By Steve Stones
Of all the roles Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi played in his career for low-budget studios, such as Monogram and Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), this is the one role he is criticized for the most. That’s unfortunate because, as with all his roles, Lugosi really gets into his role of the Ape Man and takes the role very seriously. He even moves around hunched over like a monkey, swaying his arms back and fourth.
Directed by William Beaudine in 1943, The Ape Man stars Lugosi as Dr. James Brewster. Brewster has been conducting some unusual experiments on himself in his laboratory. These experiments have transformed him into a half ape, half human creature. An opening sequence in the film shows Lugosi in a cage with a gorilla, which is obviously another actor in a fur and rubber suit.
Brewster must obtain human spinal fluid to inject into himself in order to reverse the process of his ape transformation. Meanwhile, newspaper reporter Jeff Carter, played by Wallace Ford, and his photographer Billie Mason, played by the lovely Louise Currie, arrive at the Brewster home to interview Mrs. Brewster and take pictures of her. Mrs. Brewster tells the reporters that the home is haunted, and plays a record of haunted sounds in the home.
Dr. Brewster becomes greatly upset by this as he secretly watches the interview from another room. Brewster then returns to his laboratory in anger, and throws glass beakers at the cage of the gorilla. This is one of the more priceless and unintentionally funny scenes of the film.
Another priceless scene in the film shows Brewster arriving at Dr. George Randall’s office in a coat and hat still looking like a half ape, half human creature. He brings the gorilla with him and demands the aide of Randall in helping him obtain human spinal fluid. Randall’s butler enters the office, and the gorilla kills him so that Brewster can extract his spinal fluid.
Carter later discovers a blurred image of Brewster standing behind Mrs. Brewster in a photo Mason took at the home. The photo makes Carter want to investigate the Brewster home once again.
After Carter’s second visit to the Brewster home, Dr. Brewster becomes anxious to obtain more spinal fluid to speed up his recovery. He leaves his laboratory with the gorilla to go on a murdering rampage to obtain the fluid from murder victims. Eventually the gorilla ends up killing Randall because he refuses to help Brewster obtain more spinal fluid.
It’s hard to believe that The Ape man was made only twelve years after Lugosi’s iconic performance in the 1931 Dracula. Unfortunately, Lugosi’s career was on a fast decline by the late 1930s as a result of being typecast after Dracula. This made it difficult for him to receive offers for roles in bigger budget films.
Like another horror actor of his time, John Carradine, Lugosi recognized that work is work, and he accepted and appreciated most of roles that came his way, playing them with dedicated professionalism. If there’s any actor who deserves great respect for his hard work, dedication and tenacity in the early days of the cinema, it is Bela Lugosi. Forget what critics have said over the years about The Ape Man and watch it anyway. You’re not likely to go ape over the film, but perhaps you may enjoy seeing Lugosi walking around imitating a monkey.
You can catch this film for free on various Net sites if you have high-speed Internet. Here's the trailer!