At sinister carnival The Garden of Evil, the main attraction is Goliath, "world's largest gorilla...cost the lives of 1,000 men before his capture." Barker Joey Matthews is about to enter the gorilla act, teamed with seductive mantrap Laverne, the owner's wife. Then a man is found dead of a broken neck. Was it Goliath or someone wearing Joey's gorilla suit? Detective Sgt. Garrison finds four interlocked romantic triangles among the suspects... Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
This semi-indie murder mystery from the fifties has a little bit of something for everyone. For one thing, it has an amazing cast: Anne Bancroft, Cameron Mitchell, Lee Cobb, Lee Marvin and Raymond Burr. It captures perfectly the tail-end of the amusement park era that was drawing to a close at this time due to television and Disneyland. Men dress in garish suits in this one, and smoke cigars, and there is, as always seemed to be the case with films with a circus or carnival setting, the air of an alternate reality just around the corner, in a sideshow or a funhouse.
This picture was an oddity even when it was new, feeling at times more like an episode of Superman than a movie. The gorilla looks exactly like what it is, a man in a gorilla suit, yet somehow this is acceptable, the way painted backdrops in silent movies are acceptable. If the big ape were presented realistically it would throw the whole film off. Method actors Mitchell and Cobb deliver fine B movie performances that give no hints that they were in fact classically trained, not to mention that they had once played together as father and son in the original Broadway production of Death Of a Salesman. Miss Bancroft was a babe, yet restrains her natural talent to give the sort of Suzanne Pleshette performance her part demands. Raymond Burr, still a few years away from Perry Mason, draws on his natural and inscrutable saturninity. His occasional moments of smiling and bonhomie remind me a little of Peter Lorre at his most forlorn, as he comes off like a grim, serious man trying awfully hard to be a good sport, which in turn makes him a perfect red herring. Lee Marvin plays a dumb cop named Shaughnessy, a good indication of the cleverness of the script.
Yet the movie works on its own terms. The color is well above average for this basically small-scale picture. Director Harmon Jones was a seasoned Hollywood veteran and knew how to slow down the action to create a sense of place, whether a policeman's office, a pier, a trailer or the ersatz jungle set, complete with trapeze. This sort of stylized, non-realistic movie was, like amusement parks, going out of fashion at the time it was made, and yet it has its virtues, notably a commitment to artifice rather than a representation of the real world, which freed the imaginations of the men behind the camera, allowing them to make little experiments with color, space and lighting. The movie is much better than camp. It's more like Edward Hopper Goes To the Circus.
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