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Hank Smith, a brutish stoker on board a freighter, is appalled when Mildred Douglas, a society girl forced by circumstance to travel as a passenger, visits the stokehold and recoils at the filthy, sweating Hank. A powerhouse of a man with a primitive confidence, Hank has never been looked down on before nor suffered the insult "hairy ape" flung at him by the rich girl. At first he seeks vengeance for the insult, but broods over it until more than anything, he desires to understand it. When the ship reaches port, he seeks her out in her upper class surroundings, determined to grasp the meaning of the encounter. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film. See more »
Back in 1922 The Hairy Ape premiered on Broadway and in the role played now by William Bendix, Louis Wolheim starred in the title role. It only had a run of about 3 months so it was not a big commercial success for Eugene O'Neil. Still even second rung O'Neil is a lot better than most.
But if you expect to see much of O'Neil here you will be disappointed. In fact you'll be down right discouraged when you see that O'Neil's play has been turned into a cut rate version of Of Mice And Men. Maybe John Steinbeck should have sued.
Knowing that Wolheim originated the role of the ship's stoker I can see why Bendix was cast. He certainly played a lot of blue collar types in his career. And in a straight dramatic no deviation production of The Hairy Ape he might very well have given an outstanding performance. He's not bad in this film.
All the social commentary of what O'Neil was trying to say about the failures of capitalism and the inability of socialism to provide a meaningful alternative are missing. The film is also updated to provide references to World War II, the ship is part of a convoy. What you're left with is the fact that some are born richer and better looking than others and never the twain shall mix.
Bendix as a stoker is a man happy with his lot and in truth it's the guys who are shoveling coal into the ship's furnace that do make her go, up on top the rest just steer. And it's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
Susan Hayward plays a rich society bitch who is teasing ship's officer John Loder for a little amusement even though her best friend and traveling companion Dorothy Comingore is in love with him. One day she wanders into the engine room and is so repelled by the dirty, sweaty, hairy Bendix that she tags on him the title of the film.
It bothers Bendix that this is how the world might see him even coming from this shallow society queen. Like Lennie from Of Mice And Men he's both repellent and pitiable. Unlike him he very well knows his own strength.
For what we get here both Bendix and Hayward deliver some fine performances. But if you want to see fine film productions of Eugene O'Neil I would check out The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey Into Night.
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