Captive Wild Woman has a number of strengths, primarily is that stars Evelyn Ankers as Beth Coleman. Another is the intense like-ability of Milburn Stone and the chilling performance delivered by John Carradine. Who happens to be one of my favorite horror actors of all time. Another of this film’s strengths is oddly it’s brevity, with its hour-long run time. I find it crazy that in the 1940s sixty minutes was all that was required for a feature-length film and now a days we watch television shows that last that long. Also notable, although I wouldn’t necessarily call it a strength, the amount of footage from The Big Cage released in 1933 was used. So much so that the lead actor Milburn Stone was selected due to who closely he resembled Clyde Beatty. Captive Wild Woman was popular enough to weren’t not one, but two sequels. Jungle Woman in 1944, with a few returning cast members and The Jungle Captive which was released in 1945, although with no returning cast.
Captive Wild Woman opens with Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) returning from Africa with a truckload of what in just over half a century would be quite the menagerie of endangered species. He’s captured these animals for his boss John Whipple (Lloyd Corrigan) owner of a circus. The most tragic of these animals is Cheela (Ray “Crash” Corrigan) a female gorilla, who according to Mason is incredibly affectionate. We’re also introduced to Mason’s fiance Beth Coleman (Evelyn Ankers) and we get to learn about her ill sister Dorathy (Martha Vickers). Who is currently under the care of Dr. Walters (John Carridine) at his sanitarium while she undergoes treatment. Dr. Walters visits the circus to see the new animals as a guest of Mason and Beth. Dr. Walters becomes extremely interested in Cheela, but is unable to buy her. After his newest round of experiments fail, Dr. Walters comes to conclusion that he needs a larger animal, that has the will to live for his experiments to be successful. To this end he enlists a drunken ex-employee of the circus, having been fired for being drunk on the job. When Cheela is delivered to Dr. Walter, he shoves his lackey into Cheela’s cage. Then allowing Cheela to kill him. Dr. Walter transfers glands from Dorathy and places them into Cheela, transforming her into a beautiful woman (Acquanetta). Miss Strand (Fay Helm) objects about the experiments, claiming that Dr. Walter has made a beast in human form but with animal instincts and without a brain transplant from a human, his experiment would be a failure. Dr. Wallace agrees with her assessment and kills for his experiment. With the brain transplant complete, Dr. Walter renames Cheela as Paula Dupree, who remembers nothing of her previous existence. Dr. Walter takes Paula to the circus where she saves Mason from tigers, who seem to fear her. Mason impressed has Paula join his act. After a dress rehearsal Paula throws a tantrum over being jealous of Beth and starts to revert back to her animal form. Paula sneaks into Beth’s room with the intention of murder, but Beth wakes up and her screams attracts the attentions of another woman. Who Paula kills instead, she then returns to Dr. Walter. He concludes she needs another cerebral transplant… just when Dorothy calls her sister for aid. Providing the Dr. with a perfect opportunity.
I really loved Evelyn Ankers in this. But, I’ve never been let down by this early Scream Queen. But, she’s not the only good actor her. In fact the cast is energetic and work well together. Though admittedly none of them deliver iconic or outstanding performance. Except for John Carridine, who does shine a little. Being creepy and off-putting, with a subtle air of doesn’t know he’s crazy.
I liked the pacing of the film, which uses is short run time very well. We get to know the characters well enough to care about them, while keeping the story moving at a pace that never feels like it’s taking its time. Captive Wild Woman hits its pace and stays very consistent, only bogging down for me once.
Final thoughts, I like it. Although I don’t know if I would really recommend this film outside people already into films of this era. As Captive Wild Woman might seem silly and at times downright laughable at times, when viewed through a modern lens. But, if you’re able to step back and enjoy the film in the context of the time is was made, Captive Wild Woman is worth a watch. 6/10