Bride of the Gorilla

09/16/2021 06:42

Film: Bride of the Gorilla

Year: 1951

Director: Curt Siodmak

Writer: Curt Siodmak

Starring: Barbara Payton, Lon Chaney Jr. and Raymond Burr



This was a movie that I’ll be honest, I never heard of. It popped up on the list of horror movies from 1951. What caught my attention was that this was written and directed by Curt Siodmak, who did a lot with the Universal classics. Another thing was that it stars Lon Chaney Jr. and Raymond Burr. I decided to review this as part of my Odyssey through the Ones for Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast. The synopsis is the owner of a plantation in the jungle marries a beautiful woman. Shortly afterward, he is plagued by a strange voodoo curse which transforms him into a gorilla.

We start this with a voice-over narration from police commissioner Taro (Chaney). This is over animal footage from the jungle before shifting to a house that is decrepit. He is relaying about how the jungle can be unforgiving and we will see the events that led to this house being in the state that it is.

This plantation is owned by Klaas Van Gelder (Paul Cavanagh). He is married to Dina (Barbara Payton). They seem relatively happy, but for whatever reason Klaas is neglecting his wife. He is best friends with Dr. Viet (Tom Conway), who believes that the two should leave this place. Dina was a former dancer before marrying and moving here. Dr. Viet believes that the heat and how difficult it is to live in the jungle will ruin them.

Running this plantation as a manager is Barney Chavez (Raymond Burr). He has trouble keeping employees with how difficult it is to work there. This causes Klaas and him to butt heads. It doesn’t help the fact that Dina feels strongly for Barney and he feels the same back to her.

After a dispute at dinner, Klaas fires Barney. Dina tells her love that he cannot leave. She wants him to work things out with Klaas. The two of them meet in the garden and it doesn’t go well. Klaas punches Barney and he hits him back. This causes the older man to fall with a snake slithering toward him. He cannot get up and ends up being bitten. Hiding in the trees is Al-Long (Gisela Werbisek). She is a local woman who works at the plantation. Her niece is Larina (Carol Varga) who was seeing Barney. He broke her heart and now Al-Long is out for revenge.

Taro investigates the death and he believes that Barney was involved. There isn’t any evidence to prove this. When asked, Al-Long denies seeing him, but she confirms she saw Klaas get bitten. Leaves from a forbidden plant were found over the eyes of Klaas as well, signifying a curse. Al-Long denies doing this or owning this plant, since it is illegal to do so. Taro doesn’t believe it. Al-Long has her secrets and will use them to get back at Barney for the deeds he has committed.

That will be where I’ll leave my recap for this movie. Where I want to start with breaking this down, when I saw the title, I immediately wondered if this movie was going to be one of the racist takes on the gorilla film. Thankfully, that is not what we are getting here. There was a bit of trivia I saw that writer/director Siodmak took aspects from his The Wolf Man screenplay that didn’t make the movie to build this story here. I can see that having now watched it.

Going along with this idea, we do have another curse movie that is featuring Chaney. Something else I saw was that the hiring of him along with Burr, the actors were thought to be interchangeable. It worked better in their eyes to give the lesser role to Chaney of Taro, which I thought was a good fit. He seemed to have deteriorating health at the time. Burr had a better look at the time to be the more rugged Barney. The casting for these roles is good, but I did have some issues. I’m thinking this was the writing as Taro has some awkward lines and how Chaney delivers them didn’t help. I can’t fully blame him though.

Then to get over to the curse which is an interesting one. Al-Long doesn’t like that Barney shunned her daughter and then him allowing Klaas to die. She takes matters into her own hands. We get an interesting scene where a policeman of Nedo (Woody Strode) finds the plant, but because it is thought to be evil, lets her keep it. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me. That isn’t my only issue either. The setting of the movie is confusing. We are in a jungle. Gorillas are indigenous to Africa. I believe this movie takes place in South or Central America. Having names like Chavez along with the use of voodoo makes me believe this. Having a gorilla walking around in the jungles of South America doesn’t make sense since they don’t reside there. There was some trivia that part of the idea here came from mythology and it actually isn’t a gorilla, but more of a Bigfoot like creature called Sukara. I don’t like to be rude, but it does seem the title is a lazy thing to do since people would identify what they’re getting at with an ape-like creature.

What I will say though, I do like the idea that there might not actually be a monster or creature here. Barney is drinking things that Al-Long is making from the leaves. He could be hallucinating these things. It isn’t that much different from the concept of the werewolf and the lore behind it. I do think this could be played up just a bit more for me as well.

That should be enough for the story so I’ll go to the acting. Payton is our lead here of Dina is fine. I did see that some people not liking her promiscuous nature. I’m not fan that she is thinking of cheating on her husband. The movie has a short runtime, so they can’t flesh some things out more. It doesn’t look good on her part to marry Barney as quickly as she does in the movie, but since she is being neglected, I can see her moving on as quickly as she does. She also seems to be the most beautiful woman in the area so I can see why everyone falls in love with her. Chaney and Burr are both fine as I said. For the former I have issues with how things are written more than delivery. Conway, Cavanagh, Werbisek and Varga are all solid. I’d say the cast overall is fine, but no one is great. I did want to give credit to Steve Calvert who is the ‘gorilla’.

As for the effects here, we don’t get a lot of them. This isn’t necessarily a movie that needs them though either. We don’t have the largest budget, but I do like the look of the gorilla. It looks realistic for sure, especially human feel it has which makes sense. I should also give credit here to the cinematography. They are able to hide it and that helps. There is also animal footage that is edited here. It feels like filler, but I also think that it helps to establish where it takes place. On the whole, this is fine without necessarily standing out.

So then in conclusion here, this movie has an interesting idea. We have this older woman who is upset and is using voodoo to punish this man. It even works having Taro, who grew up in the area, but was educated outside of it to help the audience understand more. The lore works, but it is a bit confusing with where this movie takes place. I know it is an issue of semantics, but calling this creature a gorilla annoys me. The story is lacking a bit though. The acting is fine and it feels like the writing doesn’t help. Aside from that, the effects, cinematography and the soundtrack are fine. For that, this movie is over average, but I can’t go much higher.


My Rating: 5.5 out of 10