Here’s the set-up. Some genius scientist (played by Bela “Dracula” Lugosi) devolves himself into the “ape man” of the title. Seeking to cure himself, he has go in search of human spinal fluid. To this end he employs a gorilla sidekick as muscle. On his tail are a wisecracking reporter and a pretty female photographer. Sounds like a good time, right? Not really.
Travel back with me to 1943. Lugosi had fallen on hard times and would pretty much take any part. The Bela Lugosi we see here is a far cry from the masterful, regal, Count Dracula. Nor is it up the level of the repulsive Ygor seen in “Son of Frankenstein.” While not quite in Ed Wood land yet, Lugosi IS phoning it in here. To make matters worse, his ape make-up ain’t up to the level of the stuff Jack Pierce did over at Universal. He pretty much looks like the world’s most evil Amish farmer. Grunting and hunching, Lugosi gives a stiff, lifeless performance. The sort of thing Lugosi detractors use (UNFAIRLY!) as ammo against the great horror star. Watching this thing, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Lugosi, who was an elegant screen presence when the material was right.
Director William Beaudine, is known among film nerds as “one shot”, and it really shows here. Worse still, he’s saddled here with a script that unsuccessfully tries to affect the fast-paced dialogue of the era’s screwball comedies. There’s also some really weird, proto-“Crazy Ralph”-type character floating around the movie. What he has to do with anything? Well, it’s revealed in the end, if you can really suffer along through the whole thing. But then most of you don’t have as high a tolerance for crap as I do.
This might seem like I’m picking on an easy target. But frankly, I’m fine with cheesy monster movies. Hell, I love cheesy monster movies, but even I have my limits, and the Ape Man didn’t hit the right notes with me. Lugosi has much more fun movies in his catalog. Fright fans should look elsewhere for their rainy afternoon thrills.