Science, the Mob, and Cliches
“I’m tired of murders,” says an inspector partway through The Monster and the Girl. By 1941, that line probably came from Universal themselves after their litany of horror movies. Or, maybe since Paramount produced Monster and the Girl (Universal purchased the rights in the late ‘50s), that was a direct jab at the competition.
If Paramount’s intention was to capture Universal’s market share in the b-grade horror genre, that’s akin to wishful thinking. Monster and the Girl layers on limp seediness, although not when in 1941’s social standards. Mobsters, killing, crazed science, prostitution, executions; there’s a little of everything, even an ape which places Monster and the Girl among Hollywood’s first ape boom, post-King Kong.
Monster and the Girl is awfully thin though, a pre-war anxiety story where jobs ran low, belief in evolution went against religion, and brain transplants seemed plausible under Nazi rule. With no real character, George Zucco slaps a human brain into a gorilla, leading to dead mobsters. It’s as asinine as it sounds, pinging off Frankenstein, yet disinterested in the why or humanity, just the rage. The initial act wanders around a courtroom, spending 20-minutes setting up backstory. Come the ape’s crime spree (with a convincing suit/makeup), the production code shuts down the fun.
Ellen Drew is Monster and the Girl’s marginal bright spot. A small town girl yearning for a big city, and when she arrives, only finds trouble. Monster and the Girl praises the simple life. The story, via flashback, begins in a church. There’s not another one anywhere in the movie. A wedding takes place at a Justice of the Peace. In the third act, the ape stalks from urban rooftops, hiding in shadows provided by the sprawl. Drew’s pacifist, scared femme fatale becomes overwhelmed in this place where men play God and the mob rules.
At barely an hour long, there’s little space to deliver anything short of cardboard personalities. That’s why Drew sticks out – she’s the only one allowed emotion. Criminals stock up on cliches. Ape movies were churned out by the dozens. The violence isn’t notable. Short of gallows humor from the inspectors (excited when a victim is shot to change things up from mangled bodies), Monster and the Girl isn’t offering grand memories, and certainly not against Universal’s vault.
Scream Factory delivers individual discs for each film inside Universal Horror Collection 5, and kudos for that since short runtimes means it was possible to cram four films onto one disc. Monster and the Girl reveals age through damage, but only damage. Scratches and dirt avoid becoming a distraction, naturally part of this early ‘40s film stock now.
Well resolved grain keeps consistency high. Edits/dissolves come with their own usual complications, forever part of the source. Nothing fixes those fuzzier moments. The rest brings appreciable sharpness and even texture. A new scan lifts the barren cinematography, capturing nuance and details, especially in the ape suit.
The winning element is gray scale, masterfully calibrated with tight, sharp shadows. Intent is preserved. Rich contrast finds additional life, bold and striking, perfect in accompanying those black levels to create superior dimension.
Raw, organic, vintage audio pours from this DTS-HD mono track. It’s audio beauty for anyone seeking unprocessed analog quality. Any significant faults disappear – pops, hissing, etc. What’s left maintains natural purity, slightly coarse treble and loose bass included.
The always perfect commentator Tom Weaver brings noir specialist Steve Kronenberg to fill in gaps. Both appreciate this one and its oddball story.
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The Monster and the Girl
Routine sci-fi/horror/noir pieces fill Monster and the Girl, a movie dependent on story beats that came before.
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