White Pongo


Director: Sam Newfield

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

You gotta be in the mood for something old, cheap, & funky, but if you're in that mood, White Pongo (1945) is an entertainingly bad movie.

Sir Harry (Gordon Richards) brings his daughter Pamela (Maris Wrixon) on a Missing Link hunt up the Congo, as otherwise there wouldn't be a girl for the creature to kidnap as his mate.

She brings her feathered evening dress with her on safari, as you never known when you might be invited to an important event. Wearing it gets two guys all but chest-thumping like they were themselves the missing links.

White PongoPamela crushes out on rifleman Geoffrey Bishop (Richard Fraser) but he's from the working classes therefore a piece of dirt. Pam's dad is extreme in his warnings to Bishop never again to be seen speaking to his daughter.

But never fear, by the end it will be revealed that Bishop is actually a gentleman undercover member of the British secret service looking for a German psychopath who preys on Bwanas of the Jungle types. So when, in the film's coda, he's caught by dad planting a big wet one on Pam's lips, dad is happy since Bishop's an upper crust chap & all.

If the unquestioned classist nature of the romance isn't dumb enough, the story has also a racist streak to it, not terribly subliminal but sufficiently subtle that scriptwriter Raymond L. Schrock (who'd been writing screen scenarios since the silent era) likely had no idea what sort of vile race myths he was embracing in order to take what would otherwise be a Scary Ape movie a turn it into sci-fi.

Although nothing presented on the screen would imply that White Pongo is anything but an albino gorilla, scientists on expedition are convinced it is the Missing Link. The only earthly justification for this belief in the white gorilla's superiority to black gorillas is it's white!

But hey, it's 1945, waddaya expect.

Of course, even if the film hadn't posited the superiority of merely being White, with nothing to back that up, we also have the array of half naked jungle warriors who are "restless" but might help a little if paid in trinkets, & the "tame" black folk to carry all the white man's burdens for them through the jungle. The "chief ubangi" as W. C. Fields would call him has the Samboesque name of Mumbo Jumbo (Joel Fluellen).

There's also the stock footage of wildlife from three continents without regard for what might actually be found in Africa, but this is a nearly universal fault of early jungle pictures.

In the film's favor, it is not shy about showing White Pongo. It's not a convincing gorilla suit of course -- they never are -- especially in the face which is a rubber mask without facial movement except the eyes. But it's a lovely white-furred suit just the same, & would've been just as useful for an Abominable Snowman movie.

The stunt performers in the black gorilla suits as well as the white one put their all into creating credible gorilla-like movements. Compared to most such performances that are hardly more than shambling shaggy rugs without personality, these are well done.

White Pongo lurks around the edges of villages & encampments throughout the film. Pongo's territory apparently covers a minium of fifty miles from the native village to the gorilla feeding grounds (unlike most movie gorillas, those in this film are vegetarians, as are real ones).

When we first meet White Pongo, it kills a native warrior, apparently to save its infant. The implication is it is a mother gorilla, but in subsequent scenes, it has no infant & is clearly an alpha male, the jungle's only member of its white subspecies so he has to exerpt his alpha-ness against black gorillas & against humans.

Apparently it had to be a parent at the beginning to establish a "human" dimension to the so-called missing link, but thereafter the possiblity that it was a female missing link just wouldn't do, because it is required of all such films that the gorilla fall in love with & kidnap the leading lady.

White Pongo actually saves the girl from the German psycho, then treats her as well as do any of the human males of the story, so seems she shouldn't've been complaining.

The White Pongo's "big" scene is an aggressive wrestling match with a regular black gorilla which Pongo, being white, naturally wins. Pongo is then wounded & captured, put in a tiny cage, with implication that he'll be trucked off to London as an animal act.

If this film doesn't provide enough of the white gorilla suit to sate one's interest, the same suit stars also in The White Gorilla (1945).

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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