Monday, February 2, 2015

THE WHITE GORILLA (1945)

One of the most popular movies at this year's Sundance film festival was shot on an iPhone. The White Gorilla outdoes this DYI style by consisting mostly of footage from a movie made nearly 20 years earlier. The only way the moviemakers could have been lazier would have been to simply release it without the newly-shot material. In fact, it would have been better.  

The White Gorilla uses "highlights" from the 1927 serial Perils of the Jungle as flashbacks narrated by Steve Collins, a hunter recounting his African adventures with a friend, Bradford. 

"Let's you and him fight."
Well, not exactly with Bradford. You see, the actor playing Bradford is running around in 1927 while the actor playing Collins is skulking behind bushes or atop trees in 1945 allegedly watching the action unfold before him. No matter how much danger anyone is in, Collins uses every excuse in the book to avoid getting involved ("With the lions between me and the shack, there was nothing I could do but sit tight.") This is supposed to explain why the two actors never appear together, but actually makes Collins look like a coward. So much for the brave white hunter.


"If only someone from 1927 could save me!"
The moviemakers further try to hide the antiquity of the silent footage by badly dubbing in sound effects, music, and the occasional cry of "Help!" (which Collins, of course, never responds to). This doesn't rationalize, however, the drastically different fashions or brief scenes where characters' mouths move but no dialogue is heard. Even for undemanding B-movie fans of the '40s, The White Gorilla must have been greeted with flying popcorn boxes by everyone except kiddie matinee attendees. 


Ofay the Jungle Boy.
The "flashback" scenes, however, are good for reminding us of the classic jungle movie cliche of the white interlopers holding sway over the natives. The Perils of the Jungle footage takes it once step further by presenting some five year-old white kid as the ruler over anyone with skin darker than a coconut. They even kiss the brat's hand. Al Sharpton would love this picture. (The one "African" in the 1945 footage speaks with a Southern patois. South Africa, perhaps?)


My wife would love a coat like that.
But wither Konga, the titular white gorilla? He's in the 1945 footage, courtesy actor/stunt man/ professional gorilla imitator Ray Corrigan. Konga's bad attitude is due to being rejected by his darker-skinned "tribe." If you think the screenwriter intended The White Gorilla to be a social metaphor, don't bother. The movie was merely cashing in on the popularity of a similar movie then in release, White Pongo. Yes, there was a white gorilla movie craze in 1945. 

Grown men got paid to do this.
In addition to impersonating Konga, Ray Corrigan also plays hunter Steve Collins, thus giving him the chance to chase himself onscreen for a moment. When they come to fisticuffs, however, a double appears to step in as Collins. (Corrigan was quite protective of his monkey business.) Konga is later killed in a fight with another ape, which looks more like a bad wrestling match between two drunks in, well, monkey suits. 

This new footage runs less than half of White Gorilla's 60-minute running time, accounting for its alleged 3-day shoot. The scenes at the trading post which appear throughout the movie look like they could have been shot between breakfast and lunch. Make that breakfast and coffee break.

Yet I can't help but admire the moviemakers' chutzpah in promoting it as "The Greatest Wild Animal Picture Ever Made!" (Never trust a movie whose opening credits lists two actors followed by "AND AN ALL-STAR CAST.") And since producer Lou Weiss was responsible for both Perils in the Jungle and The White Gorilla, he didn't have to pay anyone for the rights to the old footage, thus lowering the already cut-rate budget. 

Don't give Harvey Weinstein any ideas. Given the chance, he'd happily find a way to combine the next Quentin Tarantino picture with Shakespeare in Love.

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