Mr. Beaks Ushers In The New Year With His Top Ten Guy-In-A-Gorilla-Suit Scenes!
Published at: Jan. 4, 2010, 12:29 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
"A good movie is three good scenes and no bad scenes. A great movie is three good scenes, no bad scenes, and, I shit you not, one reasonably effective guy-in-a-gorilla-suit gag." - Howard Hawks
Very little in this world - reading, antiquing, sex - gives me greater pleasure than a well-executed guy-in-a-gorilla-suit gag. It requires a brute elegance, this mirthful melding of man and his savage former self; a feral identification with the way we were before the monolith inspired us to wield bones as cudgels. A complete absence of shame is crucial as well. And while you don't have to be Jim Belushi, it sure does help.
This list was suggested earlier today when Edgar Wright tweeted that his favorite moment in OCTOPUSSY is the scene where Roger Moore, disguised as a gorilla, checks his watch. Most serious Bond fans regard this as one of the (many) nadirs of the series - and they have a point. But for a nine-year-old who considered the Berosini Orangutans to be one of the era's top comedy ensembles, this simian non-sequitur was pure genius. The suavest man alive was bounding about in a gorilla suit! What a concept! Twenty-seven years ago, I loved everything about OCTOPUSSY; today, I consider this moment one of the few saving graces of a bottom-five Bond flick (mired in the muck with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, A VIEW TO A KILL and DIE ANOTHER DAY). If only they'd brought Bond in full gorilla get-up to the baccarat table brandishing a martini and a Morland Special. That would've killed.
The most effective guy-in-a-gorilla suit gags tend to be clumsily shoehorned into films which a) have nothing to do with gorillas, and b) are set as far from their natural habitat as possible. Incongruity is key. And while I've a profound respect for legendary gorilla-suit performers like Ray "Crash" Corrigan, Charles Gemora, Steve Calvert and Bob Burns, they were actually, with one exception, too polished to make this list; the less gorilla-like one's movements are, the more likely I am to lose my shit.
That said, I do have standards. I saw the same OLD DOGS trailers y'all did, and I was offended to the core of my gorilla-suit-loving being by the sight of Seth Green's silverback shenanigans. This schtick can be used for evil. But when harnessed for good, it has the power to illuminate, and restore the wonder that seeps daily from our lives. With that in mind, here are ten of the most joyous moments ever committed to celluloid.
10. POOTIE TANG IN SINE YOUR PITTY ON THE RUNNY KINE
In the prologue to Louis C.K.'s feature-directing debut, we learn that Lance Crouther's gibberish-spouting, belt-snapping bastion of manhood lost his factory-worker father (Chris Rock) to a bizarre workplace gorilla assault. Sadly, there is no video of this available online, so please reference your own, well-worn copy of POOTIE TANG.
9. "Bear Shooters"
A 1930 Our Gang short in which Spud, Chubby, Farina, Jackie, etc. set out on a camping trip "to shoot wild bears from a distance". After about ten minutes of classic Hal Roach child endangerment, the kids encounter some ruthless poachers, who, for reasons that are never adequately explained, possess a gorilla suit. One of the poachers dons this suit in order to terrorize the kids - which works until he's ensnared in a bear trap. Once he's caught, Farina and Chubby fire pellets and arrows into the villain's backside for a good forty-five seconds. I loved "Bear Shooters" as a kid, but it's got Farina, which means it's kinda racist. Watch it, and you'll see what I mean.
Interestingly, Roach was a huge fan of humans being viciously punished for simulating animal attacks (see "Night 'n' Gales"). I'll also note that "Bear Shooters" opens with another surefire bit of Our Gang business: children refusing to put their pants on. Spanky was the Charlie Chaplin of this routine.
8. THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN
This satire of consumerism from Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner (directed by AICN-fave Joel Schumacher) was a pay-cable mainstay in the early 1980s, and while it mostly fails to hit its intended targets, it does feature tremendous work from Rick Baker as Sidney the gorilla. Here's the money scene:
Everything about this Alex Winter/Tom Stern cult classic is blissfully random, so there's something commendable about their willingness to go for a simple gorilla suit gag when they've got a bunch of insane Screaming Mad George creature designs at their disposal. The scene in question finds Nosey, a coke-anxious dwarf with a huge schnoz (played by Emmy Award-winning BEN STILLER SHOW writer Jeff Khan), participating in a variety show by breakdancing in you-know-what.
6. AT THE CIRCUS
A lesser Marx Brothers film, but the trapeze finale, which finds Harpo and Gibraltar the gorilla (Charles Gemora) tangling with the bad guy, is memorable.
5. WHERE'S POPPA?
Carl Reiner's perverse 1970 romp finds the profanely unflappable Ruth Gordon doing battle with George Segal, who tries, and fails miserably, to scare her to death in his brother's gorilla suit.
Later in the decade, Gordon, one of the most underappreciated theatrical talents of the twentieth century, would hold her own (and maintain her dignity) going against Clyde the Orangutan in EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE.
4. KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE
"Hello, Dino!" Never question a gorilla's virility on live television. (Starts at 5.40)
That's Rick Baker as Dino. And John Landis as the crew member who attacks him with a piece of lumber.
4. BLONDE VENUS
Sometimes, there's not a guy in that gorilla suit.
Rick Baker is one of the most brilliant creature f/x artists of our time, but when it comes to mining comedy from guys in gorilla suits, the shittier his work is, the better. Here's John Landis having a moment with some little leaguers.
2. TRADING PLACES
"That black one must be the female." My namesake, Clarence Beeks (the late great Paul Gleason), winds up on the brutal business end of a richly-deserved costume switcheroo.
I'd really like to put Landis on top, but...
1. THE PINK PANTHER
... this is Odessa Steps of guy-in-a-gorilla-suit scenes.
Happy 2010. It's January, and I'm not going to Sundance, so expect more of this nonsense. Feel free to make a case for BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA.
Update: Thanks to Daytripper69 in the below talkback for reminding me that January 31st is, per the orders of Mad Magazine's Don Martin, National Gorilla Suit Day! I fully intend to participate - and you should, too!