Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Monster and the Girl


Every so often you run across a movie with such a goofy premise that it shouldn't be anything except a silly mess, but somehow the people making it manage to elevate it into something that's much better than it has any right to be. Such is the case with THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL, a 1941 noir/horror movie that I recorded months ago from Svengoolie's show and then promptly forgot about until now.

There are some minor spoilers ahead, since it's impossible to talk about the movie's plot without them. It begins as a flashback (in fact, there are numerous flashbacks within flashbacks in this movie, an unusual structure for a film from this era), a story being told by the girl of the title, played by the fetching Ellen Drew. Her brother is on trial for murder, and we quickly find out that he was framed for the crime by the prostitution ring that forced his sister into a life of degradation (another unusual touch for the time period; the script keeps things vague, but it's obvious what's going on). This part of the movie comes across like a standard but well-done crime film . . . except that during the trial, one of the spectators is played by George Zucco, so you know there's going to some mad scientisting going on sooner or later.

Sure enough, the girl's brother is found guilty and executed, but not before he agrees to let his brain be used in a scientific experiment after he's dead. Zucco's character, assisted by Abner Biberman from GUNGA DIN, transplants the guy's brain into the body of a gorilla. The gorilla now has all the memories of the dead man, so he escapes from Zucco's laboratory to seek vengeance on the men responsible for ruining his sister and condemning him to death.

Several things make this work a lot better than it should. The script, the director (Stuart Heisler), and the actors all play it straight. It's a good cast, too, with the criminals being played by Paul Lukas, Joseph Calleia, Gerald Mohr, Marc Lawrence, and Onslow Stevens, among others. A young Rod Cameron is very good as a hard-nosed reporter. But the real star of the picture is effects man Charles Gemora, who fashioned not only a very realistic gorilla suit but gives an excellent performance while wearing it. This is some of the best gorilla suit work I've ever seen, especially in scenes with the dog who belonged to the character when he was human. The dog, whose name is Skipper, just about steals the show on several occasions.

Maybe I'm the target audience or I was just in the right mood for it, but I think THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL is an odd but borderline great film. I'm very glad I watched it.

3 comments:

Elgin Bleecker said...

This one sounds familiar, probably saw it on TV as a kid. Now I want to see it again. According to the IMDb, the folks behind the camera were all top-notch Hollywood craftsmen. Writer Stuart Anthony (sounds like a pen name) was credited with scripting more than 50 films in 14 years, some of them big productions.

Fred Blosser said...

I thought this was one that I'd seen on TV as a kid, but a quick IRDB search suggests that THE LADY AND THE MONSTER actually was the film I had in mind, an early version of DONOVAN'S BRAIN with Erich Von Stroheim as the mad brain surgeon in that one.

Fred Blosser said...

I thought this was one that I'd seen on TV as a kid, but a quick IRDB search suggests that THE LADY AND THE MONSTER actually was the film I had in mind, an early version of DONOVAN'S BRAIN with Erich Von Stroheim as the mad brain surgeon in that one.