Monday, September 24, 2012

Mark of the Gorilla


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.


Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Nazis, and guys in gorilla suits? Sign me up!

A great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. But you also make a good point here: "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." We sometimes may forget in our condescension over the seeming innocence of those times that they had no choice but to be innocent.

Classic Film and TV Cafe said...

Kevin, I adored your review; I watched all the JUNGLE JIM movies (and the TV series) as a kid. And, lest we forget, Jungle Jim also encountered a KILLER APE later in the series (what would Jane Goodall have said about that?).

Caftan Woman said...

Gee, I wish you were King in Charge of Movies. I'd lay down hard earned cash to see those Nazi-Gorilla guys going at it.

Guess I'll have to settle for watching "Mark of the Gorilla" or "Donald Duck and the Gorilla". It'll have to do.

Kevin Deany said...

Jacqueline: I'm sure producer Katzman didn't give two hoots to the educational needs of the kids in the audience, but I bet a lot of them went to see these movies for that animal footage. Kids love animals, and the movies were a perfect exposure of this footage.

I've never seen "Killer Ape" but would love to, just based on that title. I know a later entry, "Voodoo Tiger", also has Nazis in it, according to the Leonard Maltin Guide. I want to see that one too.

CW, I humbly accept your King in Charge of Movies honor, and would put a guy in a gorilla suit in every movie, especially those with Nazis.

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Dees Stribling said...

A good one to watch the next time National Gorilla Suit Day rolls around. It's not too soon to plan for it.

Kevin Deany said...

Ngoc, thanks for writing. Glad you enjoy it.

Dees, every day should be National Gorilla Suit Day.

Classicfilmboy said...

This is such a fun review. You admit to its shortcomings without showing your fondness for it. Frankly, I never thought about it but you are right - Nazis are the best villains and gorilla suits just make it that much more fun. Great job!

silverscreenings said...

This is an excellent review. Truthfully, I've noticed these movies on TCM but haven't made the effort to watch them. But based on your review, I'm going to give them a shot. You make a good point about kids not having access to footage of African animals back in the day, so to see them in a movie would really be something.

Page said...

You may have noticed that I'm a big fan of films with people in gorilla suits too. Having reviewed King Kong, The Ape and The Gorilla. Not sure how I missed this little gem though.
(That's why it's awesome having you around. You keep us in the know) I've been thinking of doing a snarky photo review of one of Weismuller's Tarzan vehicles but this one might do too. Ha Ha

Thanks for giving us another great review. Oh, and I am working on doing the Greenacres post for my Hollywood At Home series. You had mentioned it previously and the place is actually still standing for the most part. Ha Ha (I did find that book on Errol and his home you mentioned as well. I think I'll go ahead and purchase it to add to my collection. It looks interesting) At least I think that was you that mentioned it. If not I do apologize.
Have a great week!

Kevin Deany said...

Brian, glad you enjoyed the review. There should be some sort of genius award given to the screenwriter who thought to combine Nazis and gorilla suits.

Silvescreenings, there were also the Disney live action nature documentaries, and I'm sure the kids enjoyed them, but I'm also sure a lot of them wanted to have their animal footage mixed in with some backlot jungle sadism, courtesy Tarzan, Jungle Jim and Bomba.

Page, the first two Weissmuller Tarzan films have some good gorilla suits in them, and would love to see what you do with them should you choose to do so. I am looking forward to your Greenacres piece, and yes, it was I who recommended the Errol Flynn book to you. I hope you enjoy it.

ClassicBecky said...

Kevin, you just about made me spit coffee through my nose! "I love movies that feature a good gorilla suit." Me too! I've been having a lot of fun with the Jungle Jim series. They really are awful movies, but they are so much fun! Nice piece, and very funny!

Kevin Deany said...

Hi Becky: Good to hera from you. Glad you liked the post. I need to do another post soon on our favorite actor, Errol Flynn. It's been far too long for me.

ClassicBecky said...

Sorry I haven't been around, Kevin. Life has gotten in the way with many difficult things, but it's all looking up now! Of course, you know I'm ALWAYS ready for The Great Flynn!

Kevin Deany said...

Glad things are looking up for you Becky. It's been a rough year for a lot of people. I'm thinking of a post on Flynn's 1937 movie "Green Light."

ClassicBecky said...

Excellent, Kevin! Overlooked movie, really good!