Dir. Phil Rosen / 1944 / 60 min. / B&W / 1.33:1 / English Subtitles
In a film that's notable for not being a sequel to the previous year's hit The Ape Man and for second-billing an actor who isn't in it, we find Mad Scientist Bela Lugosi freezing Ernie "Wilie the Weasel" Adams for four months and then thawing him out, giving him a five dollar bill (even at 1944 wages, that was pretty skimpy for four months' work) and sending him on his way. That works out so well, we’re off to stage two of the experiment: go to the Arctic, find a frozen caveman, and thaw HIM out. Lugosi, with the help of crack assistant Mad Scientist John Carradine, does so, but when the caveman exhibits caveman-like tendencies (grunting, acting selfish, knocking over laboratory beakers of bubbling water, that sort of thing), Dr. Lugosi decides he needs a new brain. ("He" meaning the caveman, not Lugosi or Carradine. Please, let's try to keep this review moving.) After a false start or two, Carradine's brain ends up in there and it turns out Lugosi should’ve stuck with the Caveman’s original noggin, which couldn’t play piano but was otherwise better behaved.
Dr. Lugosi, making chit-chat at a dinner party: "I enjoy studying people. You know, some people's brains would never be missed."
The dramatic highlight of the film is when the caveman escapes and Dr. Lugosi, knowing he fears fire, strolls down the boulevard looking for him, carrying a lit blowtorch, which seemingly nobody notices. Mr. Zucco, incidentally, is credited as playing the Ape Man, but so is Frank Moran, who ACTUALLY played the Ape Man. No one's ever figured out how Zucco got second billing for a film he isn't even in, although some people claim that Zucco plays the Ape Man when he's lying on the table (for a few seconds) but when he wakes up from his slumber he's Moran. We avoid politics and other controversial topics, so have at it.
One of the fabled “Monogram 9” horror films Lugosi made for Sam Katzman’s Banner Productions (this is #8, if you’re counting) and probably the hardest to see over the years (the best of the bunch, Voodoo Man, is also on Blu-ray from Olive), Return of the Ape Man is making its long-awaited home video debut (well, if you know monster movie fans, it's definitely long awaited) and while it’s definitely from the best remaining materials (this particular Monogram film is controlled by Paramount these days) it’s not the disc to show someone to demonstrate how good old movies can look in HD. Nothing too bad in regard to scrapes and damage, but some of the reels are a tad constrast-y. Not a problem here in the Balcony, where we love vintage monster movies and are extremely pleased to add this to our collection.
We consider it a great treasure to have films that used to be chopped up for commercials and shown at 1 am to at least be recognized as a fun B-movie part of a film library.