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Sinister Little Horror Story Enlivened By Good Performances
on April 15, 2004
At first glance this minor 1941 Paramount feature looks like it really can't make up its mind if it is a Courtroom drama or a horror feature. The film has two distinct parts to it with an abrupt change in direction a little under half way through, however that doesn't stop it from being a quite enjoyable 70 minutes of viewing. Looking like a Universal feature from the time when that studio was still the leader in the horror field, it is instead a Paramount feature which perhaps explains the attempt at some deeper characterisations and a more polished look to some of the special effects, in particular in the "Monster' of the title which here is a murderous Gorilla that has a wrongly convicted man's brain transplanted into it. The first part of the film contains a well acted murder trial while the second half goes off totally into the realm of horror fantasy as the Gorilla thinking like the convicted man, goes on a murderous rampage against those who falsely framed him for murder.
"The Monster and the Girl", tells the story of brother and sister Scot and Susan Webster (Phillip Terry and Ellen Drew), who live in a small midwestern town. Susan yearns for the bright lights of the city and despite warnings from her protective brother, heads off in search of a more exciting life. What she gets in New York is not exactly what she bargained for as she is romanced by smooth talking Larry Reid (Robert Paige) who's intentions are not as sincere as they first seem. Going through a sham marriage to Larry Susan finds herself at the mercy of a prostitution and white slavery ring headed by ruthless gangster W.S. Bruhl (Paul Lukas),from which there seems no escape for her. Coming to her rescue Scot tries to track Larry down and in the process stumbles onto Bruhl's headquarters just as they are about to "remove", one of their group who is as Bruhl states "My favourite thorn in my side". He is shot just as he opens the door for Scot and when the gun is thrown at him Scot mistakenly picks it up and is then blamed for the murder. Totally framed he goes on trial and at length is found guilty of the crime. In the courtroom there is another individual with an interest in Scot , Dr. Perry (George Zucco) who is an eccentric scientist currently working on certain evolutionary theories and seeing that Scot is to be executed seeks his permission to use his brain in his experiemnts. After Scot's execution he performs the operation and transplants the still living brain into the body of a Gorilla in his lab. However during the observation period the Gorilla now thinking like Scot manages to escape and begins a murderous cycle of revenge against those that wrongly framed him for murder and sentenced him to death starting with the District Attorney. One by one the gang are literally crushed to death by the murderous Gorilla and the police are at a loss to explain the cause of death. Only after the Gorilla succeeds in saving Susan from the clutches of Larry Reed by murdering him before being shot himself in the finale is it worked out that the monster has the mind of Scot and was enacting this revenge just as much for the shame brought on his sister as for his own wrongful execution.
Perhaps "The Monster and the Girl", can be viewed as "B" horror nonsense however the whole story is played in a very serious manner by all cast members and certainly the Gorilla is a vast improvement on other "ape" monsters used in earlier horror efforts. The actor within the ape suit does a wonderful job of copying a Gorilla's movements and visually it has a convincing and at times almost frightening demeanour to it. Performances throughout this little effort are uniformally fine. Phillip Terry despite only appearing in the first half hour of the story does a convincing job as the loyal brother seeking to assist his sister but who gets involved way over his head and winds up executed for a murder he didn't commit. Ellen Drew as Susan has the longest role in the film and is also excellent as the naive girl trapped in the clutches of Bruhl's prostitution ring. Horror veteran George Zucco despite his high billing in the cast list, has a relatively small role in the middle of the film as the scientist who transplants Scot's brain into the Gorilla. An actor always so much better than most of the material he had to work with ,here he plays the "mad scientist" role capably once again and his knowledge is vital in the conclusion in working out why this Gorilla has human thoughts. What perhaps is most interesting in "The Monster and the Girl", is the surprisingly modern openess it has when dealing with such issues as prostitution and white slavery that were largely unheard of in the more major releases in the early 1940's. This gives the film , certainly in the first half, less of a horror film mood and more of the feel of a 1930's Warner Brothers gangster drama. The film is beautifully shot for a "B" effort with great emphasis placed on the power of shadows to achieve the desired dramatic effect. Directed with a sure hand by Stuart Heisler the film despite its dramatic change in direction never lets up on the action and its short 70 minute running time ensures that the story doesn't drag in the least.
While certainly not the greatest horror effort from the 1940s, "The Monster and the Girl", makes worthwhile viewing. The Gorilla is one of the more memorable "killers" that movies produced in this decade and depite the obviously outlandish storyline the sincere performances and overall good quality production make up for viewers having to totally suspend belief to get involved in the proceedings. Watch out for the Gorilla with a man's mind bent on revenge in Paramount's curiosity "The Monster and the Girl".