The Monster Walks. 1932. 5/10

This could have been a lot better. Great atmosphere, a decent premise, and not a bad plot. The mansion has every haunted house attribute: it’s old, dimly lit, has secret passageways, creepy servants, a corpse upstairs, an ape in the basement, plus a dark, stormy night outside. Also, at least on my DVD, there was a weird quiver in the geometric objects (tables, chairs, paintings, walls) in some scenes. I’m sure it was just the film quality, but it did add some ghostliness.

Unfortunately, the pacing quickly bogs us down. In fact, we’re stuck at the foot of the stairs every few minutes, waiting for something to happen. The mostly dull assortment of characters huddled together for the reading of the dead man’s will don’t deserve a dime of it. Only the surviving brother Robert and his servant/misbegotten son Hanns are in on the plot to kill the heiress Ruth, but they’re all guilty of wooden performances.

The chauffeur (Willie Best) is not only is the best actor, but his character is also the most sensible. Who wants to stay in a house with apes and dead people? Actually, a murderer too.

The plot keeps us guessing. At first is seems plausible that Robert fakes his disability to skulk about, pretending to be the ape. He’s more or less snubbed by his brother’s will; and, as the next in line, he stands to gain if Ruth dies. The ape is too obvious to be the killer. If it did get loose and were violent, it wouldn’t target Ruth, it would probably just go after the nearest person.

The revelation that the maid and Robert are Hanns’ parents explains why Robert might use him to get Ruth killed, as Hanns is at least as motivated as Robert to eliminate her. The fact that Hans mistakenly strangles his own mother is a nice twist.

At first I thought that the ape should’ve had something to do; he spends the whole movie locked up. But, in another way, he’s ever- present. He’s a suspect throughout, and appears to live up to his reputation, thanks to the fake arm/hand prop that Hanns uses. The worst aspect of the ape’s ‘character’ comes in the last scene.

It’s one thing to use Best as comic relief (his portrayal as a stereo-typically subservient, hapless, and superstitious black man is explicit); but having him relate his ancestry to the animal is plain disgusting. I know this sort of stuff was popular in movies for a long time, reflecting the level of acceptable racism, but, coming after everything in the plot has been revealed, it’s just tacked-on.

There’s decent mystery in The Monster Walks, but there could’ve been a bit more skullduggery, and a lot less talking. 5/10.

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