Sunday, June 25, 2017
The Ape Man (1943): A Review and Facetious Character Study
Dr. Jim Brewster is a famed scientist, noted for his research into glandular medicine, but his latest experiment has left him changed. Now partly primate, and victim to periods of instability, he needs the spinal fluid of the living to return to normal. Standing in his way is his old partner, but aiding him is his sister Agatha, and his ape sidekick, while a plucky reporter and his photographer investigate the strange goings-on at the Brewster estate...
The Ape Man is a typical example of the kinds of movies poor Bela Lugosi had found himself in after his period of fame had waned. Big name studios didn't really want anything to do with him, while smaller scale ones were all too happy to take on a well known name to fill as many seats as possible for their cheapie horror films.
The story here is pretty lacklustre, and quite simple, though the hour long runtime makes that a bit less annoying. I do with there was a little more to the plot, but I fear that's asking too much of something like this.
Dr. Jim Brewster (Jim?!) is a tormented and desperate lead, and by focusing so much time on him while in a sound(ish) state of mind, we get plenty of time to explore his inner turmoil and develop his character, before he goes ape-crazy. Unfortunately, the film ends up veering a bit in the other direction. Sure, the doc is villainous for much of the movie, killing people, but he's doing so for their spinal fluid, and rarely has the ape-crazy freakouts he feared so much, and nothing really comes from the possibility of him losing his senses.
One thing I dug is Agatha's personal and professional fascination with ghosts, which isn't of any importance to the plot, but fleshes her out. I like that the writer felt the need to give this supporting character such a distinctive hobby, and it helps her have a bit more personality than she otherwise would have. Funnily enough, the ghostly record scene is probably the spookiest thing in the movie!
The reporter and the dame are your typical heroes in a story like this, and they work as audience surrogates, even if we know far more than they do about the proceedings. I actually found it a little fun watching them play catch-up, realizing what was going on.
The whole movie we see a bizarre man watching on, and bugging the players, and his appearances culminate in a truly bizarre ending! I would've loved to see theatrical screenings of this film back in the day. Either the audiences were laughing, or they would've been pissed! Maybe throwing popcorn at the screen even, though it's not that bad.
The effects are ok. There's not a whole lot done to Bela's face besides having fake hair glued to the sides, but he looks the part of a part ape-part man.
It seems there are three methods to showing apes on the silver screen. Either you get real ones and run the risk of them not doing what you want and/or tearing the crew to shreds, or you go the old timey route and get a guy in a costume, or the modern route and use all computers. This film goes the second one, and is all the more chuckleworthy for it. It's a pretty unconvincing outfit, but it brings a smile to the face, so it's ok-ish by me.
William 'One Shot' Beaudine handled the direction in The Ape Man, and he does a fine job. The movie's framed well, and the scenes done in all one take show an extremely confident director! Sometimes it can come across as cheap, and god knows Beaudine didn't do it for artistic reasons, but there are worse ways to cut costs than to leave the camera running as long as possible.
The score is pretty decent, though one track in particular sees far too much use in the final act, being played on repeat constantly.
Bela Lugosi is always worth watching, even if the movie isn't, and this is no exception, though he's not exactly the pinnacle of fun either. He's amusing to watch, but the script isn't quite strong enough to give him anything really good to do, though it is amusing seeing him make gorilla noises, and it's heartening seeing how seriously he took proceedings even when slathered in silly ape-man make-up. The rest of the acting is fine, with performers Wallace Ford and Louise Curry being serviceable, if stereotypical. The American Minerva Urecal is decent as the sister to Lugosi's titular character, though no effort is made to give her a Hungarian accent, and the whole movie you're liable to wonder how and where these siblings were raised! Emil Van Horn is apey as the ape, Henry Hall does ok, while Ralph Littlefield is a bit weird. Apropos of nothing, one last thing to note is-Why isn't Barney A. Sarecky in this movie?...
The Ape Man isn't great, and nowhere near a classic, but for a low-budget B-Movie coasting on its star's name, it's not that bad, and is worth at least a watch. It's guaranteed to not cause a run in your stockings!...
The fabulous Emma (of Little Gothic Horrors), and lovely Magaly (of her self-titled blog) have organised the Beautiful Creatures blogathon, and I was eager to take part in it, particularly due to the sad lack of May Monster Madness this year. The occasion is a celebration of monsters either tragic, misunderstood, good at heart, and everything in-between. I wasn't sure what to cover, but a glance through my not unsubstantial DVD collection led me to a neat pick...
The Ape Man offers us a character that is as layered and complex as one could hope for. A good and pure scientist at heart, he foolishly tampered in nature's domain by trying to figure out a way to tun humans into apes. Unbeknownst to him, this process is quite permanent, and the only way to change himself back is through cold-blooded murder! Though prone to fits of animalism, Brewster still holds love for his sister, and entreats her to help him get the spinal fluid of the innocent in order to survive as a true man. The sister, arguably the real monster of the piece, exploits her brother in a way by helping and encouraging his now warped desires, rather than trying to make him see reason. Brewster's old partner, Dr. Randall, is similar, having had the poor sense to assist his friend in his disastrous experiment, but having the morals to know when enough is enough. However, Brewster wanted himself locked up in a cage to manage his condition, while Dr. Randall invites Agatha over, resulting in her brother's 'freedom'. Couple this with the fact that Brewster could only afford the one cage and has to bunk with a gorilla shows Randall's true colours, and they're far from shining. He's clearly orchestrating events to occur in a way suited to him. What could his ulterior motive be?? Perhaps he's trying to steal Brewster's research for himself, and is using the poor doctor as a hapless guinea pig in a grand experiment. There's one thing the bad Dr. Randall didn't count on though, and that's Brewster using his newfound ape-strength, plus his cowed gorilla, to fight back, killing the diabolical mastermind. It's sadly too late for Brewster though, as he succumbs to madness, and has to be stopped. A sad story I know, but the best stories about men (or women) being turned into apes are often the sad ones...
Say, I'm not reading too much into this, do you think?...