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Tuesday 11 October 2011

Burl reviews Dr. Renault's Secret! (1942)

Hello to all my pals! It’s Burl here with a review for you! Sure, it’s another ape movie, like Gorilla At Large or White Pongo, but this one has a bit of a twist to it! Read on, MacDuff, and I’ll explain! Ha ha, but first, be warned! In reviewing Dr. Renault’s Secret, I’ll be revealing Dr. Renault’s secret, and it’s not merely that he doesn’t even own a Renault! It’s hard to talk about the movie without revealing the secret, so I’m a-gonna do it!

It seems that an American doctor has arrived in France to marry Dr. Renault’s niece! All very nice, or so it seems! But the bridge is washed out, and the young fellow must pass the night at a local inn, along with a few other characters! There’s Renault’s hulking gardener, played by Mike Mazurki; another American who happens to be an obnoxious drunk; and finally there’s Noel, a slab-faced fellow of few words, who turns out to be Renault’s manservant!

Well, soon enough there’s a murder! And the next day, after Noel drives the doctor to Renault’s chateau, there’s another killing, this time of a local hound! And then, as Bastille day approaches, a few other people get some pretty stiff neck-twists, or else are completely defenestrated by person or persons unknown! Actually it’s not all that unknown, since we do see Noel perpetrate some of these killings – but not all of them!

So here’s the big secret the doctor’s been keeping: Noel is in fact not a human at all, but a shaved ape who’s been taught to talk! We see a photo album of his journey from fierce-but-happy jungle ape to dour, morning-coated manservant! There are some hilarious mid-transformation pictures of the ape swathed in bandages and looking pretty grumpy about it all! And who can blame him! Dr. Renault has apparently perpetrated this weird science in order to prove some crazy theories of his, and it turns out that he’s not the avuncular figure he first appeared to be, but a whip-cracking martinet! The whole thing ends more or less in classic monster-movie style at the top of an old grist mill, but the monster isn’t necessarily who you thought it would be!

There are a few great things about this movie! One is that the director apparently saw Citizen Kane and liked it well enough to try replicating some of the shots! There are lots of low-angle close-ups of shadowed faces, and some deep focus of the sort we know and love from that movie! Ha ha, I love that kind of thing!

The other great thing is the cast, specifically George Zucco as Renault and J. Carroll Naish as Noel! Both of these guys are associated with cheap, schlocky horror movies, but they’re really good actors, and especially so here! Naish’s performance as the love-besotted Noel is highly sympathetic and rather heart-rending! I give Dr. Renault’s Secret three defenestrations!

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