Halloween Havoc!: CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (Universal 1943)

Universal decided the time was ripe for a new monster, and 1943’s CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN introduced the world to Paula Dupree, aka The Ape Woman! What’s that you say? You’ve never HEARD of her? Don’t worry, you’re not alone – The Ape Woman is the most obscure of the Universal Monsters despite the fact she was featured in three films, with various degrees of quality. The first is the best of the bunch, a fun little ‘B’ lifted by the presence of John Carradine in the first of his patented mad scientist roles.

Animal trainer Fred Mason returns from Africa with a shipload of lions, tigers, and a powerful female gorilla named Cheela. He’s greeted at the docks by his sweetie Beth Colman, who tells Fred that her sister Dorothy has “some kind of glandular problem” and is being treated at Crestview Sanitarium by endocrinology expert Dr. Sigmund Walters. Walters has some rather strange ideas on treatment, including experimenting with large animals.

The outwardly charming doctor is invited to visit Whipple’s Circus, where Fred and Beth work, at their winter headquarters. He spies Cheela and gets one of his aforementioned strange ideas, and uses Gruen, fired from his job as animal handler for being drunk, to steal Cheela away. Gruen does so, and is promptly dispatched when Walters tosses him to the big ape. Walters will let nothing stand in his way of the advancement of science, including murder, as his nurse finds out! Her brain is used to transform Cheela into a beautiful woman, who he dubs ‘Paula Dupree’ (apparently because he just likes the name!). Walters brings ‘Paula’ to visit the circus, and when Fred is attacked in the cage by the big cats, she enters and the kitties back off! Now Fred wants to use ‘Paula’ as part of the act, but when she sees Fred and Beth making out, her jealousy transforms her into The Ape Woman…

Yep, it’s another “Science Gone Too Far” scenario, and Carradine has a grand old time as Walters, killing in the name of science and creating his Ape Woman. He’d go on to play the “mad scientist” part in almost two dozen films, the horror role he’s most remembered for by genre fans. I love Evelyn Ankers in this; Universal’s #1 “Scream Queen” gets to do more than just be a pretty decoration in need of saving, and even disposes of the villain on her own! Milburn Stone (GUNSMOKE’s Doc Adams) plays Fred; his resemblance to famed circus lion tamer Clyde Beatty (at least from the back!) allowed Universal to use lots of stock footage from Beatty’s 1933 film THE BIG CAGE for all the animal action shots.

The lovely but not-so talented Acquanetta is ‘Paula’, product of Walters’s mad science. She plays the part mute, which is fine, because the former model wasn’t the greatest of thespians. Born Mildred Davenport in South Carolina, the studio dubbed her “The Venezuelan Volcano” because of her exotic good looks. Acquanetta later claimed to be of Arapaho ancestry, though most research points to an African-American heritage. Whatever the case, her film career was brief, but later in life she became a local celebrity in Mesa, Arizona by starring in her third husband’s car dealership commercials on TV, and hosting segments of the local late nite movie show. She passed away in 2004 at the age of 83.

Ray “Crash” Corrigan  broke out his gorilla suit to play Cheela, a teenaged Martha Vickers (under the name MacVicar) is little sister Dorothy, Lloyd Corrigan (no relation to Crash) circus owner Whipple, and Vince Barnett, Paul Fix , Fay Helm, Frank Mitchell, Ray Walker, and Grant Withers all pop up in small roles. CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN was directed by Edward Dmytryk, whose later filmography includes BACK TO BATAAN , CROSSFIRE, THE CAINE MUTINY, and THE CARPETBAGGERS. It’s not the greatest of Universal Horrors, but compared to its two sequels, it’s a classic, as we’ll soon find out…

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