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APE, THE (director: William Nigh; screenwriters: from the play by Adam Hull Shirk/Kurt Siodmak/Richard Carroll; cinematographer: Harry Neumann; editor: R. Schoengarth; music: Edward Kay; cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Bernard Adrian), Maris Wrixon (Frances Clifford), Gertrude W. Hoffman (Mrs. Clifford), Henry Hall (Sheriff Jed Halliday), Gene O’Donnell (Danny Foster), Selmer Jackson (Dr. McNulty), Gertrude W. Hoffman (Jane, Adrian’s Housekeeper), Harry C. Bradley (Quinn, The Druggist), Ray Corrigan (The Ape), Philo McCullough (Henry Mason); Runtime: 65; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William T. Lackey; Monarch; 1940)
“Silly as all the other Boris Karloff mad scientist pics, but just as entertaining.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Silly as all the other Boris Karloff mad scientist pics, but just as entertaining. This is one of the nine films Karloff made in 1940, and might be his worst. William Nigh (“The Strange Case of Dr. Rx”/”Stage Struck”/”I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes”), Monogram’s prolific house studio director, directs this cheapie B-film produced by the Poverty Row studio without regard for logic or care about how ridiculous things get. It’s an unimportant addition to the mad doctor series.

It’s based upon a stage play by Adam Shirk, and was previously filmed as House of Mystery in 1934. It’s adapted to the screen by Kurt Siodmak and Richard Carroll.

In the rural town of Red Creek, the unpopular misunderstood idealistic Dr. Adrian (Boris Karloff), a weird but dignified scientist researcher, has one patient, polio stricken Frances Clifford (Maris Wrixon), and is obsessed with finding a cure for the disease. He firmly believes his serum, made from human spinal fluid, that he tries out on dogs for the last ten years, can get Frances to walk again. The 18-year-old Frances reminds him of his daughter, who with his wife were lost to paralysis, and he’s willing to make any self-sacrifice to cure her so she can wed her simple-minded yokel mechanic boyfriend (Gene O’Donnell). He has little regard for men of science and tells the hero-worshiping Frances: “I don’t trust anything I don’t understand.”

An ape from a visiting circus kills his abusive circus trainer and causes a fire to burn down the circus. The ape escapes, with the sheriff (Henry Hall) and a posse in pursuit. The ape attacks Dr. Adrian in his home, but is overtaken and killed. Doc tells no one but gets the idea to don an ape costume and knock off the meanest townies who tormented him and get their spinal fluid to treat his patient. His cure is partially working, but the clumsy Doc breaks the vial containing the fluid. So Dr. Adrian haunts the town looking for more meanies to knock off and get some spinal fluid taps.

Though filled with good intentions, the crazed doctor crosses the boundaries of legit research and becomes a murderer.

This was the final film in Karloff’s contract with Monogram and he next appeared in the Broadway play Arsenic and Old Lace, and had his biggest success ever onstage.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”