THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST
***/**** Image B+ Sound B
starring Charlotte Austin, Lance Fuller, Johnny Roth, William Justine
screenplay by Edward D. Wood, Jr.
directed by Adrian Weiss
THE WHITE GORILLA
***/**** Image C+ Sound B+
starring Ray Corrigan, Lorraine Miller, George J. Lewis, Francis Ford
screenplay by Jo Pagano
written and directed by Harry Fraser
by Alex Jackson It would be easy to dismiss The Bride and the Beast and The White Gorilla, sight unseen, as dated trash encapsulating the lamentable racist attitudes of the era in which they were produced. Both films belong to a sub-genre of pulp fiction in which great white hunters penetrate the jungles of darkest Africa and quickly conquer the continent's great beasts, much to the awe of the childlike natives. Told directly and on the level, it's possible for this material to have a raw, primal power--this is the stuff of myth, right? The hero slaying the dragon and bringing peace to the land. I don't find the "White Man's Burden" position nearly as offensive as I find films like Jungle Goddess, where the white saviour passively conquers an African civilization and then just as passively leaves it behind. Certainly, you should be able to have a romantic fiction without marginalizing an entire race of people.
Where The Bride and the Beast and The White Gorilla redeem themselves is in their decision to have the jungle win and the great white hunter's arrogance in thinking he could defeat it punished. These films are uncommonly revisionist anti-imperialist screeds--more Aguirre: The Wrath of God than Gunga Din. The greatest accomplishment of The Bride and the Beast and The White Gorilla alike is that they preserve the mystery of the jungle without overly romanticizing it: the jungle here is neither beautiful nor ugly, it's just plain alien. These films are saying that white men shouldn't enter the jungle not because they will soil it or because it will destroy them necessarily, but because it is beyond their realm of understanding.
In The Bride and the Beast, newlyweds Laura (Charlotte Austin) and Dan (Lance Fuller) travel to Dan's mansion in Africa to prepare for a honeymoon safari. As they settle in, Dan introduces Laura to his pet black gorilla, Spanky. Laura is inexplicably drawn to the ape and the ape inexplicably drawn to her! That night, Laura has troublesome dreams about Spanky. Picking up on her vibes, Spanky breaks out of his cage and sneaks into Laura's bedroom. Laura wakes up as though in some sort of trance. Spanky gently caresses her face and tears off her nightgown but is at that point interrupted by Dan, who shoots and kills the gorilla. In an attempt to figure out what is going on with his wife, Dan hires a hypnotist to put her under. Apparently, Laura was the simian queen of the jungle in a past life--and Spanky's bride, to boot! Upon meeting her eternal love in the flesh, she had a strong subconscious urge to reunite with him. Dan dismisses this as nonsense and goes forward with the safari, but Spanky has not been defeated, and Laura's dreams grow more frequent and more intense.
Despite being nearly fifty years old, The Bride and the Beast is surprisingly erotic. There is something wonderfully nasty about seeing Charlotte Austin writhe and twist in her sleep, licking her lips as her simian lover pleasures her in ways of which her human husband is incapable. Although it's their honeymoon, Dan and Laura sleep in separate beds; I assume this was a concession to the code of screen morality at the time, but this is still pretty chaste for a film that revolves around a new bride having wet dreams about a gorilla. One can only imagine what's not going on there.
The film may in fact be one of the earliest examples of the cuckold porn genre. At its core, cuckold porn revolves around a love triangle consisting of the sexually inadequate husband, the hot wife he doesn't know what to do with, and the sexually experienced and extremely well-endowed bull who seduces and ravages the hot wife, effectively humiliating the cuckold. Oftentimes, the bull is black and the hot wife and cuckold are white. Though cuckold porn has a foundation in sadomasochism, a major distinguishing factor is that the hot wife clearly enjoys and prefers the bull to her husband. The bull may coerce her or even rape her, but when the going gets hot and heavy, she knows who she wants. Miscegenation is viewed as a violation of white purity in cuckold porn, but in a more covert way than in something like, say, The Birth of a Nation, or the original King Kong, for that matter. The hot wife wants to be violated, getting fucked by a black man is a masochistic turn-on for her--which is why her husband is so utterly humiliated.
The black bull in The Bride and the Beast shows up in the form of a literal black gorilla. This is important for three reasons: 1. It places The Bride and the Beast in the context of a crazy horror film--this material is considerably easier to take when we aren't dealing with a "realistic" interracial love triangle; 2. It actually emphasizes the threat of black sexuality--gorillas are animals and animals are untamed and do what they want regardless of artificial societal constraints; 3. It establishes the supposed racial superiority of whites over blacks. We understand why Dan thinks it is ludicrous that monkeys have past lives and can be reincarnated as humans, but he is nonetheless wrong. Spanky is at least the biological and spiritual equal to Dan and Laura.
The screenplay was authored by one Edward D. Wood, Jr., who based it on director Adrian Weiss's story "Queen of the Gorillas". Some may be disappointed to discover that the film has little of the charm of Wood's oeuvre. Relatively speaking, Weiss is too good of a filmmaker. There are a number of neat cinematic flourishes that, however naïve and gratuitous they might ultimately be, distinguish the film from Wood's self-helmed work. Weiss likes to disguise cuts between scenes with a swish pan so it looks like we're transitioning from one sequence to the next in a single shot. During the dream sequences, he monkeys around--no pun intended--with double-exposures and solarizing the footage. The film has the playfulness of a first-time director at the controls of the world's biggest train set; in the end, Wood was too much of a utilitarian to explore the medium like this.
And though Weiss, much like the Wood of Glen or Glenda and Bride of the Monster, utilizes stock footage (some of which was appropriated from the 1948 Sabu film Man-Eater of Kumaon) to help compensate for his meagre production values, he has so successfully integrated it into the action that the picture never accumulates the gonzo mismatched aesthetic of a genuine Ed Wood production. While the gorilla suit is absolutely a gorilla suit, the sets, cinematography, and acting are convincing enough to dry out the absurdity of Wood's dialogue. I imagine the script's a funny read, but without Wood being involved in every aspect of the production, it never really crackles. The film's biggest laugh is seeing Laura chain-smoke throughout the 79-minute running time, an amusing remnant of 1950s mores.
Wood's influence on the film is arguably localized in his identification with the villains over the heroes. John Ford has John Wayne, John Carpenter has Kurt Russell, Sam Raimi has Bruce Campbell, David Lynch has Kyle MacLachlan, and Wood's biographer Tim Burton has Johnny Depp. But Wood himself never associated himself with any heroic archetype. The protagonists in Wood's films were often cast to make the moneymen happy. The actors he worked with again and again were people like Tor Johnson and Bela Lugosi. Or Paul Marco, whom nobody would mistake for a leading man. The interchangeable square-jawed "good guys" of Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space are brutish and shortsighted. "If any green men pop out, I'm shooting first and asking questions later," says Plan 9's airplane pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott). The mad scientist Eric Vornoff (Bela Lugosi) and the alien Eros (Dudley Manlove) may be bent on world destruction, but they have vision. The only reason guys like Trent defend human civilization is because they lack ideas of their own.
The Bride and the Beast's great white hunter Dan is established as an ironically anti-heroic hero in the film's very first scene. Wood was always at his most laughably inept writing romantic dialogue (who could forget the "pillow confession" in Plan 9 From Outer Space?), but there's something particularly suspicious about how when Laura jokingly asks if he'll keep her, Dan replies that he better, as "that marriage license cost [him] six bucks." "I can get six wives for that in Africa," he adds. Classy! They embark on their honeymoon safari, where Dan proves himself a remarkably untalented hunter. His servant Taro (Johnny Roth) winds up doing most of the actual shooting. Other than killing Spanky, the bravest thing Dan does in the film is squash a poisonous spider before it can bite Laura.
The film infers that either Spanky (from beyond the grave?) or Laura (subconsciously) is summoning the creatures of the jungle to distract Dan and incapacitate Laura in order to reunite her with her simian lover. A couple of man-eating tigers are raiding the local village and killing the natives. Dan stays up all night staking it out but falls asleep by dawn, making him vulnerable to attack. The tiger chases Laura off a cliff and she is knocked unconscious. When Dan retrieves her and takes her to his tent, she continues to dream about her past life. The next morning a gorilla, sharing an uncanny resemblance with Spanky, arrives to whisk her away. Laura is once again drawn to him. Dan shoots but runs out of bullets and is physically overpowered. He tracks them to a cave and tries to bring her back home. She refutes him and in a fit of frustration he slaps her. Like The Searchers' Ethan Edwards (an ironic hero if ever there was one), Dan is willing to reject the woman he loves after his racial inferiors soil her.
The sheer sincerity of Wood and Weiss ensures that this ending has a certain romantic mystery to it, but their campy self-indulgences (and the kinkiness of the central premise) lend the film a pop sheen that mitigates the otherwise insufferably reactionary moralism. Like the classic Ed Wood films, The Bride and the Beast is simultaneously cinema and anti-cinema. It encompasses the poetry of the genre whilst subverting and satirizing it. In a previous review, I described Wood's films as more B-movies than Z-movies. B-movies tend to be creature features that foster a rudimentary emotional connection with the storyline and characters. Z-movies are essentially white noise: you watch them in a disassociated daze, if not inebriated then in the advanced stages of insomnia. The Bride and the Beast is indeed, for the most part, a B-movie; The White Gorilla, which fills out the bottom bill of VCI's "Positively No Refunds" double feature DVD, is a true according-to-Hoyle Z-movie.
Edited by The Bride and the Beast director Adrian Weiss, the 63-minute The White Gorilla attempts to recycle footage from the 1927 silent serial Perils of the Jungle by adding voice-over and a couple of scenes featuring the titular white gorilla, who's gone psychotic since his fellow apes rejected him. The results are strained and nothing short of pathetic. By conventional standards, The White Gorilla is likely to go down in the annals of film history as one of the worst movies ever made. The storyline is incoherent and there are no characters with whom you sympathize or identify; and, perhaps needless to say, the acting and dialogue are functional at best while the white gorilla suit is crude and unconvincing. And yet, if you get into the Z-movie frame of mind--that sort of detached fog farther down from campy condescension--and simply let it wash over you, the film has a kind of magic to it. In the very first scene, one of the characters talks about how the noise of the jungle is driving him mad. Said jungle noise is actually a 14- second loop (I counted) of lion growls, elephant moans, and laughing monkeys that will repeat throughout the picture, even during the flashback sequences. It's cinematic Chinese water torture designed to wear down your resistance so that you begin to look at the film less as a narrative than as an experience.
I'm going down a slippery slope, I know. By giving a good review to something like The White Gorilla, can I possibly give a bad review to anything else? Couldn't you claim that not liking Must Love Dogs represents a personal deficiency on your part--that you aren't making an effort to view the film through the proper perspective? Well, this is a movie I'm willing to go to bat for. While The White Gorilla may be unwatchable (to casual viewers, at least), it's never really dull. The imagery, the bread-and-butter of the Z-movie (and experimental) genres, is potent and evocatively odd. Consider the giant Cyclops statue that the little jungle boy crawls inside and manipulates to win the favour of the naïve African natives; the glorious archival animal footage (such as a recurring shot of an ass-scratching monkey); the beautiful Lorraine Miller, who dons a dress to shoot the White Gorilla; and the White Gorilla himself, who dies in a crouching position, shot by one of the heroes, only to be discovered by his nemesis the Black Gorilla, who covers him with sticks out of respect for a fallen comrade. As soon as you remove yourself from trying to understand the piece, you reap its rewards.
The film uses that Z-movie disassociation to comment on the material. Because we can't comprehend The White Gorilla itself, the jungle as depicted in the film is rendered incomprehensible. Most of the film unfolds inside a trading post with the semi-heroic Steve Collins (Ray Corrigan, also playing the White Gorilla) narrating over the Perils of the Jungle footage. Because Corrigan's stuff was shot a good twenty years later than the silent film, Collins is unable to interact with any of the other characters in these sequences and can only passively observe from a tree and offer play-by-play analysis. Along with the "jungle noise" loop, the film gives us the impression that the jungle is swallowing these hunters up before they have a chance to get started with their imperialist conquest.
VCI's 1.78:1* anamorphic widescreen presentation of The Bride and the Beast is unexpectedly reputable, an apparent improvement over Allied Artist's release, which, unlike this transfer, was mastered from a 16mm print. Black levels and shadow detail are strong and the 35mm source is free of missing frames or kinky hairs, though a bit of combing suggests the image isn't progressive, and I wish they'd lightened up on the DVNR. The Dolby 2.0 mono audio evinces fidelity; while the dialogue track could maybe use a little more juice, Les Baxter's score comes off booming. The White Gorilla fares a tad worse: the 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer exhibits greater contrast between the new and archival footage, especially because the silent film footage has been overcranked and looks tattered besides. The mono audio (again DD 2.0) definitely sounds older than that of The Bride and the Beast, but its volume levels are comparatively consistent.
Genre film historian Tom Weaver hosts an incredible commentary for each picture. I like Weaver, and his research into the making of The Bride and the Beast and The White Gorilla and the careers of the principals and bit players is nothing short of exhaustive. He is so passionate about this stuff that you know he must get something more than a few condescending laughs out of it. When Weaver pokes fun at either movie, he's not MST3K'ing but simply engaging in mild self-depreciation. It's precisely the right attitude for the material. For The Bride and the Beast, Weaver is joined by Charlotte Austin, professional guy-in-a-gorilla-suit Bob Burns, and former stand-up comedian/writer for "The Joey Bishop Show" Slick Slavin, who has a small role in the film. It's a nice visit featuring lots of career retrospection, on-the-set anecdotes, review reading (?!), and good-natured ribbing aimed at the film. Weaver politely stands back when Austin and Slavin discuss, seriously, their mutual belief in hypnosis and reincarnation. In turn, Austin and Burns politely re-enact an unused scene from The Bride and the Beast's screenplay.
Burns returns with Weaver on The White Gorilla's yak-track, where he mounts a convincing case for Ray Corrigan's status as one of the greatest guys-in-a-gorilla-suit of all time and reflects on seeing The White Gorilla in the theatre as a kid. The two men obviously have a lot in common and their palpable chemistry has resulted in the best audio commentary the film is ever likely to see. The sub-menu for The White Gorilla meanwhile links to the surviving 19 minutes of Chapter One of the Perils of the Jungle serial. There is no music and the lost footage shortens the cutaways of the fighting heroes in the action sequences down to a couple of frames, but it's quite a find just the same--and with the jokers on-screen running away terrified from rather indifferent porcupines, orangutans, and elephants, it betrays thematic ties to the two ape pictures. Photo galleries, biographies (including a separate one for Tom Weaver), and trailers for King Dinosaur, The Jungle, The Bride and the Beast, The White Gorilla, Devil Monster, Jungle Bride, and Macumba Bride round out the platter. Originally published: June 5, 2007
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