The Monster and the Ape #1: Paying Peanuts, Getting Monkeys

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The Monster and the Ape
Chapter #1: The Mechanical Terror

Against my better judgement and as every synapse in my brain pleads with me to stop, SBBN is proud to announce a new series of recaps based on a classic movie serial: The Monster and the Ape (1945). A touching story of a robot — The Metalogen Man — and his big angry monkey pal Thor, The Monster and the Ape is silly serial cinema of the highest order, and promises to just irritate the everloving hell out of me. You can join along here at OVGuide, which has the entire serial in one huge chunk, apparently sponsored by Fandor, which is a bit of a surprise because Fandor is a pretty classy jernt and I can’t see them getting mixed up in something like this. Perhaps they are not aware that this serial features a man in a gorilla suit.

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We open as a group of important scientists — you can tell they’re important because they have pristine, starched and pressed white lab coats, bestowed upon them at their graduation from Important Science University — fiddle with a robot, who has been sitting comfortably in his chair, just chillin’, lookin’ around, ain’t no thing.

“If we flange this widginator into the modulatron, this feller might just be able to do long division!”

Professor Franklin Arnold (Ralph Morgan, who I am going to call Frank one of these days, so just be prepared for it) addresses the crowd, explaining that The Metalogen Man will have myriad industrial uses, i.e. will put all humans out of any decent-paying jobs left in the country. The crowd has gathered to see the Man activated for the first time, because it always makes sense to present new scientific discoveries to a general public audience without having tested anything first.

mata1-04Je suis accablé d’ennui!

 

M-Bot passes the demonstration with flying colors, lifting enormous blocks of styrofoam, rapidly blinking his little light bulb eyes and bowing at the ladies. Damn attention whore. Everyone is most pleased.

But this is a bad movie serial, and pleasure does not last long. As two of our esteemed scientists drive away from their evening of stunning success, a mysterious voice commandeers all radio frequencies and announces the scientists have taken credit for his invention and are passing off The Metalogen Man as their own. This induces a lot of harrumphing and monocle dropping in our fair scientists, when suddenly behind them:

mata1-05A guy in a gorilla suit with glow-in-the-dark teeth! Well, you can’t say that’s not frightening.

I just want to note here that M-Bot, so dubbed by me because he da man, is often referred to as “the Metalogen Man,” which is pronounced very oddly, even for an invented word: met-AL-oh-gun. It sounds like a reference to someone who lives in the country of Metallica, “In 1583, Jeff Splitends was named leader of the Metallican empire…” And “robot” is of course pronounced “row-bitt,” which I enjoy.

Our new friend, Guy In Gorilla Suit, neatly dispatches the two scientists and then sneaks into the home of a third, where the classic comedy routine of someone looking to the right, then to the left just as a creature from the left jumps on them is deployed, though I suspect the serial did not mean it as a funny. It is hilarious, though, trust me on this.

mata1-06Hey, hey, watch your hands, professor. He’s not that kind of ape!

 

A struggle ensues, the scientist is vanquished, and only Professor Arnold (Ralph Morgan) and Professor Ernst (George MacReady) from the original team survive. Meanwhile, Prof. Arnold informs his daughter Babs (oh god, the bastard screenwriters named her “Babs,” you assholes) that a new scientist is coming to their lab to study M-Bot. Keep in mind he doesn’t know the other scientists are dead yet; the new scientist isn’t a replacement.

Two men that you know are up to no good go to meet our hero at the train station:

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That’s Robert Lowery as Ken Morgan, ladies and gentlemen. Now, we in the audience know that the men who have come to meet him are nogoodniks, because the sinister voice on the radio is our friend Jack Ingram, possessed of a voice that’s a distinctive blend of John Wayne and Al Bridge. We heard him over the radio and now realize he’s the driver of the truck, so are shouting, “Nooo, Bland White Alleged Hero Guy, don’t go with them in their truck!” But Hero Ken, and even though he should know that these guys are up to no good, because he was asked at the last minute to meet someone at the Oakland stop many miles away from the station he was scheduled to be at, plus these two are in a beat-up truck with some handpainted “laboratory” signs on them, doesn’t heed our warnings.

Jack Ingram of the interesting sinister voice, by the way, was Braddock in Raiders of Ghost City. Ingram plays henchman Dick Nordik, which is just the funniest name ever, and I’ll be laughing about it for days. “Dick Nor Dick.” Heh. You know the screenwriters didn’t catch their own joke.

True to bad movie serial form, Hero Ken gets into the truck and within seconds finds himself blackjacked and splayed on the ground:

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He’s left behind as the henchmen head off to the laboratory to steal M-Bot. Ken, who was literally punched down a hill in one of those scenes which weren’t supposed to be funny but I laughed at a lot, climbs back out just in time to coincidentally hitchhike a ride from Prof. Arnold and Babs (Carole Mathews). By the time they get back to the lab, the robot is gone, but the henchmen forgot the computer tape needed to run the guy. Arnold decides to take the tape to Prof. Ernst’s house and let him know about everything that has been going on.

Here’s where we find out the sinister plan: Prof. Ernst is the guy behind all of this! George MacReady, playing a bad guy? So strange. Ernst has his henchmen hanging around to mug Arnold and get the tape as he arrives at his home, and it works, so now Ernst has the power of M-Bot at his disposal!

mata1-10Professor Arnold, Babs and Ken. I haven’t mentioned one of the main players in this serial: Willie Best. As “Flash” (ugh), the chauffeur and assistant, Best doesn’t have much of a role in this episode, though he’s well credited so I assume his role will increase in due time.

 

But Arnold quickly figures out that Ernst is a bad man, thus the henchmen are tasked with dragging him into a hidden laboratory filled with neat stuff stolen from Kenneth Strickfadden’s garage. Babs and Ken arrive at Ernst’s home, too, and also quickly realize Ernst is a big meaniehead, forcing Ernst to shove Babs behind a secret wall while Ken gets into a lengthy fight sequence with the henchmen as he tries to save Arnold from being shoved into a pit full of sparks. The sequence ends when M-Bot gets activated, picks up Ken and drops him into a pit full of sparks.

mata1-12None of this makes much sense, but you cannot deny that a sinister robot framed by the flames of hell as his victims lay conquered before him is a frightening sight.

We end this week’s episode with Babs behind a wall, Arnold just coming to and Ken laying in a pit full of sparks, as one does.

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13 Comments

  1. (pumps fist in the air) Yes! I am so excited that you decided to tackle this project…even at the risk of your sanity.

    Here’s what baffles me about this serial: no one ever seems to notice the gorilla-la-la in the back seat. Come on, people — it’s a freakin’ gorilla. They’re not wearing Chanel No. 5. You would notice the moment you opened up the car door (“Jeebus…it smells like a gorilla in here!”)…

    And finally:

    Je suis accablé d’ennui!

    Tish! You spoke French!

    1. stacia says:

      The gorilla in the backseat was terrific, and not even my first really good laugh during this episode! Ralph Morgan wracked with ennui would be the first, then the ro-bitt lifting styrofoam, then the gorilla. Surely one glance in the rearview and you’d KNOW.

  2. Brian says:

    Love the robot’s smiley face and sunken “cheeks”! And old Ralph looks a bit wistful in the third pic, like he’s wondering how he got involved in something called The Monster and the Ape. (“Dang, I need a new agent!”)

    1. stacia says:

      Ralph is just hilarious in this. There’s another screencap I didn’t have room for where he’s giving MacReady a “dude, this is a kids’ serial, stop putting effort into it” look.

  3. Brian says:

    Uh, make that the robot’s FROWNY face.

  4. James Vance says:

    Which chapter is it when M-Bot unscrews his head and reveals that it’s really Regis Toomey inside? I think that’s the part we’re all waiting for.

    Gee, I feel kinda responsible for piling on with Ivan to urge you to cover this one. (Not that I’m going to offer to take over the job, or anything…)

    Hang in there, Stacia. I’m looking forward to the next 14 weeks (yikes).

    1. stacia says:

      STOP TEASING MEEEEEE

      This is a long serial, yes, but it looks to be hilarious so far. The middle part will drag like the myriad parking lot scenes in Hot Rods to Hell, but I’ll make it through.

  5. Scott C. says:

    Dick Nordik was actually the inspiration for the band Was Not Was.

    MST3K fans will be very excited by this veteran cast. Carole Mathews played the undercover policewoman (and love interest of Mike “Touch” Connors) in Roger Corman’s 1956 Swamp Diamonds AKA Swamp Women AKA Splendor in the Sphagnum Moss), in which audiences first learned that the alligator’s natural habitat is the swimming pool at the YMCA on Ladies Night. Meanwhile, George MacReady is fondly remembered for playing the dual role of Professor Vaughn Dornheimer, maker of crappy androids, and his android duplicate, maker of even crappier android duplicate facsimiles in Human Duplicators, (1965), written by Arthur C. Pierce, who also wrote the Season 1 episode, Women of the Prehistoric Planet.

    And frankly, I just can’t get going in the morning unless I lay in the pit of sparks for at least ten minutes (it’s one of the nicer amenities our building has, and the main reason we decided to move to the Backlot District).

    1. stacia says:

      Whaaat why did my reply disappear? I have absolutely no idea what I said the first time, other than I forgot MacReady was in Duplicators, which would probably make him very happy.

      So far, Carole is pretty good in this, but I also liked her in Swamp Diamonds which is one of those Corman flicks that isn’t nearly as bad as MiSTies claim.

  6. Scott C. says:

    Carole was quite decent in Swamp Diamonds, about on a par, acting-wise, with Touch Connors. She suffered only by comparison from sharing the screen with Marie Windsor and Beverly Garland.

    I agree with you that Swamp Diamonds is actually not half-bad. Corman makes the most of what little location shooting he’s got, Jonathan Haze, who always adds a welcome bump of energy to these films, has a nice extended bit as a pickpocket working the crowd at Mardi Gras, and the girl gang — former gun molls out on their own after their men walked the Last Mile — is actually pretty believable, with Marie as the tough but level-headed natural leader, Jil Jarmyn as the horny, but savvy sexpot, and Beverly as the sexually repressed, trigger-happy psycho. The only bad performance is Susan Cummings as Touch’s girlfriend, who generates a Southern accent so cloying and excessive it’s like she’s belching wisteria petals every time she speaks.

    I suspect people who were fans of the show when it was still in production, especially during the Comedy Central years, don’t waste a lot of venom on this film, if only because Beverly Garland so effortlessly steals it (as she did all the MST’d films she appeared in), and the Brains had a huge and well-known soft-spot for Bev. But you’re right that a certain subset of fan — and I’m going to make a broad and unfair generalization here and say I believe that subgroup comprises mostly viewers who know the show only from the SciFi period) assumes that any picture which appeared on MST3K must be Manos-quality dreck, without realizing that the Brains picked shows, not because they saw themselves as Quality Assurance for the Movie Universe, but because those were the films they could get the rights to, and that they specifically veered toward movies that had at least ambitions to competence, because out-and-out dreck was just too hard and depressing to do.

    1. stacia says:

      Exactly — like I said in my Mitchell post, they assume the worst films were chosen, not films with qualities that work well with riffing.

      Most of the MST3K groups I used to frequent have died off, and I never did get into the ForrestCrow board much, I think because of the color scheme, which sounds like a joke but sadly is not. Last I knew, everyone loved Beverly Garland, but I also remember some really rotten posts when Corman got his honorary Oscar, MiSTies on LJ literally asking for his death. (Those threads were deleted and the LJ MST3K fanboard has been all but abandoned since.) At the risk of incurring your wrath, I have to be honest: I stepped back from the fandom and the show quite a bit at that point.

  7. Scott C. says:

    No worries, I am bereft of wrath, since I stepped away from the fandom back in 1998-99. It was my one foray into Organized Enthusiasm, and it turns out I’m not very good at it, but for a time I was a fairly active part of the old AOL MSTie forum, which was itself insanely active, but it collapsed, as these things tend to do, over infighting and accusations of betrayal during the Sci-Fi sojourn. My wife (then girlfriend) and I fell into the minority who thought there had been a dip in quality, some of it due to the departure of certain writers and performers, some of it — particularly the “story arc” host segments — due to obvious network meddling (something that was later confirmed to me by Julie Walker when I briefly worked for her at Babylon 5). But the Super Fans refused to entertain a single breath of criticism, insisting that the quality of the show had been perfectly and perpetually preserved, like a scarab in amber, and friendships of several years’ standing were heedlessly torched in a quest to score points, as though the Brains were operating some sort of supermarket Loyalty program.

    Admittedly, though, I never stepped away from the show. I have all the episodes and program them according to whim or whimsy (a yearly screening of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is our lone Christmas tradition, while we always watch Manos, the Hands of Fate on Easter, due to the “Chocolate Bunny Guillotine” bit and all the rising from the dead that goes on). I guess MST3k is my Regis Toomey, in that you and I have both had to watch the object of our respective affection die repeatedly.

    1. stacia says:

      Some Super Fans sent me the most vicious emails and messages just because I questioned the quality of the Shout! Factory MST3K sets. According to them, Shout! requires my 100% gratitude to go along with my $39.99, or else will cut all MiSTies off out of spite.

      It mirrors my experience in the Neil Diamond fandom, which now that I think about it was worse, and involves a couple of things I can’t in good conscience mention in public. (Also, there are posts out there about Diamond written under my full name but which *I* never wrote; others did, for their own agendas, and I can find no way to delete them. Not a good position to be in as a critic using her real name, as you can imagine.)

      Fandoms are routinely problematic, and I know there’s nothing to be done about it, and rarely does it make me change my opinion on the show/music/whatever they’re fanning over. With MST3K, it kind of cooled my enthusiasm of the whole thing, though I still go to Rifftrax and still buy DVDs. When RIDING WITH DEATH comes out, you won’t be able to keep me away from the stores.

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