THE MONKEY TALKS (1927)
Article 3965 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Featuring Olive Borden, Jacques Lerner, Don Alvarado
What it is: Circus melodrama
In order to make ends meet, members of a circus concoct an act in which one of their members will impersonate a monkey who can talk. In order to make sure the scam works, the small group keeps the secret to themselves, but when a beautiful tightrope walker joins the circus, complications arise when both the man impersonating the monkey and the man taking the role of the trainer fall in love with her.
This movie was based on a French stage play that was a big hit, but when it first came to the US, it failed to have the same commercial impact, and the movie adaptation was given a perfunctory production. Still, Jacques Lerner (who played the role of the monkey-man in both France and the U.S.) gives a great, energetic performance, and, even though the only surviving print of this is in decrepit condition, the movie is quite entertaining. Granted, it is a far-fetched premise, and the movie version apparently made a number of changes to the storyline of the play (particularly in the relationship between the monkey/man and his master). Still, even though it ends up on the melodramatic side, I found myself involved with the characters and their situations; I have to admit to being a bit of a sucker for noble sacrifice, so there you go. Still, the fantastic content is slight, though there are a few touches of horror involving a real monkey getting mixed up in the story and other touches of animal horror. All in all, I liked it despite its flaws.
Incidentally, I was able to augment much of this review by reading the entry on it in McFarland’s book, “American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films 1913-1929” by John T. Soister, Henry Nicolella, Steve Joyce and Harry H. Long, which I just received in the mail today. Consider this a plug!
40 years before John Chambers, Jack Pierce delivered yeoman work on the simian makeup for this forgotten gem.