Sunday, September 6, 2015

From Frankenstein's Monster to Some Dude in a Monkey Suit: "The Ape" (1940)



Boris Karloff is a subdued mad scientist trying to cure a debilitating disease despite the best efforts of local townsfolk, his patient's simple-minded boyfriend, and an escaped circus primate.

Dr. Bernard Adrian (Boris Karloff) is a reclusive physician whose house the neighborhood kids regularly vandalize. He lost his wife and daughter to a "paralysis disease" (polio is mentioned on one video box) and he is treating the beautiful wheelchair-bound Frances (Maris Wrixon). A cut-rate circus comes to town, and Frances and beau Danny (Gene O'Donnell) gleefully react to stock footage of clowns and trapeze artists.

The circus' ape attacks a cruel trainer after the show, and a fire erupts from a dropped cigar. The trainer is taken to Dr. Adrian's, where the doc is able to continue his experiments on this gift of fate (in the film's one memorable scene). The trainer dies, but suddenly Frances can feel her legs, thanks to some spinal serum the doctor was able to extract. The ape attacks the doctor's home, and Adrian subdues him. As the local sheriff and fedora-brandishing posse search for the murdering ape, Adrian both hides the animal and works for an ever-improving Frances' cure.

This cheap little Monogram production runs just 62 minutes, and the majority of the budget may have gone to the ape suit some uncredited actor must wear. The film is almost too lean, the story moves so briskly that the big climax is hilarious. After three-second shots and characterization lumped into goofy lines of dialogue (at one point, Danny confesses that he hates things he doesn't understand), the film makers try to slow things down for emotional scenes full of Scooby-Doo-like unmaskings and medical miracles. It doesn't work.

The cast is alright, given the material (which was inspired by a play?...yikes!). Karloff is very good, not playing the role as evil but sympathetic. Even his body language is interesting, hunched over and trying not to be noticed. Nigh's direction is standard- nothing showy.

"The Ape" is cheap, fast, and too controlled. It won't touch you, change you, or challenge you. (* *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: The Ape

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