The Monster and the Ape (1945)
By: Paul Ryan on October 18, 2010  | 
Cheezy Flicks | All Regions, NTSC | 4:3 | English DD 2.0 | 295 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Howard Bretherton
Starring: Robert Lowery, George Macready, Ralph Morgan, Carole Mathews, Ray Corrigan
Screenplay: Royal K. Cole, Sherman L. Lowe
Country: USA
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In the days before television – with a little bit of overlap as that medium was finding its audience – the Saturday matinee chapter serials were a film-going institution, especially for children of the time. Long before today's mega-budget comicbook adaptations, the format provided the first live-action screen appearances of such heroes as Batman, Superman, Flash Gordon, The Lone Ranger and many others. Produced quickly and cheaply, the best serials still manage to engage and amuse with fast-paced action, square-jawed heroes and the all-important end-of-chapter cliffhangers that left the heroes in seemingly inescapable danger. But, like any type of entertaiment, the serial format had its classics and its turkeys, and 1946's The Monster and the Ape belly-flops soundly into the latter category.

The premise at least sounds promising in its sheer nuttiness: Professor Arnold (Ralph Morgan) has just unveiled the first ever working robot, dubbed "The Metalogen Man", a huge, clanking remote-controlled contraption – and the "monster" of the title. Following the public debut of the "row-but" (as Arnold pronounces it), a rival scientist, the nefarious Professor Ernst (George Macready, a long way from Kubrick's Paths of Glory) hijacks the radio waves to claim Arnold stole his creation, and all who worked on it are now marked for death. Exactly as you would expect - especially from something with the word "Ape" in the title - a hulking gorilla named Thor (stuntman Ray "Crash" Corrigan) starts strangling each of Arnold's collaborators. Enter corporate troubleshooter Ken Morgan – not the car dealer from Hey Hey It's Saturday, mind you – to help investigate the matter. Morgan (Robert Lowery, best known as the screen's second-ever Dark Knight in 1949's Batman and Robin serial) is a standard hero type, getting into at least one fistfight per chapter and copping a concussion every two chapters. He is aided by the professor's daughter/kidnap-bait Babs (Carole Mathews) and the lab's janitor/driver/token black guy Flash (Willie Best, aka Sleep N' Eat), who exists to get frightened easily, knock things over and say "yessir mistah" and "ooh, I iz scared!" a lot. Over fifteen chapters, Ernst, his ape and a pack of stock mob thugs throw all kinds of obstacles in the path of our heroes, but they always find a way out in the opening seconds of each installment. Hurrah.

If The Monster and the Ape were an hour-long B-movie programmer, it'd be a riot. Sadly, at a coma-inducing 233 minutes (mercifuly not 450 minutes, as incorrectly stated on the cover) it's an onerous slog. Beyond the crazy ape-trained-to-kill antics, there's barely an interesting idea or moment in the entire serial. It's endlessly repetitive, with unimaginative (and overly similar) cliffhangers, a villain who dupes the good guys with obvious disguises, and boring, badly staged and shot fight scenes. It's also terribly written, with excerable, exposition-laden dialogue and clumsy plotting. And if you're going to call a serial The Monster and the Ape (and feature said monster and said ape brawling on the cover) then you better damn well have the two fighting to the death by the end. But no, that doesn't happen here.

Then there's Willie Best's "comic relief". Best (a performer of the Mantan Moreland-Stepin Fechit "silly comical negro" school) is called on perform endless pratfalls that highlight his character's foolishness, naiviete – viz the scene where he mistakes a radio ad for a crime play for an actual hold-up - and all-round inferiority to his white cohorts, who chuckle condescendingly every time he has another "accident". Never mind that his antics are blatant, irrelevant padding, or that they're incredibily unfunny, these bits are simply and undeniably racist, and truly wince-inducing to watch. It's also galling to think Lucas had characters like this in mind when he created the much-loathed Jar-Jar Binks, but that's a rant for another time...

When these serials were made, they were intended to be digested one week at a time. It's doubtful that anyone who produced them considered they might one day be available in a format where you could watch them in one full sitting. Trying to power through this woeful serial as quickly as possible proved a real test of this reviewer's endurance. However, I do suspect even a single chapter each week led to a lot of restlessness and jaffas rolled down the aisles for Saturday matinee kids back in the day.
A poor transfer only makes The Monster and the Ape even harder to sit through than it already is. It's a murky, tape-sourced transfer full of dust, speckles and splices. Shadow detail is poor throughout, so much so that you have to strain to make out solid objects in some night scenes.
Hiss-tastic and crackle-licious, though the dialogue is always easy to make out.
Extra Features
Intermission Time: Each disc features a different set of vintage ads for all manner of frankly awful-looking concession stand foods, sugar-laden drinks and so on. They're all of similarly poor quality to the feature, but far shorter and much more amusing.

Trailers: A reissue trailer for the serial is hidden away at the end of the final chapter, and is in even worse condition than the main feature. Spots for the serials Zombies of the Stratosphere, G-Men Vs The Black Dragon and King of the Rocket Men are on disc one, while its sibling hosts previews of Horror Hotel, blaxploitationer Jive Turkey and, oddest of all, Sam Peckinpah's Convoy.

About Cheezy Flicks: Some text info about the company who put out this DVD.
The Verdict
If you want a fine example of the vintage cliffhanger serial format, track down a Flash Gordon or Commando Cody serial instead. When you find the special features on a DVD more entertaining than the main feature, you know something's really wrong.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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