Halloween Havoc!: JUNGLE CAPTIVE (Universal 1945)

The third and final entry in Universal’s Paula Dupree/The Ape Woman series, JUNGLE CAPTIVE was released in 1945. I’m happy to report it’s a slight upgrade on JUNGLE WOMAN – by no means a classic horror movie, but certainly more enjoyable than that wretched sequel to CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN . The budget is lower-than-low, but the performances and script are far better, and it makes a good finale to the Ape Woman saga.

Hulking brute man Moloch, henchman of biochemist Mr. Stendahl (who’s not a doctor, by the way), strangles a morgue attendant and steals the body of the Ape Woman from it’s slab (where we left it in the last film). Inspector Harrigan is called in on the case, and a lab smock found near the abandoned crashed-and-burned meat wagon leads him to Stendahl’s lab, where he encounters pretty assistant Ann and her fiancé Don working (actually, they’re necking when he barges in!. Don becomes a suspect, even more so when Ann doesn’t return home one night. In reality, Stendahl has kidnapped her and brought her to his country estate, planning on reviving the monster by using her blood!

The mad non-doctor succeeds, but Paula is in a semi-catatonic state, so he has Moloch (who feels pity for Ann) kill Dr. Fletcher (remember him from JUNGLE WOMAN?) and steal the diaries of Dr. Walters (remember him from CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN? Yep, we got some continuity going on!). Paula’s “brain is gone”, so Stendahl figures it’s time for a brain transplant… sorry, Ann! When Paula escapes through a window, Moloch rushes to the city to find Stendahl, instead finding Don, who notices his frat pin on Moloch’s lapel, and follows the brute to Stendahl’s place, where things really get ugly…

Acquanetta is gone, replaced here by Vicky Lane, who does well as the snarling beast behind Jack Pierce’s makeup. There’s not much information out there on Miss Lane (1926-1983), except that she made six films (mostly uncredited), was married to volatile actor Tom Neal (DETOUR ) from 1944-49, then to noted jazz musician Pete Candoli from 1953-58, with whom she recorded some jazz singles and an LP, including this sexy number:

As Joe E. Brown said in SOME LIKE IT HOT, “Zowie”! Otto Kruger plays the arrogant not-a-doctor Stendahl, Jerome Cowan is good as the intrepid Harrigan, and Amelita Ward (Leo Gorcey’s spouse) and Phil Brown (STAR WARS’ Uncle Owen) are Ann and Don. Then there’s Rondo Hatton, Universal’s latest horror sensation, playing a variation of his “Creeper” character as the murderous Moloch. I’ll have much more to say about the unfortunate Mr. Hatton on Sunday, I promise, so stay tuned…

Rondo gets his spotlight this Sunday!

Happy Birthday Burt Lancaster!: THE KILLERS (Universal 1946)

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Yeah I know, I said right here on this blog yesterday that I was going to take a week off after my marathon “Halloween Havoc” series. But since it’s Burt Lancaster’s birthday (b. 11/2/13, d. 10/20/94) I thought I’d watch his film debut, THE KILLERS. Based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway and directed by Robert Siodmak, THE KILLERS is one of the best in the film noir canon, full of double-and-triple-crosses, great acting, and the beautiful Ava Gardner as the sexy but dangerous femme fatale.

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The story unfolds mostly in flashback, as insurance investigator Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien) looks into the murder of Peter Lund, aka ‘The Swede’ (Lancaster). We learn along with Reardon that Lund was really Ole Anderson, an ex-fighter and ex-con from Philly who drifts into a life of crime. Swede falls madly for the devious Kitty Collins (Gardner), whose boyfriend Big Jim Colfax (Albert Dekker) is serving time. When he gets out, Kitty dumps Swede for Colfax. Big Jim’s planned a foolproof payroll robbery worth a quarter million bucks, and enlists Swede and two others for the heist. I won’t get into the details if you haven’t seen this one yet, but suffice it to say things go decidedly downhill for Swede from here.

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The opening sequence featuring William Conrad and Charles McGraw as the hitmen who blast Swede is memorable for its dark, menacing tone, as the thugs take over a diner to wait for Swede, then slowly creep up the stairs of his apartment to blow him away. Elwood “Woody” Bredell’s cinematography shows us a world of shadow and danger, and Miklos Rozsa adds an excellent score. (By the way, the young actor playing Nick who goes to warn Swede? That’s Phil Brown, later to become Uncle Owen in 1977’s STAR WARS!)

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Lancaster plays The Swede as a naïve dupe who’s in over his head and no match for the devious Kitty Collins. Gardner is smoking hot as Kitty, a duplicitous dame if there ever was one. The cast is peppered with fine character performances  from the likes of Sam Levene, Jeff Corey, Donald MacBride, Jack Lambert (particularly nasty as Dum-Dum), and Vince Barnett. Screenwriter Anthony Veiller has uncredited assistance from John Huston and Richard Brooks. Producer Mark Hellinger went on to work again with Lancaster in the classic prison drama Brute Force the next year, along with Levene and Corey. Tough as a two-dollar steak, THE KILLERS was remade by Don Siegel in 1964 with Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, and Ronald Reagan in the Albert Dekker role (it was his last film). While the remake is good, the original is better (I’ve seen them both). So happy birthday, Burt Lancaster…and now back to my regularly scheduled break!