Cinema Sunday: The Ape (1940)
Title: The Ape
Distributor: Monogram Pictures
Writers: Richard Carroll, Kurt Siodmak
Director: William Nigh
Producer: William Nigh, William Lackey
Starring: Boris Karloff, Maris Wrixon, Gertrude W. Hoffmann
Released: Septmeber 1940
The list of films I’d like to watch and review is about ten miles long. That’s OK though, as I’m only half way shot. Speaking of getting shot, Boris Karloff has been shot, stabbed, electrocuted, etc., more times than I can count. He’s really been in every situation you can imagine in his films, and he always looks brilliant doing it. Who else could star in a film called “The Ape” and sell tickets? No, this isn’t the most cerebral film you’re ever going to see, but Karloff can take any film and make it rise above an inferior script, cast, whatever. He was that great. OK, on with the film…
The circus is in town! Of course everyone is excited, and the kids are jacked up to see the ferocious beasts. They sneak over to the “crazy doctor’s” house for some mischief. Over inside the town drug store, the townspeople are discussing this same doctor. They feel as if this doctor is using people and not healing them. Nobody seems to have the courage to do anything about it though. Just then, the doctor comes in, and everyone clams up. He then sees the druggist for some meds he needs. The two men retreat to another room for privacy, and the druggist tells him the townspeople are getting inquisitive about his motives.
Later, Dr. Bernard Adrian (Boris Karloff) visits a patient of his named Miss Frances Clifford (Maris Wrixon). She’s wheelchair bound, and reminds him very much of his daughter, who passed away years ago. He buys her gifts to show his affection for her, but he also experiments on animals to try to find a cure for her affliction. He promises her she’ll walk again, and she tells him she’s scared when he talks so crazy. Her boyfriend Danny (Gene O’Donnell) shows up, and the doctor tells him that they’ll take Frances to the circus tonight.
Later that night, the town is bustling as opening night is here. Dr. Adrian bows out from the trip though, and Danny and Frances go alone. Meanwhile, that same group of kids are sneaking to the front of the crowd. They remark at how big the gorilla is and that he’s the size “of six men.” Danny and Frances are having a good time, but back at the Doctor’s lab, we see him experimenting on a dog. The circus ends, and Danny and Frances head out. After everyone leaves, one of the employees is checking to make sure everything is as it should be. Over at the gorilla cage, an employee taunts the beast, and it begins to get wild. The owner comes by and reprimands him, but after he leaves the gorilla grabs the man and almost kills him. A cigar dropped by the man starts a fire, and they release the animals so they don’t get killed. The gorilla escapes in the confusion.
Over at the doctor’s office, the circus men bring the man in that was almost killed by the ape. The doctor agrees to help the man, who’s clearly delusional. At this moment, the doc gets a sinister look in his eyes. We then get the impression that he’s going to use him as a guinea pig for his experiments on how to cure Frances. Meanwhile, the circus and townspeople are searching for the beast. Dr. Adrian visits Frances to encourage her that he’s found a way to cure her paralysis. He tells her it will be painful, but it will be a miracle. The following day, Frances actually has feeling in her legs after never having that sensation before.
That evening, the doctor gets a surprise visit…from the ape! He bursts through the Doc’s window, and attacks him. The doctor quickly grabs a flask and tosses the liquid into the ape’s eyes. It blinds him and then the doctor kills the beast with a knife!
I’m going to stop here because the thing that puts the film in a completely different direction begins here (plus the movie is public domain, so you can watch it for free anytime!).
Here are my thoughts:
As I stated in the beginning, this film won’t win any awards for its script but the acting of Karloff brings the film to a good level. His interactions with Maris Wrixon (image above) are very good, and you really believe he’s a doctor trying to do everything he can to help her walk again. Of course his methods are unethical, but his heart is in the right place. Miss Wrixon is absolutely stunning and plays the part of the invalid very well.
The supporting cast isn’t too exciting, but they manage to keep the film rolling along. The sets are standard fare and don’t add or subtract from the film. The film is all about the oral dilemma Karloff’s character is in, and the sad turn it takes eventually. As i said, the film is public domain so get out there to Youtube or wherever and give it a screening. Any fan of Karloff or quirky B movies will enjoy it.