The Van Gelder mansion in the Amazon jungle now lies in ruins, overtaken by the surrounding plants, but it was not so long ago that the house was the centre of a successful plantation. Klaas Van Gelder (Paul Cavanagh) lived there with his young wife, Dina (Barbara Payton), and the manager, Barney Chavez (Raymond Burr), but it was not a happy relationship. Barney and Dina were secretly in love, and Klaas obsessively jealous, so it's no surprise that when they settle down for an evening meal with the local doctor, Viet (Tom Conway), Klaas demands that Barney pack his bags and leave for good. Seething with rage, Barney can only comply, but later that night he confronts Klaas outside, which proves to be a fateful meeting...
Ah, woman. Such infinite mystery! Why would they want to go out with a gorilla when there are plenty of perfectly decent fellows around? That's the question vexing Klaas in this early fifties throwback to the jungle horrors of the nineteen-forties, scripted by the director Curt Siodmak. It doesn't vex him for long, however, as no sooner as he's given Barney a piece of his mind than a minor punch-up erupts and he is knocked to the ground, right into he path of a slow-moving snake which leisurely slithers up and bites him, poisoning the elderly plantation owner to death. And the brutish Barney does nothing to stop this horror from occurring, making it tantamount to murder.
Bride of the Gorilla must have looked pretty creaky and dated when it was first released, and time has done it no favours. Through a convoluted plot development, the "murder" was witnessed by a wizened crone lurking in the bushes, and she exacts a terrible revenge, as much for Barney's rejection of his native girlfriend as anything else. So she mixes up a potion to make Barney think he's a gorilla, as you would - it's so much more sensible than going to the police, here led by Commissioner Taro (Lon Chaney jr). How she got the idea for that I don't know, as there are, as far as I'm aware, no gorillas in the Amazon; perhaps she settles down with the Discovery Channel of an evening.
Anyway, by slipping the potion into his drink, she sets her obscurely thought out plan into action. But is Barney really turning into a great ape or not? The film keeps you guessing - or isn't too sure itself - as he wanders off into the jungle all alone, envisions his hands growing gorilla-like, and disappears for hours on end only to return looking unkempt. Obviously, the psychology of the film would have you believe that his animal instincts, which he was close to before, are taking over and his lusts have driven him to a beast's outlook on life. Meanwhile, Dina grows concerned as she signs the plantation away to him when they get swiftly married (Klaas is barely cold!), but she doesn't get a noticeable amount else to do.
If you're expecting a full hour jam-packed with man in a gorilla suit action, then you'll be disappointed, nobody gets thrown about the wobbly jungle set by a crazed ape. Siodmak was the screenwriter of another, better known (and better) Lon Chaney jr horror: The Wolf Man, and comparisons here show Bride of the Gorilla up for the poorly constructed shambles it is. It would be all right if there was more suspense, but all we see of the ape are brief glimpses - Burr looks at his reflection in a mirror and is aghast to meet the gaze of his hairy alter ego (a Burrilla?) - and the camp appeal of a character under such delusions is limited when everything is taken so ponderously seriously. A ridiculous film for sure, but it never hits the adequate heights of delirium and is, in the end, largely morose and uninteresting. He roams the jungle - so what? Music by Raoul Kraushaar.