Review Date: December 5, 2000
Released by: Roan Group
Release date: 10/28/1999
MSRP: $29.95 (OOP)
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
With all the obscure, little-known movies coming to DVD, it shouldnít have surprised me when I found out that these two long-forgotten horrors had gone digital. Once again, the Roan Group has proved themselves a leader in film preservation with another entry in their series of old-time horror releases. Letís take a look at how their ĎSimianí double feature stacks up...
On Side A of the disc, we have The Gorilla
(1939), a vehicle for the long-forgotten Ritz Brothers comedy team. Opening at the lonely country mansion of well-to-do insurance executive Walter Stevens, the film begins with his maid Kitty (Patsy Kelly
) lying in bed when a hairy paw reaches through the window and pins a note on her nightgown. Screaming hysterically, she rouses both Stevens (Lionel Atwill
) and his butler, Peters (Bela Lugosi
). Stevens is shocked by the note - itís from The Gorilla, a vicious serial killer whoís been terrorizing the countryside - and heís going to be the next victim! Knowing that the only maniac gives his victims mere a 24-hours warning, and that the police have failed to prevent of all of his murders so far, Stevens decides not to go to the authorities. He sends an urgent telegram to his niece Norma, asking her to come to his estate immediately.
The next night, as a thunderstorm rages outside, Norma (Anita Louise
) and her fiancťe Jack (Edward Norris
) arrive. Her uncle explains the threat, and that he called for her because he needs to sort out some business involving their family inheritance. Just in case. Norma urges him to go the police before it's too late, but he tells her he's taken other steps - he's enlisted the services of a private detective agency to protect him. In fact, their operatives should be arriving at any moment.
However, when the detectives arrive, they turn out to be...uh...something less than professional. Going by the names of Harrigan, Mulligan and Garritty (Harry, Al and Jimmy Ritz
), the three men manage to rear-end Jackís car, clumsily interrogate most of the household, and bluster through several bad comic routines before someone throws a rock through a window with an attached note reading "At midnight". The gumshoes gather everyone together in Stevensí study as they wait for the appointed hour. As the storm intensifies, a mysterious voice comes over his radio informing Stevens that he is about to die. Thereís a clap of thunder, the lights go out, and in the ensuing chaos, Walter Stevens disappears! What has happened? Did The Gorilla get him? Will the killer be back? Can these nitwits save him? And why is there now suddenly a real, live ape running around the house?
(1944), on Side B, tells the story of American businessman T.F. Stockwell (Herbert Rawlinson
), who has embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars, and along with his young daughter Doreen (Jackie Newfield
) is on a world-wide run from the law. Fleeing Egypt after the local authorities are ordered to arrest and extradite him, Stockwell charters a private plane, but as they fly south, a monsoon hits and they crash into the jungle. Everyone survives, but when the pilot notices a container full of bank notes and jewelry his clientís luggage, Stockwell pulls put a gun and shoots the man. Meanwhile, miles away, a search party looking for the plane is attacked by a huge gorilla, and they shoot it. The creature, badly wounded, stumbles off into the bush, collapsing in front of young Doreen, who has wandered away from the crash site. Fadeout.
We open many years later at a remote outpost in the jungle. American traveler Raymond Gorman (Buster Crabbe
) is discussing a native superstition - something about a "white witch, that was born of a great bird that fell from the sky" - with several local colonial officials, when a native pulls out a dagger and attacks another man. Gorman jumps up and wrestles the knife away. The outpostís owner, the seedy-looking Carl Hurst (Barton MacLane
), tells Gorman that heís foolish to meddle in the affairs of the locals, although the man that Gorman saved, Tobo (Prince Modupe
) is understandably quite grateful, and tells him he knows where to find the "white witch" heís so interested in, and draws a map. Hurstís girlfriend, Marie (Fifi DíOrsay
), listens in on their conversation.
As it turns out, Gormanís father was an associate of Stockwellís, and he committed suicide after being wrongly accused of helping Stockwell escape. Now his son is hoping to recover the loot he stole and help clear his fatherís reputation. He believes that the native legend might be some sort of clue.
So what ever happened to the two lost in the jungle? The search party never found them, and Stockwell was eventually killed, but Doreen (now played by Julie London
) grew up to become the "white witch" the natives are so afraid of. The ape, whom she named Samson, also survived, and now protects her by killing pretty much anything that comes near. When Tobo and Gorman reach her home in the deep jungle, Samson kills the unfortunate African, but Doreen calls the beast off when it goes after Gorman. Never having really seen a man up close, sheís immediately smitten with him, although all heís interested in is the stolen property, which she refuses to hand over, having grown up without human contact and having no idea what Ďtheftí is.
Unfortunately for Doreen, Gorman isnít the only person looking for the loot - Hurst and Marie are both trekking through the jungle at that moment as well - and Hurst isnít going to let anything stand in his way.
Of the two films, The Gorilla
is the much more polished product on the technical level. Produced and released by none other than 20th Century Fox, the much more professional set design, cinematography and special effects are especially striking when compared to Nabonga
, whose tatty gorilla suit (worn by stuntman Ray ĎCrashí Corrigan, and neither the first, nor last time heíd put it on), cheap jungle sets and reams of stock footage make it look extremely crude. Made by the Producerís Releasing Corporation (PRC), a short-lived poverty-row outfit, itís just about as far from a major studio production as you can imagine.
Ironically, for all itís faults, Nabonga
does turn out to be the better and more enjoyable movie, no doubt in part to the Ritz Brothers, whose bumbling antics stop The Gorilla
dead in itís tracks. While not necessarily bad comedians, the Ritzes barely get a chuckle here, due in part to the poor script, which also wastes Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill in roles that are far too small.
On the other hand, like many films from this era, jungle, horror or otherwise, Nabonga
is not especially sensitive on racial issues. Obviously owing a debt to the Tarzan films, the portrayal of Africa and itís people is just as sensationalized, depicting a land of ignorant and superstitious locals. While I did not find the stereotypes to be a major deal, there will no doubt be some people who will find them offensive.
is presented full frame at 1.33:1, slightly cropped from itís original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The good news is that the print used for the transfer was in remarkably great shape (probably an indicator of just how little this filmís been seen over the years), with only moderate grain and speckling, and very few noticeable signs of damage. The bad news is that the transfer features an inconsistent black level, with frustrating variations of contrast and clarity, and with some scenes appearing overly murky. Itís an overall good transfer for a film thatís over 60 years old, although the video deficiencies can be annoying.
In terms of print condition, time has been less kind on Nabonga
. Also slightly cropped at 1.33:1, the film elements have taken a beating over the years, as witnessed by large numbers of scratches, blemishes, and spots of dirt evident. Speckling is quite heavy throughout the film. As already noted, the movie contains quite a bit of stock footage, which Iíd imagine has always looked crummy, but the damage is also evident on the original studio footage. The amount of it seems to depend on which reel weíre talking about - the early scenes at Hurstís outpost suffer quite heavily, while some scenes later in the film only a little bit. On the plus side, though, the transfer has an overall better black level and is generally more sharper and detailed than itís companion feature.
Both films are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. The Gorilla
sounds great for a film thatís over 60 years old. Dialogue was clear and audible, and the soundtrack shows unusual power, with the thunderclaps that occur throughout much of the film still having the power to rock my speakers. No major background noise could be heard, or any significant distortion.
shows many of the limitations of low-budget sound recording. Although you can always make out the dialogue, it seems muffled on occasions, and the music fares no better. Low levels of background noise can be heard throughout the film, especially in quiet moments. There is also noticeable distortion of the music.
The only supplements are a page of production notes for both films.
Although neither of these movies is a forgotten classic, if youíre a fan of old-time horrors, or simply an admirer of stunt men wearing gorilla suits, this will be a good addition to your collection. The audio/video is decent, and for films of this vintage, is certainly acceptable. So be sure to put down the bananas for a few minutes and pick this one up.
Movie - C
Image Quality - C+
Sound - B
Movie - B-
Image Quality - C
Sound - C
Supplements Ė N/A
- Running Time - The Gorilla - 1 hour 6 minutes
- Running Time - Nabonga - 1 hour 11 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- 15 Chapter Stops - The Gorilla | 18 Chapter Stops - Nabonga
- English Dolby Digital Mono 2.0