(if you read my post on The Brain That Wouldn’t Die you knew this was coming. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!!)
When it comes to the title of “Worst Film of All Time”, BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA has to be considered a top contender. This is the only movie for Martin & Lewis knockoffs Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo. It’s easy to see why. Not only are they unfunny, they’re just barely passable as copies of the original duo. Mitchell does have a good crooning voice (more like Elvis than Dino), but Petrillo just flat out stinks! He’s not helped by a lame script written by comedy veteran Tim Ryan. Ryan was a vaudeville star with his ex-wife, Irene (later Granny on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES). Someone should have told Tim that vaudeville was dead. The jokes were old even in 1952, and have grown a lot of mold since. The only saving grace is the presence of Bela Lugosi.
Lugosi hadn’t made a picture since 1948’s ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Down on his luck at the time due to poor choices and a growing morphine addiction, the proud actor took anything he could get to stay busy. Realart Productions had been having success rereleasing Lugosi’s (and others) Universal horror classics, and head honcho Jack Broder decided to take a chance on the declining boogeyman. Bela is good in his patented “mad scientist” role, rising above the crappy material. He’s adept at comedy, too, as he’d proved years earlier in films like BROADMINDED and INTERNATIONAL HOUSE. Even in his deteriorated state, Bela Lugosi is better than anyone else in this dud.
The plot is so nonsensical I’ll try to make this as painless as possible. Duke and Sammy are two entertainers who fall out of a plane and land on a South Seas island. They’re found by a native chief (Al Kikune) and his lovely daughter Nona (Charlita). Duke and Nona fall madly in love, while Sammy gets stuck with Nona’s chubby sister Saloma (Muriel Landers), who Sammy calls “Salami” (yuk yuk). Nona understands English (she went to college in America), as do the chief and Saloma, while the rest of the tribe does not. The natives do a dance for their guests, which Sammy gets caught up in (yuk yuk), then Duke croons “Deed I Do”, backed by a full orchestra. This isn’t the last time you’ll hear the song, and you’ll soon be sick of hearing it.
Nona takes the boys to “the other side of the island”, where Dr. Zabor (Lugosi) lives. (In a castle. On a South Seas island.) Sammy gets one look at Zabor and thinks he’s Dracula (“Ain’t that the fellow with the hands and the faces….watch out for bats!” yuk yuk). Zabor is conducting “experiments in evolution”, and gives a long speech on his theories, loaded with scientific jargon. Bela does well with the tongue twisting speech, showing the old master’s still got it. Zabor is in love with Nona, and jealous of the attention she’s giving Duke. So he gives Duke an injection that turns the crooner into a gorilla. Sammy figures things out when the gorilla starts singing “Deed I Do” (he can’t talk, but he can sing). The pair escape to the tribe’s campground, trailed by Zabor and his henchman Chula. Zabor raise his rifle to kill Duke, but Sammy takes the bullet for his pal and….AND IT’S ALL BEEN A DREAM! Duke wakes Sammy up in their dressing room (“We’re on next”), and Sammy runs into the people he saw in the dream (Nona and the chief have a “gorilla act”, Saloma is a dancer, Zabor the nightclub maitre d’). Sammy gets onstage and tells yet another lame-ass joke, followed by Duke crooning “Deed I Do” for the umpteenth time.
Jerry Lewis was not amused by all this, and threatened to sue Realart. They released the film anyways, and predictably it bombed. Mitchell and Petrillo never made another film together. Sammy Petrillo hung out on the edges of show biz, eventually opening a nightclub in Pittsburgh. Duke Mitchell continued to croon in lounges. He gained some fame as a cult actor/director in the film MAASACRE MAFIA STYLE (1974). Duke also made GONE WITH THE POPE, another exploitationer in the 70s, which didn’t see the light of day until 2010. BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA was directed by William Beaudine. Nicknamed “One-Shot”, Beaudine was one of the most prolific directors in history, with 177 films made from 1922 to 1966. And that’s not counting his TV episodes! Beaudine wasn’t the greatest, but he was fast. Some of his movies (1932’s MAKE ME A STAR, THE OLD FASHIONED WAY with WC Fields, some of his Bowery Boys efforts) are worthwhile. BELA KUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA is not. If you’re a Lugosi completest and have to see this, see it once. If not, avoid it. I’ve already done the dirty work for you. You’re welcome.