It crams into its first ten minutes as much bestial subtext as King Kong, all under Robert Florey's and Karl Freund's splendiferous Euro-eye. The carnival in 1845 Paris is set up with diagonals from the opening of Murnau's Faust, with the "snake imitations" of Arabian hoochie-coochie wrigglers and faux-Apache scalpers among the sideshow tableaux. The main attraction is "Erik the Ape Man," the crowd passes between the legs of a painted gorilla and finds Bela Lugosi's skulking rendition of a carny-provocateur before his own looming shadow. The doctor specializes in Darwinist rants and dotes on his caged simian, and kidnaps women to test their potential as mates for the beast. One streetwalker (Arlene Francis) is scooped off the waterfront to be "the pride of science," tied to an X-shaped rack for the lethal experiment and unceremoniously dumped into the waters below once her blood is deemed unclean. Purity is demanded -- the daintiness of Sidney Fox, the lily-white mademoiselle courted by medical student Leon Ames, proves ideal for Lugosi's plans. The idea of normalcy is mocked to the camera's face: Its vision of marriage has Ames obsessing at his microscope while the apron-wearing roommate (Bert Roach) fusses over him ignoring his meal ("Vampire! Vulture! Body-snatcher!"), even a pastoral picnic (with its early traces of Ray's Charulata) includes a montage of guys trying to court the panties off their dates. Florey adds the ape to the Germanic mise-en-scène in the climactic abduction for a Fuseli nightmare, then closes with a joke of karmic perversity. "Broken hopes, and bodies and hearts. Absent dreams. Starvation, madness, crimes of the street," Ames sighs. "My city," and Poe's and Caligari's, too. With D'Arcy Corrigan, Noble Johnson, and Betty Ross Clarke. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce