Directed By: William Beaudine
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Duke Mitchell, Sammy Petrillo
Tag line: "A horror film that will stiffen you with laughter!"
Trivia: Sammy Petrillo was only 17 when he made this film
Man, I love Bela Lugosi! He was the consummate professional. Even if the movie was a total piece of shit, he gave you his best, and 1952’s Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla is one of the shittiest he ever made.
As this debacle opens, night club performers Sammy Petrillo and Duke Mitchell (playing themselves) are lying, unconscious, on the beach of a remote tropical island (How did they get there? Supposedly, while on their way to entertain the troops in Guam, the duo fell out of the plane!). The two are spotted by a group of natives who take them to their village, where they’re nursed back to health by Nona (Charlita), the daughter of the local tribal chief (Al Kikume). Nona, who has fallen in love with Duke, promises to help the two get back to civilization, and to this end introduces them to Dr. Zabor (Lugosi), a scientist and the only white man living on the island. Dr. Zabor says he’ll do what he can, yet grows increasingly jealous over the relationship Duke has with Nona (who the good doctor has been smitten with for years). In an effort to get rid of his romantic rival, Dr. Zabor tests a new serum on Duke, one that, if successful, will cause the lounge singer to “devolve” into a gigantic gorilla!
Despite the fact Lugosi’s name appeared in the title, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla was intended as a vehicle for Petrillo and Mitchell, who, by that point, had made a career out of “imitating” (read blatantly ripping off) the comic stylings of (Dean) Martin and (Jerry) Lewis. With his whiny voice and over-the-top personality, Petrillo is as annoying as they come, tossing out jokes and one-liners that are unbelievably bad. I’m not the biggest Jerry Lewis fan (the only one of his movies I really enjoyed was 1965’s The Family Jewels), yet he was better than Petrillo, who copies Lewis’s mannerisms, but not his timing and delivery. That said, Petrillo is leaps and bounds ahead of Duke Mitchell, who, from start to finish, displays as much on-screen charisma as a sack of sand. His love scenes with Charlita are passionless, and he recites every line as if he were reading it for the first time. In fact, the only thing worse than Mitchell’s performance is his singing voice (the film’s continued use of his tune “Indeed I do” is like a form of torture). Jerry Lewis had a right to be hopping mad about Petrillo, but I’m guessing Dean Martin didn’t so much as break a sweat worrying about Mitchell. And what was up with the Hawaiian shirt Mitchell wore at the beginning of the movie? Tied in the front, he looked more like a Cabana Girl than he did a romantic hero!
Then we have Bela, giving his all in the thankless role of Dr. Zabor. As expected, he’s the best thing about Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, a film that might have been better had the legendary actor been given more screen time. As it stands, however, I wouldn’t recommend this fiasco to anyone. If there was a museum dedicated to bad movies, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla would have its own wing.