Two ghosts rise from the grave to help one of their descendants win the election for the post of local Police Commissioner. Unfortunately, his credibility as a candidate is damaged after he runs into a mad scientist’s pet gorilla which has escaped from a creepy mansion nearby…
By the numbers programmer which cheerfully sweeps up all of the old dark house cliches and mixes them with a mad scientist and an invisible woman to deliver a dispirited comedy trudge through weary low budget mediocrity. It’s all here: the secret panels, the hidden passages, the man in the gorilla suit, the sinking seat cushions, the cases of mistaken identity, the double takes, the lightning storm raging outside. There’s even a cowardly black chauffeur (Nicodemus ‘Nick’ Stewart) to throw his arms about and pop his eyes.
Harold Peary was an American comedian and singer who first came to prominence on the popular radio show ‘Fibber McGee and Molly’ in 1938, where he played the title couple’s neighbour; a man called Gildersleeve. The character was so popular that in 1941 he got his own show, ‘The Great Gildersleeve’ which is generally agreed to be the first ‘spin-off’ show in U.S. broadcasting history. By then, he’d already played the same role in the supporting cast of five low-budget films, so his own feature series as Gildersleeve was probably an inevitability. There were four films in total, of which this was the last. That’s no surprise; when a comedy series resorts to old mansions, gorillas and mad scientists, it’s usually come to the end of the line.
Peary is the late Jonathan O. Gildersleeve, who rises from his shadowy grave at the Summerfield Cemetery one dark and dreary night with the idea of assisting his living descendant in his all-American small town political ambitions. Peary is the late Randolph Q. Gildersleeve, who rises from his shadowy grave at the Summerfield Cemetery one dark and dreary night with the idea of assisting his living descendant in his all-American small town political ambitions.
The object of their familial concern is Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve (Peary, again) who’s behind in the polls because he’s a bumbling idiot. Well-meaning, of course, but a bumbling idiot all the same. After all, he seems to have entrusted his campaign strategy to his young niece and nephew (Margie Stewart and Freddie Mercer), who like dressing up in animal costumes. Mercer favours a gorilla suit (please remember this as it is an important plot point that comes up later on).
The two spirits are worried about the proximity of mad scientist Frank Reicher in his creepy mansion so head over there in time to see him experimenting in the basement on both his pet gorilla (Charles Gemora) and an invisible chorus girl (Marion Martin), who conveniently materialises and dematerialises as each scene in the movie requires. Then the ghosts exit never to be seen again. Not even at the wrap-up. Why were they in the movie in the first place? Well, I guess Peary got to wear some different face fuzz and do a couple of silly voices. And it wasted a few minutes, I suppose.
Enter Throckmorton who stumbles across Reicher’s hairy pet who has escaped from his cage. No-one believes him, of course, because every time they go back to the scene of the crime, the gorilla has vanished (laugh here). So, everyone thinks he’s a bit mad (laugh again) but agrees to hunt for the ape anyway. A storm sees everyone sheltering in Reicher’s crumbling old pile and it’s there that the ‘hilarity’ and hi-jinks really begin.
Peary encounters Martin who he believes to be a ghost. Of course, she vanishes as soon as anyone else arrives, so everyone thinks Peary is even madder than they did before (laugh again). They discuss sending him to an asylum (laugh again because mental health issues are really funny). The gorilla turns up again, but everyone thinks it’s just Mercer in his costume because it’s just so easy to mistake a large, dangerous primate for a 12 year-old kid in his Halloween get-up.
The most interesting aspect of this whole production is the presence of Gemora in the ape suit. Although he had a very prolific career as a makeup artist on many pictures from the late 1920s to the early 1960s, he also donned the hairy suit over 50 times, and in some very notable films. There were early serials ‘Tarzan the Mighty’ (1928) and ‘Tarzan the Tiger’ (1929), and appearances with Lon Chaney in ‘Where East Is East’ (1929) and ‘The Unholy Three’ (1930) before teaming up twice with Bela Lugosi for ‘Island of Lost Souls’ (1932) and a far more pivotal role in ‘Murders In The Rue Morgue’ (1932). That last performance must have impressed someone as he got to reprise the role over two decades later in 3-D remake ‘Phantom of The Rue Morgue’ (1954)! He also played aliens in ‘War of The Worlds’ (1953) and ‘I Married A Monster From Outer Space’ (1958).
Reicher is familiar to anyone who has watched the original ‘King Kong’ (1933) as he played the captain of the ship that goes to Skull Island. Director Gordon Douglas went onto deliver a number of well-known films of varying quality. There were more low-budget productions like ‘Zombies On Broadway’ (1945) (again with Lugosi) before he stepped up with James Cagney for ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ (1950). After that came giant ants classic ‘Them!’ (1954) and projects with Frank Sinatra in the following decade that included ‘Robin and The Seven Hoods’ (1964) and ‘Tony Rome’ (1967). His career ended with the rather bizarre, and generally derided, ‘Viva Knievel!’ (1977).
Desperately uninspired, bottom of the bill spook chaser/old dark house shenanigans that won’t linger in the memory for too long. Probably about ten minutes, give or take.