Chimpanzee in Satin Trunks
I know, that title sounds like the best giallo ever.
But it’s not, it’s something even stranger. What we have here is a very peculiar meeting of minds and ideas. Our subject once again is the Doug Fairbanks THIEF OF BAGDAD. The royal palace has an unusual security system: when night falls, portcullises are closed, and hatches open in the floor, admitting savage wildcats, who prowl the great marble halls, deterring burglars.
But also on hand is a giant ape. In the shot which introduces this minor character (who plays no future role in the action and is a mere piece of walk-on exotica), there’s an initial thrill of WTF excitement — what exactly are we looking at here? A hulking, hairy figure in satin trunks, with an obscenely protruding posterior, is led on by two men.
The beast is chained in place, and the men walk off, pausing to look back.
The ape makes a funny face.
At some point during this sequence, we start to piece together the fragments of our shattered minds and figure out what we’re seeing. The chimpanzee is normal sized, and he’s led on by two dwarfs. When the dwarfs walk off, director Raoul Walsh cuts to two normal-sized players in scaled-up versions of the same costumes, to convince us that the humans are normal size and the ape is big. He cuts back to the ape, making a funny face, to reinforce the illusion.
I do think that only Mitchell Leisen (future director of genius, costume designer on this movie) would have thought up the masterstroke of the chimp’s shiny black trunks.