Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla was directed by William “One Shot” Beaudine. Beaudine earned his nickname because he was super cheap and was well known for using “even the worse takes in a finished film.”
The movie stars legendary film great Bela Lugosi. By 1952, though, Bela Lugosi’s film career had been in a long decline because of his addiction to morphine. He had not worked for years. But Realart Pictures, Inc. (the company that produced Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla) had recently reissued many of Bela’s old horror films from his time at Universal in the 1920s and 1930s and Bela was enjoying a resurgence of popularity. Realart cast Bela in the new film to take advantage of his renewed popularity. They even changed the title of the film. The original title was to be White Woman of the Lost Jungle but the ten-year-old son of Realart’s co-owner suggested the Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla title and the producer agreed.
Also starring in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla is the comedy team of Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo. Sammy Petrillo was only 17-years-old at the time the film was made. Sammy had been “discovered” by a trade school hair stylist who gave the teenaged Sammy a free haircut then remarked that he looked just like nightclub and film comedian Jerry Lewis. At the time, Sammy did not know who Jerry Lewis was (Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin had just made their second movie together) but people kept remarking on the resemblance. So Sammy watched a Jerry Lewis - Dean Martin movie and realized he did resemble Lewis and could also do a Jerry Lewis type voice. Sammy finagled a meeting with Jerry Lewis and was hired to play a baby in a sketch with Jerry Lewis. Sammy was also signed with Lewis’s talent agency. But his career hopes quickly dimmed when he was unable to find any work. A comment by an entertainment insider made Sammy and his father realize that Jerry Lewis and his agency were keeping Sammy on the shelf and out of work because Jerry Lewis really did not like immitators. Sammy managed to get out of his contract and was finally able to find some work.
Sammy Petrillo met Duke Mitchell through a comedian friend. Sammy and Duke formed a nightclub act where they impersonated the much more famous Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comedy act. Jack Broder, the co-owner of Realart Pictures, Inc. saw Sammy and Duke and thought they were hilarious. He signed them to what was supposed to be a series of Duke and Sammy films. Jerry Lewis was furious when he found out and confronted Jack Broder in a screaming match in Broder’s own office. Jerry Lewis’s studio, Paramount Pictures, threatened to sue Jack Broder and Realart. Sammy later admitted that he suspected that Broder never really intended to make the Brooklyn Gorilla movie at all but had expected Paramount Pictures to buy him off. However, a deal between the two studios fell through and so Broder went ahead with the film, though the prospective Sammy and Duke film series never materialized.
After Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, Sammy and Duke returned to working in nightclubs but a vindictive Jerry Lewis continued to use his contacts to “blackball” them. In one instance, Sammy and Duke were booked on a TV comedy show hosted by comedy greats Abbott and Costello. Just before the show aired, Costello came to them and told them that he had been told that NBC refused to allow Sammy and Duke to appear on the show. Sammy claimed that Costello felt so bad about what happened that he payed them even though they could not actually appear.
Eventually Sammy and Duke ended their comedy partnership. Duke Mitchell stayed in show business doing nightclub and film work (he was the “singing voice” of Fred Flintstone in The Flintstones cartoon). Duke died of lung cancer at age 55 on December 2, 1981. Sammy Petrillo also continued to work in show business, working in film and TV. In his later years, Sammy ran a family-oriented comedy club named The Nut House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sammy died of cancer at age 74 on August 15, 2009.
In the film Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (alternate title in some areas: The Boys from Brooklyn), Sammy Petrillo and Duke Mitchell are a comedy act who were on their way to put on a show for USA troops stationed at the USA island territory of Guam. Duke and Sammy describe how they ended up lost:
- Duke says, “We were in a plane high over the Pacific. Sammy goes to look for the powder room and he couldn’t find it. I went there to show him. I walk through the wrong door, like a dope he follows me.” “Yeah,” Sammy continues, “lucky thing we had our parachutes.”
Friendly islanders take the boys in and provide them with clothes, food, and a luau complete with song and dance as well as pretty island women. Duke quickly sets his sights on the chief’s lovely daughter Nona (who has been educated in the USA) while the chief’s younger daughter, Saloma, sets her sights on an extremely reluctant Sammy. The next day, Nona takes the boys to a nearby estate where Doctor Zabor (Bela Lugosi) lives and conducts scientific experiments. Nona helps Dr. Zabor in his lab but doesn’t realize that the doctor is hopelessly in love with her. Dr. Zabor immediately notices the attraction between Nona and Duke and decides to do away with his romantic rival by adding Duke to his experiments. Will Sammy figure out what has happened to Duke? Will Sammy be able to help Duke reverse the effects of the experiment? Will Dr. Zabor succeed in his dastardly plan?
Poor Bela Lugosi seems old and tired in this movie. He manages to muster a few diabolical glares and menacing smiles but they just seem to be shadows of his younger and more energetic self. Sammy and Duke make use of Bela’s legendary persona without naming any names in an early skit:
- Nona says, “Dr. Zabor is a very brilliant man.” But Sammy is not so sure, “Brilliant man, huh? Anybody who’d live in a creep joint like this must be a moronic idiot.” Just then Dr. Zabor enters, “Good morning, I’m Dr. Zabor. Welcome to my… creep joint.” Duke says, “Don’t I know you from some where?” “I don’t think so,” replies Dr. Zabor. Sammy whispers, “Psst, Dukey. Come here. I think I know where you know this guy from.” “Where?” asks Duke. Sammy says, “Ain’t this the fella that goes around with the hands (makes claw hands) and the faces (grimaces), biting people on the neck and wearing capes?” “You’re crazy!” retorts Duke. “Watch out for bats!” Sammy yells.
Duke Mitchell sings two pleasant but forgettable songs during the movie. His voice is nice but nothing spectacular. Sammy Petrillo does look and sound like Jerry Lewis but Sammy manages to seem even more loud and grating. His “Jerry Lewis” laugh could sand paper a two-by-four. I really did not like the way Sammy kept insulting and rejecting his island inamorata, Saloma, just because she was not as svelte as her sister Nona. Both women are very pretty but their roles are not much more than eye candy.
Ramona the Chimp is played by Cheeta from the Tarzan movies and looks effortlessly cute and adorable. The gorilla costumes are better quality than those in a few other movies I’ve seen and I thought it was a hoot when one gorilla started singing one of Duke’s songs.
When actor Martin Landau played Bela Lugosi in the 1994 film Ed Wood, he watched Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla as part of his research on Bela. Martin Landau said he was stunned and appalled and thought the Brooklyn Gorilla movie was so bad “it made the Ed Wood films look like Gone With the Wind (1939).” One reviewer wrote that Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla had “an absolutely awful script which has branded this film as one of the worst comedies of all time.” I did not think our movie was any where near that bad but it certainly was not a shining star in Bela Lugosi’s filmography. Yes, Bela looks tired. Yes, Sammy is a loud, brassy Jerry Lewis wannabe. But there are some funny lines and a few laugh out loud moments.
Here are a few movie moments I enjoyed:
- The opening narration is a ridiculous take on all the thousands of badly-made educational films out in movie land - “This is the jungle. The vast wilderness of giant lush follage, the tropical birds, and fierce animal life.”
- Nona explains where they are, “The island of Kola Kola.” “Kola Kola?” asks Duke. “Sounds like a commercial for some bubble water,” snickers Sammy.
- Duke is fed up with Sammy’s silliness, “You know, some day, I’m gonna let you fry in your own grease!” “Could you make it chicken fat, maybe?” says Sammy.
- Sammy does his comedy act for the islanders, “As you know this is my first visit to your beautiful island of Kola Kola and I wanna tell you that the climate is wonderful. Really makes a guy feel full of Pepsi. Get it? Cola, Pepsi.”
- Nona makes a good point, “Some day I will be queen of this island. My people would like their queen to be smart.”
- Sammy is not impressed, “This looks like Death not only took a holiday, but he got a hangover from taking it.”
- Dr. Zabor examines Sammy, “A most interesting cranium. Strange, but interesting,”
- Duke has an excuse for Sammy, “Don’t mind my friend. He has a one-syllable brain.”
- To explain his experiments, Dr. Zabor launches on a confusing gabble of techno babble that rivals anything ever heard on any of the Star Trek shows. Then Sammy jabbers in response.
- Sammy is confused, “Oh, this is all very confusing.” A few minutes later he is horrified, “Dukey! What have they done to you? How did you get like that?” Then Sammy tries to comfort Duke, “Aw, don’t cry, Dukey. Just think what a sensation we’ll be when we get back. I can see it all now: ‘Sammy Petrillo and Duke Mitchell the Singing Gorilla!’ ”
- ‘Saloma’ greets Sammy, “Where’s my little Tarzan? Hi ya, doll!”
Overall, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla is a comedy horror movie that is light on comedy and completely lacking in any horror. I enjoyed watching Bela Lugosi although it was sad to see his decline. Duke Mitchell is pleasant but bland and Sammy Petrillo is a great Jerry Lewis immitator but he also magnifies the annoying, raucous sounds of Jerry Lewis’s voice.
Ramona the Chimp is cute and the gorilla is funny and not frightening at all. Dr. Zabor does wave a rifle around towards the end of the film and Sammy appears to have been shot but there is really nothing to frighten younger movie fans. I thought the ending was a bit of a cop out but other movie fans may enjoy the way the film ends.
The film is in black and white but the visual quality is good although a little faded and blurry in places. The sound quality is excellent. At only 74 minutes long, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla keeps a nice pace throughout the film.
Of course, the very best thing about Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla is that it is FREE in the Public Domain.
Please click this link and go to the Internet Archive to download and watch Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.