More than once has Boris Karloff played the mad scientist and he does so again in The Ape, released in 1940. This go round, Karloff is not nearly so mad as he is desperate and while his actions do seem like those of a lunatic, he does so out of care for his patient, misguided as it is. The problem with it all is that he harms more than he helps, for when it is all said and done, his patient might live and she might be able to walk thanks to his miraculous injections, but getting the spinal fluid needed for said formula involves the killing of others. How does the titular ape of the film play into all of this one might wonder? After being killed by Karloff, the man skins it and wears its fur as a costume so that he might go off unnoticed to procure what he needs for his wonder drug, though in the town where he resides, running around in a giant ape costume may not have been the best idea he ever had.
While it might seem silly at times and the premise somewhat ridiculous, Karloff plays it straight and the man does a great job as always, seemingly unable to do anything but. Here he is the kind and generous Dr. Adrian, a man who lost his own daughter some time ago without being able to do anything about it and now, when the young and beautiful Francis enters the picture and just so happens to have an affliction for which he happens to specialise in. As for Maris Wrixon who plays the paralysed young lady, she does so convincingly, first as a girl who has come to terms with the fact that she will never use her legs and then as one full of hope after the promises of Dr. Adrian who swears that she will one day walk like any other. It is perhaps too much to wish for and if it were anyone other than a man willing to go to any lengths including assault and murder, she would still be in the chair she has grown accustomed to. Aside from Wrixom and Karloff, the cast is not overly large, most of the players having only bit parts and revolving around the lead, who of course is Karloff, and they can only be called serviceable as they are not around long enough to be anything but.
The audience does have to feel a little sorry for the ape, the poor creature never wanting to be in a circus in the first place and after having gained its freedom, scared and perhaps a little mad itself, finding only death when all was said and done. The costume for the ape was not overly fantastic, but having been shot in black and white, it worked well enough though there was nothing for the viewer to be afraid of, horror movie that this was.
If there was something to be frightened of, it was far more subtle in nature, part of it being the fate of the aforementioned ape and the remainder belonging to Dr. Adrian and his entire life leading up to this. Having once been a respected doctor, losing his career due to his experiments, losing his daughter and then a bit of his mind, it was not only horrific but tragic and so, while not a very scary movie in the classic sense, it still managed to captivate its audience, mainly due to Karloff and the magnetism he exudes.
3 out of 5