Screen Reviews
Lorraine of the Lions

Lorraine of the Lions

from Accidentally Preserved: Volume 5

directed by Edward Sedgwick

starring Norman Kerry, Patsy Ruth Miller, Fred Humes, Harry Todd

Undercrank Productions

Prior to the advent of VHS, people could still rent movies to watch at home. Movie studios and mail order companies would rent out and libraries would lend 16mm prints for viewing at home or other non-commercial locations, like churches or civic groups. This practice began in the 1920s and endured into the ’80s. Sometimes these films would be sold off or simply not returned and remained in private hands. In the case of far too many silent era films, these 16mm consumer prints are the only versions that exist. Without them, these films would not exist. In Undercrank Productions’ 5th volume of Accidentally Preserved, Jon C. Mirsalis and Ben Model have compiled three features and a short, for a Blu-ray release of titles that exist only by chance.

Accidentally Preserved: Volume 5 features a Mack Sennett comedy short, Love at First Flight (1928) starring Lige Conley and the Sennett Girls, which has a full-color dance number; a family melodrama, The Fourth Commandment (1927), with Belle Bennett; and a Mountie movie with a vengeful pony, Hoofbeats of Vengeance (1928). But the real star of the collection is a gorilla named Bimi, played by early gorilla man Fred Humes, in Universal’s Lorraine of the Lions (1925).

Norman Kerry and Patsy Ruth Miller in Lorraine of the Lions (1925).
Undercrank Productions
Norman Kerry and Patsy Ruth Miller in Lorraine of the Lions (1925).

Lorraine of the Lions is essentially a gender-swapped Tarzan story with child lion tamer/heiress Lorraine (Patsy Ruth Miller) getting shipwrecked on a deserted island with her lions and trained gorilla Bimi (Humes) in tow. Bimi protects Lorraine as she grows into womanhood far from the constraints of society. But Lorraine’s simple life is upended when her wealthy grandfather, along with a psychic and a dastardly lawyer, find her island with the intent of returning her to the family estate in San Francisco. While on the island, Lorraine becomes smitten with the psychic, Don Mackay (Norman Kerry), but her grandfather’s scheming lawyer has his sights on the old man’s money and Lorraine is in the way. He attempts to woo her, but when that fails, he moves to more violent urges which are met with swift and brutal retribution from Bimi, Lorraine’s faithful gorilla protector and friend.

Back in San Francisco, Bimi and Lorraine have difficulty adjusting, with Lorraine feeling caged by the trappings of high society and Bimi literally caged. Amid a storm during Lorraine’s coming-out ball, Bimi breaks out of his cage and tries to rescue his mistress once again. He grabs Lorraine and scales the mansion while the crowd from the party gathers below, attempting to get their girl back with Don climbing the mansion walls in pursuit. If this climactic sequence feels a lot like the ending of Universal’s hit The Hunchback of Notre Dame, that is no accident, as Patsy Ruth Miller and Norman Kerry played Esmerelda and Phoebus in the 1923 adaptation, and Universal was keen to capitalize on their pairing. The sequence also works as a prototype for King Kong (1933) almost a decade later. Elements of Lorraine and Bimi’s relationship are also mirrored in 1949’s Mighty Joe Young.

Although he was no Lon Chaney, the real star of the show was cowboy and gorilla-suit actor Fred Humes. He imbues Bimi with humor and sympathy as well as making him a terrifying beast. Humes’ acrobatics and the ease with which he hauls around Patsy Ruth Miller are even more impressive, since the entire rooftop sequence takes place in a torrential rainstorm and the gorilla suit was thoroughly soaked. Gorilla costumes are not a lightweight affair in the best of circumstances, and being able to deliver a convincing performance with the added weight of being water-logged certainly raises the degree of difficulty and adds to Humes’ reputation in the pantheon of gorilla men.

Accidentally Preserved: Volume 5Undercranck Productions


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