While THE APE MAN is believed to have been the lowest that Bela Lugosi's horror movie career could have sunk, this cheap horror film directed by William Beaudine for Monogram Studios actually stands up better than most low budget monster movies.
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The Ape Man (1943) starring Bela LugosiThe Ape Man (1943)

The MONSTER wants to see you!
It's Shockerific!

(Monogram/Banner Prod.) 64mins. BW. US.
Credits: Dir: William Beaudine; Prod: Sam Katzman & Jack Dietz; A.Prod. & Sc: Barney Sarecky; Ph: Mack Stengler; Ed: Carl Pierson; Art: David Milton; Mus: Edward Kay. From "They Creep in the Dark" by Karl Brown.
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Louise Currie, Wallace Ford, Henry Hall, Minerva Urecal, Emil Van Horn, Ralph Littlefield, J. Farrell MacDonald, Jack Mulhall, Wheeler Oakman, George Kirby, Charles Hall, Charles Jordan, Ray Miller, Sunshine Sammy Morrison.

Bela Lugosi in The Ape Man (1943)The tagline of "It's Shockerific!" is perhaps indicative of what to expect in THE APE MAN. Although the tendency is to deride all the grade-Z programmers, low budget studios such as Monogram actually afforded our old friend Bela Lugosi star billing and an income during his leaner years while keeping his name in circulation.
In comparison with his appearances with the East Side Kids in the woeful Spooks Run Wild and Ghosts on the Loose, THE APE MAN should attract more appreciation than it receives. The executives at Monogram were shrewd enough to exploit Bela's name, if not his talent, to lure the cinema audience in and provided their star with enough screentime to fulfill their expectations. Such is the case with THE APE MAN directed by William "one-shot" Beaudine who earned his moniker by normally filming every shot within one take, no matter what the quality.

Gland specialist Dr. James Brewster, (Bela Lugosi), mysteriously disappears, but in actual fact he hasBela Lugosi in The Ape Man (1943) hidden himself away in his basement laboratory at Springfield mansion where the zealousness of his experiments has transformed him into a semi-simian state. With an inordinate amount of facial hair and a shambling gait, Brewster lives in seclusion with his gorilla where they form a love-hate relationship fraught with all kinds of censorable connotations! His sister Agatha, (Minerva Urecal), a ghost hunter, arrives to help him obtain enough human spinal fluid that when injected into himself can reverse the effects of his ailment. When his demand exceeds his supply, Brewster and his primate stalk the streets in a frenzied killing spree to acquire more of the mercurial juice.
It comes as no surprise that Brewster meets his demise by the powerful paws of his pet gorilla that inexplicably defends the film's heroine and is perhaps a fitting end to a story with so many loose-ends as it makes a mad dash to the finale before the hour is up.

Bela Lugosi in The Ape Man (1943)The heroine is played by Louise Currie who was regarded at the time as the "Katherine Hepburn" of Monogram Studios. Her sidekick is none other than Wallace Ford in his usual role of a fast talking reporter for the Globe Tribune. Aside from this being the simplist method to inject a hero into the plot, it also provides the makers with the opportunity to provide "comedy relief" which even in its broadest terms is usually made up of unamusing wise-cracks. Quite frankly, many of the films that employed this format would have been better off without it, you only have to watch Dr. X or Mystery of the Wax Museum to see the terrible intrusion this makes of an otherwise classic feature.

If an audience can look past the obvious plot devices and the embarrassment of seeing this once distinguished actor speaking monkey gibberish, THE APE MAN has a few appreciative values. While the production can be described as uninspired, the gloomy atmosphere lends itself nicely to the story ably accomapanied by a pleasing music score. However, the film's saving grace is its cast including Minerva Urecal as Agatha who provides a suitably odd-ball character for such a slice of hokum as this. Urecal can also be seen alongside Bela in The Corpse Vanishes (1942) and Ghosts on the Loose (1943) as well as a later appearance in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) for George Pal.
Also in the cast is Charlie Hall as a reporter, who is better remembered for his appearances in over forty of Laurel and Hardy's shorts and features.Lugosi & gorilla with producer Jack Dietz on the set of The Ape Man (1943)

As one views THE APE MAN it becomes clear that this is a thinly disguised parody of the genre especially during the final moments when actor Ralph Littlefield, who has been mysteriously appearing throughout the film, suddenly exclaims "Me? Oh, I'm the author of the story."

The more one sees of Bela Lugosi's output from the, shall we say, modest film studios, the higher this little opus moves up in rank. Sit back and enjoy it for what it is.

For even more apish nonsense try the sequel Return of the Apeman (1944).

Poster and lobby card stills courtesy of Ronald V. Borst

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