No doubt when Universal were bandying around the idea behind Captive Wild Woman, they thought they potentially had another horror film franchise on their hands in the tale of an Ape Woman with humanistic tendencies.
The result however, was received with mixed feelings, in part due to its abomination of religious doctrination that caused one of several changes to the script, which would ultimately take around two years before it was greenlit.
By this time the kernel of the story had undergone a transformation not unlike its subject that morphed into a hybrid version of the original concept.
The story gathered together a collection of characters, starting with animal trainer Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) who returns from safari with a series of animals to be used in the Whipple Circus. Chief among these is Cheela, the afore-mentioned gorilla, played by stuntman Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan.
Accompanying Mason is his fiance Beth (Evelyn Ankers, now establishing herself as a stable actor for the studio following The Wolf Man and The Ghost of Frankenstein) whose sister, Dorothy (Martha MacVicar) is suffering from undisclosed health problems. In steps our antagonist and a dialled down John Carradine (The Invisible Man’s Revenge) as Dr Walters.
Walters is your typical mad scientist villain, a carbon copy of Dr Frankenstein with his malicious pursuit of science at the cost of all those around him. In this instance Walters is hellbent in transforming the gene pull to change a living creature such as the gorilla into human form. He succeeds in doing so but like Frankenstein realises that in order to be truly successful, he must use a human brain and here his bloody pursuit amplifies starting with his assistant, but when this takes a turn for the worse, he sets his sights on Beth.
The human form of Cheela would be played by the exotic Acquanetta, who was a self-proclaimed Native American and would go on to reprise her role in the sequel Jungle Woman. Cheela has a hidden power over creatures which plays well at the circus and she becomes part of the act. She also has a fond connection with Mason and becomes incredibly jealous of his fiance Beth. This puts Beth against two adversaries and the rest of the tale leads to whether or not she will survive.
The film feels a little stale in places as we struggle with the plentiful shots of Mason in the ring taming the wild cats. It does help to have Carradine’s manic performance to keep the audience interested in the outcome, but it does limp along in the process. The surprise is that it generated not only one but two sequels… but more on those at another time.
- Saul Muerte