As previously noted, I am in search of two separate gorillas, THE GORILLA from 1927 with Walter Pigeon, and THE GORILLA from 1930, also with Walter Pigeon, both depicted in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. And I *shall* see every movie illustrated in that book. Unfortunately, both GORILLAs are officially lost films, and cannot be “seen” in the conventional manner except by trained mystics such as the late F. Gwynplaine Macintyre.
Still, I have scored the 1930 ape off my list, and I will tell you how. By Googling the movie (there is indeed no limit to my Kevin Brownlow-style detective-work) I came across an article at a blog called Undead Backbrain, where discussion had taken place some time back about some mystery footage of a giant gorilla stalking the streets of Manhattan. An expert in gorilla suits (and there are, it seems, such things), identified the costume worn as one frequently used by ace gorilla impersonator Charles Gemora, but never after 1930. So, since KING KONG was made in 1933, what could be made of this pre-1930 giant ape?
The solution proved to be fascinating, but I’m not sure the full repercussions of the revelations have been sounded out.
It seems the two short clips, visible here and here, were part of a publicity film, or trailer or something, used for the 1930 THE GORILLA. The movie, later re-re-made by Allan Dwan with Bela Lugosi and the Ritz Brothers, dealt with a master criminal who disguised himself in an ape costume, Scooby Doo style, in order to enact his reign of terror. The giant ape was a symbolic representation of the pall of fear in which the rampaging crook held the city. So, somebody (possibly GORILLA helmer Bryan Foy) did film a giant gorilla terrorizing New York, several years before Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack enlisted Willis H O’Brien to animated the Eighth Wonder of the World…
The KONG poster I owned as a kid, recently spotted in both THE DEADLY SPAWN and Raul Ruiz’s THE BLIND OWL.
What this suggests to me is highly significant. According to Kong history, Merian C Cooper conceived the idea of a giant ape on the loose, climbing the Empire State Building. It took him a while to realise that this was the end of his story, so he then traced the ape’s origins back to get to the beginning. Cooper had visited Komodo Island, where prehistoric-style man-eating lizards roamed, and so he postulated such a location as the great ape’s birthplace.
What’s unexplained in this account is where Kong himself sprang from, apparently fully-formed. Well, we often can’t trace the exact beginnings of an idea. But Cooper was not a writer, not primarily a fiction filmmaker — he was a documentarist and producer. And not to put too fine a point on it, he never had another great creative idea like that in his life. (I’m not doing him down, how many of us have?)
If we assume that Cooper saw the GORILLA publicity material, which I think is near-certain, we can imagine his thought processes. “What a shame this doesn’t happen in the movie! What a shame this is just a metaphor… wouldn’t it be much more exciting if it really happened?” This, to me, is the kind of inspiration a producer would have.
So KONG is born, and very glad we all are. Meanwhile, using the dubious argument that a part can stand in for the whole (movie cloning!), I’m declaring my quest to see the 1930 THE GORILLA complete. As for the 1927 version, that’s going to be trickier…
Afterthought: isn’t it a shame they didn’t fly Charles Gemora and his monkey suit to Japan, to make GAMERA VS GEMORA?