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.

9 Responses to “Chimpanzee in Satin Trunks”

  1. Totally off-topic…RIP Irvin Kershner.

    As the auteur of EYES OF LAURA MARS, he’ll always have a place in my camp film buff’s heart!

  2. Also RIP Leslie Nielson.

    Has anybody seen Kershner’s early work? I wonder if Stakeout on Dope St is as exciting as it sounds, or if A Fine Madness is of interest?

  3. I’d seen AFM years ago, and to me it’s dated pretty badly. It’s fitfully funny, but the humor is often coarse and rather sexist and I don’t know if lobotomy jokes were ever very funny. Of course, if you want to see something that looks utterly ’60s, it has that going for it.

  4. Kael was one of Kershner’s later champions and gave A Fine Madness an essentially mixed review (I haven’t seen it myself). An excerpt:
    “…the movie suggests a farcical cross between Joyce Cary’s The Horses’s Mouth and Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma. There’s a well-substantiated story that Jack Warner suddenly got the point of the picture, decided it was ‘antisocial,’ and ordered it recut. What’s left is uneven and it has unresolved areas, but it also has a 60s charge to it. Connery walks across a bridge in a way that tells you the world is his. (Women, though, may be puzzled about why the poet’s socking his wife–Joanne Woodward–is meant to be hilarious.) The film has a great look (it was shot by Ted McCord) and an amazing cast…”

  5. A Fine Madness is interesting but uneven.
    Kershner was out and about at movie events quite a lot. I used to see him at Academy screenings and events all the time. Nice man.

  6. He’s being cited for The Empire Strieks Back — which is appropriate as it’s the best of the Star Wars films.

    But he should also be lauded for Loving, which in light of the success of Mad Men is badly deserving revival.

  7. Christopher Says:

    you might find him buried in the yard of the house on Sunset Blvd.

  8. I take it you mean the chimp, not Kershner.

    Michael Moorcock’s Letters from Hollywood reports a painful collaboration with a director who appears to be an unnamed Kershner. Moorcock find him nice, cheerful, but dreadful to work with because his ideas are so mediocre. Which may have been true: he was a good journeyman director, not an originator of great projects. Latterly he specialized in sequels to other directors’ hits, but I’m curious to check out his early stuff.

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