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The Ape Man

Posted: 11 Jun 2023
Released: 1943
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Image: presents Bela Lugosi in THE APE MAN

The Ape Man is a movie about crazed scientist Dr Brewster, played by Lugosi, who falls victim to his own incredulous experiment. Dr Brewster turned himself into an ape-man chimera, and desperately tries to find the cure, which he believes is a spinal fluid injection taken from a living human. The problem is the procedure kills the donor. After unsuccessfully recruiting his colleague Dr Randall (Henry Hall) to help him procure said spinal fluid, Brewster becomes desperate, until he ultimately resorts to murder.

Dr Brewster's sister, Agatha Brewster (Minerva Urecal), tries to protect him by keeping his location secret, and by trying to convince Dr. Randall to help extract and administer the spinal fluid.

Agatha Brewster: Most spirits are honest, gentle and kind, and only want to bring happiness to humans.
But a few are evil and, having been wicked in life, are wicked in death, and only haunt the scenes of desperate crimes, reveling in murder.

Image: Lugosi preparing a tonic in his laboratory
Mix vial A into beaker B, and now we have ... slime! mwha ha ha!

Image: Louise Currie and Wallace Ford in a car
See that? Just a guy in a monkey suit, no doubt.

Image: Henry Hall and Minerva Urecal having an argument
Excuse me, do you have any grey poupon?

We end up with a lot of questions. Why did Dr. Brewster perform the ape-fication on himself? Brewster clearly did not use himself as a test subject because he values the lives of others, so why not experiment on someone else? Why even do this at all? There is no monetary, political or personal reward here. What purpose does this transformation serve? Only the crazed scientist knows.

Brewster keeps a large ape, a gorilla, played by Emil van Horn in a monkey suit, caged inside his secret basement laboratory. When we meet Brewster he is caged together with the gorilla. Apparently the good doctor is so afraid of losing his impulse control to his ape-half, he feels the need to secure himself inside the cage.

Image: newspaper with headline, DOCTOR FINDS BUTLER STRANGLED
If only the police had a clew ...

Dr Brewster proceeds to turn his gorilla into an accomplice, communicating commands to the large ape via primal grunts and swinging arms, and convincing the gorilla to kill for him. As Brewster degenerates further, he commits these heinous acts himself.

Jeff B. Carter: I got a hunch there's somethin' screwier than ghosts in that joint!
Billie Mason: Well why didn't ya let me in on it?
Jeff B. Carter: 'Cos if my hunch is correct, it's no place for a babe-in-the-woods like you!

Image: a detective on the horn
Hello, one Hawaiian, extra pineapple, please. We have it on good authority that is bona-fide gorilla bait.

There is no mention of genetic manipulation, or what process Dr Brewster followed to reached this horrid state of affairs. Hereditary traits were well known by the turn of the century, as observed through plant and animal breeding, however the discovery of genetic material inside DNA only happened in 1944, after the movie's release. The scientific process was not well explained. What a pity.

Any explanation, however flimsy, could only improve this poor plot.

Image: J. Farrell MacDonald on the horn
I said no bacon, I repeat NO BACON. Gorillas are vegetarian, for Pete's sake!

The relationship dynamic between reporter Jeff Carter (Wallace Ford), and photographer colleague Billie Mason, played by the talented Louise Currie, demonstrate the sexist nature prevalent within film at the time. In this particular case, the misconception that men are better suited to high-risk situations, or that they are less concerned about personal grooming habits. The writers should be ashamed!

Image: Lugosi and van Horn
Excuse me, do you have a tic-tac?

The end

The Ape Man is not a terrible film, but it did not blow me away either. There could have been a bit more explanation behind the science of Brewster's experiment, even an ersatz mechanism would have sufficed; Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", written 125 years prior to this film, had a more plausible and believable mechanism. The film lost points for not giving more credit to Louise Currie's role, and for the discriminatory undertones.

It's a goofy two-star film. Worth watching to see Lugosi act the monkey, or if you are a fan of the genre, but not for much else.

image: The beautiful Louise Currie
The beautiful Louise Currie


Poster: two Lugosi's, one strangling Henry Hall Poster: Louise Currie and Bela Lugosi Poster: Bela Lugosi in the lab with Minerva Urecal

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