The Bride and the Beast (1958) The Bride and the Beast (1958) -**

     Orgy of the Dead wasn’t the first terrible screenplay that Ed Wood Jr. wrote for somebody else’s terrible movie. Among those well acquainted with his work, indeed, it might not even be the most infamous— although I concede that infamy is not easy to quantify. The Bride and the Beast, written by Wood, but conceived and directed by Adrian Weiss, is considerably slimier at heart than the aforementioned burlesque movie throwback, too, despite its greater age and complete lack of onscreen censorable content. Wood’s script prefigures the lurid sleaze of the dime novels that earned him the bulk of his living during his final decade and a half, for although The Bride and the Beast spends most of its time being a soporifically boring safari adventure movie, its setup and climax confront the Jungle Jim-wannabe protagonist with the prospect of being cuckolded by a gorilla!

     Dan (Lance Fuller, of This Island Earth and Scream, Evelyn, Scream!) and Laura (Charlotte Austin, from Frankenstein 1970 and Gorilla at Large) Fuller got married this afternoon. Laura harbors a lifelong fascination with wild animals, which is doubtless at least part of the reason why she fell for a big-game hunter sufficiently accomplished in the field to do it professionally; Dan is frequently employed by zoos and circuses to keep their cages stocked with charismatic megafauna. As a matter of fact, the basement of his mansion in the Hollywood Hills is currently the abode of a gorilla which Fuller has dubbed “Spanky” (stuntman Ray “Crash” Corrigan, in the last of his innumerable performances as a B-movie ape), awaiting the completion of an appropriate enclosure at the zoo on whose behalf Dan captured him. Laura is intrigued to hear that. No, wait— let’s be honest here. The news of a gorilla in the cellar makes the woman downright horny— and not, I hasten to emphasize, for her new husband! Furthermore, as we see when Laura asks to be shown downstairs to meet Spanky, the feeling is very much mutual. Spanky is visibly besotted with his keeper’s new bride, although Dan somehow doesn’t initially recognize the signs for what they are. All he consciously sees in this first encounter between woman and ape is that Spanky becomes agitated as soon as Laura comes close enough to smell, and that he takes insistent hold of her wrist when she disregards Dan’s warning about keeping her distance from the gorilla’s cage. Subconsciously, though, Fuller seems to get just a bit of the hint when his own threats are powerless to make Spanky release Laura, but she herself has no trouble sweet-talking the gorilla into letting go.

     The Bride and the Beast inadvertently makes itself look even more perverse than it really is at this point by adhering strictly to the dictates of the increasingly feeble Production Code on the subject of marital sleeping arrangements. In reality, I’m sure we’re meant to interpret the gap between the next two scenes as an ellipsis skipping over the consummation of the Fullers’ marriage. But because the couple are ultimately shown sleeping, clothed up to their collarbones, in separate beds far too narrow for two adults to fuck in anyway, and since Laura will later apologize (on totally different grounds, to be sure) for spoiling Dan’s wedding night, it’s irresistibly tempting to read the sequence as eliding the failure of consummation instead. Through 21st-century eyes, it looks for all the world as if Wood and Weiss are trying to tell us that once a girl goes monkey, nothing else feels as funky.

     Regardless, while Laura fitfully sleeps in her tiny bed, her subconscious mind sends out a psychic summons to Spanky. The gorilla forces the bars on his cage, and then makes his way upstairs to the Fullers’ bedroom suite. Laura has awakened by that point, and although she’s certainly startled to see Spanky at the door, she also seems much more earnestly receptive to the ape’s romantic overtures than she’s been so far to any of her husband’s. When Dan awakens to see his wife in the arms of the amorous gorilla, he stealthily draws his revolver from its hiding place in the nightstand, but he sensibly holds his fire until Spanky, having shifted to interpose himself completely between him and Laura (and more importantly, between Laura and the camera), suddenly rips the woman’s nightgown from her body. Laura faints dead away (again keeping her safely out of both the line of fire and the camera’s field of vision) as Dan finishes the job by pumping three more rounds into the gorilla’s massive torso.

     Somewhat surprisingly, Laura wants to talk about the incident in the aftermath, while Dan would rather they both just go back to sleep and forget the whole thing. Later that night, though, she wakes up screaming from a dream that she’s had off and on since childhood, in which she roams unseen through stock footage of Africa, frightening off animals of every description until a glimpse of her reflection in the surface of a pond reveals that she is a huge, white-furred ape. (And yes, I do believe that is the same leucistic ape suit seen in White Pongo and The White Gorilla. Crash Corrigan played those primates, too.) The intensity of Laura’s reaction to her nightmare spurs Dan to summon his psychiatrist, Dr. Reiner (Trauma’s William Justine), to examine her, and the shrink’s diagnosis is extraordinary indeed. After a pretty intensive session of hypnotic regression therapy, Reiner declares his professional opinion that Laura was a gorilla in a past life! I’m not sure what Dan and Laura are supposed to do with that information, even if they believe it (which Dan most emphatically does not), and Reiner himself isn’t much help on that score either. Maybe the Fullers should just be extra-careful not to let any gorillas hang around the house from now on? After all, random-ass ape encounters aren’t the kind of thing most people have to deal with in their daily lives.

     Ah, but remember— Dan’s a professional big-game hunter. If any line of work is apt to bring Laura into contact with more horny gorillas, it’s that! And in point of fact, Fuller has an extended African safari coming up in just a few days. Incredibly, neither Dan nor Laura nor Dr. Reiner foresees any potential trouble coming of such a trip, but I suppose that would make sense if this were the real world. Gorillas in the real world don’t live on the veldt, and since zebras, giraffes, and rhinos are the intended quarry on this hunt, the veldt is just where the Fullers are going. But this is a B-movie of the junkiest possible sort, and you never can tell what an exotic animal species’ ecological range will be in one of those. Worse yet, just as the savannah hunt is winding down, Dan receives an urgent summons from game commissioner Captain Cameron (Gil Frye, from The Creation of the Humanoids and The Monster that Challenged the World). There’s been a railroad accident involving a train transporting captive Indian wildlife across the continent to who-knows-where, and a pair of fearsome Bengal tigers have escaped into the jungle. The foreign cats have already turned maneater, and Cameron wants Fuller to drop everything in favor of the tigers’ immediate extermination. The scrubland where Dan and his team have been hunting thus far may not be gorilla country, but the region where the tigers got loose most assuredly is. Heaven knows what shenanigans Laura might get up to if she encounters descendants of her former simian self in their natural habitat!

     I’m starting to believe that The Search for Bridey Murphy is sorely underappreciated as a source of inspiration for much wilder and weirder 1950’s B-pictures. Maybe the reason why it’s so easy to miss that film’s influence is because its downmarket copyists were so rarely satisfied with merely copying. Even The Undead, among the more conceptually restrained Bridey Murphy cash-ins, added witchcraft, psychic time travel, and a personal appearance by Satan. The She-Creature added carny hucksterism, murder for profit, and hypnotic slavery, then made one previous incarnation of its damsel in distress a homicidal prehistoric lobster-girl to boot! And now The Bride and the Beast tries to one-up even that by carrying the sexual implications of its heroine’s past life as a gorilla up to the very threshold of their ape-fucking logical conclusion.

     The Bride and the Beast comes to its “Bridey Murphy by way of Ingagi” payoff by a strange and circuitous route, however, even by Ed Wood’s frequently non-linear standards. You may recall me saying of Wood’s earlier Bride of the Monster that it belonged more to the 40’s than to its own decade, both tonally and conceptually. A similar phenomenon is at work in The Bride and the Beast, only this movie’s heart belongs to the early 1930’s. Apart from the reincarnation revealed by hypnotic regression, The Bride and the Beast might as well be what the Forty Thieves used to call a “Goona-Goona.” Goona-Goonas were cheaply made confections of stock travelogue footage from some “primitive” part of the world (especially Subsaharan Africa or Southeast Asia), dressed up with a bit of sleazy melodrama hinging upon the supposed folkways of the natives. Some of them passed themselves off as actual documentaries (making them ancestral to the Mondo movies of the 60’s and 70’s), while others claimed merely to dramatize things that might happen in such backward and benighted locales. Either way, there wasn’t much life left in the genre by 1958. It’s doubly striking, then, that The Bride and the Beast draws so heavily from that old playbook, building most of its second act from secondhand safari footage, and devoting the rest of it to creating a phantasmagorical Neverland of racist clichés and stereotypes mixed and matched at random from all over what we would call the Global South today.

     A few quick examples of the kind of thing I mean here: The justly sullen-looking black extras playing the Fuller party’s porters are dressed and equipped not for the wilds of Africa, but for the cane fields of Haiti. Meanwhile, Dan’s camp cook, Marka (Jeanne Gerson, from The Touch of Satan and She-Gods of Shark Reef), despite supposedly being as local as the porters, is done up like a peasant from northern India, except that the pattern on her sari recalls not so much Punjab as Trader Vic’s. The villagers who become tiger chow are similarly confusing, only with them I can’t tell whether they’re supposed to look more Indian or Arabian. Captain Cameron belongs in a jungle movie set in Latin America, what with his Spanish accent and his oily black hair. But nothing in this movie proclaims the filmmakers disregard for even the most basic anthropological veracity more eloquently than the portrayal of Taro, Dan Fuller’s “house boy.” Taro wears a Sikh-looking turban, but addresses Dan as “Bwana.” He talks like Tonto on the “Lone Ranger” TV show that had just gone off the air when The Bride and the Beast was in the works. Although he’s played by the exceedingly white Johnny Roth, makeup artist Harry Thomas has attempted to disguise that by darkening the actor’s skin to wildly inconsistent extents. Sometimes we’re talking about just a touch of bronzer, like those times when somebody tried to pass off Michael Ansara as a Sioux, but it’s just as likely to be the Full Al Jolson or anything in between! And occasionally Roth’s makeup is applied so quarter-assedly that no two parts of Taro’s body seem to belong to the same ostensible race. Watching Roth’s Taro in action, you can practically hear Weiss and Wood perplexedly asking, “What do you mean we’ve made him the wrong kind of darkie? Are you trying to tell us there’s more than one?!”

     Between all that and the sheer tedium of indifferently assembled stock wildlife footage, the whole middle section of The Bride and the Beast is extremely rough going. And since we’re talking about the longest phase of the movie here, to call it rough going is not much different from saying that about the film as a whole. It was therefore just about the one smart move that Weiss and Wood made to establish right at the end of the first act that Laura Fuller kind of wants to bang gorillas because she herself used to be one. Your tolerance for The Bride and the Beast’s Goona-Goona bullshit will most likely be directly proportional to your curiosity about how far the filmmakers are prepared to pay off the implications of the Fullers’ eventful wedding night in the end. I might be doing you all a disservice by saying so, since it could lead to more of you sitting through this turkey’s every stultifying minute, but they eventually carry it pretty fucking far!



Home     Alphabetical Index     Chronological Index     Contact



All site content (except for those movie posters-- who knows who owns them) (c) Scott Ashlin.  That means it's mine.  That means you can't have it unless you ask real nice.