September 23, 1964
Annie Girardot Stars in 'The Ape Woman'
By BOSLEY CROWTHER
GOODNESS knows why anybody could think he could make a humorous film out of a story of a poor young woman whose face and body are covered with hair. Such a hideous physical affliction would hardly seem a matter for jokes, even among the fellows around the barbershop. But the Italian director Marco Ferreri, who made the Italian film, "The Conjugal Bed," which was all about a middle-aged bachelor who married a young, voracious wife, has tried to do it in his new film, "The Ape Woman" ("La Donna Scimmia"), which came to the Lincoln Art Theater yesterday. It will also open on Friday at the R. K. 0. 23d Street Cinema.
He has a tinhorn showman, played by Ugo Tognazzi—the same actor who played the husband in "The Conjugal Bed"—discover this hairy young woman, played by Annie Girardot, working in the kitchen of a Naples nunnery. He has him take the poor creature and make a back-street freak show out of her by dressing her up in a monkey costume and sitting her in a prop tree.
This part is supposed to be funny, as the gawking customers file in and the tinhorn, dressed as an explorer, rattles off a spiel. Also supposed to be funny is a slyly suggestive scene in which a scientist interested in "phenomena" tries to rent the girl for a series of biological experiments.
But these scenes are more painful than amusing, more horrid than humorous, and so, too, is a delicate passage in which the tinhorn is forced to marry the girl to keep from losing her. Indeed, the continuation of this passage to the edge of the conjugal bed leads to a thoroughly disagreeable and embarrassing scene.
The only redeeming feature of this oddly distasteful film is the fact that a certain haunting pathos does emerge from it. The director has let so much anguish and humiliation show in Miss Girardot as she grimly submits to exploitation behind a silky, brunette beard that the viewer is with compassion for this un-unfortunate girl and a creepy contempt for the rascal who so, brutally uses her.
As the latter, Mr. Tognazzi uses all his familiar comic tricks—the blank stare, the slow take, the bland shrug—but this time he comes over flat.
Fortunately, there is a happy ending. The "ape woman" gives birth to a child and molts, which presents a problem. Call it a hairbreadth escape.
It is evident that the censors have used their shears on this film. The producer should have beat them to it. He should have used shaving cream.
THE APE WOMAN, screenplay by Marco Ferreri and Rafael Azcona; directed by Marco Ferreri; produced by Carlo Ponti. A Champion-Concordia Film released by Embassy Pictures. At the Lincoln Art Theater, 57th Street near Broadway. Running time 92 minutes.
Antonio Focaccio . . . . . Ugo Tognazzi
Maria . . . . . Annie Girardot
Majeroni . . . . . Achille Majeroni
Chambermaid . . . . . Elvira Paoloni
Pensioner . . . . . Ugo Rossi
Bruno . . . . . Filippo Pompa Marcelli
Sister Furgoncino . . . . . Ermelinda De Felice