Some representative examples of directors who made low budget horror films before achieving greater success include Joseph H. Lewis, Edward Dmytryk, Reginald LeBorg, Robert Siodmak and Roy William Neill, whose best film, “The Black Angel,” followed “The Black Room,” a Boris Karloff feature, a series of Sherlock Holmes films and the immortal “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.” Of course, no such listing would be complete without reference being made to the Val Lewton horror unit at RKO.
While there are numerous examples of horror films that contain definite noir flourishes (“House of Horrors” and several of “The Inner Sanctum” mysteries come immediately to mind), it is rare to see an individual film that manages to expertly merge both genres as completely and seamlessly as does “The Monster and the Girl.” While the Karloff and Lugosi vehicle “Black Friday” runs a close second, “The Monster and the Girl” takes home the gold medal and simply has to be seen to be believed.
The story begins with an unhappy young woman, Susan Webster, emerging from the fog to narrate the story in flashback fashion. Based upon her clothing and demeanor, it is plain to see that she is a fallen woman. The scene promptly shifts to a murder trial in which her elder brother, Scott Webster (Phillip Terry), is being tried for the killing of a small time hoodlum, Wade Stanton, who was shot to death in a hotel hallway. The prosecuting attorney, J. Stanley McMasters (Onslow Stevens), who is a wholly owned subsidiary of a ruthless criminal gang headed by W. S. Bruhl (Paul Lukas), aggressively presses for the imposition of the death penalty. Webster repeatedly denies that he murdered Stanton and claims that he was only searching for one “Larry Reed” when he stumbled upon the murder victim‘s body.
Susan (Ellen Drew) protests that her brother is being framed for murder and relates her own sad story in yet another flashback. She was a young woman who had grown restless and unhappy with small town living and she persuaded her older brother Scott to let her move to the big city. Upon her arrival, she struggled to find a good paying job, but her fortunes seemed to change for the better when she met Larry Reed (Robert Paige) another job seeker at an employment agency. As the flashback sequence continued, the penniless couple go for a walk and share a bag of popcorn. The love smitten Susan happily writes a letter home to her big brother to inform him of the news. Still, there is something unsettling about Reed’s smile.
A whirlwind romance and marriage follows quickly, but when Susan awakes from her tipsy sleeping state in the honeymoon suite she finds her new husband missing and the brutal Munn (Gerald Mohr) in the bedroom. The naïve woman has been taken in by a ruthless gang of white slavers. The marriage ceremony, performed by “the Deacon” (Joseph Calleia), was a bogus sham. With her reputation ruined and the hotel suite trashed, Susan is faced with three disagreeable options, suicide, a jail term for the hotel damages or a job in a mob owned cabaret as an escort.
When her older brother arrives from Happy Valley to investigate his sister’s unexplained disappearance, W. S. Bruhl decides to put the man on the spot for asking too many questions. During the course of his murder trial, Scott refuses to divulge the reason why he was seeking out Larry Reed. When his sister bursts into the courtroom and tries to take the stand on his behalf, Scott tries to interrupt her testimony so as to save her reputation. McMasters discredits Susan as a witness by pointing out to the jury that she has been supporting herself by working as a prostitute. Scott Webster is convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence and sentenced to death in the electric chair. As he exits the courtroom, he swears vengeance upon Bruhl and his gang. The hoodlums were so confident that they made a point of sitting through the entire trial as spectators! McMaster even winks at his mob associates during the course of the trial.
An interested observer at the trial is Doctor Perry (George Zucco). Before Webster is scheduled to be executed, Perry calls upon him at the penitentiary and asks if he would consider donating his brain to science in the interest of a research experiment. Perry explains that he is a doctor and scientist and, in his menacing and sardonic manner, he almost seems surprised to state this fact to the condemned man. Webster laughs hysterically at the proposal, but consents to the post mortem donation.
At the appointed hour, the dynamos whir inside of the Big House and a prison guard resets his watch as the electrical surge occurs at twelve midnight. An emergency ambulance races from the prison carrying the corpse to Perry’s laboratory. Immediately upon his arrival, Perry and an assistant begin to perform an operation and start by removing the deceased man’s brain.
After the trial, Susan Webster is befriended and comforted by Sam Daniels (Rod Cameron), a sympathetic newspaperman assigned to the trial who believed in her brother’s innocence. The two take up with each other. Several weeks pass when a series of unexplained murders committed by “The Mangle Murderer” take place. The first victim of the serial killer is the shady prosecutor, McMasters. I have deliberately omitted any further summary of the plot to avoid spoiling the story for first time viewers.
There are some fine touches in the film. Robert Paige gives a good performance. His devious intentions are carefully masked by only the slightest of smirks. The unctuous Joseph Calleia and cultured Paul Lukas are quite good as well. Marc Lawrence is the nervous “Sleeper” who snaps at the mere thought of being mangled. Comic relief is supplied by two befuddled homicide detectives and the coroner. While the officials struggle to unravel the mysterious killings, Scott Webster’s hunting dog, Skipper, seems to be more intelligent than the humans. Throughout the film, the tune “Without You” is used to good effect. Does anyone have the musical credits for this number? It is blasting from the Sleeper’s radio before the Deacon pays a late night visit to pump several rounds into his corpse. When the landlord (Emmett Vogan) comes to investigate the racket, he ends up screaming into a telephone for the police department.
As previously mentioned, the cast features a host of notable supporting players, including Onslow Stevens, Paul Lukas, Robert Paige, Marc Lawrence, Gerald Mohr, Joseph Calleia. Look closely and you will also catch glimpses of Bud Jamison, a bit player who usually worked with the Three Stooges, Emory Parnell, Donald Kerr, John Kellogg, and Edward Van Sloan, of “Dracula“ and “Frankenstein,“ in minor, unbilled roles. The performances of the entire cast are uniformly excellent. This brisk sixty-three minute film does not disappoint. It is definitely a stylish “B” film.
Director Stuart Heisler had a series of crime and film noir credits: “Among the Living,” “The Glass Key,” “Smash Up: The Story of a Woman,” “Storm Warning,” “I Died a Thousand Times” (the color remake of “High Sierra”). The cinematographer, Victor Milner, had a handful of impressive noir offerings to his credit also, namely, “Jeopardy,” “Dark City” and “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.”