The Ape Man (1943) – By Duane L. Martin

 What can you say about Bela Lugosi? He’s a screen legend and one of the coolest mo-fo’s ever. He was kinda like the Samuel L. Jackson of his time. I’ve always loved his films because no matter what he’s saying or doing, you just sit there and watch it with a big smile on your face because hey, that’s Bela Lugosi! This time around, since this roundtable is all about movies with monkeys of some sort, be it monkeys, chimps, orangatuns or gorillas, naturally the first film to pop into my head was The Ape Man. Why was that the first one to pop into my head? I’m not sure really, but I knew that I wanted a guaranteed good time, and Bela Logosi always delivers for me.

The Ape Man is the story of a scientist named Dr. James Brewster (Bela Lugosi), who along with partner Dr. George Randall (Henry Hall), were doing some experiments involving a gorilla which led to Dr. Brewster injecting himself with some sort of a serum that began changing him from a man into some sort of a half-gorilla man beast. Unfortunately, his condition is worsening to the point where at times he starts to lose control of himself and reverts back to animalistic instincts. During these times, he locks himself in the cage with the gorilla until it passes. A story was concocted about him disappearing and his sister and his partner worked together to make that story stick while they figure out what to do. Unfortunately, Dr. Brewster knows what can cure him. An injection of spinal fluid from another person will turn him back into his old human self again. There’s just one catch. The person who donates it ends up dead. Lugosi tries to get Randall to help him but Randall refuses, so Lugosi, with the aid of his gorilla friend, kills Randall’s butler and takes the spinal fluid from him. He and his sister force Randall to perform the injection, which helps for a short time, but the dose wasn’t large enough and Lugosi reverts back to his half ape form within a very short time. He needs a bigger injection, but where to get it? Naturally! He just takes his ape buddy out and kills a whole bunch of people and takes it from them. Unfortunately, when he took the big jar of spinal fluid to Randall so he could perform the injection, Randall stupidly tried to call the police. Brewster didn’t take kindly to that and threw the phone across the room. Then while he was looking for a syringe, Randall threw the bottle of spinal fluid and broke it. Not a very bright thing to do obviously, and it earned him a broken neck. Throw the police and a busybody reporter along with his spunky female sidekick into the mix and you have one really cool old flick

This is yet another one of those films that reminds me why I love the classics so much. It was a simpler time and people were more naieve. They watched films like this with wonder about what horrific things we would discover in the new scientific age and thrilled with both delight and horror at the monsters, aliens, robots and all the other horrors these sorts of films presented them with. It was a time where the horrors of war raged throughout the world, and the horrors on the screen allowed people to escape and forget about everything that was going on, if even just for a little while.

Lugosi is always amazing no matter what he does. He may not always have the best material to work with, but he always pulled off whatever role he played, however cheesy, with style and grace and a brilliance that could only come from a true artist. The rest of the cast in this film also did a great job in bringing their characters to life, despite weaknesses here and there in their characters as they were written. The guy I feel really sorry for though is the guy in the gorilla suit. You know those things have to be stuffy as hell inside.

This movie is short, coming in at just sixty-four minutes, and yet like all the classics that were this short, it managed to tell the story just fine without dragging it out to ninety minutes or more like most modern films seem to feel the need to do. The DVD I have of this film was released by Alpha, and while you can tell that it was transferred from old film stock, it still looks pretty decent. The problem is with the sound. It’s muddy all through the movie, which makes it hard to pick up on a lot of the dialogue. You really have to listen close and turn up the volume to make out what people are saying, and even then it’s sometimes really difficult. It’s not so bad that you can’t enjoy the movie and pick up on what’s going on in any given scene, but it can become somewhat annoying at times.

If you’re a Lugosi fan, or just a fan of classic movies in general, this is one you’ll want to have in your collection. Despite the muddy sound, it’s a fun movie and like most of these old classic genre films, leaves you with a good feeling when you’re done watching it. What more could you ask for?

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Rogue Reviewers Roundtable Topic: Spank the Monkey

Duane’s Review Site: B-Movie Central