Good friends, ’tis the final chapter of The Monster and the Ape, so a quick recap is in order. But first, those who were playing along with The Monster and the Ape home game can find the final chapter here, with Spanish subtitles.
Our story so far: A team of scientists reveal to the world that a newly-discovered, meteor-based element known as Metalogen can power robots, proving to be an exciting step forward in the sciences. They demonstrate the Metalogen Man at a press conference; immediately afterward, all the scientists save Professor Arnold (Frank Morgan) and Professor Ernst (George MacReady) are killed off. Soon, we discover Ernst feels the invention was all his, and the other scientists were stealing his thunder. From this moment on, Arnold and Ernst are locked in a duel of so-called wits, each trying to obtain both the Metalogen and the robot it powers. Ken Morgan (Robert Lowry), robot salesman, and no that is not a joke, arrives and helps Arnold by getting into lots of fistfights with Ernst’s henchmen. Also helping Arnold are his daughter Babs (Carole Matthews, possessing both the best hair and the least talent in Hollywood), and Willie Best as the assistant-slash-chauffeur Flash, who provides us comedy relief by being humiliated in a series of racist situations.
At this point you should know that not a single reporter follows up on the press conference, not even after the scientists’ deaths, and Ernst never again mentions that he believes the Metalogen Man is rightly his own invention. He is simply evil and wants it for himself, because evil.
Throughout 15 chapters, we watch as Ernst scrambles for the robot and the element. He pretends to be a scientist named Draper (the actor playing the real Draper is uncredited, his identity lost to time and poor record keeping) to infiltrate Arnold’s lab, and at various times sends his henchmen to steal either the Metalogen or M-Bot or both. Arnold, Ken, and sometimes Flash go to steal it back, or just investigate whatever is going on at the time which, trust me, is rarely anything of interest. Both the good guys and the baddies are hoping to find another source of Metalogen during all this, as well.
The ostensible excitement of the serial is provided by Ernst’s enormous ape Thor (Ray “Crash” Corrigan in his own handmade monkey suit), controlled by zookeeper and trusty henchman Dick Nordik (Jack Ingram), and the Metalogen Man himself, an unidentified actor in a robot suit. In fact, the entire publicity campaign for The Monster and the Ape is built upon the premise that Thor and M-Bot will throw down in an epic confrontation:
Or, as you can see in the detail on the bottom right of the poster, perhaps even team up together. The truth, which I can reveal to you now that we are at the end of the serial, is that this never happens. It was all a publicity campaign made up of lies designed to get butts into seats on false premises.
The only time the robot and the ape are in the same scene is this brief moment in Chapter 8 when Thor carries M-bot back to Ernst’s lab.
It’s not that I didn’t fully expect the eventual confrontation to be weaksauce, I had no idea it would never happen at all; to be honest, had I known, I never would have done recaps of this serial. But I am recapping it, so we must trudge on to the end, my friends. Let’s visit the final chapter, which is called “Justice Triumphs.”
This final episode jumps right into the action as Ken, who was flying after three henchmen who panicked and flew off before Ernst was ready, suffers mechanical failure in his plane. The last chapter cliffhanger at least didn’t even try to sell us on the idea that Ken might be dead; prior chapters flatly lied about events, using different footage each time, most egregiously in the case of an avalanche where a dummy dressed like Ken was visibly smashed with a rock, yet wasn’t even near the falling rocks in the next chapter’s recap.
The henchmen continue to fly… somewhere. We don’t know where, and they don’t know where, either. Ernst made a point of stating that he wasn’t going to tell the henchmen where they were going, and as far as we know, he never changed his mind. I guess we can only assume that the trio of henchmen are in such a panic they are flying willy nilly across the plains.
Flying, that is, until they accidentally end up in a no-fly zone patrolled by this guy, intended to be a modern day soldier but obviously an extra in WWI surplus:
He informs some colonel (an uncredited crappy actor who looks nervously into the camera) in “Zone 11″ about the airplane. After a quick consult on the phone — and keep in mind the Armed Forces have no idea who is on the plane, and are completely out of the loop regarding this whole Metalogen-Ernst ordeal — a general gives orders to shoot down the plane. Stock war footage is deployed, then boom:
You really cannot watch this scene without immediately realizing that Edward D. Wood, Jr. knew the films he made weren’t that far off from the films Hollywood made. This entire segment is proto-Plan 9, without question, made by experienced personnel at a well-established studio. Maybe those who said Ed Wood was the worst filmmaker ever could be excused decades ago before films and serials like these were readily available, but Michael Medved, ostensibly experienced and knowledgeable in film history, has no excuse for labeling Wood “worst director” when mainstream, mass-produced junk like this existed.
Meanwhile, on the ground, Ernst and henchman Flint take Arnold to that brick factory we’ve seen in a few chapters prior. Ernst and Arnold have a little recap good-old-days talk, which isn’t much of anything, and never references what got everyone into this mess in the first place, because you know every single script writer, cast and crew member has forgotten about it by now.
Back at Arnold’s lab, Flash returns to a panicked but useless Babs. She quizzes him on what he knows, and he explains he was left behind and tied up as Arnold was taken away, but Ken showed up, untied him, and told him to call the police. Babs screams, “No, you’ll spoil everything!” as though a logical, reasonable person would think it best to keep the police out of this. She’s angry because Flash couldn’t read her mind and had no idea Arnold, while kidnapped, had told Babs to leave the police out of it.
Flash apologizes and continues to explain, but his explanation is all gibberish, the racist mispronunciations used as comedy relief throughout the film, and Babs — who we have seen more than once chuckling at those mispronunciations — yells at him to make sense for once. It’s all terrible acting, both of them standing there reciting their lines like in a bad high school play, but it’s also offensive, and it ends with a racist punchline, Flash referring to himself as a child as a “pickaninny.”
It’s not that the word “pickaninny” was completely out of the American lexicon by this time, nor is it now, sadly, but films had avoided the word for several years, since the mid-1930s. As Authentic History notes (note: link goes to racist imagery), this is about the time when an anti-Little Black Sambo movement began, and though the word was obviously used in popular culture, it’s difficult to find many uses of it in films as late as 1945; if they were used, it was almost entirely by people playing characters meant to be negative in some way. Seeing a black man calling himself by that term in dialogue from a script written by white men is troubling stuff, and I think you’ll agree that in looking at Carole’s reaction, we’re seeing the actress herself taken aback, not the character Babs. It’s so incongruous; why even go there in a kids’ serial?
Flash goes to a back room, having been instructed to allow Ernst’s henchmen to take M-Bot in exchange for Arnold, while Babs begins a long, boring sequence of toodling around the lab. When henchman Flint arrives, we see M-Bot walking around the lab as he’s being controlled, wasting more minutes. This is about 11 minutes before the end of the serial, folks, and we’re being subjected to over three minutes of time wasters.
Ken returns and he begins to chew Babs out in the same way she chewed Flash out, and suddenly, The Monster and the Ape becomes a terrible example of the social hierarchy in mid-40s America. Just a little sociocultural slice o’ heaven right here, innit? This is unpleasant stuff.
At the brick factory, Ernst becomes impatient, wondering why Flint and M-Bot haven’t arrived yet. And why haven’t they? Flat tire. Again, this is not a joke. Arnold calls Babs at an impatient Ernst’s insistence, and the call is traced by the police, who tell Ken where the call is coming from. When Flint finally fixes his tire and arrives with M-Bot, he and Ernst speed off to the airport — remember, they have no idea their comrades and the sacks of Metalogen were shot down by the U.S. Armed Forces — just as Ken gets to the brick factory, this time with emergency services in tow. They untie Arnold, and send Arnold and Babs home; their work here is done.
Then Flint, Ernst, and the unseen Metalogen Man in the back of the truck go off the cliff in this stock footage that I swear was also used in The Phantom Creeps.
That’s it. We’re done. Well, Arnold, Babs and Ken sit around for the final minute and sulk, but otherwise, the serial is over.
My biggest issue with this serial was the utter pointlessness of it all. How exactly does something like this get made? The robot, a.k.a. the “monster” of the title, did nothing. He was just some tchotchke exchanged between the two groups, but beyond a little menacing in the abandoned paint factory, he was completely unused.
And I have to wonder who was actually behind this pile of shit. Director Howard Bretherton had helmed nearly 100 films and serials prior to this, since the silent days. Writers Royal K. Cole and Sherman Lowe had both done a host of serials and B movies. The actors, with the exception of Carole Matthews, were all experienced. Was there not a single person who could fix this thing? Would you want your work to go out looking like this, with your name on it, your face, your effort?
Willie Best may not have had much experience, but he was the only actor besides Crash Corrigan who brought some energy to the thing, and a couple of times appeared to improvise — when he dropped the pencil, when he tasted the Metalogen, etc. — and made a scene better. Everyone involved is drained and sad by the end of the serial, except Best, and to a lesser extent Robert Lowery, who seemed just to be happy that he was the lead.
Very basic fixes were beyond the two dozen people involved, apparently. Instead of having Arnold claim he “forgot” about a working Metalogen detector sitting in the cabinet, why not have the exact same scene and replace the line with, “Let me try one more time to fix it,” and then it works? Instead of the henchmen flying off without knowing where they were going, how about adding to the line “The flight plans are in the plane”? Have the monkey lunge at Arnold before he shoots, then say, oh, I dunno, “Argh!” before falling to the ground? Have the guy in the robot suit reach out of the back of the van and scare Ernst and Flint, causing them to drive off the cliff in a panic?
As much as I’ve thought about this serial for the past few months, I have yet to come up with any scenario that explains the complete failure of this venture. Disinterested cats could do better than this.
I very much regret how this serial turned out, and I feel like I let a lot of people down, and all I can do is apologize. There are some things I just cannot breathe life into, and I should have called “Uncle!” on this months ago. I think we caught a little lightning in a bottle back with the Phantom Creeps recaps, and Raiders of Ghost City was interesting if a little dry, but this… this was a waste of all our time, and I’m sorry.
A new, fresher weekly feature is in the works. Onward and upward, better things ahead, stiff upper lip, etc. etc.