Gorilla At Large - 1953
An already troubled carnival sees their problems multiply as backstage rivalries and mysteries are brought out into the open, meanwhile, there's a problem about the star gorilla...
Gorilla At Large, 1953 - Raymond Burr and Anne Bancroft
Escaped gorillas and apes were a mini-genre of their own in Hollywood for awhile, probably eclipsed, or at least reborn, when the Planet of the Apes film(s) appeared, translating out into the open what was always the subtext of the "monkey" films of earlier Hollywood: those apes and gorillas remind us a lot of human beings.
Murderous simians date back to at least Edgar Allan Poe's detective-horror story Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) and the concept of humans and apes/gorillas clashing and the humans losing is a straightforward nightmare. On the other hand, a typical gorilla story whether in literature or on film has the detail that whether a monkey is a killer or only appears to be the killer, there's going to be a human being behind the mayhem, a sort of message about the relative innocence of the animal kingdom compared to tricky humankind.
In Gorilla at Large, a circus gorilla named Goliath is promoted by carnival barker Cameron Mitchell (with dyed blond hair!) as "only living to kill!" as he continually shouts to the crowds on the midway, trying to lure them into the tent where Goliath awaits to be exhibited. A very young Anne Bancroft is an acrobatic performer who is married to the circus-boss played by Raymond Burr, and the pair have a long and tortured relationship that has a sleazy-edge to it because Bancroft has a very-wandering eye.
Lee Marvin appears as a goofy police officer that provides comedy, and Lee J. Cobb is chomping on a cigar and using his dialogue rapid-delivery style to make sure we know his police investigator is a hard-hitting, no-nonsense professional, but with just about every character in Gorilla at Large presented in high relief, it pushes the film into an unintended, campy style that is very well photographed in color with good effects and a tight story, except that the gorilla looks like a guy in a suit most of the time (and sometimes really is a guy in a suit as part of the story) but this pseudo-self-awareness doesn't make the film better.
Shot for 3D effects, the film starts right off with an in-your-face title and we get some more of that throughout the hour and twenty-three minutes, and while most gorilla movies from Hollywood's golden era were low-budget affairs, real money and precision went into making Gorilla at Large. On the other hand, even Karloff's very-low-budget The Ape from 1940 had more ideas fueling the story, and as much fun as Gorilla at Large looks to be because of its good lighting and color photography, there is a lot of predictable stuff on the screen.
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Original Page July 16, 2023