Ben Garrity, Harrigan and Mulligan
Created by Ralph Spence (1890-1940)
"A Ritz is afraid of nothing ... but ... THIS ... IS ... SOMETHING!"
The Gorilla was a relatively obscure comedy by playwright Ralph Spence, (original title: The Gorilla: A Musical Comedy) which had a short run on Broadway way back in 1925, but it had surprising long legs, being filmed several times over the years.
The basic premise is that a killer gorilla (yeah, a killer gorilla) is on the loose, and a cast of characters (including a few detectives) is trapped in a deserted mansion with the homicidal ape. It's all played for laughs, though, deliberately sending up the whole gothic thriller genre. Power outages, damsels in distress, thunder, lightning, secret passages, screams in the night, creepy butlers, disappearing corpses, strange lights, odd noises, mistaken identities, mysterious strangers, cryptic messages, a killer on the loose -- they're all here.
But it's the 1939 version that qualifies it for this site, because the bumbling detectives in it are three particulalry inept private detectives (played by the Ritz Brothers).
BEN GARRITY (played by Jimmy Ritz), HARRIGAN (Harry) and MULLIGAN (Al) are called in when a wealthy business man receives a threatening letter by a killer known as The Gorilla. Or is it a killer gorilla? It's hard to tell -- the film's a little vague on that point. But before the Ritzes arrive, the man is joined by Norma, the man's daughter, and her annoying finacée.
It also starred Bela Lugosi, as a rather suspicious butler, and comedienne Patsty Kelly as a dipsy, high-strung house maid.
But make no mistake -- the Ritz Brothers, despite frequent comparisons, are NOT the Marx Brothers. They're not in the same league. In fact, if this film is any indication of their comedic skills, they may not have even been in the same business as Groucho, Chico and Harpo.
The Ritz Brothers shout, roll their eyes, mug desperately for the cameras, perform constant double takes, bang into each other and generally chew plenty of scenery.
Still -- to their credit -- even the Ritz Brothers knew the film was a gobbler. They staged a highly publicized walkout from Fox, complaining loudly about the low quality of the script. And I'd have to concur. The script, whatever I think of the brothers' comedic talents, is truly dreadful, an incongruous, implausible mess with all the subtlety of being slapped with a wet fish in the face.
But I digress...
The studio called the brothers' bluff, bidding them adieu and completing the picture anyway. Or at least releasing it. Whether it was actually "completed" is a matter of serious debate.
Still, it does feature a few decent moments. Bela Lugosi is an acting accident that's always fun to watch, and comedienne Patsy Kelly's performance as Kitty, the highly excitable maid, is a genuine hoot -- and one of what she thought was one of her best.
The tagline for the film boasted that "A Ritz is afraid of nothing ... but ... THIS ... IS ... SOMETHING!"
They may have been right, but it's the sort of something you'd wipe off the bottom of your shoe...
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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