the ape | william nigh | curt siodmak | richard carroll | boris karloff | maris wrixon | gene o'donnell | animal attack | mad scientist | based on | play | adam shirk | united states | dorothy vaughan | gertrude hoffman | henry hall | selmar jackson | jessie arnold
Film: The Ape
Director: William Nigh
Writer: Curt Siodmak and Richard Carroll
Starring: Boris Karloff, Maris Wrixon and Gene O’Donnell
This was a film that I think I heard about from the ABCs of Hidden Horror with their sub show of Attack of the Colossal Collection. It was through them that I learned about this odd subgenre of ape based horror films. This one came up on my list to finally check out for Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast and my Journey Through the Aughts segment I’m doing. The synopsis is Dr. Bernard Adrian (Boris Karloff) is a kindly mad scientist who seeks a cure to a young woman’s polio.
We start this movie off with some boys as they’re trying to come up with enough money to go to the circus. They introduce us to Danny Foster (Gene O’Donnell) who runs the local gas station/garage. He sends them on their way though as he doesn’t have any odd jobs for them to do. They then take us to the house of the local doctor, Dr. Adrian. They throw rocks at his place and are spooked off when he comes up behind them. He does grab one of them, Willie (Buddy Swan).
He’s not that bad of a guy though. He’s trying to treat Miss Frances Clifford (Maris Wrixon). She’s wheelchair bound and the movie doesn’t tell us, but she’s afflicted with polio. This killed Dr. Adrian’s wife and daughter and it is his life mission to help her walk again.
The film then shows us that these children aren’t the only ones who don’t like Dr. Adrian. At the local shop, all of the men are bad mouthing him and it is only the shopkeeper who comes to his defense. They fear him as he is experimenting on animals and he’s an outsider. The shopkeeper does reveal that all of them have their own ‘skeletons’ to worry about.
After that night’s performance at the circus, the trainer to the ape is bothering it and the animal attacks him. It gets free and extremely mauling the trainer. It escapes into the countryside and a fire breaks out due to a cigarette. This ape makes its way to Dr. Adrian. He fights it off and only Jane (Gertrude Hoffman), his housekeeper, knows it was there. The trainer is also brought to Dr. Adrian. He knows the wounds are too severe and decides to use him in his experiment to help Frances. Despite the ape being killed, it still seems to be roaming the area around this town as well.
That’s where I want to leave my recap as to avoid spoilers there. I’m thankful that I didn’t read the synopsis listed on Amazon Prime, where I watched this, as it definitely spoils the ending. I didn’t put it together as I’m not going to lie. I got a bit confused as to what was going on. There are some good aspects to this story though for me.
The first thing is that I grew up in a small town, but I also didn’t start there. I transferred from a city elementary school to a country one when I was in 4th grade. Thankfully for me, I played soccer with two kids that also went there, so I didn’t have a rough transition. I bring this up though because the new kid tended to be popular there at first, but there were a lot who put up their nose to the outsider. To correlate this back to the movie, I like that this is introduced. We have Mr. Wilcox who is cheating people in town with his high interest loans and when confronted, he acts like it is none of their business. He’s against Dr. Adrian though, who is out to do good. There’s also another man, Henry Mason (Philo McCullough) is his name, who is cheating on his wife pretty bluntly. We see him take her to the circus right there in town. This is definitely things that are worse, but overlooked.
I also find it interesting that Dr. Adrian is a mad scientist, but is trying to do good to start. We learn later in the movie that he was kicked out of an institute for not using the best practices. We see he’s still not really following the rules, but he does legitimately want to help Frances. This brings up the idea of do the ends justify the means and your own morality. I did dig that aspect of it.
What I did find interesting here is that we of course have a man in an ape costume from the beginning. They wouldn’t be able to get an ape to do what they wanted. What I find interesting though is how this plays into the end. It is almost like getting a peak behind the curtain. I’m not going to harp on the effects here due to the time period, but the ending was too corny and they needed to do a bit more to make it look like this person was really shot.
I’m not going to lie though. This movie really didn’t hold my interest despite the interesting aspects to the story. They left it too vague which is why I didn’t catch on. For a movie that runs 62 minutes and the version I watched was 57, it was actually kind of boring. I really think that the lack of depth to the characters is what hurt. They don’t really flesh anyone out. The acting was also absurd that doesn’t help me either.
That will take me to the acting. Karloff is of course a legend. This isn’t his best performance though. I like that he really wants to help Frances and I feel bad for him for how the townspeople are treating him. He also is a dual nature character where we have to question if we like him or not for what he’s doing. I just feel this is subpar with someone of the abilities that he has. Wrixon was fine and her being wheelchair bound is interesting in developing her vulnerability. It really doesn’t go anywhere though. If anything, the best performance is Sheriff Jeff Halliday who is Henry Hall. Everyone else is just fine my opinion.
So with that said, this movie really just feels like it is missing things. I like what the mad scientist Dr. Adrian is trying to do and I really like making us question our morals of doing the right thing. Being that we have an ape who escapes and the reveal with that just doesn’t feel satisfying. The characters are just lacking depth and it even with the low run time, I was bored. The soundtrack really didn’t add much, but it also doesn’t hurt the movie. I’d rate this as below average and didn’t really care for it. I can’t really recommend this to anyone, which is shocking having Curt Siodmak and Karloff teaming up, but it’s just lacking. If you do want to see this, be warned it is from 1940 and in black and white.
My Rating: 4 out of 10