From the DVD case: People in an old dark house on a stormy night are menaced by a killer ape. (1932, b&w)
Mark says: If I had to describe The Monster Walks in one word, it would be cliché. The events of the film take place during a dark and stormy night in an eerie mansion. The rich master has died suspiciously and the family is gathered for the reading of the will. The house is full of unsavory characters, including an old, invalid uncle, and two creepy house servants. There’s also a fearsome ape locked in the basement, which has a renowned hatred for the deceased’s daughter.
In addition to all of this, the mansion is full of hidden passages and paintings that move so eyes can peer through. Of course, the young daughter inherits everything. If she should die, all the money goes to the repugnant old uncle. Any of this sound familiar? I had a feeling it would.
To be fair, it should be noted that in 1932 these themes were not as cliché as we think of them today. They were certainly well-worn, but probably not to the point of parody as contemporary moviegoers would undoubtedly interpret them. Additionally, if looked at from a historical perspective, this film might even hold some points of interest.
The Monster Walks is reminiscent of the silent films that were still recent history at the time. In fact, this was screenwriter Robert Ellis’ first “talkie.” (Ellis would later become famous for his Charlie Chan pictures.) Modern viewers will undoubtedly notice the long silences. Where we expect to hear mood music for emphasis, we only hear the crackling and popping of the source tape. This lack of sound, as well as any real action, makes the film’s 60 minute running time seem much longer.
The actors play their roles with varying degrees of success. Rex Lease, known mostly for his Westerns, is a strong but dull lead as Dr. Ted Clayton. His fiancée, Ruth, is played by Vera Reynolds. Ruth is the woman we are supposed to be concerned about, but her dramatics become grating early on, leaving us less than sympathetic for her character. Sheldon Lewis (1920’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) plays the conniving uncle, Robert Earlton. It is obvious almost immediately that he is behind the evil-doings at the mansion. As an added bonus, we have Sidney Bracey overacting as the suspicious attorney, Herbert Wilkes.
Of slightly more interest are the mother and son servants, Emma and Hanns Krug, played by Martha Mattox (The Cat and the Canary) and Mischa Auer (Condemned to Live), respectively. As creepy servants go, Emma and Hanns at least hold their own. Auer can’t be blamed if he looks like he has studied Karloff’s portrayal of the famous monster that was such a hit only a year earlier.
For comedy relief, Willie Best (The Monster and the Ape) plays the stereotypical cowardly black chauffeur/servant, Exodus. Making matters worse, Best is billed under the embarrassingly demeaning pseudonym, Sleep ‘n’ Eat. Those were different times, folks. Best does break up the monotony a little bit, but his scenes are brief and add nothing to the story.
The “monster” the title promises is perhaps one of the most blatant cases of false advertising perpetrated on film goers. The title card (see image at the top of this post) features a ferocious ape-beast carrying a fainted damsel. However, when we are introduced to this “brute” (locked up in the cellar of the mansion) we find he is a rather playful chimpanzee named Yogi. What’s more, it is painfully obvious that Yogi has nothing to do with the murders committed at the mansion.
The Monster Walks does offer a few teeny surprises, but they are not the epiphanies they are meant to be. It is hard to imagine that even audiences of the time could have been too shocked with the movie’s conclusion.
All that said, the film does hold a certain naïve charm. It’s mildly intriguing to watch a non-Universal approach to the genre and witness that awkward transitional stage between silent films and talkies. We also get a glimpse into the humble beginnings of a mystery writer, Robert Ellis, who would later go on to be a master of the genre.
Unfortunately, when all is said and done, this is not an interesting film, and modern viewers would be hard-pressed to sit through it even once.
The Monster Walks is directed by Frank Strayer, who later went on to direct such films as Condemned to Live and The Vampire Bat.
Scene to watch for: Wilkes asks Exodus if he has a gun in his car. Exodus answers “no” and pulls the gun from his robe.
Line to listen for: “It’s all your fault, you shrunken devil!”
Trivia: The leading lady, Vera Reynolds, was the wife of the screenwriter, Robert Ellis.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! out of 5.