Saturday, September 5, 2020

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943) Blu-ray Review

Captive Wild Woman (1943) d. Edward Dmytryk (USA) (61 min)

When Cheela, a female gorilla exhibiting nearly human-like emotions, is captured and brought to the circus by famed hunter and animal trainer Fred Mason (Milburn Stone), she attracts the attention of gland specialist Dr. Walters (John Carradine) who plots to kidnap the giant beast for his own experiments. Through a combination of injections and brain surgery (compliments of his unwilling assistant, played by Fay Helm), Cheela is transformed into the beautiful Paula Dupree (Acquanetta), who subsequently develops a rather deep attraction to Mason, himself in the thick of creating a daring new circus act. Unfortunately for all, except perhaps Mason’s fiancee Beth (Evelyn Ankers), Walters’ success proves only temporary, and Paula begins devolving back to her previous primal self.

While engaging in its own right, the story behind Captive Wild Woman is almost more so. Apparently all of the circus footage is recycled from a previous Universal effort, 1933’s The Big Cage, and Stone (later to become immortalized as Doc Adams on TV’s Gunsmoke) was cast specifically because he resembled that film’s star, real-life big-animal trainer Clyde Beatty, from the back and sides, so matching the footage would be easier! In fact, the main plot of the two films is almost exactly identical, that of a trainer attempting to create a new act that involves both lions and tigers (apparently not a good idea) and everyone telling him he’s crazy to even try it. (Watching these scenes through 2020 eyes, it’s difficult to see them as anything other than cruel and inhumane, with what amounts to mondo footage of a lion and tiger locked in mortal battle and lots of whip cracking and pistol firing.)

Fanciful though it may be, the Jekyll-Hyde/Beauty-Beast aspect plays quite well, and director Dmytryk (later to become better known as one of the famous “Hollywood 10” who defied the HUAC congressional committee and were blacklisted for so doing) delivers the thrills and chills like the professional he already was. The three stages of Paula Dupree involve the full Cheela ape suit (with Ray “Crash” Corrigan inside – more on him in a second), the hairy Ape Girl (courtesy of Jack Pierce), and the mysterious and stunning glamour girl.

Billed as the “Venezuelan Volcano” (though she later admitted to being Native American – more on her in our Jungle Woman write-up), Acquanetta exhibits ample screen presence through her physicality and intense stare, and it’s clear that Universal was hoping to create a new sex symbol upon which to drape a score of new genre programming.

Providing excellent support is the debonair Carradine, one year away from donning Dracula’s cape himself, as our token “It’s for Science!” loony, Helm (The Wolf Man, Night Monster), and the always welcome presence of Universal’s resident scream queen Ankers (one of nine films she completed in 1943!)

Meanwhile, Corrigan got his start in the ape suit in 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man before enjoying two long-running series of Westerns in which he played (human) characters, either named after himself (“Crash” Corrigan) or as “Tucson Smith.” That said, he never got too far away from the monkey business, playing everything from Goliath in Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape to Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, with his final role being that of the titular alien monster in It! The Terror from Beyond Space!


NEW audio commentary with film historian/author Tom Weaver

Theatrical Trailer

Still Gallery

Captive Wild Woman is available now on Blu-ray (along with The Monster and the Girl, Jungle Woman, and Jungle Captive) from Shout! Factory as part of their Universal Horror Collection Volume 5 and can be ordered HERE:

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