54 user 23 critic

The Gorilla (1939)

Passed | | Comedy, Horror | 26 May 1939 (USA)
When a wealthy man is threatened by a killer known as The Gorilla, he hires the Ritz Brothers to investigate. A real escaped gorilla shows up at the mansion just as the investigators arrive.


Allan Dwan


Ralph Spence (play), Rian James (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

Watch Now

With Prime Video



Learn more

More Like This 

Certificate: Passed Horror | Sci-Fi
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.5/10 X  

A scientist, aided by an old hag and her two sons, kills virginal brides, steals their bodies, and extracts gland fluid to keep his ancient wife alive and young.

Director: Wallace Fox
Stars: Bela Lugosi, Luana Walters, Tristram Coffin
Certificate: Passed Horror | Mystery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.1/10 X  

People in an old dark house on a stormy night are menaced by a killer ape.

Director: Frank R. Strayer
Stars: Rex Lease, Vera Reynolds, Sheldon Lewis
The Ape (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.6/10 X  

Dr. Bernard Adrian is a kindly mad scientist who seeks to cure a young woman's polio. He needs spinal fluid from a human to complete the formula for his experimental serum. Meanwhile, a ... See full summary »

Director: William Nigh
Stars: Boris Karloff, Maris Wrixon, Gene O'Donnell
Certificate: Passed Crime | Thriller | Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  

A master criminal terrorizes the occupants of an isolated country mansion.

Director: Roland West
Stars: Chance Ward, Richard Tucker, Wilson Benge
Certificate: Passed Drama | Horror | Mystery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.7/10 X  

When corpses drained of blood begin to show up in a European village, vampirism is suspected to be responsible.

Director: Frank R. Strayer
Stars: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas
Crime | Mystery | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.3/10 X  

Pat Morgan and Ted Kord are rival newspaper reporters always trying to outscoop each other. They join together to solve a series of murders being committed in an apartment building.

Director: Albert Ray
Stars: Ginger Rogers, Lyle Talbot, Harvey Clark
The Ape Man (1943)
Certificate: Passed Action | Drama | Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.6/10 X  

A crazed scientist accidentally turns himself into a half ape, half human creature, and scrambles to find a cure.

Director: William Beaudine
Stars: Bela Lugosi, Louise Currie, Wallace Ford
Horror | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.5/10 X  

The boys are sent to a mountain camp. Stranded in a small rural town, they hear about a "monster killer" roaming the countryside. At night, they sneak out. Peewee is shot by a grave-digger,... See full summary »

Director: Phil Rosen
Stars: Bela Lugosi, Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan
Horror | Sci-Fi
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.7/10 X  

A mad scientist injects his enemies with an acromegaly virus, causing them to become hideously deformed.

Director: Sam Newfield
Stars: J. Carrol Naish, Ralph Morgan, Tala Birell
Crime | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.3/10 X  

Kindly soup kitchen operator and professor of criminology Karl Wagner uses his soup kitchen as a front for a criminal gang who commit a series of daring robberies and murders. When things ... See full summary »

Director: Wallace Fox
Stars: Bela Lugosi, John Archer, Wanda McKay
The Gorilla (1927)
Horror | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

An ape is suspected of committing a series of murders.

Director: Alfred Santell
Stars: Charles Murray, Fred Kelsey, Walter Pidgeon
Comedy | Horror | Mystery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.3/10 X  

An insurance investigator arrives at a creepy mansion to protect a millionaire who has had death threats made against him.

Director: Frank McDonald
Stars: Jack Haley, Jean Parker, Bela Lugosi


Complete credited cast:
The Ritz Brothers ... Defective Detectives
Jimmy Ritz ... Garrity
Harry Ritz ... Harrigan
Al Ritz ... Mulligan
Anita Louise ... Norma Denby
Patsy Kelly ... Kitty
Lionel Atwill ... Walter Stevens
Bela Lugosi ... Peters
Joseph Calleia ... Stranger
Edward Norris ... Jack Marsden
Wally Vernon ... Seaman
Paul Harvey ... A.P. Conway
Art Miles Art Miles ... Poe the Gorilla


When a wealthy man is threatened by a killer known as The Gorilla, he hires the Ritz Brothers to investigate. A real escaped gorilla shows up at the mansion just as the investigators arrive.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A Ritz is afraid of nothing ... but ... THIS ... IS ... SOMETHING! See more »


Comedy | Horror


Passed | See all certifications »






Release Date:

26 May 1939 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El gorila See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Filming was scheduled to start on January 30, 1939, but the death of the Ritz Brothers father caused a delay of nearly a month. 20th Century-Fox brought a $150,000 breach-of-contract lawsuit against the brothers when they didn't show. This ended their relationship with the studio. See more »


The sailor is bareheaded when the group go to search the garage, but his hat appears suddenly in his hand when he is at the cage and looking for the keys. See more »


[at a huge crash from the cellar]
Jack Marsden: Peters, what's all that commotion?
Peters: It sounds like our friends the detectives.
See more »


Version of The Gorilla (1930) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

Not as bad as they say...
25 September 2007 | by jluis1984See all my reviews

During the 20s, murder mystery stage plays were extremely popular at Broadway theaters with plays like "The Bat" and "The Cat and the Canary" being huge hits everywhere. Naturally, film versions of this stage plays began to be produced, and thanks to their spooky sets and intriguing plots, this movies became an enormous influence for the horror films of following decades. Ralph Spence's "The Gorilla" was another of this kind of murder mystery stories that made the jump to cinema, with its first adaptation being made in 1927. What made "The Gorilla" different to the others was the humor it had, as it was more a spoof of the genre than a serious tale of horror. While nowhere near as successful as the other film versions of plays, "The Gorilla" was popular enough to be remade twice, the first time in 1930 and the second in 1939, with the legendary Bela Lugosi.

In this version, Lionel Atwill plays Walter Stevens, a very rich man who receives a letter from a killer who names himself "The Gorilla", threatening to kill him the following night. Worried about his life, Stevens hires three detectives (Jimmy, Harry and Al Ritz) to be with him in the mansion and protect his life. He has also called his nephew Norma (Anita Louise), to whom he explains the situation and what she should do in the case of his death. Her boyfriend Jack (Edward Norris) is with her, and along Kitty the maid (Patsy Kelly) and Stevens' butler Peters (Bela Lugosi), they will remain in the house hoping to find the Gorilla before he manages to kill Mr. Stevens. However, it doesn't seem an easy task to accomplish, as the three bumbling detectives seem to be clueless as where to start looking, and far more afraid of the Gorilla than Mr. Stevens himself.

Adapted to the screen by Rian James and Sid Silvers, this version of "The Gorilla" retains that comedic approach on the mystery stories that the play originally had, however, since the movie is a vehicle for the Ritz brothers (their last film for Twentieth Century Fox), there's a lot more emphasis on the slapstick that this comedy team was famous for. As a spoof on the genre, "The Gorilla" plays with every cliché that this kind of movies had, from the ensemble of different characters forced to spend the night in a dark mansion, to the classic whodunit plot twists that keep the secret of the murderer's identity. Mixing horror, mystery and comedy isn't easy, but Spence's play had a fairly good plot that managed to do the trick. Sadly, this adaptation isn't as successful, as the mix here feels forced and messy, as if the writers weren't sure what to make of it.

Directed by the extremely prolific Allan Dwan, "The Gorilla" features an excellent use of lighting and set design to create a dark atmosphere. Despite the extremely low production values (it was a troubled production due to labor disputes between the brothers and Fox), Dwan comes up with a solid film that at times manages to help to forget the lousy quality of the script. It's nowhere near the level of his other movies, but personally I think that he makes the often incoherent story watchable and funny. While the emphasis is on slapstick, there's still some of the play's wit in the characters played by Patsy Kelly and Bela Lugosi, whom are the perfect counterpart to the brothers' physical comedy. Fortunately, "The Gorilla" lacks the usual sing and dance that made the Ritz brothers famous, as it would had been out of place in Dwan's film.

Unfortunately the performances in "The Gorilla" are pretty much average, as while there are displays of brilliance among some members of the cast, others are simply unremarkable at best. The Ritz brothers have a bit of both sides, as they aren't really bad performers, but while some of their jokes are good (Harry Ritz was indeed talented), most of the times they all feel out of place in the movie. Edward Norris and Anita Louise are pretty average in their performances, with Norris being a very wooden actor in this film. Classic horror star Lionel Atwill plays his character with great skill, but it's not really one of his best roles. The highlights of the film are Patsy Kelly and Bela Lugosi, with the legendary horror star showing that he also had an underrated talent for black comedy as Peters the butler.

As written above, this movie is not exactly an excellent film, as while the original stage play was a witty mix of genres, this version ends up as a poorly built mishmash of styles: it wants to be a proper mystery (and has enough to be one) and a spoof at the same time. Sadly, the addition of the Ritz brothers to the mix doesn't really help anything, as while they weren't really a bad comedy team, their style simply isn't well adjusted to the movie. And it's not really the brothers' fault, as with some more work the script would had been perfect (apparently, the quality of this script was one of the reasons the brothers left Fox). On a completely different subject, the low budget really hurt the film, as while director Dwan and his team did very well with what they had, it really looks pretty poor in some accounts (the Gorilla suit for example).

While definitely "The Gorilla" is far from being a classic on the level of earlier Lugosi films, it's by no means a completely bad film, and it's certainly unworthy of the bad reputation it carries today. Sure, it's hard to get used to the Ritz brothers' style of comedy, specially when it's badly written as it is here, but even when it's not comedy classic, "The Gorilla" does deliver good entertainment. It's worth a watch, if only to get a glimpse of a different side of Bela Lugosi. 6/10

16 of 18 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 54 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Free Movies and TV Shows You Can Watch Now

On IMDb TV, you can catch Hollywood hits and popular TV series at no cost. Select any poster below to play the movie, totally free!

Browse free movies and TV series

Stream Popular Action and Adventure Titles With Prime Video

Explore popular action and adventure titles available to stream with Prime Video.

Start your free trial

Recently Viewed