The Ape – 1940 Public Domain Feature Film

The Ape is a 1940 American horror film directed by William Nigh. The film is based on Adam Hull Shirk’s play The Ape, which was previously adapted by Nigh as The House of Mystery (1934). The film stars Boris Karloff as Dr. Bernard Adrian who is seeking to cure a young woman’s polio through experiments involving spinal fluid. Meanwhile, a vicious ape has been terrorizing the town’s locals, and breaking into Adrian’s lab. A battle ensues between the two leading to Adrian deciding to skin the ape and disguise himself as the beast in order to get more spinal fluid which was destroyed in the battle.

The Ape was made by Monogram Pictures Corp. after making several Mr. Wong films with both Karloff and Nigh. According to the actress, it was filmed within a week. The film received mixed reviews from critics on its release, with positive reviews from The Hollywood Reporter, Kinematograph Weekly, and the Los Angeles Times while receiving negative reviews from The New York Times and Variety. Retrospective reviews generally have commented on how ridiculous they had found the film or how a reviewer felt it did not work as a thrilling story.

Boris Karloff had previously worked at Monogram Pictures playing the role of the detective James Lee Wong, based on Hugh Wiley’s stories published in Collier’s magazine. Karloff appeared in five films as the character within two years. After the success of the horror film Son of Frankenstein (1939), Keye Luke took over for Karloff as the detective in Phantom of Chinatown (1940) while Karloff was cast in the horror film The Ape. The film’s director was William Nigh who had worked with Karloff on the five Mr. Wong films. On July 9, 1940, Curt Siodmak was hired. The Ape was based on the play of the same title by Adam Hull Shirk. Along with screenwriter Richard Carroll, the two wrote a story for him similar to the Mad Doctor films Karloff had made with Columbia Pictures. The two films only follow the plot point of a character disguising themselves as an ape. Siodmak spoke of the adaptation, declaring that “whether it was The Ape, The Climax (1944), or I Walked with a Zombie (1943), I never used the original material. I used my own stories.”

Among the cast was Maris Wrixon who was on loan to Monogram from Warner Bros. Pictures. Wrixon recalled that she received the script for the film one or two days before shooting. She declared that she enjoyed working with Karloff and Nigh, but that working for Monogram was like “living in a poor apartment. It was like living in a foxhole.”[6] Gene O’Donnell also spoke positively about working with Karloff and Nigh, while echoing that working at Monogram and other poverty row studios were “very frugal and awful careful about what they did.”

Production on The Ape started on August 6, 1940. It was filmed in the city of Newhall, Santa Clarita, California. While the film was promoted as being a larger budget production for Monogram, film historian Tom Weaver stated that the circus footage in the film appeared to be taken from another film, and some shorts of Karloff’s character leaving and entering his house are repeated. According to Wrixon, the film finished filming within a week.


This movie falls under Public Domain.

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it.


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