Nazis make the best villains. One can’t say anything good about them. Nothing. They have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Put a swastika armband on them and wish for everything bad to happen to them without a trace of guilt.
I love movies that feature a good gorilla suit. Have a jungle thriller with some good gorilla suits and I’m very content. Even better is when a mad scientist uses a guy in an ape suit to do his dirty work for him. Still better is an old dark house thriller that has a guy running around in a gorilla suit.
There’s not a movie ever made that couldn’t be improved by having a scene featuring a guy in a gorilla suit. Do you know how much better those Dark Knight movies would have been if they featured a scene with Batman fighting a guy in a gorilla suit?
That’s right, tons better.
“Mark of the Gorilla” (1950) gives us the very great pleasure of putting Nazis inside gorilla suits.
It could be the greatest movie ever made.
OK, it really isn’t, but it’s a reasonably enjoyable one. “Mark of the Gorilla” was the third film in the 16-film Jungle Jim film series. Produced by low-budget expert Sam Katzman for Columbia Pictures, the Jungle Jim series afforded former Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller the opportunity to stay in the jungle while keeping his clothes on. He later continued the role in the Jungle Jim TV series in 1955. Because the character rights reverted to the producers of the TV series, the last three films in the series he starred as himself, but, not to worry, he’s still the same old Jungle Jim.
TCM has been running these Jungle Jim flicks on Saturday mornings, and they provide 70 minutes of harmless fun. The plots range from standard jungle adventure to more loopier adventures, such as a valley of giants and visitors from the moon. And Nazis.
“Mark of the Gorilla” sees a former band of Nazis who, during the war, had discovered a secret African valley filled with gold. After the war, they return to the valley to mine the gold. Because they don’t want the local populace to know what they’re doing, several of them don gorilla suits to terrorize the countryside, keeping the villagers busy while others strip the valley of its gold.
Local game warden Jungle Jim hears about the gorilla attacks and thinks something is fishy, since gorillas aren’t known in those areas. His suspicions are confirmed when in a struggle with a gorilla, he throws a knife at the attacking gorilla, wounding him in the arm. The gorilla runs away with the knife sticking out of its arm.
On Jim’s way back to camp, a knife hurdles into the tree next to him. He turns and sees a gorilla running away. A knife-throwing gorilla? That clinches it for Jim.
While they are referred to as Nazis, and even led by a wanted war criminal, they don’t don Nazi apparel, to my disappointment. When I first read the plot description - Nazis wearing gorilla suits - I had a very different movie in mind.
I pictured Nazis wearing their swastika garb as they climbed into the suits. In a perfect movie world, a horde of real gorillas (but, of course, still played by guys in gorilla suits) would fight the Nazi-suited gorillas, and during the battle, have their gorilla suits torn off to reveal the Nazi costumes underneath. Pulp adventure at its finest. But alas, it wasn’t to be. Sometimes the movie we have in our heads is better than what is actually there.
Former 20th Century Fox ingénue Trudy Marshall is on hand as one of the two female leads and I can only wonder what was going on in her mind as she was traversing Columbia’s jungle back lot. “A few years ago I was appearing in “Dragonwyck”, and now I’m doing this!”
Marshall’s character has one of the more harrowing five minutes I’ve seen in awhile. She and Jim are inching there away along a cliff’s edge when they are attacked (not too convincingly) by an exceptionally large bird. Since this is a Sam Katzman production, said attack mainly consists of close-ups of a bird intercut with close-ups of Jungle Jim waving a knife in the air. Still, it’s enough for Marshall to fall off the cliff into a lake below. She sinks to the bottom where her body is enclosed by a giant eel. As she is struggling at the bottom of the lake, Jim jumps in to wrestle with the eel. She swims to the top only to have the Nazis take potshots at her as she’s swimming to shore. The poor girl can’t catch a break.
There’s lots of stock footage of different kinds of animals in the jungle and it’s obviously filler. Yet, I wonder if such footage wasn’t appealing to the kid audiences who made up the core of Jungle Jim fans. If a kid in a rural area didn’t live near a big city with a zoo, it’s possible the only time he got to see live footage of these magnificent animals was at the movies. Remember in those days, there was no “Wild Kingdom” or “National Geographic” footage on television. So the kids going to see “Mark of the Gorilla” got to see footage of African animals. And Nazis in gorilla suits. And Jungle Jim. Sounds like a perfect Saturday afternoon at the movies to me.