White Pongo (1945)
Notes: PRC Pictures, 72 minutes.
Geoffrey Bishop: Richard Fraser
Pamela Bragdon: Maris Wrixon
Sir Harry Bragdon: Gordon Richards
Peter Van Dorn: Lionel Royce
Hans: Al Eben
Clive Carswell: Michael Dyne
Baxter: George Lloyd
Doctor: Larry Steers
Gunderson: Milton Kibbee
Mumbo Jumbo: Joel Fluellen
Directed: Sam Newfield
Screenplay & Story: Raymond L. Schrock
Produced: Sigmund Neufeld
Summary: The credits run over an image of a map of Africa, after which a pointer designates an area of the Congo “unexplored by white men.” It’s “gorilla territory” with “fierce negritoes” who, when we next see dancing, seem neither fierce nor even fun-loving, just listless. A German fellow helps another guy, Gunderson, to escape from the natives, but he won’t go himself. From the bushes, a white gorilla approaches the ceremony and sees a chimp tied up. When the ceremony quiets down, Gunderson flees and swims away, coming on shore only briefly after the white gorilla mauls a native.
The next we know, Gunderson is in a hospital, delirius with “jungle fever.” The information he brought is alternately considered “poppycock” as the result of too much bourbon and as something Sir Harry must have. Immediately, Sir Harry Bragdon, his daughter Pam, and others of his expedition arrive. The diary brought by Gunderson, who is reported dead now, records experiences with a white gorilla, the “missing link,” who has a “faculty of almost human cerebration.” This could prove “the Darwinian theory”! One or two doubters consider it all a hoax, though, “all monkey business.”
The expedition gets underway with Bragdon, Pam, rifleman Bishop, jealous Clive, would-be comic relief Baxter, germanic guide Hans, Africa servant Mumbo Jumbo (though I truly wish it hadn’t), and a couple others. The men screw around with their guns and we suffer through a lot of kayak paddling and a bit of stock footage of cranes and monkeys. Elsewhere, a black gorilla is manhandling a bag. A bear cub messes about at camp. Pam asks Bishop why he’s shaving; he says it’s a habit from his days in His Majesty’s Service. Pam snarkily sidles up to him until Clive, dad’s secretary, interrupts them. Pam chides him for it and has Bishop appointed her personal guide and bodyguard. In the kayak, he calls her selfish and himself uncouth and “a positive bounder.”
The presence of lilypads and various truly non-jungle foliage create some cognitive disonance in our viewing. The group land on the shore of a tribe, with whom they engage in an afternoon of trading. Hans gets the chief to okay this, but not their staying in the village that night. These supposed Congo natives wear hawaiian prints, and the occasional fez can be seen. A “caucasian” wanders in, listless but glad that Gunderson made it back with the diary. He confirms the importance to science of the “missing link,” explaining with photos that the Dr. Frederick Theodore expedition raised the gorilla with the occasional intelligence test until it was about 5 years old, at which time it broke free and killed Theodore.
A kimodo dragon shouldn’t be here. The Bragdon expedition rows away as the white gorilla follows them on shore. Later, in the jungle, they find tracks and an old buried cage. Soon they’ve restored the stockade and gorilla trap from the Theodore days. Baxter, pretending to be an ape, demonstrates the trap. The phrase “make a monkey out of” occurs a couple times, and black gorillas eat outside the stockade. At night, Pongo tests the stockade boards carefully. In no mosquito netting, Pam sleeps restlessly until she glimpses the white gorilla outside her window peering at her and screams. Dad comes but doesn’t believe her — after all, how could there be a gorilla in the jungle?
Pam dons a feathery dress and sidles up to Bishop again until Clive bursts in and starts fighting Bishop. Bragdon to Bishop = Othello to Cassio. But a bell rings, so they’ve caught a gorilla. Dang, it’s just a black one. They give it a ladder to climb out of the hole and hide inside the stockade as the gorilla does emerge.
Clive, sensing evil, joins Hans, who immediate admits he’s along for a gold field. Dad and the others are tied up and promised a kayak. Pam must accompany the bad guys to the gold, since Clive insists. Soon, Bishop, who reveals that he’s still a secret service agent on the trail of a murderous guide (Hans), unties himself and the others.
Hans does not leave a kayak, so Pam pitches a moral fit. Clive even agrees. Pam flees, and Clive runs after her, so Hans shoots Clive in the back. Pongo attacks and kills Hans, and then chases Pam. He catches her and carries her off to a cave, taking a chain from her neck. When stock footage of a lion appears, Pongo chases it off, which gives Pam a chance to escape. While the men are tracking, she is caught again, but this time a black gorilla interrupts, and a gorilla fight breaks out. Pam is reunited with the expedition people as the gorillas awkwardly try to foist small trees onto each other.
The white gorilla wins, and then lunges at the humans. “Don’t shoot to kill,” comes the order, and the gorilla is shot down. Next, we see Pongo in a rickety cage, about to be shipped to London. He is said to be not pleased “with the fame that’s coming his way.” Anthropologists will be shocked at his I.Q. and as a purported “missing link” there will be controversy for fifty years! Bishop and Pam are kissing.
Commentary: One is apt, after squirming through The White Gorilla, to think that this film doesn’t suck, but one is wrong. It may indeed be a better use of the same costume, the same year, but there’s something suspicious going on about the nature of this “missing link.” It’s only a link from animal to human because it’s white?