Cy Miller (Raymond Burr) owns a carnival with a killer attraction - but who knows exactly how "killer" it could be? Goliath the Gorilla is that attraction and his act consists of scaring the audience who flock to see him while trapeze artist Laverne (Anne Bancroft), Miller's wife, performs overhead making it look as though she might tumble into the ape's clutches at any moment. All is going well but Miller feels it needs a new twist to keep it fresh, so calls the barker, Joey Matthews (Cameron Mitchell), over to suggest he dons a gorilla suit to spice things up... but unwanted excitement is on the horizon.
If there's one thing that Gorilla at Large is remembered for, it'll be the idiocy of its script; Leonard Praskins and Barney Slater were those men offering it to the world. It arrived at a time when all things gorilla were to be feared in the movies, unlike today when the beasts are the subject of conservation and meant to be looked after. The ape in this film, as in so many others, was not a real animal but a man in a suit, and cult movie fans might be interested to note that man was George Barrows of Robot Monster fame, this time without the diving helmet.
The film is also notable for featuring a few actors who went on to make it big in their careers. Bancroft is that acrobat (although whether she performed the trapeze is highly unlikely), future Perry Mason Burr looks shifty as the owner, Lee J. Cobb is the detective investigating when it looks as if Goliath has escaped and killed an unpopular carny and Mitchell is our hero - as long as he's not a suspect, that is. Even Lee Marvin is in there as the comedy relief cop, preferring to sleep on the job or make wrongheaded assumptions.
The fifties liked the circus perhaps more than any other decade now that colour was more widely used and they could show off the bright hues of the carnival. But Gorilla at Large had an ace up its sleeve when they employed the third dimension to spruce up a decidedly daft murder mystery. However, after the gorilla-tastic opening the 3-D mainly consisted of the actors walking right up to the camera, so they didn't utilise the effect with much imagination. No House of Wax thrills to be garnered here, so you may as well concentrate on the plot.
Yet that plot is patently absurd, with either Goliath or someone in a gorilla suit out to bump off the cast. Nobody liked the dead man, whose neck has been broken, but did anyone hate him enough to kill him? Apparently working from the premise that the murderer should be the person you least expect, you can guess the genuine ape (or as genuine as a fat gorilla outfit can be) is not the culprit, but he does get free when someone opens his cage. This also signifies the true killer is hard to spot, and no wonder when you find out who it really is. The thought of this person dressing up as a gorilla and snapping necks is somewhat hilarious, but in effect there are few laughs to be had; most likely you'll be rolling your eyes at it all, camp or not. Music by Lionel Newman.