Cast & Crew
Scot Webster is on trial for the murder of Wade Stanton. Tips, a bellhop at the hotel where the murder occurred, testifies that he saw Scot holding a gun and standing over Wade's body. When Scot takes the stand, he says that he came into town two months earlier looking for someone named Larry Reed, and was led to a gangster named Bruhl: After Scot seeks out Bruhl to find Larry, Bruhl makes an appointment to meet him at Wade's room at the Regent Hotel, but when Scot arrives, he hears Wade arguing with Bruhl over money. When Wade opens the door, Bruhl's thug, Munn, shoots him, tosses the gun toward Scot and escapes, as Wade falls into Scot's arms. After Tips's testimony, prosecuting district attorney McMasters claims that no such person as Larry Reed exists. Scot's sister Susan demands to be heard and tells her story on the stand: Although Scot is happy playing the church organ and working at their small-town post office, Susan aspires to a more glamorous life and leaves for the big city, despite Scot's protest. Unable to find work, Susan meets Larry Reed at the employment agency. Susan falls in love with Larry, a charmer who says all the right things, and hastily marries him after only two weeks. Unknown to Susan, they are married by Deacon, a thug of Bruhl's posing as a priest. On their honeymoon night, a party awaits them at Larry's apartment, and Bruhl's thugs Munn and Sleeper are among the guests. The next morning, Susan awakens alone and discovers that she is being held prisoner by Munn, who now insists that "Larry" is a figment of her imagination. Munn insists that she is in debt for the party and the apartment, and threateningly recommends that she entertain male guests at a low-class cabaret run by Bruhl. On the stand, Susan insists that Scot was only trying to protect her, but McMasters discredits her because of her profession, and the judge declares her testimony inadmissible. Scot is found guilty of murder and is sentenced to execution. Before he is taken from court, Scot looks directly at his enemies and vows that he will avenge himself, while Susan is comforted by reporter Sam Daniels, who takes her home to live with his aunt Della. In prison, an hysterical Scot agrees to allow scientist Dr. Parry to use his brain for an experiment after he is executed. Later, Susan goes to see Bruhl to plead for Scot's life, and is surprised to see Larry among Bruhl's company. Bruhl refuses to assist her, and Sam takes Susan home. After Scot is executed, Parry immediately performs surgery and implants Scot's brain into an ape, who then becomes animated by Scot's thoughts. Recalling the injustice of his imprisonment and death, the ape escapes from his cage and goes on a rampage, first killing McMasters. Bruhl is alarmed by news of McMasters' death, and when Sleeper becomes unnerved by the thought that Scot is somehow meting out his revenge, Bruhl sends him home, but sends Deacon to follow and finish him off. The ape is drawn to Sam's house, where he looks fondly on a sleeping Susan, and is recognized by Scot's pet dog, Skipper. When Bruhl sends Munn to kidnap Susan, the ape murders the thug. Dimwitted homicide investigators Captain Alton and Lieutenant Strickland imagine that Susan is behind the murders, although all of the victims have been crushed to death. Deacon kidnaps Susan, while the ape, followed by Skipper, murders Sleeper at his apartment. Although Sleeper is dead when Deacon arrives, the killer thinks he is only sleeping and shoots him. The ape then kills Deacon and escapes to the roof after the police arrive. Suspecting the truth, Parry arrives at the scene and, seeing the ape on the roof, tips off a policeman as to the identity of the killer. However, the ape overhears him and continues on to Bruhl's apartment, where Bruhl is hitting Susan to make her talk. Outraged that she is being brutalized, the ape crashes through a window. Larry attempts to shoot the ape, but kills Bruhl instead. Larry then unloads his gun into the ape, and the ape kills him. After giving Susan a long, beseeching look, the ape collapses and dies.
George F. Meader
Skipper, The Dog
Frank M. Thomas
Edward Van Sloan
Harry C. Bradley
John H. Dilson
Al M. Hill
Ed Peil Sr.
Harry M. Templeton
Mary F. Rucker
Henry Thacker Burleigh
The Monster and the Girl
Screenwriter Stuart Anthony's story begins in a foggy limbo. The forlorn Susan Webster (Ellen Drew) emerges from the mist and describes herself as 'a bad penny' responsible for the story of sadness we're about to see. About a year before, Susan left her hometown but could not find work in the city. She meets and soon marries a romantic sweetheart, Larry Reed (Robert Paige), only to discover that her marriage was a sham, to force her into a sex trafficking racket run by mob kingpin W.S. Bruhl (Paul Lukas). Larry Reed, the minister 'Deacon' (Joseph Calleia) and the other guests at the wedding party are all part of the prostitution ring. When Susan's brother Scot (Phillip Terry) comes to the city intent on finding Larry Reed, the Bruhl mob frames him for the murder of a disloyal associate. A crooked D.A. (Onslow Stevens) rushes Scot's conviction through the courts.
The grim narrative becomes a fantastic horror tale when Scot reaches death row. He gives permission for Dr. Parry (George Zucco) to experiment with his brain after death. The doctor then transplants Scot's brain into the body of an enormous gorilla. Just as in other mad doctor films then in vogue (Boris Karloff made four for Columbia), a vengeful rampage is set in motion. The gorilla with Scot's brain stalks and murders five men in a single night.
The Monster and the Girl is an emotionally involving thriller that makes very little narrative sense. The opening trial scene is strained with several flashbacks, and the entire story is also Susan's open-ended flashback, recalled from that foggy limbo. Yet Susan remains completely unaware of many events of her own flashback. She never even finds out that the gorilla has her brother's brain and personality. Neither do the gangsters. The only ones who do know the secret are Dr. Parry and Scot's little dog Skipper.
Seen today, The Monster and the Girl is an unusual, perplexing horror item. Records at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences show that the Production Code Administration initially rejected the project because of its white slavery subplot. Instead of changing the story, Paramount simply had the oily mobster Munn (Gerald Mohr) tell Susan that she'll have to work as a 'bar hostess.' But Susan and Scot's demoralized behavior indicates that she has indeed become a compromised, fallen woman. At least one state refused to show the picture, citing the PCA-forbidden white slavery theme as well as the implication that gangsters had corrupted America's court system. The Catholic Legion of Decency decreed the film 'morally objectionable in part for all.'
We might expect such inconsistencies in a Poverty Row production, but The Monster and the Girl is given high-quality Paramount production values. Stuart Heisler's sophisticated direction is far above the industry standard for small-scale horror fare. He uses expressive camera angles and precise dolly shots. During the fake wedding, we're given a sly peek at the shoulder holster worn by Calleia's fake minister, tipping us off to the fact that something is awry. Director Brian De Palma would reuse this gag much later, in the first scene of his thriller Obsession (1976). The film's stylistic switch from courtroom drama to horror tale is visually elegant. George Zucco and his assistant wheel the freshly-executed Scot into a regulation gothic mansion with a basement decked out as a futuristic mad operating theater.
Hulking gorillas were making a comeback in studio films and Poverty Row productions alike, and mad doctors frequently kept large apes in their mad labs. 1940 also brought us Monogram's absurd The Ape, in which Boris Karloff's mad doctor merely disguises himself as a gorilla to obtain human spinal fluid. By contrast, the ape scenes in The Monster and the Girl are expressive and artful. Ace cameraman Victor Milner (The Lady Eve (1941), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers 1946) makes excellent use of shadows for Heisler's moving camera. Excellent mood lighting accompanies the series of suspenseful gorilla killings. For one very elaborate sequence Heisler's camera trucks down a row of rooftops, observing the gorilla stalking his prey on the sidewalk below. The un-billed mime artist in the very good gorilla suit is Charles Gemora, the Philippine makeup effects man who would later fashion the amazing Martian for George Pal's The War of the Worlds (1953).
The second, 'horror' half of the narrative takes place in a single, jumbled night of macabre killings. The cops on the case perform light comedy relief duty, scratching their heads at the sight of yet another corpse with 'every bone in his body broken.' Just a few feet away, the simian culprit lingers undetected on an apartment balcony. Accompanying the ape on its murder mission is Scot's little dog Skipper, who still recognizes his master.
Perhaps the PCA's interference is responsible for the narrative absurdities in the nightmarish storyline. One suspicious jump cut is almost certainly a censor deletion. When Deacon brings Susan back to Bruhl's fancy apartment she immediately sees Larry Reed, the man who ruined her life and put her brother on death row. Larry makes no attempt to hide and continues playing the piano. A confrontation would seem mandatory, but across an odd cut the action suddenly jumps forward, skipping something. Susan pays Larry no more attention.
Paramount cast this strange show with an impressive roster of acting talent. The prestigious Paul Lukas had featured in important pictures like William Wyler's Dodsworth (1936) and Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938); he'd win an Oscar for 1943's The Watch on the Rhine. Joseph Calleia was already established as a versatile supporting actor in big pictures like Marie Antoinette (1938) and Juarez (1939). Suave Robert Paige, the bait for the prostitution racket, plays the piano and sings; the actor would perform in a number of wartime musicals. Handsome Gerald Mohr was already specializing in oily villains, and the rougher-looking Marc Lawrence is makes his mob goon into a nervous, superstitious coward. Scat singer Cliff Edwards has an odd bit as an excitable hotel bellboy; in the same year he'd provide the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney's Pinocchio (1940), as well as sing the Oscar-winning song "When You Wish Upon a Star."
The younger cast begins with Ellen Drew, a luminous starlet who gained major attention in Preston Sturges' marvelous Christmas in July (1940). Ms. Drew would continue to grace a variety of films, without catching the brass ring and achieving full star status. Also from Christmas in July came Rod Cameron, in the thankless role of a newsman who does little but hold Susan's hand at the fade-out. Contemporary reviewers noted the publicity push being given Phillip Terry, a Paramount contract player recently moved from MGM, but The Monster and the Girl did little for his career. Terry plays the unlucky Scot Webster mostly in an inexpressive state of numbness. All we know about Scot is that he works as a church organist and that his little dog Skipper likes to carry his hat around. A little over a year later, Philip Terry would become the third husband of the glamorous Joan Crawford.
Reviewers in 1940 didn't take horror movies very seriously. Daily Variety described the show as a "chiller-diller that will send fans of goose-pimply melodrama from the theaters amply satisfied." The less generous New York Times reviewer described the monster as "some anonymous and no doubt perspiring soul in a flea-bitten ape skin," and wished that the "scenarist had taken bicarbonate of soda before sitting down to the typewriter."
The movie was initially paired with Paramount's The Mad Doctor (1941), also starring Ellen Drew opposite Basil Rathbone. Exhibitors interested in concession stand revenue must have liked the scene in which Larry Pine buys Susan some popcorn from a street vendor. Promotional ballyhoo gags included 'Faint Checks' that patrons filled out in case they fainted from fear and wanted to see the movie later. A Massachusetts exhibitor dispensed mints bearing the wording 'Take these tablets, they will give you the courage to see this Shock Show Double Bill.'
It's still a mystery as to why the filmmakers fail to properly resolve the film's personal conflict. Susan never realizes that her brother's brain is in the ape's body. When the gorilla stares at her briefly at the finale she simply does not comprehend, which robs the show of a potentially powerful climax. Director Heisler instead pays off the sad story of Scot Webster with a camera tilt down to the little dog Skipper, waiting on the sidewalk holding Scot's old hat. Had Scot-the-gorilla acknowledged his former pet, the movie would surely have collapsed into hilarity. As it is, one secretly wishes for the ape to accept the hat and try it on for size.
By Glenn Erickson
The Monster and the Girl
Ellen Drew, 1914-2003
She was born Esther Loretta "Terry" Ray on November 23, 1914, in Kansas City, Missouri. The daughter of a barber, her family moved to Chicago when she was still an infant and she lived a very quiet childhood far removed from the glamour of Hollywood. She was encouraged by some friends to enter a beauty contest when she was just 17. After winning, she tried her luck in Hollywood, but found that they were no immediate offers for her particular talents.
She eventually took a waitressing job at C.C. Brown's, a famed Hollywood Boulevard soda fountain, and had virtually abandoned her dreams as a starlet when William Demarest, a popular actor's agent and well-known character actor, spotted her. Demarest arranged a screen test for her at Paramount, and she was promptly placed under contract for $50 a week.
For the first few years, (1936-38), Drew got only bit parts, and was often uncredited. When she finally got prominent billing in the Bing Crosby musical Sing You Sinners (1938), she decided to change her name, from Terry Ray to Ellen Drew. She earned her first major role in Frank Lloyd's If I Were King (1938) opposite Ronald Colman, yet for the most part of her career, rarely rose above "B" material and second leads. Still, she had some fine exceptions: Preston Sturges' enchanting comedy Christmas in July (1940), with Dick Powell; Tay Garnett's lighthearted war romp My Favorite Spy (1942) co-starring Kay Kyser; Julien Duvivier's taut The Imposter (1944), holding her own with a brooding Jean Gabin; and Mark Robson's chilling low-budget chiller Isle of the Dead (1945) opposite Boris Karloff. Drew made some notable television appearances in the late '50s including Perry Mason and The Barbara Stanwyck Show, before retiring from the entertainment industry. She is survived by her son David; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Ellen Drew, 1914-2003
The working title of this film was Dead On Arrival, also written as D.O.A. Although there was a copyright statement on the film, it was not included in the Copyright Catalog. The film opens with a scene in which the character of "Susan Webster" emerges from a fog and speaks directly to the audience: "I'm Susan, the bad luck penny. I brought a million dollars worth of trouble for everybody. I reached so hard for the stars I forgot to look where I was walking. I wonder how things would be if...." The camera then fades out to the courtroom where "Scot Webster" is on trial.
According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA rejected the original story idea as it dealt with white slavery and homicide. Paramount got around the white slavery issue by altering the implications of Susan's entrapment by "Munn." Thus, rather than being forced into prostitution, Susan is forced into working as a "b-girl" (a bar hostess) to pay off the debt for the apartment and the party. A letter from Paramount to the PCA noted that "when [Susan] saw what this was leading to she made a determined effort to get out of the business before she became a prostitute, but that as far as the world at large was concerned, it was too late, as she was already a marked woman...." Nevertheless, after its release, the Milwaukee Film Commission withdrew the film from theaters as a "white slavery" picture, additionally noting the following in a letter to the PCA: "It holds up the court and the jury system as being under gangster control, making it impossible for justice to be carried out. It also makes scientists appear as ego-maniacs, using our laboratories for a purpose which brings them in ill-repute. The transferring of human brain to a gorilla is very obnoxious and fantastic. The gruesomeness of this picture does not seem to set very well with the public...." The ape was played by an unbilled actor, according to the Variety review.