Director: William Beaudine
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Wallace Ford, Louise Currie
Absolutely preposterous movie, and that's saying alot when one considers Lugosi's outout in the 1940s. The Ape Man is a nonsensical and often unintentionally hilarious film that can also be a pretty sad affair for Lugosi fans. The notorious "Monogram nine" that Lugosi made from 1940-1944, range from being alot of fun to being kind of embarrassing. Bela was a consumate professional, though, and always gave it his all even in dreck like this. This is probably not the best way to start off a review, but i've got to be honest, as only diehards and bad movie nuts will check this out.
Bela Lugosi stars as James Brewster, a goofy scientist that decides for no apparent reaso to inject himself with a serum that transforms him into an ape! Actually, he dosen't really look much like an ape, rather he resembles a hunchbacked Abraham Lincoln, instead. He invites his sister, Minerva Urecal, over so she can make florid outdated gestures and feel sympathy for her silly brother, who now sleeps in a cage with the funniest gorilla you've ever seen. Lugosi obviously tries in these scenes, attempting to maintain his dignity and even engaging some audience sympathy, a testament to his professionalism as an actor. However, this is one bad script and it's hard to feel sympathy for a dope who first injects himself with something that turns him into an ape, so he he can kill people for spinal fluid, in an attempt to stand up right.
This plot point recalls the earlier Karloff vehicle, The Ape(1940), a fairly ridiculous film in it's own right, though Karloff's purpose was somewhat more noble(he was trying to cure polio.) Lugosi wanders around with his ape friend and a wise cracking reporter ends up on his trail, portrayed by Wallace Ford, who is also slumming. For some reason, another weirdo follows him about as well, only to look in at Lugosi and giggle during very inappropiate scenes, making me wonder what the intention really was!
Eventually the leading lady, Louise Currie, who is actually a decent actress, gets involved in the shenangians and ends up whipping Lugosi, before he gets his back broken by his ape friend. The ape is subsequently shot and the weird guy that was following Lugosi and Ford around, announces that he wrote the movie!
There's no question that this is a bad movie, but makes it interesting is trying to find it's purpose. The concept, at it's core, is about dehumanization and the loss of identity, an area explored often in horror films. It's a scary concept, but here is executed in a rather haphazard fashion. Lugosi attempts to gain sympathy, but there is just no reason there for why he did what he did. It's hard to take an actor seriously when he talks to a man in an ape suit or is being heckled by a character within the movie! That entire arc, meant to make a cheap laugh, comes across as inspid and mean spirited and surely will cause many classic horror fans displeasure. The Ape Man has some laughs, but it's still not so fun to see such a classic actor in such grim trappings.
The direction, or lack thereof, from William "One Shot" Beaudine, has little artistry or interest. Beaudine directed more movies than any other filmmaker, but was largely a simple craftsman(though his 1926, Sparrows, with Mary Pickford, would make you think otherwise.) There's just no style here and combined with the dull plot and the general stupidity throughout, the film sinks to a low level. It hardly compares to Lugosi Monograms, such as Invisible Ghost(1941), Bowery at Midnight(1942) and Voodoo Man(1944), which at least offered Lugosi some meat and allowed him to carry the show, script banalities aside. And there is just nothing in here that is so jolly and wild as PRC's The Devil Bat(1940), Lugosi's best indie form the 40s, at least for sheer entertainment value.
If you are a Lugosi completist or the title intrigues you enough that it warrants a viewing, then so be it. The Ape Man is hardly an essential and ranks among the more dreary of the 40s era horror movies, but is interesting for it's quaintness, reflecting an era when such harmless fare littered movie theaters throughout the country. There's an innocence here, call it nostalgia, that makes it more viewable than it has any right to be. Still this is hardly a film for any horror fan to go ape over.