Thursday, January 04, 2018

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)

I see that the That's TV local news services have returned to normal and are back to broadcasting their normal output.  Which is a pity - I was enjoying all those old movies and cartoons they had been showing over the Christmas period.  I have to say that the quality of the prints they were using improved markedly toward the end of their festive schedule.  The films themselves varied wildly in quality: one day I would be watching the hugely enjoyable 1950 Cyrano de Bergerac with Jose Ferrer, the next I found myself viewing the abysmal The Boys From Brooklyn.  I say 'abysmal', but it is actually curiously entertaining in a perverse way.  I know it better under its alternative title of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, which pretty much sums up the plot. This 1952 B Movie is notable as being the only film to star Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis impersonators Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo- it was meant to be start of a series of low rent cash ins on the popularity of the real Lewis and Martin's films, but for various reasons, including legal threats from Paramount Pictures and Jerry Lewis, and the fact that it is a stinker, it was also to be the last.

The plot is straightforward: nightclub performers Duke and Sammy are stranded on a desert island when the plane taking them to entertain US troops in Guam crashes, there they encounter friendly natives and local mad scientist Bela Lugosi.  The latter tries to resolve a love triangle involving him, the Chief's daughter and Duke, by turning the latter into a gorilla.  With hilarious results, of course.  But don't worry - it is all just a dream which Sammy wakes up from to find himself in his dressing room in New Jersey, where he and Duke are about to go on stage, following a jungle act.  Whilst the film, directed by the notorious William 'One Shot' Beaudine (so called because he was renowned for never shooting more than one take - it didn't matter how bad it was, he would supposedly always shout 'Print it!'), is predictably bad, it retains a certain delirious charm.  Moreover, to be fair, Sammy Petrillo does a pretty good Jerry Lewis impersonation.  So good that I found him as irritating as I do the real Jerry Lewis.  It isn't just that he looks like Lewis, but he also has both the voice and all the mannerisms, tics and pratfalls down pat.  Duke Mitchell, on the other hand, well, he sings a bit like Dean Martin, but neither looks nor speaks like him.  The person I felt bad for, though, was poor old Bela Lugosi a once proud star of the Hungarian stage reduced to headlining a fake Lewis and Martin picture.  He tries to conduct himself with a modicum of dignity and turns in a professional performance, but he does look mortified to be in this farrago.  Although, to be absolutely fair, it is slightly better than many of the dreadful movies he'd previously been making for Monogram.

In the final analysis, it's difficult to decide what is more surprising about the film - the fact that Lewis and Martin were sufficiently popular that the producers thought that audiences would be willing to pay money to see a fake version of the duo in a tatty B Movie, or that said producers had so little faith in this notion that they decided that a declining Bela Lugosi would be a better draw.



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