Gorilla at Large (1954) – By Matt Singer

Unlike your modern amusement park 3-D attractions,
your Captain E-O’s, your Honey I Shrunk the
Audience’s, Gorilla at Large, a feature-length 3-D
film from 1954, has very little reason to exist in 3-D
and boasts very few of the gags and visual shocks most
typically associated with the format. Instead, 3-D is
used primarly to enhance the gorgeous color
photography and to take your mind off the awful
dialogue and bizarre plot twists.

Large is a strange mix of genres: violent murder
mystery, haunted revenge story, and schlocky monster
movie; a shadowy film noir photographed in vibrant
color and projected in 3-D. Cameron Mitchell plays
Joey Matthews, a barker-turned-performer who also
seems the most likely suspect in the murder of a
recently fired carnival employee, who turns up impaled
on the spikes of a gorilla cage not long after he’s
seen reading The New Yorker (the preferred magazine of
goons everywhere). The killer could be Goliath, the
caged gorilla, whose whereabouts at the time are
unclear (Goliath, for one, is not talking), or it
could be someone dressed up in a gorilla suit. Other
suspects include Raymond Burr as Miller, the carnival
owner, and Anne Bancroft as Laverne, Miller’s wife and
the trapezee artist. It’s up to Detective Lee J. Cobb
(with sidekick Lee Marvin!) to decipher this mystery
and maintain his dignity while caught up in a flaky,
poorly-produced 3-D adventure.

Fans of nonsense dialogue will find plenty to savor as
Cobb works his way through the list of suspects. At
one point, Burr contemplates his fate while staring at
a beheaded cupie doll and remarks to it and it alone,
“You have waited a long time for this, haven’t you
Cupie?” Later, one character discovers another could
be the killer and remarks, with a sense of genuine
revelation, “A woman couldn’t do it – unless she knew
judo!” No, these remarks don’t make more sense in
context, and regardless, they are delivered with
obvious contempt for the material. Of course the
grandest gag in the film is the fact that there is a
“real” gorilla and a “fake” gorilla running around and
both are just burly stunt guys in monkey suits that
ain’t fooling nobody.

Even with the numerous goofs and gaffes, there’s
something genuinely beautiful about Gorilla at Large.
Director Harmon Jones uses the 3-D technique cleverly
and subtly throughout, and there is something
arresting about the way the human faces fall into
relief and every detail is made crystal clear. At
certain points you really lament the marginalization
of 3-D to the amusement park ghetto, when there is
obvious potential here for something far more
important and powerful than a gorilla leaping into a
camera lense could ever be. Gorilla at Large is
unavailable in home formats, but a pristine print of
the film has screened at New York’s Film Forum and was
a true treat to watch. If they take it on the road,
check it out.