Continuing the ongoing tribute to the life and works of Boris Karloff hosted by Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog, yesterday I looked at one of Karloff the Uncanny's last films. Today, I'll be looking at another less-than-wonderful film lifted up by The Master's presence. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, horror cinema was at a low ebb. The rise of Fascism in Europe eclipsed the cinematic ghouls for a time; there's a couple bright spots for horror, such as 1941's THE WOLFMAN and attempts to draw people in with a series of Nazi/Imperial Japanese-themed horror movies such as BLACK DRAGONS and KING OF THE ZOMBIES, but overall horror films were few and far between, as people were getting their fill of horror from the newsreels.
Meet Dr. Bernard Adrian (Boris Karloff). A kindly, mustachioed old man, he's spent the last decade lamenting that he couldn't save his wife and daughter from a mysterious disease. He's latched on to Frances Clifford, a young woman suffering from polio. He's working on a cure for her, as she reminds him of his daughter.
For whatever reason, though, Dr. Adrian is the town pariah. Everyone hates him. Children throw rocks at his house, people talk in hushed tones in the drug store about how he should be run out of town...what the heck? The only one whose dislike of Adrian makes sense is Danny, Frances' boyfriend, who is afraid that if she regains the use of her legs she'll be able to dump him for a better guy.
A huge and ferocious gorilla (Ray "Crash" Corrigan, one of the great Ape Actors of Hollywood's Golden Age, along with George "Ro-Man" Barrows and Bob Burns) gets loose from the circus and begins to terrorize the countryside...until it runs into Dr. Adrian.
Dr. Adrian seems to have found a cure to polio -- but it requires a fresh supply of human spinal fluid to make it work. What's the good doctor to do? Dress up in the ape's pelt and kill people, draining their spinal fluid, that's what.
The serum works, slowly -- but soon Frances can move her feet and start to stand up a little. But the "ape" keeps getting seen around Dr. Adrian's house, and so the sheriff and his posse of freshly-deputized ape hunters are constantly sniffing around, making his nocturnal attacks harder and harder to pull off.
Ultimately, a bullet finds Dr. Adrian; the last thing he sees is Frances stand up out of her wheelchair and walk towards him. He's cured her after all.
What a nifty little film, and I do mean little -- it clocks in at 62 minutes long. My immediate thought is, "Boris Karloff looks weird with that bushy of a mustache."
Boris Karloff is amazing as Dr. Bernard Adrian. Not surprising, really. I don't think Boris Karloff has ever given a poor performance. I love sympathetic villains, evil-doers whose motives are understandable, familiar, and even laudable. Bernard Adrian is working to cure polio -- how much more laudable can you get? His methods prove frightening, but his motive cannot be faulted.
Ray "Crash" Corrigan gives a pretty straightforward performance as the titular Ape. His technique is good -- hunch, lurch around, lunge some, tilt the head back to bare the fangs -- and from the neck down his suit is just fine. The mask those is one of the weakest I've seen from this period, looking like paper-mache.
The script is penned by Curt Siodmak, who also gave us THE WOLFMAN, CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN and many other cinema classics.
Final Analysis: There's significantly worse ways to spend an hour. Boris Karloff gives an excellent performance, and let's face it, guys in gorilla suits make everything better. This is another one in the public domain, so you should have no problem finding it free to view. Heck, you can watch it right here! Watch it!
Overall, I give THE APE (1940)...
FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.
And you can find more tributes to Boris Karloff this week at Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog.