Friday, June 29, 2018

Captive Wild Woman

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Captive Wild Woman
Edward Dmytryk

Beth (Evelyn Ankers) is reunited with herfiancĂ© Fred Mason (Milburn Stone), an animal trainer by trade. While Mason is busy corralling loose tigers, Beth’s sister Dorthy (Martha MacVicar) is suffering from some kind of glandular problem. Beth and Mason take her to see Dr. Walters (John Carradine), a specialist in glands and also mad science. Dr. Walters enjoys grafting glands from one animal to another, causing them to transform. Now he has his eye on Dorthy and one of Mason’s recent acquisitions, a gorilla named Cheela (Ray Corrigan). Will the creature Dr. Walters creates be more monster or person?

"They called my plan to get bananas addicted to heroin mad. MAD, I TELL YOU!"
Pinnacle of ape suit actors, Ray “Crash” Corrigan does his thing as Cheela and he does a great job of not only moving like an animal but giving small glimpses of emotion as Cheela expresses rage and concern at times. However, if you go into Captive Wild Woman expecting wall-to-wall ape suit action you are going to be disappointed. What it does have is plenty of lion taming, which is exciting the first time around but quickly gets tiresome. It is also difficult to stomach as the film happily sits back and lets a tiger and lion fight for real during an extended sequence.

 I don’t think it’s possible to approach a lurid ape movie with anything approximating taste, but Captive Wild Woman certainly does give it a try. The film is only an hour long, but it does spend time with the plight of Dorthy, the snappy relationship between Beth and Mason, and even a look into the sinister mind of Dr. Walters. The acting is good, in fact much better than I would expect from a film of this ilk. John Carridine steals the movie with his increasingly unhinged performance. The scene where Dr. Walters realizes he’s going to have to kill his assistant and take her brain to implant into the ape-woman is particularly chilling.

Cheela just saw her hospital bill.
Acquanetta portrays Paula Dupree, former ape, and eventual circus act sidekick. Her role is largely silent, instead relying on physicality to emote as she moves between human and animal. It is a solid performance, I wish in the short running time they had given her more to do, especially seeing as she is supposedly the focus of the film. Acquanetta’s background is unclear, she was promoted as ‘The Venezuelan Volcano,’ and may have been Arapaho or African-American. The film does play into her ‘exotic’ looks but not nearly to the extreme I feared it might. Faint praise for sure, but this was the 1940s.

Captive Wild Woman is a better film than its premise would suggest, but it is too brief and wastes too much time not focusing on its more interesting elements. John Carridine is great as the insidious scientist behind it all, and it is worth checking out this film just for him. Captive Wild Woman spawned two sequels, Jungle Woman (1944) and The Jungle Captive (1945). This film is successful enough that I am interested in seeing where the saga of Cheela goes from here.

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