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Bela Lugosi Collection, Volume 2: Ape Man/Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla/White Zombie (1943)

Cast: Bela Lugosi, Bela Lugosi, Wallace Ford, more...
Director: William Beaudine, William Beaudine
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: Sling Shot
Genre: Horror, Killer Critters, Classic Horror, Classic Horror, Mad Science, Mad Science
Running Time: 204 min.
    see additional details...

This title is currently out of print.

Whatever poor Bela Lugosi may have done in a past life, the man did not deserve The Ape Man, arguably the worst of his Monogram horror clunkers. Viewed today, it seems that screenwriter Barney Sarecky and infamous director William Beaudine (whose nickname "One Shot" was earned helming movies like this) were out to humiliate the proud Hungarian actor at every opportunity. They had the man, who once turned down the Frankenstein monster because he found the role demeaning, walk about the entire film in a manner that was supposed to appear simian but ended up looking merely foolish. They gave him an Anglo-Saxon name ("Dr. James Brewster") without bothering to explain that familiar Middle European accent. And they provided him with a spiritualist sister (Minerva Urecal), whose character name, Agatha, Lugosi of course was incapable of pronouncing. To compound matters, they wrote in a mysterious character named Zippo (Ralph Littlefield), who in a silly porkpie hat drifted in and out of the narrative being annoyingly mysterious, only to reveal himself in the end as "the author of the story." "Screwy idea, wasn't it?" he says, blithely putting the final nail in Lugosi's coffin. Lugosi's Dr. Brewster had experimented with a spinal serum derived from the fluids of a gorilla.The dedicated medico naturally tested the serum on himself and now appears incapable of walking upright and in dire need of a shave. Needless to say, the only antidote is human spinal fluid (which Lugosi pronounces "fluit"). Accompanied by screaming headlines such as "Ape Man Killer Still on the Loose!" Dr. Brewster and his gorilla henchman (Emil Van Horn, whose simian suit paid his rent for years) stalk the dark streets for human prey. A couple of wisecracking reporters (Wallace Ford and Louise Currie, both surprisingly tolerable) briefly wander into harm's way, knocking each other over the head with prop vases. Happily, for unexplained reasons, the gorilla suddenly turns on his master and breaks his neck, ending the nightmare for all concerned, including, one would imagine, Lugosi himself. Typical for cheap Monogram, Lugosi stayed in his ape-like makeup throughout, the expected transformation scene never materializing. The critics were understandably severe -- "Monogram's writer didn't have to wipe the dust from Bela Lugosi's Ape Man, he had to take the mould off," chuckled the Daily News -- but as horror film historian Tom Weaver so succinctly put it: "Despite their ruinous effects on Lugosi's career, had these Monogram pictures been made without him, they would not merit discussion today." ~ Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Now that I am playing Dracula, I am the boogey man by DPenn November 20, 2003 - 4:59 PM PST

This DVD crams what may be Bela Lugosi's best performance alongside two overtly silly features.

Released a year after Dracula, White Zombie pastes some funny eyebrows on Lugosi and plants him in Haiti, where his character controls a middle-sized horde of the living dead. An interesting artifact for zombie aficionados and those seeking examples of cultural chauvinism in film, the movie looks much better than a Poverty Row production should. A standout job by Bela among a low-rent cast.

In the z-grade washout Ape Man, Bela gains more funny facial hair but is reduced to playing alpha male to a guy in a gorilla suit. The producers break down the dramatic fourth wall in a goofy coda, apparently unashamed that they had barely managed to throw the damn thing up before leaving the editing room.

The third feature on the disc is The Gorilla, from 1939, not Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla as advertised. This movie gives the crap Ritz Brothers top billing way above Lugosi, who plays Peters the butler. Imagine if the lesser Baldwins were alive in 1935 and decided to band together as a comedy troupe. There, now you have an idea of how funny the Ritz Brothers were. Between their schtick and Patsy Kelly's chicken-throated screeching, this one stinks like a ripe turd. But you will want to stick around for the scene where Kelly yells, "What do you think I'm doing? Waiting around for someone to feed me peanuts?" but it doesn't sound like peanuts. Anyway...

Aside from a superfluous, unfunny Popeye cartoon and a superfluous, neato episode of the Suspense radio series (starring Gregory Peck!), extras include a White Zombie trailer and two brief interviews with Lugosi, one scripted, one less so. The second, filmed on his return from playing Dracula in England in 1950, is poignant and well worth the rental.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.67)
6 Votes
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