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The Monster & the Girl (1941)


Universal monster movies from the 1940s have a distinct look. Had I not seen the Paramount logo at the beginning of The Monster & the Girl (1941) from Shout! Factory’s The Universal Horror Collection Vol. 5, I still would have suspected something was different about it. Indeed, this is one of over 700 films that Paramount sold to Universal in 1958.

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Universal films are a little more… polished. Much of the action takes place on beautiful, clean sets. The casts are not usually large. On the other hand, Paramount films use locations and sets that seem more natural, like they come from real life. They have larger casts with a lot of unfamiliar faces. They also seem less formulaic.

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In this specific instance, we get a movie that’s better than the three genuine Universal movies in the set. Perhaps it’s just that it felt different from the ones I watched before it in preparation for this month’s podcast: Captive Wild Woman (1943), Jungle Woman (1944), and Jungle Captive (1945.) After those three, I needed something different!

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Their stories are all similar in that an experiment creates a “monster” from the combination of an ape/gorilla and a human. In the “Paula, the Ape Woman” trilogy, glandular manipulation and a partial brain transplant transform physical matter, turning Cheela the ape into Paula, the ape woman. In The Monster & the Girl, a man’s brain is completely transplanted into a gorilla.

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This raises another point about the difference between Universal and Paramount, as well as some of the other studios. Films from the others seem more… dangerous. Supposedly, fear of the censors caused Universal to change the particulars of its movies’ experiments because a full brain transplant was too controversial. Three years earlier, Paramount didn’t care about that.

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Each of the three Universal films focuses heavily on the “mad scientist” and his experiments. The Monster & the Girl barely features the “mad scientist” at all. In fact, Dr. Parry (George Zucco) doesn’t seem mad. Or, I should say, we have no idea about the motivation for his experiments. They aren’t the point. It’s a means to an end for a crime story/revenge tale.

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The story is told partially through courtroom drama that contains flashbacks within flashbacks. This structure isn’t that uncommon and it’s a compelling way for a mystery to unfold. Then, it transitions to post-trial when Scot Webster (Philip Terry) is convicted of a murder he did not commit. He’s dragged from the room yelling that the bad guys will get what’s coming to them.

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When Dr. Parry approaches him on death row and asks for his brain after he’s executed, Webster laughs hysterically and says, “Help yourself, mister! Help yourself!” (See, Dr. Parry isn’t mad. He kindly asks for the brain ahead of time rather than stealing it from the morgue after the fact.)

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On the 32nd day following a quick montage of laboratory equipment, Dr. Parry recognizes “an almost human understanding” in the eyes of the gorilla. Soon, a mysterious “mangler murder” is crushing every bone in the bodies of the bad guys. The “girl” is Scot’s sister, Susan (Ellen Drew), who longed so desperately to leave her small hometown for the big city.

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I enjoyed the way the sibling relationship was established. I’m almost certain Scot was gay. He’s a bachelor that’s living in his small town with his job at the post office and side gig playing the organ at church on the weekend. He seems sad, even though Susan wishes she could be as content as he is.

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Susan desperately “wants to go someplace… anywhere… that things are happening.” With Scot’s blessing, she leaves and learns a lesson about being careful what you wish for. Unable to find a job, she marries Larry Reed (Robert Paige) and finds herself suddenly and inexplicably involved in a life of crime. It’s heartbreaking for this beautiful but naïve young woman.

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It’s also heartbreaking for animal lovers that “Skippy, the dog” recognizes Scot deep within the gorilla and follows him wherever he goes. After the inevitable demise of the “monster,” the final scene is Skippy lying down and whining. (I bet you thought I was going to say that Skippy died, didn’t you?)

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Though the movie starts dragging at the point you expect it to become more exciting during its B-movie running time of 65 minutes, I really enjoyed it. It’s what you’d expect, but just a little different. While there are elements in The Monster & the Girl familiar to a Universal production, they’re utilized just differently enough to be unique.

Written by Stuart Anthony

Directed by Stuart Heisler

Starring Ellen Drew, Robert Paige, Paul Lukas, Joseph Calleia, Onslow Stevens, George Zucco, Rod Cameron, Phillip Terry

RT 65 min.

Released Feb. 28, 1941

Home Video Shout! Factory (Blu-ray)

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