Bride of the Gorilla

Talkie of the Week: Bride of the Gorilla

USA 1951, 70 minutes, black & white, Realart Pictures. Director: Curt Siodmak, Written by Curt Siodmak. Cast: Raymond Burr, Barbara Payton, Tom Conway, Lon Chaney Jr., Paul Cavanagh, Gisela Werbisek, Carol Varga, Paul Maxey, Woody Strode, Martin Garralaga, Felippa Rock, Moyna MacGill

Plot summary: Plantation manager Barbey Charvez kills his boss to marry his beautiful wife Dina and gets cursed for it by a native witch.

Review: Bride of the Gorilla – the title may already suggest it – is a B movie from the early 1950s. Blessed with a decent overall cast, the film stands out for its silly but entertaining plot. Raymond Burr leaves a lasting impression with his portrayal of Barney Charvez, a plantation manager who leaves little to the imagination about his intentions towards his employer’s wife, Dina Van Gelder. Married to an older man, Dina feels lonely and neglected in the middle of nowhere, bored in her husband’s large house which is surrounded by miles of South American jungle. Suggestive in her reaction to Barney’s advances, she causes a fight between her sick husband and a young and boisterous Charvez who ultimately gives into a sudden impulse of killing his boss. Observed by a native witch, Barney gets away with murder when the police is unable to convict him but is cursed to turn into the beast he proved to be when he took Klaas Van Gelder’s life. Unaware of what’s really happening to him, he roams the jungle at nighttime and is haunted by the experience of being a gorilla during the day. When he finally craves the jungle more than his newlywed wife, Barney faces his own demise as Dina is trying to stop him from running away.

Although the storyline may not sound worthwhile, the movie is fun to watch. Bride of the Gorilla is not the kind of film that will will leave an emotional imprint on your heart, nor will it blow you away with its surprising plot – but it will divert you and make you laugh. It will relax you despite (or rather thanks to?!) its righteous ending. And truth be told, Bride of the Gorilla is particularly enjoyable for anyone who’s fond of Raymond Burr. Barbara Payton and ex-Falcon Tom Conway also deliver neat performances, it is Burr’s seething aggressiveness, however, that makes this film better than expected. With his introverted emotions and impressive physicality, he easily turns this film into a guilty pleasure – just watch him enter at the end of the second minute and you’ll see what I mean. For his screen presence alone this film is a must-see, at least for anyone who’s ever wanted to savor a very different side of TV’s Perry Mason.

Available on youtube in public domain.

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Buckskin

Talkie of the Week: Buckskin

USA 1968, 97 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Michael D. Moore, Producer: A. C. Lyles, Written by: Jimmie Haskell. Cast: Barry Sullivan, Joan Caulfield, Wendell Corey, Lon Chaney Jr., John Russell, Barbara Hale, Bill Williams, Barton MacLane, Richard Arlen, Leo Gordon, Jean-Michel Michenaud, George Chandler, Aki Aleong, Michael Larrain, Craig Littler, James X. Mitchell, Emile Meyer, Robert Riordan, Leroy Johnson, Manuela Thiess

Plot summary: Marshall Chaddock tries to bring order to a remote Western town which has been controlled by local crook Rep Marlowe. He seeks the support of the homesteaders who are ready to sell out and take flight until Chaddock proves to be willing to risk his life to fight for justice.

Review: Buckskin is a film made in true Western tradition featuring a full cast of well-known Western names and faces. Barry Sullivan leads the excellent group of actors as Montana Territorial Marshall Chaddock who comes to Glory Hole as an outsider with his halfbreed son Akii (Jean-Michel Michenaud). Their introduction to local homesteaders (wedded acting team Barbara Hale and Bill Williams, as well as their on-screen son Michael Larrain) is awkward and almost painful to watch, but not because the performances would lack depth or appeal. It’s the characters’ hardship that’s rather apparent from the get-go. The homesteaders have long given up on expecting help from anybody, let alone outsiders coming in with a promise to turn things for the better. It takes some drastic measures to convince them to support a man who finally lives up to what he says…

Buckskin is a typical tale of the lone Western hero, beautifully told with a touch of the late 1960s and thus a slight political undertone. Barry Sullivan gives a convincing performance of his character’s stubborn effort to win allies in an area that once belonged to his son’s forefathers and is now controlled by a greedy crook. When he ultimately succeeds, the fight for justice does not come without sacrifice for those who have struggled with unfortunate circumstances all their lives. Supporting cast members Barbara Hale and Bill Williams give strong performances as homesteaders Sarah and Frank Cody whose lives are affected by both, Chaddock and Marlowe, in unfortunate and unpleasant ways. Joan Caulfield gives an equally convincing portrayal of school teacher gone barmaid Nora Johnson. Her fate contrasts Sarah Cody’s, but strangely resembles it in a way. Both of their lives have been severely influenced by the men surrounding them, which adds a mild sense of women’s rights to the story.

All in all, Buckskin is a worthy pick for everybody who enjoys to watch a mature cast of fabulous actors in a Western scenery with a moral in the end to pass on to your kids. A great flick for a rainy Sunday afternoon, tissues included if you are as hooked on powerful yet subtle emotional scenes as I am.

Available on VHS.