Hairy Ape, The: Santell’s Oscar Nominated Version of O’Neill’s Play, Starring William Bendix

The Hairy Ape, directed by Alfred Santell, and based on Eugene O’Neill’s famous play, is a compromised Hollywood production for several different reasons.

The versatile character actor William Bendix plays the ship’s stoker, Hank Smith, a brutish but sensitive man who believes that his power stems from his hairy body.

While the luxury liner is in Lisbon, the boiler room is visited by the snobbish and wealthy Mildred Douglas (Susan Hayward, before she became a star), the mercenary girl of second engineer Lazar (John Loder). Disgusted by Hank’s crude look and behavior, she calls him a “hairy ape.”  Though upset, Hank becomes obsessed by and smitten with Mildred, and she, both amused and bemused by his attraction, leads him on.

In the original O’Neill play, which was performed on stage in 1922, starring Louis Wolheim in a landmark performance, Hank joins a circus gorilla, where he’s crushed to death.

But in the Hollywood version, which O’Neill disliked, the ending was changed, and the story concludes on a more conventional and banal note. To be fair, the symbolic and allegorical overtones of O’Neill’s controversial play, do not lend themselves to a Hollywood picture.

The cast also includes Dorothy Comingore (better known for “Citizen Kane”), as Mildred’s rival, and Alan Napier.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Scoring (Dramatic or Comedy picture): Michel Michelet and Edward Paul

Oscar Awards: None


Oscar Context:

The winner of the Scoring Oscar was Max Steiner for the sentimental melodrama, “Since You Went Away.”