Mulligan and Garrity (The Gorilla)

Created by Ralph Spence

“Out go the lights—on go the thrills!
Shrieks! Yells! Roars! Screams! More Shrieks!
— lyrics from the musical

Ralph Spence’s 1925 play The Gorilla: A Musical Comedy, was a slight piece of silliness that intentionally lampooned the whole haunted house genre, so popular at the time. A killer known only as “The Gorilla” (Strangler of men—kidnapper of women!) is the prime suspect in the murder of a wealthy businessman whose daughter hires private detectives MULLIGAN and GARRITY, worrying that her boyfriend may be suspected of the crime.

The bumbling detectives investigate, and eventually most of the suspects end up chasing each other around a creepy old mansion full of trap doors, secret passages and the like until the murderer — a man in a gorilla suit — is apprehended.

Any doubts that this was anything but a parody are easily dispelled by the pay’s tagline “Out-bats ‘The Bat’! Out-cats ‘The Cat and the Canary’! Out-warns ‘The Last Warning’.”

Parody or not, the play lasted only fifteen performances on Broadway. But it fared considerably better in its subsequent run in Chicago, and went on to inspire several films.

The first version was silent and appeared only a few years after the curtains went down on Broadway. Mulligan was played by Fred Kelsey and Garrity by Keystone Cops vet Charles Murray, while the young suitor, Stevens,  was played by a very young Walter Pidgeon.

It’s all played out as scenery-chewing slapstick, making Spence’s already ridiculous play even more ridiculous, but audiences must have liked it, because it wouldn’t be the last adaptation. It was filmed again in 1930 and in 1939 (with the singin’ dancin’ comedy trio The Ritz Brothers).

But you couldn’t kill this thing with a stick. Parts of it were even regurgitated for a 1937 Warner Bros. flick called Sh! The Octopus, with the gorilla converted to an octopus.

Of course. Throw in some Scooby Snacks and it would be a perfect Scooby Doo episode.


  • THE GORILLA: A MYSTERY COMEDY | Buy the script
    (1925, New York)
    Script by Ralph Spence
    Produced by Donald Gallaher and James W. Elliott’s
    Songs include “Mr. Mulligan and Mr. Garrity”
    Original cast:
    Clifford Dempsey as MULLIGAN
    and Frank McCormack as GARRITY
    With Frank Beaston, Joseph Guthrie, Stephen Maley, Harry Southard, George Spelvin, Robert Strange, Frederick Truesdale, Harry A. Ward, Betty Weston
    Chicago cast:
    Lon Hascall, James C. Marlowe, Elizabeth Carmichael, Curtis Cooksey, Edgar Macon; Wilbur Cox, Ralph Theodore, Carl Rose, Thomas Bell & Frederick Wallace
    There were only fifteen perfomances on Broadway, but the subsequent run in Chicago fared much better, running from May until September in 1925.



    (1927, First National Pictures)
    80 minutes
    Based on characters created in The Gorilla: The Musical Comedy by Ralph Spence
    Screenplay by Alfred A. Cohn and Harry McArthur
    Directed by Alfred Santell
    Produced by Alfred Santell
    Starring Fred Kelsey as MULLIGAN
    and Charles Murray as GARRITY,] Also starring Walter Pidgeon, Brooks Benedict, Syd Crossley, Alice Day, Claude Gillingwater, Gaston Glass, Aggie Herring
    (1930, Warner Brothers)
    Based on characters created in The Gorilla: The Musical Comedy by Ralph Spence
    Screenplay by Ralph Spence
    Adapted by B. Harrison Orkow and Herman RubyDirected by Bryan Foy
    Starring Joe Frisco as GARRITY
    and Harry Gribbon as MULLIGAN
    Also starring Lila Lee, Purnell Pratt, Edwin Maxwell, Roscoe Karns, William H. Philbrick
    (1937, Warner Brothers)
    54 minutes
    Based on The Gorilla: A Musical Comedy (1925 play) by Ralph Spence and Sh! The Octopus (1928 play) by Ralph Murphy and Donald Gallaher
    Screenplay by George Bricke
    Directed by William McGann
    Produced by Jack L. Warner
    Starring Hugh Herbert as KELLY
    and Allen Jenkins as DEMPSEY
    Also starring Marcia Ralston, John Eldredge, George Rosener
    Included here for thoroughness, although not a private eye film. Kelly and Dempsey are NYPD detectives, out of the 49th precinct. Possibly (from what I’ve been able to gather) the most headscratching and inept of all the films (which is saying something), with the haunted house replaced by a supposedly abandoned lighthouse, and the gorilla replaced by, yes, an octopus. Buy hey, it was only a dream, after all!
  • THE GORILLA | Buy this DVD
    (1939, 20th Century Fox)
    Based on characters created in “The Gorilla” by Ralph Spence
    Screenplay by Rian James and Sid Silvers
    Directed by Allan Dwan
    Starring The Ritz Brothers, Bela Lugosi, Patsy Kelly
    Click here for more details.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with a wave of the tentacles to Tim Beer.

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