Bride of the Gorilla, 1951
This was one of the movies I had watched a few minutes of, and thought it looked “sort of awesome“. And it is, in a very bad-movie sort of way.
First of all, the cast. It’s one of those casts that could only happen in a 1950s film. Raymond Burr as the lead character, Barney Chavez. (Yes, Barney Chavez.) Lon Chaney, Jr. in all his potato-faced, big doofus glory as the local (Hispanic!) police inspector Taro. Woody Strode gets a small part as a police officer, only showing up for two scenes. There are various character actors who have familiar faces, but whose names you likely don’t know.
And it was written by Curt Siodmak, author of Donovan’s Brain as well as scripts to any number of movies that you’d recognize, including The Invisible Man Returns and Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.
On top of that, the female lead is a dish, and there’s another piece of eye-candy working as a maid in the main location, who wears not much at all (for a 1950s film, anyhow).
As Bride of the Gorilla begins, Barney Chavez is at odds with his boss on a South American plantation. He also has an eye for the ladies, having romanced one of the servant girls and now working on the boss’s wife. He and the boss have an argument, the boss gets bitten by a poisonous snake, and dies, leaving Barney to marry the Boss’s widow, take over the plantation, and get cursed by the servant girl’s crone of a mother (who also saw the not-quite-murder).
Barney, due to the effects of the poisonous and illegal plant used to curse him, begins hallucinating that he is an animal, and spending nights and stretches of days in the jungle, even as animals and people turn up mauled by an unknown animal, possibly a demon.
Chaney gets a most interesting (and philosophically unsound) speech about halfway through the proceedings:
You know, doctor, I was born in this little town. I sometimes regret that I went to university, and then returned to this jungle with its superstitions. It only served to confuse me. How can I help being confused? My native mind is filled with these superstitions. My legal mind was developed through books, written by people without emotion.
Making it better is that he makes no effort at all to sound like anyone other than
Larry Talbot Lon Chaney, Jr. No accent, nothing. In one sense, I really respect him for it — the thought of Chaney attempting a Spanish accent is mortifying, and he seemed to know the limits of his range. On the other hand, having a big, lumbering, doughy-faced Lon Chaney try to play a South American native is so silly on its face that his American accent only makes it funnier. Then, when he gives the speech about his “native mind”, it becomes howlingly funny (I did manage not to actually howl, but it was a close thing).
Is it a bad movie? Oh yeah.
Is it awesome? Indubitably.
Was Raymond Burr ever skinny? Not a chance.