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On a street corner in Lisbon, Portugal, sailor Hank Smith, a hulking brute of a man, boasts to his shipmates that as the ship's stoker, he powers the engines of their freighter. When the belligerent Hank incites a fight at a local bar, Tony Lazar, the ship's second engineer, intercedes on Hank's behalf with the police, and together, they return to their freighter. Upon reaching the pier, Tony discovers that the captain has agreed to transport a group of stranded refugees to New York. When Tony learns that Helen Parker, an old acquaintance from New York, is among the group, he goes to her hotel to escort her to the docks. At the hotel, meanwhile, Helen informs her old school friend, pampered heiress Mildred Douglas, that they have found safe passage home aboard the freighter. In reply, the ungrateful, self-centered Mildred complains about traveling on a "filthy little boat." Once the voyage is underway, MacDougald, the ship's chief officer, tells Tony to order the engine room crew to stoke the engines full steam ahead so that they can catch up to a convoy. Below decks, as the men feed the fires that power the engines, Hank, covered in grime and sweat, is invigorated by the challenge and brags that he is the flesh and blood of the engines. Meanwhile, above decks, Mildred complains that the tiny cabin she is assigned to share with Helen is abhorrent. When Mildred notices Tony's interest in the heroic Helen, who has helped the desperate refugees obtain passage to freedom in America, she begins to flirt with Tony and soon convinces him to offer her his larger and more comfortable quarters. To flaunt her conquest of Tony, Mildred directs Helen to deliver her lavish wardrobe to Tony's cabin. Becoming bored, Mildred decides to see how "the other half lives" and tricks Tony into escorting her to the engine room. When Helen learns that Mildred has lied to Tony that the captain has given his permission for the excursion, she criticizes her for jeopardizing Tony's career. Mildred descends into the engine room, and, repulsed by the sight of the brutish Hank, humiliates him by labeling him a "hairy ape." Seething with anger, the misogynistic Hank mounts the stairs to confront Mildred. When Lazar shoves Hank back down the stairs, MacDougald summons them both to his quarters and charges them with allowing their petty animosities to sabotage their mission. Later, MacDougald tells Helen that Tony has decided to leave the ship in New York and asks her to convince him to change his mind. Upon docking in New York, Mildred retreats to the luxury of her apartment. When Helen visits Mildred to inform her that she is returning to Portugal, Mildred treats her like a servant. While Helen is there, Tony phones to ask Mildred for a date, and after she rejects him and hangs up the phone, Mildred turns to Helen and coldly declares that Tony was only a brief diversion. Outraged, Helen flees the apartment. Soon after, Hank and several of his seamen friends arrive at Mildred's address. When Mildred refuses to see him, Hank creates a disturbance in the lobby, and the doorman summons the police, who then arrest him. The caged Hank vociferously protests his imprisonment, prompting the officers to douse him with a fire hose. Hank's friends plead for his release, but when Hank is finally freed, he emerges from his cell a broken man. Drawn by a poster for "Goliath the Gorilla," Hank wanders to the zoo and pauses in front of the gorilla's cage, transfixed. Resolving to "smash" Mildred, Hank proceeds to her apartment building. Meanwhile, Tony visits Mildred to declare his love, but Mildred replies that he means nothing to her and cruelly dismisses him. Crushed, Tony walks out, leaving the door ajar, and after lumbering up the back stairs of the building, Hank enters the apartment through the open door. When Mildred sees Hank looming over her, she collapses in fear, and he carries her to the couch and begins to caress her hair. After she regains consciousness, Hank picks her up, shakes her and then tosses her back onto the couch. His confidence restored, Hank contemptuously tosses a coin at Mildred and leaves. At the seamen's bar, Hank finds Tony passed out drunk at one of the tables and carries him back to the ship. Hank then charges down the stairs to the engine room and orders the men to start shoveling.
Charles La Torre
Rod De Medici
Robert D. Andrews
Joseph H. Nadel
The Hairy Ape
Mildred Douglas (Hayward) is forced to travel by steamer ship along with a group of refugees - instead of by luxury cruise liner - back to the States after a vacation in Lisbon. On board, Mildred creates all manner of mischief, including seducing 2nd engineer Tony Lazar (John Loder), the paramour of her friend Helen Parker (Dorothy Comingore), and jeopardizing Tony's job by convincing him to take her on a tour of the ship's off-limits lower decks. Deep in the ship's bowels, a team of men labor piling coal into the boat's furnaces, led by the brutish, vain worker Hank Smith (William Bendix), who takes enormous pride in how his efforts propel the ship.
O'Neill's original story, rooted in the extreme class differences between working men like Hank ("Yank" in O'Neill's play) and Mildred, finds its most dramatic articulation in this film version when Mildred is shocked and disgusted by the sight of a hulking, filthy Hank coming toward her in the boiler room. She flees, but not before screaming "you hairy ape!" a denigration that inspires the proud working man to track her down once the ship docks in New York to her plush apartment and exact his revenge.
Hayward virtually stole The Hairy Ape out from under the top-billed Bendix, as the haughty, cruel and ultimately haunted socialite Mildred. She received rave reviews for her performance. The New York Herald-Tribune's reviewer was typical in his effusiveness, stating, "Susan Hayward is appropriately hateful as the empty-minded rich girl who is frightened by the animalistic world of the stokehold. She achieves a good deal of villainy in spite of a wealth of corny dialogue."
After working in New York as a photographer's model, Hayward traveled to Hollywood where she was one of the many young actresses up for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).
The irony of Hayward's typecasting in many of her early film roles as the spoiled -- in the words of Time magazine "bitch-player" -- is that in real life, Hayward was from fairly modest origins. She was born Edythe Marrenner to a Brooklyn transit worker and she initially studied stenography and dress design at a commercial high school. She was also notoriously frugal and had enormous problems parting with her money according to biographers Robert LaGuardia and Gene Arceri, co-authors of Red: The Tempestuous Life of Susan Hayward. LaGuardia and Arceri noted that she would often deliberate for months over the purchase of an expensive hat and lived in a tiny apartment during her early years in Hollywood.
In 1947 Hayward received her first of five Oscar® nominations playing an alcoholic nightclub singer in Smash-up: The Story of a Woman (1947). She eventually won the Best Actress Academy Award playing another tragic woman, the real-life death row-convicted killer Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! (1958).
Hayward died of complications relating to brain cancer in 1975 at age 57. A persistent industry rumor has attributed Hayward's cancer (along with co-star John Wayne's own death from cancer) to her exposure to radiation while filming The Conquerer (1956) not far from the site where the United States conducted 11 atom bomb tests in nearby Yucca Flats, Nevada. Cecil Adams in his newspaper column "The Straight Dope" noted that of the 220 persons on the crew, 91 contracted cancer (with 46 eventually dying from the disease), far higher than the usual cancer odds.
O'Neill, a brilliant American playwright who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936, wrote his seafaring class drama "The Hairy Ape" in 1923.
O'Neill had been reluctant for years to sell the rights to his play. But he eventually did sell them, to producer Jules Levy, in his first production for United Artists after working as a distribution executive. In doing so O'Neill waived all rights to his original work, thus allowing Hollywood to dramatically alter the ending. In the original play an enraged Hank enters the cage of a circus gorilla where he is crushed to death, though director Alfred Santell's adaptation ends on an entirely different, less downbeat note.
Also in the cast in a rare post-Citizen Kane (1941) appearance is Dorothy Comingore as Mildred's friend.
Michel Michelet and Edward Paul's musical score was nominated for an Oscar®, though so were 19 other films that year and all lost to Max Steiner's score for Since You Went Away (1944).
Director: Alfred Santell
Producer: Joseph Nadel
Screenplay: Robert D. Andrews and Decla Dunning based on the play by Eugene O'Neill
Cinematography: Lucien Andriot
Production Design: James Sullivan
Music: Michel Michelet and Edward Paul
Cast: William Bendix (Hank Smith), Susan Hayward (Mildred Douglas), John Loder (2nd Engineer Tony Lazar), Dorothy Comingore (Helen Parker), Roman Bohnen (Paddy), Tom Fadden (Long), Alan Napier (MacDougald), Charles Cane (Gantry).
by Felicia Feaster
The Hairy Ape
The opening credits for this film read "Eugene O'Neill's prize winning play The Hairy Ape." Although a June 1943 news item in Daily Variety states that O'Neill would write a screen treatment of his play, a July 1943 New York Times news item notes that O'Neill wavered for years about selling the rights to his play. When he finally agreed to sell the rights to producer Jules Levey, he relinquished all control over his orginal work, according to the New York Times news item. In O'Neill's play, the character of "Yank," who is called "Hank" in the film, is crushed to death by the gorilla. Hank's rebellion against society is also more sharply delineated in the original.
This was Levey's first production for United Artists. Levey had previously worked as a distribution executive. Although a February 1944 news item in New York Herald Tribune stated that Howard Estabrook wrote the screenplay in conjunction with Robert D. Andrews, Estabrook is not credited by SAB and the extent of his contribution to the released film has not been determined. Although Hollywood Reporter news items add Freddie Frink, Eddie Aquilian, Harry Wilson, Phil Bloom, Leo Sulky, Dutch Schlickenmayer, Israel Garcia and Francis Pierlot to the cast, their participation in the released film has not been confirmed. Lucien Andriot was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox to photograph this picture. Edward Paul and Michel Michelet received an Academy Award nomination in the Music (Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) category. The film was reissued in 1948 by Film Classics, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item.