The White Gorilla (1945) starts off with stock footage of jungle beasts, mostly it appears captive specimens, natives of three continents, which sets a proper mood of foolery. We get to see such novel mixes as baby orangutans & a chimpanzee living happily together. In case we miss anything, much of the same footage will be inserted here & there as the scant one-hour jungle adventure progresses, some of it to be seen multiple times.
A safari guide, Steve, stumbles into an African trading post with minor injuries & a wild tale of being pursued by a white gorilla.
Several guys are sitting around the trading post & they help Steve sit too. He proceeds to provide a voice-over for flashbacks recycled from an old silent film serial. Since Steve is not a character in this old footage, some truly goofy editing tricks are foisted on the viewer, with a series of excuses for why Steve is always hiding in the jungle watching these incidents from afar.
The cast of the silent film footage is much better than the newly added characters, but they are nowhere credited as to who they were. The footage is, however, selected from the ten-part cliffhanger silent serial Perils of the Jungle (1927) starring Frank Merrill as the African explorer. This serial also had a condensed feature version, Jungle Trails (1927). The scenario writer for the silent serial was Harry L. Fraser, director those many years later of White Gorilla.
Judging by the select scenes recycled in The White Gorilla, it's obvious that Perils of the Jungle was a better than average serial with some lovely comic-book-style characters, especially the jungle boy who doesn't exactly ride on his pet elephant, but dangles from the elephant's trunk to get from place to place. He's cute as a button & a very heroic little chap.
The main saving grace of White Gorilla is that it provides a taste of what appears to have been quite a wonderful serial that would be very much more thrilling to see in its entirety, but which is not presently in circulation (though preserved in the UCLA film collection). Among the recycled scenes are several featuring a large group of trained male lions. One scene even features the lion tamer himself, dressed in Arab garb & using the classic "pistol & bull whip" on the lions.
A cliffhanger scene set inside the Cave of the Cyclops features a white priestess with horned headdress, head of a cult of tiger worshipping blacks wearing tiger skins & trying to sacrifice jungle explorers to a pit of tigers, without regard for tigers being native of a different continent. The colorfully racist portraits of savage negros is merely par for the course.
The added footage is by & large terrible, but the white gorilla suit is fun, & for fans of old gorilla action cheapies (& you might be surprised that such fans are legion) it has not one but two extended gorilla wrestling matches of white vs. black gorillas, plus a sentimental ending between the two gorillas. So considering how little new footage was even shot, a large percentage of it features gorilla action. A new heroine, Ruth (Lorraine Miller), is even written into the script rather late in the show so that she can obligingly faint for the sake of the de rigeur "gorilla carries limp damsel into jungle" moment.
White Gorilla retains almost none of the original narrative of Perils changing character names & giving new "meaning" to the borrowed images. Steve the narrator never directly interacts with the flash-back story of the white jungle boy & the white priestess of the cavern of cyclops statues, just as the characters from the old silent never interact with Steve & the white gorilla of the new footage. The visuals never match up very well because even the heavier make-up of the silent film era keeps reminding the viewer that much of the film is recycled.
To add to the oddity of poor integration of diverse film footage, Steve is played by Ray "Crash" Corrigan, who also plays the white gorilla in several scenes, so that the new footage rarely even shows Steve interacting with his co-star, the gorilla suit.
The white gorilla suit also stars in White Pongo, a much better use of the semi-cool critter.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl