The Monster and the Girl

07/15/2021 06:39

Film: The Monster and the Girl

Year: 1941

Director: Stuart Heisler

Writer: Stuart Anthony

Starring: Ellen Drew, Robert Paige and Paul Lukas



This is another movie that I had never heard of until I was working my way through the list of horror films released in 1941 on Letterboxd. I had to do a bit of searching for this and found a cheap physical copy online that came faster than I was expecting. I will admit that I read the synopsis before watching this to figure out what movie to pair this with for my Odyssey through the Ones with a 2021 release. The synopsis I was referring to is after a young woman is coerced into prostitution and her brother framed for murder by an organized crime syndicate, retribution in the form of an ape visits the mobsters.

We start this off with Susan Webster (Ellen Drew) moving through mist and telling us that this is all her fault. It is a million-dollar mistake. Then we go into a court room. Susan enters and takes a seat. We know something is up as a couple of guys in the gallery acknowledge her presence. On trial is Scot (Phillip Terry). He is accused of murder. A bellhop of Leon Beecher Stokes (Cliff Edwards) is called to the stand and he tells how he found Scot with the murder weapon by the deceased. Scot is called in his defense to the stand, but it is multiple witnesses against his word. That is when Susan speaks up. It turns out she is his sister. Much to the dismay of J. Stanley McMasters (Onslow Stevens), the prosecutor, Susan takes the stand to tell her story and how we got here.

Susan and Scot grew up in a small town. She saved money and had dreams of moving to the big city. Scot was supportive, but also worried about her. She does move and has trouble finding work. At the employment office she meets the man of her dreams, Larry Reed (Robert Paige) or so he seems. The morning after her wedding, she wakes up in her hotel room calling out for him. Instead, Deacon (Joseph Calleia) comes into the room. He hits her with a predicament. Larry has disappeared, the bill for the room and the party is due, but Susan has no money. I thought the movie had her working in a cabaret, but the synopsis has it as prostitution. To save his sister, this brought Scot to the city looking for Larry. He encounters W. S. Bruhl (Paul Lukas) instead, who is his boss.

There isn’t enough evidence to free Scot and he gets sentenced to death. It is in the prison that the warden, Dave (Edward Van Sloan), brings a Dr. Parry (George Zucco) to Scot’s cell. He is asked if he will donate his brain to science after his execution. Scot couldn’t care less and agrees. A strange procedure is done that gives Scot a chance at revenge and to save his sister.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap and to be honest, that is about half of the movie. I tried to avoid spoilers, but I think it is obvious the moment we meet Dr. Parry where this movie is going to go. It is an interesting idea and take on the mad scientist film for sure. They really don’t focus much on the science here and Dr. Parry really doesn’t have that big of a role. He is just more of a catalyst for the second half of the movie to happen.

I’m not up on this sub-genre of ape films that was popular around this era. I originally heard about them from Jamie and Brian from Horror in the House of Sammons podcast. They gone through some for their colossal collection. As I’ve been seeking out more films from the 1940s, I have seen a handful of them. It really is an odd sub-genre to be honest. What I like here is this different take that we have on it. Gorillas are of course bigger, faster and stronger than humans. By giving them a brain that allows them to reason, they would make a great killing machine. This feels like take on Frankenstein to be honest. I also like when the revenge killings start, it doesn’t make sense. There aren’t bruises, but all of the bones inside of that person are broken. I’m not entirely sure that is possible. What I will say is the idea works for me.

This movie though does have some pacing issues for me. It runs 65 minutes, but I’m actually bored for a good part. My problem really becomes that there isn’t tension. They try to build it with the courtroom aspect in the beginning, which is fine. From there though, events of the movie just happen. I don’t feel any of the worry. Susan seems safe and it is the gangsters of the movie that are being killed. The animal in the movie kills with ease. For me, adding like 5 to 10 minutes could have really helped here to build more of this.

Where I think I should shift next would be the acting. Drew is fine as Susan. She is a tragic character that she wants to move to the big city for a better life, but is taken advantage of. After that happens though, I feel she is underdeveloped. I’m wondering if censorship came into play here. It just feels a bit lacking for the development. Paige, Lukas, Calleia, Marc Lawrence and Gerald Mohr are all fine as the gangsters. I also thought Terry was fine as Scot. I did want to give some credit to Tom Dugan and Willard Robertson as Captain Alton and Lieutenant Strickland along with the medical examiner. They did add some comedy. The last shout-out would be to Charles Gemora as the gorilla. He looks to be a behind the scenes, costume and make-up guy in his long career. He looked and moved great as the gorilla.

Then really the last thing to go over would be the effects and cinematography. For the former, we don’t really get a lot of them. The deaths are done off screen and I’m assuming part of this was the era as well as censorship issues as well. I will re-iterate though that the gorilla costume looked realistic and how Gemora moved was as well. Aside from that, the cinematography was fine. I had no issues with how it was shot, but it doesn’t necessarily stand out.

So then in conclusion here, this movie has an interesting premise to it. It is taking a semi-popular sub-genre for the era and doing something a bit different with it than I’ve seen. I would say that the acting is solid enough. The cinematography was fine. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects, but what they did with the gorilla impressed me. I do have an issue that the story could have been fleshed out a bit more though as it is just lacking tension for me. Aside from that, I’d say that the sound design and track fit without standing out. For me, this is just over average. If they could have added more to the story, I think it could have deepened what we got and make this more enjoyable.


My Rating: 5.5 out of 10