frankly baffling Crazy Over Horses (1951). But whatever the genre, whomsoever the 'star', Beaudine was able to place his artistic imprint on it - which is the definition of an auteur, isn't it?

Needless to say, Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla defies easy description, but here goes. The viewer is transported to the darkest recesses of the jungle; a 'vast wilderness of lush giant foliage, of tropical birds and fierce animal life' as the ominous narrator informs us. Two men have mysteriously landed in the depths of this harsh landscape and are taken in by the ethnically indeterminate Cola-Cola tribe; a handily stashed copy of Variety informs them that the men are none other than Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo, everyone's favourite Martin & Lewis tribute act. The bumbling duo meet the only other white man on the island, Dr. Zabor (Lugosi), a scientist conducting an 'experiment in evolution'. Science and evolution being evil, of course, it stands to reason that Zabor is up to no good in his dilapidated castle, and our heroes must foil his nefarious scheme.

"Mighty Joe Young meets Dumb And Dumber" - Total Film

As his nickname suggests, Beaudine understood that it isn’t important if the dialogue is exactly right, the lighting picks up every little thing, the effects are executed correctly or the shots match up completely; what really matters is emotions, and BLMBG is chock full of them. The second of his visionary 'cross-franchise' trilogy - Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966) and Billy The Kid vs. Dracula (1966) being the others - BLMBG was Lugosi's last film before falling under the spell of the evil and manipulative Edward D. Wood Jr., a man who made it his life's mission to usurp Beaudine's crown as the King of the Independent Spirit.

Dr. Zabor is Dr. Moreau in reduced circumstances, with only one oafish minion to his name; the parallels to Lugosi's own life are chilling. One cannot escape the suspicion that the film was shot, Bowfinger style, without Lugosi's knowledge, following a quick rummage through costume. Duke has a unique delivery, as though remembering and forgetting his lines at the same time, summoning a full orchestra from the lifeless environs of the jungle as he serenades Nona (Charlita), the upwardly mobile tribeswoman, in his inimitable style. Petrillo replicates Jerry Lewis's nasal whine with chilling accuracy as he avoids the attentions of Saloma (Muriel Landers), Nona's hilariously portly sister. But the film's undisputed star is Ramona the Chimp, who delivers a beguiling performance, displaying upward of three facial expressions; a range beyond her co-stars.

BLMBG fully explores the comic possibilities of genetic engineering, brimming with symbolism and allegory. Beaudine's films were delivered to a small and easily pleased audience with the haphazard rapidity of someone with nothing better to do. One can't help but admire his persistence.
That's it - the last of Daniel's You Ain't Seen Me, Right? features. I think I speak for everyone when I say that these weekly features will be missed but I am also looking forward to not having a weekly reminder of my own stupidity. Thanks for all the humbling hard work, Daniel!

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