“The cerebrum is essential to the success of this experiment.”
Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) returns from a safari with animals for John Whipple (Lloyd Corrigan), the owner of the Whipple Circus. One of the animals is a female gorilla he named Cheela (Ray Corrigan). Cheela appears to have many human characteristics and, considering she is a gorilla, is quite affectionate.
Mason's fiancée Beth Colman (Evelyn Ankers) has a sister, Dorothy (Martha MacVicar) who has had some health problems recently. Dorothy has been seeing Dr. Sigmund Walters (John Carradine), a well known endocrinologist. Currently Dorothy is staying at Walters’ Crestview Sanatorium for treatment.
Dr. Walters pays a visit to the circus. He is interested in Cheela. When Whipple refuses to sell the gorilla Walters has a former employee steal her. Walters is convinced that Cheela is perfect for his experiments.
Walters and his assistant Miss Strand (Fay Helm) use Dorothy as transplant material and graft her glandular material into Cheela. Cheela transforms into human form (Acquanetta). Miss Strand tells Walters that at best he will have “a human form, with animal instincts.” To combat this problem Walters transplants Miss Strand’s brain into Cheela. Success!
Walters now has a sexy exotic woman who remembers nothing of what happened to her. He names her Paula Dupree. He takes her to the winter quarters of the Whipple Circus. While watching Mason’s animal act, an accident occurs. Paula rushes into the cage and saves him. For some reason the big cats fear her and retreat. Mason offers her a job in his act. Paula becomes attracted to Mason.
After the final dress rehearsal, Paula becomes jealous of Mason's fiancée. She begins to revert back to animal form so she rushes to Walters for help. He decides he needs a new brain for his creation. He thinks Beth might be a good donor.
“Captive Wild Woman” was released in 1943 and was directed by Edward Dmytryk. The movie was followed by 2 sequels: “Jungle Woman” and “Jungle Captive”. These are three of Universal’s cheapies. Making really good horror movies like “Frankenstein” and “Son of Frankenstein” is important but sometimes you just need to make some quick cash. The public’s thirst addiction for horror means you need to supply a steady stream of it to your adoring public. Universal understood this and so a foray into the dark side of moviemaking was required.
This is also one of the few movies where John Carradine had quite a sizable role. Normally he is relegated to bit parts. Usually, as the mad doctor, he is over top and flamboyant in his acting. In this film, however, he is serious and intense. With a much meatier part he can take his time and develop the character. I found his performance to be quite good, and really scary. I expected the movie to be really campy and cheesy and of course there was some. I do believe, however, that Carradine made this movie far better than it normally would have been. It showed he has the skills, but rarely the opportunity to show what he can do.
The fight between a lion and a tiger was arranged but was real, and filmed live without editing. Big Game hunter Clyde Beatty assisted in staging the animal sequences. The reason Milburn Stone was chosen to play Mason was because he looked a lot like Beatty. In the scenes where the lions and tigers are being worked, it is Beatty who you see on screen. The footage of Beatty with the cats is another reason why this movie is so good. Beatty’s work was phenomenal. Although lions are social and tigers are solo creatures, they will live together if either raised together or trained to. I know the movie was supposed to be about a gorilla that was changed into a girl, but the tigers and lions were awesome.
**Spoiler: Also, kudos to Anker’s character for managing to handle her situation without the help of a man.**