Directed By: Edward Dmytryk
Starring: John Carradine, Evelyn Ankers, Milburn Stone
Tag line: "A human form with animal instincts!"
Trivia: Clyde Beatty receives special thanks for "His cooperation in staging the thrilling animal sequences in this film"
Dr. Sigmund Walters (John Carradine) of the Crestview Sanitarium has devoted his life to gland research, and is convinced that transplanting the glands of one species into another will bring about a physical change in his subject. While visiting the local circus, Dr. Walters comes across a female gorilla named Cheela, which was recently captured by trainer Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) during his trip to Africa. Impressed by Cheela’s advanced intelligence, Dr. Walters pays to have her kidnapped and brought back to his lab, where he uses her as his newest test subject. Sure enough, the glands he implants into Cheela cause her to change from a gorilla into a human being! Under the pseudonym Paula Dupree (Acquanetta), the now-human Cheela returns to the circus and volunteers to assist Fred during his lion taming act. But when she allows her emotions to get the better of her, Paula starts turning back into a gorilla, forcing Dr. Walters to undertake yet another operation that, if it fails, will surely lead to Cheela’s death.
John Carradine delivers a convincing performance as the obsessed Dr. Walters, who is equal parts genius and madman, and the film’s storyline (using science to create a human / animal hybrid), reminded me of the ‘30’s classic Island of Lost Souls, where Charles Laughton conducted a similar experiment that was as disastrous as what Dr. Waters attempts here. But for me, the most intense sequences in Captive Wild Woman are its wild animal training sessions, where Fred Mason tries to control a number of ferocious creatures, all in the hope of proving to the circus’ owner John Whipple (Lloyd Corrigan) that he’s got what it takes to be a first-class lion tamer. Featuring scenes lifted from the 1933 picture The Big Cage (Milburn Stone’s physical resemblance to that movie’s star, Clyde Beatty, was the key reason he was cast as Fred Mason), the training sequences reveal just how violent these cats can be (one particular fight between a lion and tiger was so severe that the film’s crew had to turn a hose on them to pry them apart!)
Hoping to turn Captive Wild Woman into its newest horror franchise, Universal studios produced two sequels: 1944’s Jungle Woman and The Jungle Captive in 1945 both of which saw Acquanetta reprise the role of Paula. Alas, the series failed to find its audience, but thanks to its remarkable training scenes, Captive Wild Woman is every bit as powerful today as it was when it was first released.