Director – Stuart Heisler, Screenplay – Stuart Anthony, Photography (b&w) – Victor Milner, Art Direction – Hans Dreier & Haldane Douglas. Production Company – Paramount.
Ellen Drew (Susan Webster), Robert Paige (Larry Reed), Paul Lukas (Bruhl), Joseph Calleia (Deacon), Onslow Stevens (J. Stanley McMasters), George Zucco (Dr Parry), Rod Cameron (Sam Daniels), Phillip Terry (Scot Webster), uncredited Charles Gemora (The Ape)
Scot Webster is being tried for the murder of Wade Stanton. On the witness stand, Scot claims he was in a hotel room when he heard a shot as a man in the neighbouring room was killed and went to investigate, picking up a gun that he found dropped in the hallway. Scot’s sister Susan takes the stand in his defence. She tells how she had come to the city and was charmed into marrying Larry Reed. She then found that the marriage was a sham and that she was in thrall to mobsters who expected her to work as a dancehall girl. Scot is sentenced to be executed. However, Dr Parry comes and offers Scot the opportunity to help medical science by having his brain transplanted into the body of a gorilla. In the gorilla’s body, Scot escapes from the laboratory cage and rampages through the city, killing the mobsters and lawyers responsible for wrongly convicting him.
The Monster and the Girl was an entry from the great era of Mad Scientist films, which started in 1931 with the Universal classics and ran through until around the end of the 1940s where it was being continued by the poverty row studios of the era. The Monster and the Girl was made by Paramount who only sporadically dabbled in horror films in this era. The film was a remake of the silent Go and Get It (1920) – the original was centred around a newspaper investigation, which is here rewritten as a court case.
The horror and mad scientist film of this era had a strange relationship with the Ape. Most scientists’ laboratories could be counted on to have an ape in a cage that would frequently get loose and go amok. Beginning with Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), scientists would conduct abominable experiments with apes as in the likes of Dr Renault’s Secret (1942), The Ape Man (1943) and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952). The most bizarre effort was surely The Ape (1940) with Boris Karloff as a mad scientist who places on the skin of a rampaging gorilla and goes out to kill victims for their spinal fluids for the serum he is trying to perfect.
As a mad scientist film, The Monster and the Girl is oddly structured. It feels like two entirely different films. The first half is like a crime melodrama that begins in the midst of a court case where Phillip Terry is accused of murder and protests his innocence. From there, it flashes back to tell the story of his sister Ellen Drew and how she came to the city and was hoodwinked into a marriage. You get the impression here that she was forced into prostitution, although by 1941 the Hays Code was in effect and all she becomes what is euphemistically referred to as a ‘dancehall girl’ and the film never shows what said profession involves.
In the second half, Phillip Terry undergoes an operation to have his brain transplanted into a gorilla’s body. Expectedly, the gorilla escapes the cage and goes on a rampage, killing the lawyer and members of the criminal gang who framed him. Executed men returning from the electric chair to hunt down those responsible for their wrongful death turn up in other mad scientist films of this era such as The Walking Dead (1936) and Man-Mad Monster (1941).
Unlike most other mad scientist films of the era, George Zucco’s scientist is not a major character and only appears in a few scenes. All of the ape killings also take place off screen until right near the end. There is one evocative scene where the ape enters the bedroom of sleeping sister Ellen Drew and lurks over her bed, at the same time as the dead man’s dog recognises its master and tugs at the ape’s leg.
George Zucco appeared in a number of mad scientist films such as Dr Renault’s Secret, The Mad Monster (1942), Dead Men Walk (1943), The Mad Ghoul (1943), Return of the Ape Man (1944), Voodoo Man (1944), Fog Island (1945), The Flying Serpent (1946) and Scared to Death (1947), as well as several of Universal’s Mummy sequels. The ape was played by Charles Gemora, a Filipino actor who worked in makeup where his 5’4” frame made him a natural to put on the ape suit in a number of Tarzan films, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Island of Lost Souls (1932) and playing the Martian in The War of the Worlds (1953).
Director Stewart Heisler also made other works of the era such as The Glass Key (1942), Tokyo Joe (1949), The Star (1952), The Lone Ranger (1956) and Hitler (1962), along with assorted other films and tv work. His one other genre work was Among the Living (1941) with Albert Dekker as a psychopathic twin.