I found this one rather odd.
It is already a somewhat rarer offering as it was made by Paramount. They did put out quite a few horror films during the Thirties and Forties, but were never as prolific as Universal — although several of their films are notable, like Murders at the Zoo, The Uninvited and Island of Lost Souls.
But I have never seen a horror film from this era featuring such a polished production. Even Universal’s 1930s horrors rarely looked this good. I suspect that the director, Stuart Heisler, may have had a lot to do with this. He made a lot of crime and thriller films (including such familiar ones as The Glass Key and I Died a Thousand Times) before moving to television in the mid-Fifties. But then, pioneering cinematographer Victor Milner filmed this one. He was a true master of the art of (as he put it) “painting with light” who regularly worked with Cecil B. DeMille.
And yet, despite the clear SF and horror elements — a mad scientist, a brain transplant, a dramatic laboratory scene and a big ape — this is Film Noir, with a classic revenge plot, wrapped around a story about prostitution, sex trafficking, and a vicious criminal gang, with a trial and an execution thrown in for the heck of it.
And, of course, lots of moody lighting.
George Zucco shows up as a mad scientist, naturally, although he isn’t actually all that mad. He just needs a brain, that’s all. For purely scientific reasons. To study evolution, that’s all.
By sticking it in an ape.
What impresses me more than anything else about this film, however, is that brain transplant scene, featuring a nicely detailed lab and an absolutely amazing bit of film editing. It is as wild a montage as you’ll find in any horror film, and calls to mind the lab scenes in Metropolis, L’inhumaine, or the 1931 Frankenstein (although I suspect that last one may have been the main influence).
And I should note that the ape is one of the more realistic looking forties horror film apes I’ve seen — and actually is capable of giving a more nuanced and subtle performance than I would have thought possible. Which isn’t necessarily all that nuanced, but you don’t expect this much from an ape suit.
It’s revenge plot is a bit simplistic, but it is short enough that we really can’t complain. It is, however, remarkably polished for what was clearly intended as a B-Movie, and benefits from some impressive city sets which were probably from the backlot — or built for some far more important film.
The Monster and the Girl may be a little hard to find, but it is well worth the effort if you love these early horror films. Or Film Noir.
After all, where else are you going to find mad scientists, gangsters, heavy duty social commentary and killer apes all in the same film?
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