Phillip Terry, become an ape-man, avenges his sister's abduction into white slavery
Author: msroz from United States
22 August 2013
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Monster and the Girl" is an attractive, compact and well-executed noir with a mad doctor leavening or element. Coming in 1941, it is, like the 1940 "Black Friday", an early film in the classic noir era. That film too features a brain transplant but makes crime the centerpiece of the story. In places the atmosphere here feels like a Val Lewton film, but they would start shortly thereafter in 1942 with "The Cat People".
The plot idea of a brain transplant reaches back at least to the 1896 H.G. Wells novel, "Island of Dr. Moreau". That was used in "White Zombie" (1932) and "Island of Lost Souls" (1932). However, the emphasis here on devious crime, forced prostitution and revenge is far removed from these mad doctor films.
Innocent Ellen Drew is trapped by a gang led by Paul Lukas, with such henchmen as Robert Paige, Gerald Mohr and Joseph Calleia. It is Drew's brother, Phillip Terry, who exacts revenge after being tried and convicted for a murder he didn't commit. This is shades of "The Man They Could Not Hang", another crime-horror vehicle of Boris Karloff that appeared in 1940. There seems little question that the horror genre was stepping over into crime and noir in the late 30s. "The Son of Frankenstein" (1939) has very much a noir look to it and noir elements.
"Stranger on the Third Floor" (1940) removed the supernatural or super-scientific element, instead introducing a twisted psychopath (Peter Lorre) in the place of a man-made monster. That made the film fully noir. Peter Lorre had also starred in the 1940 "Island of Doomed Men" (slave labor) and would appear in the related 1942 "The Face Behind the Mask" in which disfigurement leads to crime. In the 1935 "Mad Love", Lorre was a mad doctor, and this film also anticipates the noir era. Reaching further back, there is of course the 1931 "M", again starring Lorre. He seemed to be a peculiarly apt actor for crossing over from horror to scenarios fully involved with crimes committed by twisted personalities.
Phillip Terry is shocked by his sister's downfall and his own predicament into a condition almost of drugged hypnosis. His emotions are flattened as he testifies in court. He responds to George Zucco's request to have his post-execution brain with mad laughter as he agrees. Terry recovers as an ape bent on revenge, crushing the bones of the gang members. Crisp shadowed photography follows him through the night as he traverses high buildings like a murderous Kong. His faithful dog, Skipper, plays a key role, following him, humanizing him, and balancing his murderous quest.
The DVD era is bringing to us treasures of the past, like this film.