Darling Kitschy Campers, Camp Kitsch is back in session!
As you recall, I select the film by the poster for this blog series. This poster has everything I like in one fabulous, glorious package: Bela Lugosi, an ape suit, mid-century tropical fashion, a monkey named Ramona, Martin & Lewis… Wait a minute, that is not Martin & Lewis! There is absolutely no doubt, no competition, this is the winner!
And I am glad I went with my gut because this is the crown jewel of our kitschy films!
The plot: comedy duo Duke Mitchell (a singer and mediocre Dean Martin understudy) and Sammy Petrillo (the best Jerry Lewis impersonator on the planet) crash on Coca-Cola Island. The natives take Mitchell & Petrillo to see Dr. Zabor (Lugosi). Petrillo quickly notices he looks just like Dracula and wants nothing to do with the place, but Mitchell has the hots for Nona (Charlita), the lab assistant and island babe. Dr. Zabor experiments with evolutionary genetics and creates a formula to reverse or speed up evolution. Chimpanzees will become smaller monkeys, chimpanzees become gorillas! Jealous Dr. Zabor, sees Nona’s attentions to Mitchell, and turns him into a gorilla! Two gorillas drive Petrillo crazy running amock in Zabor’s castle, one of them can sing! This movie is a product of its era, so there are some uncomfortable bits with the natives, particularly Saloma (Muriel Landers). Despite this, the film is a riot!
Herman Cohen (the production assistant) remembers Mitchell & Petrillo were “nice guys.” Alex Gordon, Lugosi’s personal assistant on the film, says Mitchell and Petrillo often ad-libbed their lines without prior warning, this made it difficult for Lugosi, who memorized his lines exactly as written. According to Gordon, Mitchell & Petrillo aped (pun intended) Martin & Lewis not only on-camera but off as well. Mitchell just went through the motions of everything, and Petrillo was, “more obnoxious than Jerry Lewis in person” (Weaver, 90).
Memories of Bela Lugosi are rather contradictory while Cohen states Lugosi constantly left the stage to get morphine injections, Gordon says he never saw Lugosi with a needle. Some state Lugosi stuck to himself while others say he often had visitors including Joan Davis, The Nelsons, Lucy & Desi. Some state Lugosi struggled with his lines while others say he knew the lines perfectly. While it is difficult to know what the truth is, I do know that Lugosi performs well on-camera. And really, that is all that should matter.
Now, let’s discuss Ramona the Chimp. This monkey is the cutest little actor! I love this monkey! Ramona takes the cake! There is nothing more adorable than Ramona walking down the hallway looking for her new best friend. Ramona the Chimp is no stranger to upstaging her co-stars. According to Sammy Petrillo, “Ramona the Chimp was really Cheetah the Monkey. It was THE Cheetah at the time of the Tarzan fame. … This was the current Cheetah and it actually was a boy. And we named the monkey Ramona because we wanted a girl monkey in Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla to fall in love with me.”
One of the best moments is when the gorilla sings. The Gorilla was performed by stunt performer Steve Calvert. He wore “a suit that weighed 85 pounds. … Calvert had to remove the headpiece every five minutes to avoid blacking out from lack of oxygen” (Johnson, 167). In case you think that gorilla looks vaguely familiar, Calvert wore the suit in Bride of The Gorilla, Bride of the Beast, and Tarzan and The Mermaids, the suit was rented from Calvert for Konga.
Jerry Lewis worked with Petrillo on The Colgate Comedy Hour (Season 1, Ep 10), “and I went on that show – it was my first national show and I got paid about $60 for that. We rehearsed for about a week over at the Mayflower Catering Hall on West 43rd Street. That’s how I played Jerry’s baby in a crib on the Colgate Comedy Hour. That was the way I got into show business” (Petrillo).
Although imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Jerry Lewis was none too happy about the film. A Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde has an interview with Associate Producer Herman Cohen: “The rumor got around that we were gonna do a movie with these two guys Mitchell and Petrillo. … one day at the office, this guy came dashing in and he said [in an angry voice], “Where’s Jack Broder?!” I said, “Well, he’s in his office, right there—” It was Jerry Lewis. … and he was furious about this [the Mitchell-Petrillo movie]. And Jerry Lewis and Jack had a screaming session and what have you. I didn’t go into the office, I stayed out. I didn’t want any part of it. Then when Jerry Lewis walked out, they were still calling each other names: “You f***in’ a**hole,” “You this,” “You that” and what have you.”
The film was made for about $100,000. While studying for his role as Lugosi in Ed Wood Martin “Landau watched the film Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla three times because he was fascinated that Lugosi would perform in such a terrible movie” (Film School Rejects).
It is a terrible movie, but it’s terribly fun. If you allow yourself, you will laugh your socks off. And isn’t that the point of comedy? You can watch the film on YouTube here
It is the best movie Martin and Lewis never made!
(Above) Martin & Lewis, (Below) Mitchell & Petrillo with Ramona the Scene Stealer. If you squint your eyes…
Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRoY5fFQGRQ
Colgate Comedy Hour Season 1, Episode 10: https://www.ovguide.com/tv_episode/the-colgate-comedy-hour-season-1-episode-10-martin-lewis-4152569 this link gives background info, there is a viewing link it sends you over to amazon prime, I could not find the episode there.
“40 Things We Learned from the ‘Ed Wood’ Commentary.” Film School Rejects. 31 July 2014. Web. 29 June 2015.
Johnson, John. Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup, and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1996. Print.
“LCD 21 | Sammy Petrillo Speaks Out!” LCD 21 | Sammy Petrillo Speaks Out! 1998. Web. 29 June 2015.
Weaver, Tom. A Sci-fi Swarm and Horror Horde Interviews with 62 Filmmakers. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2010. Print.
Beatles Film Blogathon 2015
As part of the Beatles Film Blogathon hosted by moviemovieblogblog, I will focus on Robert Zemeckis’s 1978 film I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Be sure to come back on June 7th to read about a fun film and a nostalgic trip into the zany world of Beatlemania!
Click here or on the picture below to get more information about this great event!
It’s gonna be fab, gear, and all those other pimply hyperboles!