My notes on Go and Get It (1920)
Long presumed lost, this pulpy Hollywood feature has turned up in its Italian release version (as Le Avventure di un Reporter) and had a one-off screening at the Gothique Film Society in London. By any measure, it’s an astonishing piece of work: its footnote status as inspiration for the 1941 gorilla-with-a-human-brain movie The Monster and the Girl is just a minor part of the picture.
It’s primarily a newspaper drama, and the mad science/monster-out-for-revenge business has about as much weight as the escaped murderer does in The Front Page. It’s the big story hero reporter Kirk Connelly (Pat O’Malley) – ‘Carlo Weiss’ in the Italian titles) – chases to net a scoop for the struggling Gazette, which is being sold out to the rival Herald by treacherous editor ‘Shut the Door’ Gordon (J. Barney Sherry) – imagine Evil Perry White – to force the proprietress to sell up cheap. Life at the Gazette is complicated by Kirk’s flirtation with heroine Helen (Agnes Ayres), who has her own reasons to save the paper, and the antics of freckled brat copy boy Dinty (Wesley Barry, later director of Creation of the Humanoids). Dinty was so popular that he got his own spin-off vehicle, Dinty (1921), and gets to do a lot of junior hero stuff on a go-kart, even putting on a fake beard to impersonate a small stature adult to spy on Shut the Door. Hero and heroine met cute in France in the war when he was a soldier and she was a nurse – ‘shrapnel, bayonet?’ she asks as he turns up with an injury, only to be told ‘donkey kick’.
Interspersed throughout the rolling presses and the rival paper poaching headlines about a hotel suicide are cutaways to the laboratory drama, which must have been influenced by Gaston Leroux’ Balaoo and the rash of monkey gland stories and movies (even Sherlock Holmes tackled a monkey gland case in ‘The Crooked Man’). It serves as precedent for the Lon Chaney vehicle A Blind Bargain, several American films based on Balaoo, Captive Wild Woman and many other gorilla experiment pictures. Dapper, moustached Dr Ord (Noah Beery) – Dr Boronoff in Italy – keeps a gorilla called Ferry (Bull Montana, in ape-man makeup rather than a gorilla suit) behind a sliding electric door in a cell which can be filled with anaesthetic gas. Like George Zucco in The Monster and the Girl, Ord isn’t evil or apparently demented but still thinks transplanting the brain of a just-hanged murderer, Jim Hogan (Walter Long), into the skull of a gorilla is a good idea. It should be noticed we only get very brief glimpses of this action. The monster’s later murder of his creator, the judge who condemned him and the prosecutor who asked for the death penalty show up only as newspaper headlines. Indeed, the monster – Montana with the same makeup but in a suit – only shows up for a cameo later in the film, climbing through a window to get at his brother (Charles West), who testified against him.
However, Go and Get It is by no means light on thrills, with a sustained sequence of the sort of mid-air stunts Tom Cruise would say were too dangerous … the hero jumping between biplanes, or from planes to moving trains or boats. The plot reason for this, manufactured by screenwriter Frances Marion, is to get hold of Ord’s fleeing Algerian assistant – an unusual character for a film of this vintage, a charismatic, educated, well-dressed black man – for an interview. The climax depends not on the defeat of the monster, which is handled briskly, but the Gazette getting the story on the streets despite the efforts of a rival reporter from the Herald who engages Kirk in the sort of knock-down, drag-out, shirt-shreddng fight scene common in the early 1920s (there’s a doozy at the end of Outside the Law too). We might muse that the method Kirk uses to save the day – filing his copy before the events it describes – hardly establish the Gazette as particularly strong in terms of journalistic ethics.
So, brain transplants are possible and a killer has avenged himself – but what this film is all about is that the Gazette thrives, Shut the Door is shown the door, and there’s a rearrangement of who’s who and what’s what in order to set up a romantic clinch. Phew. Oh, there are some Prohibition era gags about the guy who brews explosive slapstick beer in his cupboard. Co-directors Marshall Neilan and Henry Robert Symonds keep it all rattling along at a fair old lick: it’s an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink picture, rather like a feature cutdown of a pell-mell one-peril-after-another serial, but there’s a hugely influential monster performance (Montana later played the ape man in The Lost World) and some eye-opening vehicular daredevilry.
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