Release Date(s)1940 (October 20, 2020)
Studio(s)Monogram Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Among several films that Boris Karloff participated in during his time at Monogram Pictures, The Ape saw release in 1940 during the era after the success of Universal’s monster movies Dracula and Frankenstein. Unfortunately, The Ape is a bit of a dud thanks to the cheapness of its production, tonal inconsistencies, and boilerplate characters and story. The opening titles, which feature pictures of circus activities set to raucous uptempo music, lets one know right away that this isn’t going to be a film filled with gloom and doom. On the other hand, Karloff, along with a couple of other actors, do turn in decent performances, more so in certain scenes than in the entirety of the picture. Directed by William Nigh (The Strange Case of Doctor Rx) and co-written by Curt Siodmak (Black Friday, The Wolf Man), this Poverty Row quickie was apparently more popular overseas than it was in the US, but is remembered primarily for its star attraction.
The kindly Dr. Adrian (Karloff) takes up residence in a small town in order to find a cure for an illness that a young woman named Frances (Maris Wrixon) is afflicted with, leaving her unable to walk (the word “polio” is never mentioned out loud). Though he means well, the townspeople have become suspicious, particularly when some of the local dogs go missing. A nearby circus suffers an accidental fire, and amidst the chaos, their ape escapes its confines and begins roaming the countryside after assaulting one of its handlers. Back at Dr. Adrian’s laboratory, the handler is brought in for the doctor’s care, but is unfortunately terminal. Seizing an opportunity, the doctor takes spinal fluid from him before he dies, using it to begin a round of new experiments and becoming obsessed with developing a serum to cure the illness. Meanwhile, the ape makes its way to the doctor’s home with the local sheriff and his men on its trail, always elusive to capture. Folks become even more suspicious of the doctor when they realize that the scent of the ape has been found near the doctor’s home by the sheriff’s dogs, and that its victims seem to have puncture marks on their backs.
The Ape arrives on Blu-ray via Kino Lorber Studio Classics utilizing a new 2K master of what appears to be a British print (judging by the certificate at the beginning) restored by the Library of Congress. The source is in great shape, if a bit imperfect. Scratches and other imperfections linger, but are never that intrusive. Delineation is mostly good, though flashes between transitions are noticeable. Everything appears fairly sharp and in focus with healthy blacks. Grain is a tad chunky due to the source, but the restoration attenuates it as much as possible. Other visual flaws are inherent due to the film’s use of stock footage which contains high levels of uneven grain and crushed blacks. Otherwise, this is a lovely black and white presentation.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English. Though hiss is prevalent throughout the presentation, it appears to be free from other obvious imperfections outside of a tape slip at the 00:58:13 mark. Dialogue exchanges are clear and discernable, but sound effects don’t have much impact. However, the score by Edward J. Kay comes through with decent heft.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary by Tom Weaver
- Audio Commentary by Richard Harland Smith
- Poster and Image Gallery (HD – 11 in all – 2:46)
- Black Sabbath Trailer (HD – 2:23)
- The Crimson Cult Trailer (HD – 2:04)
- The Undying Monster Trailer (SD – 1:05)
The first audio commentary with Tom Weaver offers his usual witty observations about the quality of the film, as well as information about the cast and crew, actor recreations for some of the film’s participants, and remarks about the era in which the film was produced. The second audio commentary with Richard Harland Smith is more straightforward, delving even further into the careers of the main players, but also analyzing the perceived merits of the film. The Poster and Image Gallery contains a total of 11 stills featuring posters and lobby cards. Three trailers for other Kino Lorber releases then follow.
The Ape is far from being considered a classic of its era, but like his other film work, it showcases Boris Karloff’s ability as an actor, even in bottom-of-the-barrel material. Though this one is for horror aficianados and completists only, Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release offers a fine presentation of it with a couple of entertaining and educational commentaries to boot.
- Tim Salmons