Monday, 11 August 2014



Even allowing for the fact that what I know about humour wouldn't fill the back of a stamp even if you typed it in really large letters, it's probably still fair to say that only the best humour is timeless. Real comic genius lasts forever, and there's a very good reason why we don't laugh at Old Mother Riley any more. (Opinion is divided as to whether we laughed at Old Mother Riley even then; that said, a lot of people seem to be laughing at Mrs Brown's Boys which is essentially the same thing with added comedy swearing.) The Marx Brothers at their best are still funny, and A Night At The Opera will doubtless last until the end of time; meanwhile, any random episode of On The Buses or George And Mildred now just looks baffling.

The Ritz Brothers were a very poor man's Marx Brothers indulging in backchat, slapstick and pulling faces, and it's frankly difficult to tell whether The Gorilla was a suitable vehicle for their talents: were they good performers trapped in a terrible film or terrible performers trapped in a terrible film? When Bela Lugosi is getting more laughs from his sinister butler role than the above-the-title comedy troupe, something's gone horribly wrong but it's hard to say exactly what. The Ritzes play gurning halfwitted detectives called in to protect a millionaire (Lionel Atwill) after death threats from of a mysterious serial killer: cue lots of shrieking, running hysterically from room to room, and pulling faces.

By 1939, Hollywood was putting out proper films like Gone With The Wind, Stagecoach and The Wizard Of Oz, so to see a major studio like 20th Century Fox putting out a creaky stage farce as primitive and shoddy as this is quite a surprise. It is of course absolute rubbish which has probably only survived this long by apparently falling into the public domain, since no modern distributor with all their pegs in the right holes would ever consider stumping up the money to release this. I shall not be attempting to track down any other films starring the Ritz Brothers, because I'm already fifty and there's always housework to do.


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