The Ape (1940)
Some films are worth 1000+ words of analysis. Some films are worth 750+ words of snark. Some films are not The Ape or any number of other cheapie horror films made by Monogram Pictures in the 1940s. While there may be room for detailed analysis by an eye more discerning than my own, it is perhaps more beneficial to the film and its viewer to simply see the whole experience as an entertaining diversion -- nothing more and nothing less.
Dr. Bernard Adrian (Boris Karloff) is obsessed with curing paralysis. However, he needs human spinal fluid to accomplish this task, something he doesn't have on hand in the lab. An escaped circus gorilla who had the good fortune of dying in the doctor's dinging room provides a unique opportunity. The doctor hollows out the body, then he wears the skin to go out on nightly spinal fluid searches, killing passerby who didn't bargain for this when they filled out their organ donor's card.
One thing to admire about Boris Karloff is that no matter how dreary the film -- and The Ape is hardly the dreariest film he ever took part in -- he always appears completely dignified and never gives less than his absolute best. He has a brilliant work ethic that raises the quality of his pictures (compare this to Karloff's contemporary Bela Lugosi, who simply mugs his way through similar pictures). Here, as the well-intentioned but single-minded Dr. Adrian, he is both brusque and kindly, cold and endearing. His manner with the townspeople is rather short, but when in the presence of his single patient, the wheelchair-bound Frances (Maris Wrixon), he is at his most avuncular. Karloff brings dimension and depth to a character, and it actually matters why he'd take to a ridiculous bout of animal mimicry to achieve his ends.
There's subplots a-plenty in the film, but they mostly seem to exist to pad the incredibly short running time (at full length, The Ape is just over an hour). A bunch of rabble-rousing kids who pester Dr. Adrian on occasion barely pass as a blip on the main plot, and another subplot involving the town moneylender (Philo McCullough) using the ape attacks as a cover for his philandering is confusing and goes nowhere. One wishes that these threads could have tied into the film at large more coherently or been dropped in favor of a more studied look at Dr. Adrian and his unfortunate lack of scientific scruples.
Still, there's some off-beat charm here. The gorilla costume is no great shakes, and neither is the aping (so to speak) by the man wearing it, an uncredited Ray "Crash" Corrigan (better known for his B-level Westerns). However, that they aren't convincing doesn't mean they aren't good. They make for great entertainment (especially when you realize that the ape's just a bit too lively to be Karloff, who was 52 at the time The Ape was filmed).
Sure, there's some truly idiotic elements of the film that I could go on all night about, but it takes away from the most important point -- it's good fun. You can poke a film like this with a stick, dissect it and dissolve it and discover the composition and artistic merit of every frame, but you don't get the whole. The whole is that The Ape is a movie about a guy in a gorilla suit who kills people for spinal fluid. Better yet, it's about Boris Karloff in a gorilla suit. Putting a lot of work into "understanding" something so sweetly, naïvely simple would ruin it.
Oddly enough, this is based upon a stage play by Adam Shirk (previously adapted as House of Mystery in 1934).