There's a mad killer on the loose calling himself the Gorilla, and he's already murdered five people. Victim number six may well be Walter Stevens (Lionel Atwill), a wealthy businessman whose maid Kitty (Patsy Kelly) is tonight relaxing on her bed with a book of Shakespeare. She doesn't see the note held by a hairy arm until the paper is pinned to her lapel, though when she does she has a screaming fit and rushes downstairs to find Stevens. But the first person she bumps into in the dark is Peters the butler (Bela Lugosi), whose sinister countenance gives her another scare. Stevens appears and takes the note, reading it with disquiet: it's from the Gorilla, and says that Stevens will die at the stroke of midnight. It's a good thing so many people have been invited to Stevens' isolated mansion house on this stormy night, because what this situation really needs is suspects - and lots of them.
The Ritz Brothers, eh? Why weren't they as big as the Marx Brothers? Well, you can watch one of their films and find out, and The Gorilla is the best known. Obviously in the manner of The Cat and the Canary, the Bob Hope remake of which had been a recent and sizeable hit, this casts the three comic siblings - Harry, Al and Jimmy - as detectives, no, make that bumbling detectives, who aim to work out the identity of the killer before he strikes again. They have been called out by Stevens instead of the police, and they're so incompetent their very presence calls into question the motives of the man who hired them. But there is a plethora of red herrings in this horror comedy, not least the most visible, Lugosi. And Atwill wasn't exactly known for integrity in his roles, either.
But the killer can't be Lugosi, he's too easy an option, and simply cast to do his menacing act although he's in an uncharacteristically avuncular mood despite a tendency to pop up at the most inopportune moments for easy scares. As for our supposedly hilarious heroes, as with all their films they overact formidably, especially their leader Harry, with yelling, wild gestures, funny voices and more all part of their routines (which include catchphrases devised for the film - mark that down, Garrity). It was all based on an Old Dark House play from the nineteen-twenties written by Ralph Spence, adapted by Rian James and Sid Silvers, and therefore fitting a template of umpteen horrors, thrillers and comedies produced for years before and years afterward. This means it's none too distinguished with its heiress (Anita Louise) in peril and secret passages, but it manages not only a plot-based state of confusion but quite a nice atmosphere as well. Against the odds, a few bits of business hit the funny bone, and although a gorilla costume is utilised, the real villain is suitably odd. Music by David Buttolph and David Raskin.