Director: William Beaudine
Writer: Barney Sarecky
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Louise Currie, Wallace Ford, Henry Hall, Minerva Urecal, Emil Van Horn, J. Farrel MacDonald, Wheeler Oakman, Ralph Littlefield, Jack Mulhall, and Charles Jordan
Composer: Edward Kay
Release Date: 3/5/1943
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Aided by a reluctant colleague known as Dr. George Randall (Henry Hall), Dr. James Brewster (Bela Lugosi) transforms into a vicious ape man. With reporter Jeff Carter (Wallace Ford) hot on his trail, Dr. Brewster attempts to cure himself with an injection of human spinal fluid.
Combining killer ape antics with a mad scientist theme, this film may appeal to fans of the B-movie genre. Those with high expectations, in contrast, should avoid The Ape Man for its paper-thin characters, laughable costumes, and illogical narrative aspects.
Marred by second-rate hair and make-up appliances, the Ape Man’s visage may induce mockery instead of pity from the audience. By emulating the simian posture and primitive gait of a chimpanzee, however, Bela Lugosi adds credibility to the plight of Dr. Brewster—an otherwise ridiculous and unsympathetic villain.
Despite its running time of sixty-four minutes, The Ape Man drags along at an insufferable pace. Especially drawn-out and superfluous are the investigations of Jeff Carter, whose painful attempts at comic relief serve only to detract focus from the Ape Man himself.
The Ape Man also fails to compensate for the unconvincing, if not thoroughly absurd, countenance of Dr. Brewster’s pet gorilla—portrayed by an actor in a cheap rubber suit. (The Ape starring Boris Karloff, on the other hand, offers a remotely plausible—albeit still far-fetched—explanation for the bogus appearance of its title monster.)
Similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Brewster seems to represent both extremes of the human condition: a “good” persona comprising the noble, upright qualities of a humble scientist and an “evil” nature manifesting as a brutal, uncivilized creature. (Unfortunately, without having known Dr. Brewster prior to his transformation, viewers may struggle to contrast the Ape Man’s violent, fiendish impulses with the dignified character of a human counterpart—the most important factor of any Jekyll/Hyde-themed story.)
Lacking the tragic themes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the profound insight of Frankenstein, The Ape Man is a mediocre science fiction horror film. Nevertheless, the efforts of Lugosi—though slightly over-the-top as Dr. Brewster—provide this offering with an occasional hint of gravitas.
Overall Quality: 3/10
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