Apparently conceived as Universal’s answer to RKO’s CAT PEOPLE (!!!!), whereas Val Lewton and his team put together an elegant tale with as much care as could be lavished on a B picture, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN lives up to its less than subtle title by turning out to be something written by people who Don’t Care At All, and don’t seem to be in the slightest bit embarrassed about it. I love CAT PEOPLE (the 1942 version anyway) but don’t get me wrong – I loved this as well, but for an entirely different set of reasons which I hope will soon become apparent.
Circus animal tamer Fred Mason return from some ludicrous round the world trip where he seems to have done his best to bring about some kind of global extinction plan, filling his ship with lions, tigers, and a man in a gorilla suit. Meanwhile Evelyn Ankers has taken her friend Dorothy to the gloomiest, most windswept, and absolute bestest sanatorium I have seen in movies in a long while. And what’s even better is that it’s run by the utterly barking mad glandular specialist Dr Sigmund Walters (John Carradine) who, throwing his patient’s welfare to the wind (quite possibly the one that’s blowing outside) smokes throughout his entire consultation with her. Somehow Carradine realises that a man in a gorilla suit is just what he needs for his Experiments to Benefit Mankind. ‘You and I are very alike,’ he tells circus performer Ankers, ‘You use animals to entertain people, I do experiments on them.’ This is the cue for the lead in to a totally bonkers scenario by which he kidnaps the gorilla, hooks it up to Dorothy, and then when his nurse objects he transplants her brain into the gorilla (I think).
And then the gorilla turns into a lady called Paula. Whom Carradine then thinks it would be a good idea to take to the circus (??) where she has an uncanny ability to scare the crap out of the lions and tigers when Fred’s not abusing them in interminable stock footage that goes on for ages.
Now that we’re about 45 minutes into this hour long film the setup is finally over with so we can get on with the plot. Paula loves Fred, sees him in a clinch with Evelyn and turns brown, then black, then hairy, and then goes off to get Evelyn. Cue one slightly scary scene, then Paula’s back with Dr Carradine and still very hairy indeed as he shouts ‘They’ll put you in the electric chair!’ to which she responds with a grunt. The ending is bloody brilliant, with Paula turning back into a man in a gorilla suit, killing Carradine and then executing the most hilarious sideways fall in response to a shot from a policeman’s gun I have ever seen a man in a gorilla suit manage.
CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN is as shameless a load of old 1940s rubbish as one could possibly hope to encounter. Apparently its sequels, JUNGLE WOMAN and JUNGLE CAPTIVE are even worse but sadly neither appear to be on DVD at the moment for me to make up my own mind.