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Captive Wild Woman

Entry updated 11 April 2019. Tagged: Film.

Film (1943). Universal Pictures. Produced by Ben Pivar. Directed by Edward Dmytryk. Written by Griffith Jay and Henry Sucher from an idea by Ted Fithian, and Neal P Varnick. Cast includes Acquanetta, Evelyn Ankers, John Carradine, Fay Helm, Milburn Stone and Martha Vickers. 61 minutes. Black and white.

Animal trainer Fred Mason (Stone) returns from safari with new beasts for the Whipple circus, including the almost humanly intelligent gorilla Cheela. Beth Colman (Ankers), his fianceé, tells him that her sister Dorothy (Vickers) has become ill and is now at the Crestview Sanatorium. This is run by noted endocrinologist Dr Sigmund Walters, who visits the circus's winter headquarters and is impressed by Cheela, offering to buy her; having performed glandular experiments on smaller animals, he considers her a perfect test subject. When the offer is refused, Walters hires a former circus employee to steal the animal, then has the gorilla break this man's neck. Using extracts from Dorothy, he is able to turn Cheela into a human woman (see Apes as Human), to the horror of his laboratory assistant Nurse Strand (Helm). She tells him Cheela will be human only in appearance without a human mind. He agrees, and transplants Strand's brain into Cheela, resulting in her becoming a beautiful, exotic woman he names Paula Dupree (Acquanetta).

Paula is taken to the circus, where she saves Mason from lions when a practice session goes wrong; impressed by her animal-handling ability, Mason hires her. Unfortunately, Paula grows jealous of Beth and reverts to her animal state. That night, she climbs into an apartment building and kills another woman she mistakenly thinks is Beth, then returns to Walters. He realizes another operation is needed to restore Cheela's humanity; he can safely obtain more gland extract from Dorothy, but needs another brain donor. This problem is seemingly solved when Beth visits unexpectedly; but she proves more resourceful than expected by Walters, and opens Cheela's cage. The gorilla kills Walters as Beth flees, but manages to return to the circus ahead of her. There she finds Mason trapped in a cage of animals of which he has lost control. Rescuing him a second time, Cheela is shot dead by police who mistake her intentions.

Much stock footage from The Big Cage (1933) was used for the circus scenes. Milburn Stone found fame in the long-running western television series Gunsmoke (1955-1975). Captive Wild Woman's no longer acceptable attitude towards animals was typical of the period. Two sequels followed: Jungle Woman (1944) and Jungle Captive (1945). [GSt/DRL]


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