Saturday, 24 May 2014
Ape, The (1940)
Beginning in the silent era with John "Shorty" Hamilton comedies, Monogram Pictures, with their famed Monogram ranch, would eventually go on to sign Boris Karloff who would, in turn, star in half a dozen features for the studio. Five of these would be as the Chinese detective Mr. Wong while the sixth, and final outing, would be as Doctor Bernard Adrian in the monkey suited horror film The Ape. With as much gravitas as ham and cheese Karloff, alone, lifts the film from the B feature herd. Beyond him though is a litany of pedestrian and anonymous supporting performances from the likes of Gene O'Donnell or Henry Hall. Here, it is British actor Karloff that lends an air of quality to what would, ordinarily, be seen as little more than another minor horror title from a lesser studio. Albeit from a studio that would ultimately go on to become Allied Artists Pictures and distribute such delights as The Wild Geese, The Man Who Would Be King and and the whiptastic Corinne Cléry led Euro-bondage Story of O. Deep down, it has to be said that Dr Adrian is a kindly man. Even while it is true that he has developed something of a fixation with a young lady named Frances Clifford who, as it so happens, is his patient. But, even here, he only seeks to help Miss Clifford and is not mooning over her with thoughts of either killing or shagging her. He only wishes to do good things and, at the same time, further the cause of medical science. You see, Miss Frances Clifford, played by Sam Newfield's albino monkey-madness movie White Pongo star Maris Wrixon, has polio. She is confined to a wheelchair. Dr. Adrian is the man who can, once more, make her walk. However, it is not Dr Adrian's motivates that are under question. But it is his methods that prove to be somewhat suspect and more than a little problematic. You see, Bernard Adrian has been working away in his home laboratory and is close to finding a cure for the debilitating effects of polio. He has practiced on dogs, and other critters. He is now ready to scale-up to man, the "highest of the animals". All he needs is some human "spinal fluid" and Bob's yer uncle. This is where the problems begin, as it seems that voluntary human spinal fluid donors prove somewhat elusive. This leads to Dr Adrian become somewhat proactive in his pursuit of the elixir of legs. He must kill, and then kill again. As luck should have it, a fire at a nearby travelling circus, provided by some fascinating big top stock footage, ensues. A killer gorilla is on the loose. Raging across the country, the hapless beast stumbles into the home of Doctor Adrian. Adrian does what any self-respecting vivisectionist quack would do. He kills the beast and scoops the bones out of the poor fucker. The former gorilla becomes a convenient ape suit disguise and a cover for some spine-tingling monkey business. Now Dr Adrian gets to drain the spines of the innocent while the one time "great" ape gets all the blame. At the same time the unwitting Miss Clifford gets treatment that allows her to rise like a once chairbound Lazarus to the upright position. She can walk again. In time she will run, free, once more. While all this is, honestly, as wild and funky as it sounds, that is not to say that this is a film that has nothing important or intelligent to say. For example, the film raises a utilitarian dilemma. It is a variant of what would be latter codified, decades later, as the "trolley problem". Dr Adrian is confronted with a form of Hippocratic paradox in which he is compelled give life by killing and, at the same time, do best by his patients. But, unable to achieve resolution, he simply dresses up in the skin of a dead animal and lets the gorilla figure it out. In ape form he comes down on the side of the patient. Putting aside the ethics, the film also touches upon themes relating to small town superstition and the challenge that simpletons present to science. You see, in this town, Dr Adrian is something of a pariah. As with the peasant population in Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling, the locals are slightly suspicious of modernity and all this newfangled round earth science stuff. They feel that Dr. Adrian experiments "too much" and they are suspicious of his methods. A gang of kids, who seem to shout or announce their lines in the way children on film did back then, even throw stones at his home. There is also, possibly, some political stuff at work here. Given that, by this time, fascism had taken Europe to war it is not beyond the imagination to wonder whether the ethics of this were a consideration for director, and occasional quota-quickie scribe, William Nigh. After all, Dr. Adrian is prone to "playing God" in the name of what he perceives to be a greater good and acting on this to the point of killing people to further his "experiments". So it this a film about Nazism? It is tempting to join the dots to this end! So, erm... possibly! Whether or not this is the case, there are some themes that warrant deeper consideration. Although, the only thing that these aspects of the film serve to do is to put some meat on the bare bones of what is little more than a boondoggle grade 57 minute horror cheapie.