Friday, October 29, 2021

The Jungle Woman Trilogy (1943-1945)

Captive Wild Woman

I was recently thinking on how annoying it is that there's a 1930s/40s horror flick called The Ape, and one called The Ape Man, but no The Ape Woman to round out the set! Grrrrr. However, I growled too soon, because there's actually an Ape Woman trilogy! None of the entries are actually called that, but still. I call this a success...

Animal trainer Fred Mason has returned from a trip to Africa, bringing a collection of animals for a circus. Among his prizes is an impressive gorilla named Cheela. Meanwhile, his fiancee Beth takes her ill sister to a gland specialist, Dr. Sigmund Walters, not realising the man has sinister plans. When he sees Cheela, he's amazed at this perfect specimen, and kidnaps the gorilla in order to experiment on, turning her into a human woman dubbed Paula. What mad idea will cross his mind next? And just what will the animalistic Cheela do now that she has the appearance of a human?..

Captive Wild Woman is a fairly decent movie, though with issues. A circus is a potentially interesting setting for a horror film, but Captive Wild Woman doesn't quite pull it off, mainly because we spend so much time at the circus without any spooky or horrific goings-on happening. Look, there's setting up story, and then there's wasting time! 35 minutes is a bit much for an hour long film.

Fred, ostensibly the lead, is an alright guy, though I question his intelligence. Returning from a safari, he was gone for two years, a fact everyone around him seems remarkably blase about! Between this and the stunts he pulls with his big cats, he's basically a moron with a death wish. He also gets some amusingly cringey lines, like "Oh, a cage full of animals with a girl mixed up in it, it doesn't make sense" (admittedly makes a little more sense in context), or after a lion and tiger taming show, he says to Beth, "Honey, I wonder if you'll be that easy to train after we're married.".

Beth fares well. Her jumping to conclusions is unnatural, even if she happens to be spot on. She's more involved in the climax than Greg is, but she makes no effort to fight back when locked in a lab, even though the guy's a rake, and is unarmed. Just punch him! Thankfully she does even the odds, in an unexpected way.

Paula meanwhile is enigmatic and filled with attraction towards Fred. This means instant jealousy when she sees him with another woman. Possessing an unstable body, she will revert back to an ape without further experimentation, which you can imagine will play havoc on her love life.

The villain is an enjoyable mad scientist. Affable, yet sinister, and perfectly willing to sacrifice his staff for an experiment. His specialty is glandular research, which is how he manages to transform an ape into a human. Perfectly reasonable science, really. I can't imagine why it's not more popular!

The climax is fairly entertaining, although only the basics are resolved. What bothers me most about the ending is the music in the final moments, which is so quick and jovial that it gives you no breathing space after the brief conclusion, and kinda kills the mood. Some slower music would've been preferred.

The gorilla costume really clashes with the real animals used in the rest of the film. It doesn't look too cheap, but it's obviously not really an ape. Still though, you've gotta like this period in Hollywood when ape costumes were not only acceptable, but mandatory! The man-ape make-up is very good,

As for the real animals, there are a few moments of wild action. I'm not sure how they accomplished it, but I assume it must've been under safe conditions, hence the animals bloodlessly scrapping for several minutes. I think they were actually just playing around, and the ferocious snarls and roars were dubbed in to make their playtime seem like a fierce battle. Either way this probably isn't the film to watch if you dislike animals in circuses, and it won't do anything to endear the concept to you.

The acting is decent overall. John Carradine is great as the resident mad scientist, while Acquanetta has a great look to her, with a piercing stare, but doesn't get much to do besides that, and isn't even present in the conclusion! She practically vanishes from the movie several minutes before the end, as her character reverts back to being an ape for the climax.

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers are fine leads. I was hoping the character of Dorothy would get more to do, and was a bit dismayed when she vanished for nearly the entire film...and then she opened her mouth, and suddenly I didn't mind so much.

Ahh, the 1940s were such a healthy time! Overall, besides general period habits like smoking up a chimney, or casual chauvinism, the film isn't all that dated, and never falls into any racial traps.

Captive Wild Woman has a few flaws, but overall it's a pretty decent time, and provides a few fun moments and thrills...

Jungle Woman

A scientist stands accused of a murder, and together with his friends and family must defend himself from the charges. He tells a tale of a resurrected ape woman named Paula, and how her animalistic jealousy threatened the lives of everyone between her and her man...

Jungle Woman is an interesting movie. For the first 15 minutes it's the cheapest sequel imaginable! It reuses wholesale stock footage from the first movie, showing a whole 3 minute scene when only 20 seconds would have sufficed. This is especially galling in a movie that's only an hour long! This left me a little worried as to the quality of the movie to come. This is where things get more positive though.

This is is a very cheap movie, as evidenced by its reused footage, and the realisation I had that the only time we'd seen Paula as an ape woman was through this old footage! Add to this the fact that the entire setting is the clinic from the last, then you have a recipe for disaster. While the lack of other locations harms the movie, the setting makes sense, and is in a way utilised better than in the last film.

Its low budget aside however, Jungle Woman looks very good! The director clearly put attention and care into it, and got a few good shots here and there. It also resolves a couple of loose ends from the first movie too, such as Fred never learning that Paula and Cheela the ape were one and the same.

The characters are alright. The scientist this time round is benevolent, and tries his best. Bob is a good guy, and despite buying into Paula's lies, he's pretty blameless for it, since he doesn't realise the truth yet. Love interest Joan is a nice girl. And Paula, after the events of the last movie has still not learned her lesson, She's still falling in love with taken men, and getting wildly jealous. It is interesting seeing how manipulative she can get!

The acting is all pretty standard here. The film makes the interesting choice of having Paula speak. I say interesting, but not good. You see, Aquanetta is a visually stunning actress. Ethereally beautiful, and great with non-verbal skills, but her vocal talents are...shall we say, robotic?

Overall, there's not really any reason Jungle Woman needed to exist, and it does nothing new, but I'm glad it exists. It may not do anything new, but it does do a few things better, so that's good at least. And despite its flaws, it's never a bad movie...

The Jungle Captive

The body of ape woman Paula is stolen from a morgue by a hulking brute, who brings the body to a seemingly kind scientists, with sinister experiments to test. Two young people get embroiled in the events, and must fight to ensure the doctor's insane plans don't reach fruition...

I went into Jungle Captive, the final entry in the Paula trilogy, not expecting much. The first sequel was already stretching things, but managed to be decent. Another one though? That's dangerous thinking when the last one only had 45 minutes of new material!

This is a film that simultaneously feels like its own thing, yet hinges on being a sequel. Because of this it really does fail at both. It's unable to exist as its own story, yet never delivers a satisfying one for Cheela. If you watch it on its own it's a fairly passable movie, and kills an hour quickly enough, but that's it.

The absolute worst thing it does is mistreat past characters. When the villains discuss Dr. Fletcher, I just assumed they meant John Carradine from the first movie. But nope, they meant the guy from Jungle Woman! And they killed him offscreen. Talk about disrespectful! I like to think he knew what was happening after Paula's body was stolen, and faked his death to trick the villains out into the open. That'd actually be pretty neat, if all the protagonists of the last movie had their own big plot we never see! We are all the heroes of our own story after all. Just because Ann and Don are the leads here, doesn't mean the others are frozen stiff.

The two heroes are fairly average, and certainly likeable. The same goes for the resident snarky police chief. The most distinctive character is the villainous henchman, named Moloch. Though it took me halfway through the movie before I realised they weren't saying Mullock. Kinda less intimidating when you think it's a regular name like that, isn't it! He's your typical hulking brute, but he's surprisingly clever.

This is more of a Rondo Hatton vehicle, and a pretty good one too. It also never once points out his deformity, instead just treating him like he's a regular goon. Even the terrified heroes never mention anything odd about him.

Dr. Stendahl is a little different, in that unlike the mad doctor of the first film, he desperately wants to test his theories yet is unwilling to kill anyone to get it. That's quite interesting, and while corpse snatching is still bad, it lends enough moral ambiguity to the proceedings. Just a shame then that his assistant Moloch totally murdered someone to get the body! This is even acknowledged, and the doc's reaction is an amusing "Oh yes."

While not a comedy, Jungle Captive has a few funny moments. As one character says-"They say she had the strength of a gorilla" She is a gorilla, you moron! Later, the police are looking for a missing Ann, and he casually says it could just be amnesia. "Ann has been working awfully hard lately. I myself am to blame for that, it's very thoughtless of me honestly". I didn't know amnesia was so easy to get! Just a hectic day at the office and bam, you've lost all your memory!

Stendahl gets another good moment when he casually tells his captive "I need some more of your blood, Ann. Not much this time". And lastly is the fact that his evil lair is undone by a power bill. That's why you've gotta get off the grid if you're a power mad scientist!

Cheela/Paula really gets shafted in this film. She only comes back to life 25 minutes before the end, and since her new brain would mean Ann's death, that means you know she's never gonna get it. Therefore she's really only a hollow shell of her former self.

The climax begins when Don is captured after investigating the doctor's lair. He does manage to escape...only to get caught and tied up again immediately afterwards! Ann is out cold most of the time, while all Don can do is talk. Thankfully he tells Moloch enough to turn him on the doc, for all the good it does. The day is saved by Cheela, who wakes up and remembers she's a horror movie villain.

The acting is fine enough. Amelita Ward and Phil Brown are good leads. Otto Kruger is an amusing villain, friendly enough when in mixed company, but scheming in private. His acting is so casual I don't know whether to praise him for his comedic skills, or criticise him for not emoting properly. Either way it's fun. Rondo Hatton meanwhile provides some intimidation and menace, with a fine performance.

The first film I saw Jerome Cowan in was Find the Blackmailer, where he's a smart-alec private eye. Here he's a smart-alec policeman! Funny seeing him on the official side of the law this time, yet acting the same. And he's the boss, too! More bosses should be as funny as Inspector Harrigan. And lastly, as Cheela/Paula is Vicky Lane, replacing Aquanetta. She does ok, but she has none of the animalism or hypnotic looks that Aquanetta brought to the role, and she's sorely missed.

Jungle Captive has as many flaws as positives. Worth a watch if you're a fan of this stuff, but nothing great...

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