Movies from the “golden age” of black and white films (approximately the 1930’s through the 1950’s) almost invariably contain well-written dialogue and strikingly subtle humor, making them a favorite among many fans of cinema. The horror movies of this more subtle period in film history are therefore of a cerebral nature, primarily relying on the viewer’s imagination to generate the true sense of horror that modern movies generate through more visual means. It is these oft-ignored horror movies that will be the focus of a series of articles detailing the reasons why true fans of horror movies should rediscover these films.
With this 5th installment in the Forgotten B&W Horror series, we take a look at another movie starring one of the kings of B&W horror, Bela Lugosi.
The Ape Man (1943), with Bela Lugosi in the starring role as Dr. James Brewster, is a rather pale take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Brewster, aided by his colleague Dr. Randall, has been conducting scientific experiments on himself. Naturally, these experiments ended with a tragic transformation of Dr. Brewster into a half-man, half-ape creature. Brewster maintains his scientific genius, but his animal tendencies come through more and more until he eventually takes to a murderous spree in order to acquire the necessary human spinal fluid to return him to full human form.
Why This Movie Has Been Forgotten
The Ape Man is one of those rare movies that is very watchable, yet when you’ve finished you wonder why you stuck it out through the whole movie. While the acting is good (except, surprisingly, for veteran actor Wallace Ford’s performance as journalist Jeff B. Carter), the plot itself is rather trite. Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen a movie where the mad scientist creates some sort of monster only to have that creation eventually lead to his own death. Let’s see, one, two, three, …okay, it looks unanimous. You can put your hands down now.
Why Horror Fans Should Watch This Movie
- Bela Lugosi gives a good performance as the crazed Dr. James Brewster. You can even understand every word he says, which is unusual for Lugosi and his thick accent.
- Watching Lugosi parade around with his ape mannerisms is hilarious. I wonder why he wasn’t cast in Planet of the Apes?
- As with seemingly every B&W horror movie, we have another “mad scientist’s laboratory” to laugh at. Brewster’s laboratory is nowhere near as exciting as Dr. Frankenstein’s, but it does contain the requisite smoking beakers and other mysterious glass containers with seemingly vile and sinister liquids.
- Louise Currie (a definite looker) does a great job as the sassy photographer Billie Mason. It’s worth watching the movie just to see her.
- And finally, who can resist a movie with such horrendous effects as a man in a gorilla suit, a cage door that looks as if it could be torn off its hinges by my deceased grandmother (which isn’t a bad thought for a new horror movie), a sound engineer with a name like “Glen Glenn”, and possibly the world’s ugliest fedora on Ralph Littlefield’s (of Lone Ranger fame) character Zippo’s head.
The Ape Man is not the best movie you’ve ever seen, but you won’t spend the rest of your life regretting watching it. Instead, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering what might have been if they’d just put a little more effort into the plot.
If you would like to watch The Ape Man, you may view it at the following link.