Friday, 21 June 2013

The Ape (1940)

No-one has ever made more mad scientist movies than Boris Karloff. The Ape is a very typical example of the kind of role that Karloff did so well - the gentle dedicated scientist who is led to evil by his ardent but misguided desire to help people.

In this 1940 Monogram feature Karloff plays Dr Bernard Adrian, a country doctor who is obsessively committed to the search for a cure for polio (actually the disease is referred to simply as paralysis in the movie but I think it’s a fair assumption that it is in fact polio). It was polio that took his only daughter so his hatred for the disease is personal. Frances Clifford (Maris Wrixon) is one of his patients, a young woman confined to a wheelchair as the result of this illness. Dr Adrian is determined that he will make her walk again.

Dr Adrian is regarded with some suspicion by the townsfolk. It’s just as well that they don’t know exactly what he’s up to or they’d be a lot more suspicious. Luckily no-one has connected the disappearance of so many of the town’s dogs to Dr Adrian. The doctor believes he is close to finding the cure. Only one step remains, but that step is a big one. The arrival of the circus in town will unexpectedly give him the chance to take that step.

The star attraction of the circus is a ferocious gorilla. The gorilla’s trainer hates the animal because it killed his father. The reason it killed his father was that he was tormenting it, a practice that the son continues with spiteful obsessiveness. But on this particular day he goes too far and he meets the same fate as his dear old dad. Severely mauled, he is taken to Dr Adrian’s surgery.

This is too good an opportunity to be missed. The man is going to die anyway so the good doctor extracts some spinal fluid - the ingredient he needs to perfect his cure. It seems like a stroke of good fortune for the doctor but things turn out rather differently.

After mauling its trainer the gorilla (which is of course a guy in a gorilla suit) escapes and starts ravaging the countryside, spreading terror and death wherever it goes. The connection between the escaped gorilla and Dr Adrian’s experiments isn’t going to be too difficult for the experienced horror movie fan to figure out.

This is a typically low-budget Monogram production but the rather spartan production values don’t matter too much. A guy in a gorilla suit is a guy in a gorilla suit after all, regardless of the budget. As with so many cheap 1940s horror movies this one relies very heavily indeed on the star quality of its lead actor and in a role so perfectly suited to his talents Karloff is not going to let the side down. Dr Adrian is a kindly dedicated man who simply cares too much. His determination to find a cure leads him astray. No matter how many times Karloff played this sort of role he could still make it work.

As with a lot of movies made by Poverty Row studios the lack of that pool of talented character actors that all the major studios had is the movie’s weak point. The supporting players are rather feeble, although Marus Wrixon does her best. France’s well-meaning but dumb boyfriend Danny (Gene O’Donnell) is particularly irritating.

William Nigh directed a lot of B-movies. He gets the job done but don’t expect anything startling. The only thing the Poverty Row studios demanded of a director is that he stick to the very tight shooting schedules necessitated by a very low budget. Curt Siodmak, who co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Carroll, did some interesting things in his time but this movie is not exactly a highlight of his Hollywood career.

This movie is included in Mill Creek’s 20-movie monster pack. The transfer is what you’d expect from a public domain movie released by this company. Picture quality is generally acceptable but there is a lot of print damage. Sound quality is acceptable. Given the insanely low price of this set there’s nothing to complain about.

The Ape has really only two things going for it - it has Boris Karloff and it has a guy in a gorilla suit. For me that’s enough to make this otherwise rather shoddy movie worth watching, but I’m a very big fan of both Karloff and guys in gorilla suits.

1 comment:

JP Mulvanetti said...

Been years since I watched this one; I too picked it up cheap, for like a pound or something. Was surprised that the quality of the print wasn't worse, to be honest. Still, a fun little film that is worth a watch if you need the Karloff fix every now and then.