The Ape Man

07/24/2023 09:24

Film: The Ape Man

Year: 1943

Director: William Beaudine

Writers: Karl Brown and Barney A. Sarecky

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Louise Currie and Wallace Ford



This is a movie that kept popping up when I was looking at horror on Letterboxd from 1943 as well as when looking up Bela Lugosi. I’ll be honest, the poster looked cheesy. Since it starred Lugosi and I’ve watched so many of his movies, I was still intrigued to check this one out. I was able to see an HD print on Screambox.

Synopsis: a mad scientist accidentally turns himself into a half-ape, half-human creature and scrambles to find a cure.

We start this at the harbor with a large sea vessel docking. The press is waiting. This includes Jeff B. Carter (Wallace Ford) along with his photographer Barney (Charlie Hall). Also, there is Dr. George Randall (Henry Hall). He is waiting for Agatha Brewster (Minerva Urecal). She is the sister to Dr. Randall’s colleague. We see from a newspaper that Agatha’s brother is missing. Through their conversation, Dr. Randall knows where her brother is. He made up the story so people would look for the brother and keep the heat off him. I believe there is a character of Zippo (Ralph Littlefield) who turns the press on to Agatha arriving.

Dr. Randall takes her to her brother’s estate and into the laboratory. It is hidden behind the fireplace. Dr. James Brewster (Lugosi) conducted an experiment on himself. Using spinal fluid from an ape, has turned himself into a creature from the synopsis. He can talk and think, but he is prone to violence. He is also stronger. Dr. Randall wants to help him, but it involves murder. Dr. Brewster believes that spinal fluid from a human is needed. To get this though, that person needs to be alive and taking it kills them.

Jeff is given a new photographer when the earlier one messes up a shot of Agatha. He is assigned to Billie Mason (Louise Currie). Jeff doesn’t realize until they head out that she is a woman. He is a bit aloof and focused on writing his article. They go to the Brewster estate. Agatha is forthcoming with them taking her picture, but she is also cryptic in the information that she shares. Billie snaps a picture and Dr. Brewster might have been caught in it.

He is tired of being this creature as well. He takes the ape, which is played by Emil Van Horn in a suit, out to find spinal fluid. The deaths get the police on their radar. Dr. Randall doesn’t want to help, but he cares about his friend. It does implicate him and complicates things more when Townsend (George Kirby), a butler who works for Dr. Randall, is killed. This brings the police right to his doorstep.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that this is an intriguing mad scientist film. We start in the thick of things. Dr. Brewster is ‘missing’ and the press is aware of it. The police are as well. Dr. Randall’s reason for going to them is smart. It throws off suspicion that he is involved since he’s the one who reported it. It does bring the press and the police to him, but he can control the narrative better. He can also throw them off the trail. That is aided when Agatha shows up as well. They both want to help her brother, but what lengths will they go? I did like exploring this morality tale aspect.

There is a weird aspect to the story with the character of Zippo. He draws the press at the harbor to Agatha. We see this character regularly. He is looking in the window to the basement where Dr. Brewster’s lab is. He also breaks the fourth wall at the end of the movie to talk to the audience. This is a bit different of an idea and gimmick I notice used in this era of cinema. He claims to be the writer of this story and guides the players to where they end up. I’m not sure how I feel about this aspect. He comes off as drunkard or a wino so that did shock me as well. It does make him inconspicuous though so there is that. What I did like though was having Jeff and Billie as our leads who are good. They are reporters so investigating and looking for the truth makes sense. Their being guided also helps keep the movie moving.

The last bit for the story that I wanted to go into would be with the mad scientist/sci-fi angle. I’m not sure the experiment that was done would work as it did. I can overlook this though as this almost a variation on the Jekyll/Hyde or Invisible Man narrative. We have an experiment that made Dr. Brewster into a monster. You could even say he was playing God and now can’t reverse it. I wouldn’t say that he’s going insane, but he does go into fits of rage that he can’t control. I’d even say that he’s stronger than normal as well. I like the idea of using spinal fluid and I’m assuming at this time that the spinal tap was a thing. You don’t have to kill people for it. It could be the amount or something along these lines being why they’re being killed. Regardless, I can roll with the science fiction concepts as it isn’t too far out of the realm of believability.

Where I’ll then go would be with the acting. I thought that Lugosi was good here as our villain. I don’t necessarily think that he is in the beginning. From where the movie starts, he most definitely is. The need to prove his experiment and needing to now reverse it makes him a monster out of circumstance. Currie and Ford are good as this put together reporter team. Jeff shows a bit of sexism, but it is more to protect her and keep her out of harm’s way. I can respect that. I like Hall as this other scientist. Urecal is interesting is that her character is a ghost hunter. She also will do whatever she can to protect her brother. Van Horn is fine as this ape. It is funny being that he’s just a guy in a suit. Other than that, J. Farrell MacDonald, Wheeler Oakman, Littlefield and the rest of this cast rounded this out for what was needed.

All that is then left to go into is filmmaking. I’ll start with the effects. What we get are light, but I appreciate it. Dr. Brewster looking like a variation of a werewolf was good for this ‘ape man’. The suit for the ape isn’t great. It also could be worse. The cinematography is fine. It doesn’t do a lot to stand out, but it is also the era. I’d also say that the soundtrack was fine. It fits without taking me out of the scenes which was good. What worked was the ape sounds and what our characters think are making it. I can buy that as where they hear them doesn’t make sense. Plus, Agatha for the first time is playing a record of what is thought to be a haunting.

In conclusion, I came in with low expectations and expected to get a cheesy movie. There are elements there, but they are taking this seriously. The story is simple and one we see regularly from the era. A mad scientist conducted an experiment and now needs to find a way to reverse it. Being the monster that he is, he can’t control his rage. The acting is solid. I think that Lugosi, Currie, Ford, Hall and Urecal are all solid. Van Horn works in this ape suit as well. This is made well enough. The effects being the bright spot there. Not one that I can recommend to everyone. If you like cinema of this era or are out to watch all of Lugosi’s filmography, then this is for you.


My Rating: 6.5 out of 10