Second Reel

Women, Gorillas, and De-Evolution: Gorilla at Large (1954)

Plot summary

Joey, an aspiring law student trying to raise some money by working at a carnival, is working the barking stand at the carnival's main attraction, in which Laverne Miller, wife of Cy Miller, the owner of the show, swings on trapeze over Goliath — billed as the world's largest, fiercest gorilla. During her act, she falls from the trapeze and dangles from catch wires just out of reach of the groping Goliath.

One night after the show, Cy tells Joey that he's to be part of a new act Laverne is planning. Cy tells Joey to meet him and Laverne later that evening to discuss the details. Joey is eager to start his new job, as the extra money will advance his plans to marry his girlfriend, Audrey, who also works at the carnival.

Before he and Joey meet, Cy has run-ins with two of his employees. The first is Kovacs, a large, quiet man who Laverne says is the only person who can control Goliath. There is much tension between Cy and Kovacs, and Kovacs, after being reprimanded and shoved by Cy, makes a not-so-subtle threat which implies that he could release the gorilla at any time, perhaps to exact revenge. The second run-in is with Morse, who Cy catches slacking off at his concession stand. Morse taunts Cy with a reference to the cupie dolls given away as prizes. "Your girl likes cupies, don't she?" he says. Cy walks away, perturbed.

Back at Cy's bungalow, Joey arrives in a gorilla costume to discuss his new job. Cy leaves Joey and Laverne alone to discuss the details. Laverne tells Joey that the new act will entail her falling into Goliath's arms, and that Joey, dressed in the gorilla costume, is to play Goliath. The lights will dim, and Goliath and Joey will switch places right before Laverne falls from the trapeze. As the two practice, Laverne reveals that she knows judo, and tells Joey to use his judo knowledge in lifting her over his head. She leans against Joey in a seductive fashion. There is a noticeable attraction between the two, which seems somewhat disconcerting to the already-engaged Joey. Outside, Cy fires Morse, who makes vague threats about Cy's past and pushes Kovacs out of his way as he leaves.

Joey leaves the bungalow to tell Audrey the news about the new act. As Joey walks Audrey into the show tent to describe his new job, the two discover Morse, dead and entangled in the cage that separates Goliath from the audience. The coroner later explains to the investigating detective that Morse's neck was broken, that he had scratches on his chest that could have been caused by an animal, and that his body was entangled in the cage after he died.

The detective, Garrison, questions Joey, Cy, Laverne, and Kovacs. Joey admits to using a gorilla costume for the new act, and Garrison sends a cop, Shaughnessy, to find that costume. Meanwhile Kovacs explains that he was with Goliath all night, and that the gorilla was never out of its cage. Shaughnessy returns and reports that Joey's gorilla costume is missing. Garrison dismisses everyone but Joey.

Back at Cy's place, Owens, the carnival's press agent, confronts Cy with the information that Morse -- who never drank -- was found with an empty bottle of gin on his person. Furthermore, the brand of gin was a rare brand that only Cy kept on hand. When Cy asks Owens if he plans to tell Garrison about the bottle, Owens indicates that he will.

Joey, meanwhile, is still being questioned by Garrison, who discovers that Morse had made advances on Audrey, and that at one point Joey had threatened Morse. Garrison calls it a night and leaves Shaughnessy to keep an eye on Goliath and Kovacs.

Back at the police station, Garrison learns that three years ago, Cy, Laverne, and a man named Cupie were involved in a trapeze accident in which Cupie fell to his death when Cy failed to catch him between trapeze. Garrison also learns that Kovacs and Laverne were once married, back when Kovacs was a successful animal showman. Laverne left Kovacs to marry Cy.

The next day, an unnerved Audrey tells Joey that she's quitting the carnival. Joey goes to tell Laverne of his intention to leave with Audrey, and in another sexually charged moment Laverne asks Joey to stay. Cy walks in on the two, and after Joey leaves to prepare for rehearsal, Cy warns Laverne to "let him go."

Meanwhile, Kovacs goes to get Goliath's meal, leaving Shaughnessy alone with the gorilla. As Shaughnessy stares at the ape, a gorilla hand hits him from behind. Shaughnessy falls to the floor, and the mysterious ape hand unlocks Goliath's cage, freeing him.

Garrison returns and Owens tells him he knows who the killer is. Just then, Audrey screams from inside the house of mirrors. Goliath has found his way to her. Owens and Garrison rush to her aid, and as Goliath starts to carry Audrey away, Owens is strangled by the mysterious gorilla hand. Kovacs reaches Goliath and commands him to release Audrey unharmed, and the two leave unseen before Garrison finds Audrey.

In his locker room, Joey's gorilla suit mysteriously reappears while his back is turned. When he reports to Garrison for further questioning, Garrison throws more suspicion at Joey by asking him to put Cy in a strangle hold. Goliath is still missing.

Shortly thereafter, Shaughnessy discovers that many of Goliath's fierce growls are not his at all, but played on a phonograph record. As Shaughnessy gloats about his discovery, Goliath emerges from a hiding place we see Kovacs place him in moments before. After he tries to touch Laverne through her window, Goliath is captured and recaged.

As Garrison questions Laverne, Cy appears and confesses to the killings. Cy tells Garrison that Cupie's death was not an accident, and that Morse and Owens knew the truth and threatened to expose it.

Later, as Joey and Laverne continue rehearsal, Kovacs steps in to show Joey how to lift Laverne over his head. Kovacs gives the two a scare when he refuses to put Laverne down, instead looking determined to throw her from a moderate height to the ground. Joey gets Kovacs to release Laverne, and after he comforts her, Laverne kisses Joey.

Joey, convinced that Kovacs is the real killer, goes to the police station and persuades Garrison of Cy's innocence. Cy's arm, it is revealed, was once broken by Laverne and it never healed completely. It is obviously too weak to have broken anyone's neck.

Joey and Garrison return to the carnival, intent upon catching Kovacs after the show. While below the stage getting into costume, Joey discovers tape in the gorilla suit's hands, the kind of tape Laverne uses on her hands while performing on trapeze. Joey realizes that Laverne must have been the one wearing the costume, and that she must have used her judo to kill Morse and Owens. Kovacs confirms his suspicion, and tells Joey that Laverne was the one who killed Cupie, because "she was tired of him," and that Cy had confessed only to protect Laverne.

When the time comes to switch Joey for Goliath, Kovacs refuses to retrieve the gorilla. Joey knows this will put Laverne in danger. "She's got it coming," Kovacs says. Goliath gets hold of Laverne, who soon passes out. Goliath, with Laverne over his shoulder, scales the park's roller coaster. Joey climbs up after the ape as the police on the ground distract Goliath with fireworks. Goliath releases Laverne, Joey takes hold of her, and the police open fire and kill Goliath.

Later, after Laverne is escorted away by the police, Joey and Audrey sneak away to a quiet corner to kiss, the last shot of the film.