Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – The White Gorilla (1945)

My notes on The White Gorilla (1945)

‘After all, we have no right to the jungle, it belongs to the natives.’

With the coming of sound, many silent spectaculars were strip-mined for action footage which could be spliced into Poverty Row westerns, jungle adventures and serials. This 1945 effort is among the last such exercises, drawing heavily on scenes from the ten-episode chapterplay Perils of the Jungle (1927) which are given new context by an on-the-cheap frame story.

Jungle guide Steve Collins (Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan) stumbles into a trading post and recounts his part in flashback adventures. From Perils comes business about an expedition to the Cave of the Cyclops (a goofy but impressive prop idol) to find a fabled treasure and a leopardskin-headbanded tyke (Bobby Nelson) who helps a ‘20s-looking hero and heroine survive attacks by wild animals (some of the borrowed footage is excellent) and scheming villain ‘Brute’ Hanley (Albert Smith). However, Collins is more interested in new-made stuff about the repeated clashes between an ‘outcast’ white gorilla and a vicious black gorilla, in which the usual blokes in shaggy suits wrestle and snar at each other. Corrigan, a frequent gorilla performer, reputedly plays the white ape, but has one or two moments on screen with the beast so he can’t be in the suit all the time. Ruth (Lorraine Miller), daughter of the trader, unwisely ventures into the long grass and faints at the sight of the gorilla, who paws her slightly in smitten King Kong fashion until good old Collins shows up and puts a bullet into his endangered hide but is then puzzled to find the ape didn’t hurt her. Later, he shows some regret over the death of this ‘almost human’ beast and, uncharacteristically for Hollywood jungle films, muses that the natives and the animals have more right to the jungle than white intruders, though he still labels the black gorilla ‘a monster with his huge chest filled with hate’.

The squirms necessary to accommodate the patchwork is sometimes quite amusing: the 1927 leads (Frank Merrill, Eugenia Gilbert) are credited below Corrigan and Lorraine Miller as ‘an all-star cast’, the narrator keeps having to think of excuses why he observed folks in peril rather than attempting rescue (including his vow to stay away from the expedition he is supposed to be guiding so long as the baddie is around) and, at one point, he explains that the jungle boy’s mother is pretending to be mad to keep the native ‘Tiger Men’ (yes, we know there are no tigers in Africa) in line though it’s impossible to determine on this evidence whether that was part of the Perils plot or just a 1945 way of explaining the actress’s silent-screen posturing. Directed and scripted by by H.L. Fraser, who had provided the original story for Perils of the Jungle.


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