Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beauty and beast are one in
'Captive Wild Woman'

Captive Wild Woman (1943)
Starring: John Carradine, Milburn Stone, Lloyd Carrigan, Acquanetta, Evelyn Ankers and Ray Corrigan
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A mad genius (Carradine) proves the correctness of his cutting-edge theories in glandular functions by transforming a gorilla into a shapely young woman (Acquanetta). Tragedy and death ensue.

Publicity still for Captive Wild Woman
The more one watches horror and sci-fi films from the 1940s, the more obvious it is why Universal's attempt to recapture the magical horror profits that carried them through the depression in the 1930s failed. Too many of the films from this "revival period" are no different than the sort of nonsense that was issuing forth from small studios like Monogram and PRC; instead of living up to greatness of "The Mummy" and "The Invisible Man," Universal production executives and directors instead lowered themselves to the level of those who had followed on their coattails.

When compared to the classics of the 1930s, or even "Ghost of Frankenstein" and "The Wolfman" from the 1940s--something the modern-day Universal marketeers are encouraging us to do by including this film is DVD multipack titled "Universal Horror: Classic Movie Archive"--this movie falls woefully short. If considered along-side efforts from the low-budget movie mills like "The Devil Bat" or "The Ape," just to pick two movies about mad scientists at random, it's an entertaining bit of nonsense that falters at the very end thanks to a conclusion that feels a bit rushed and perhaps the lamest attempt at a denouement in cinematic history. (I can't be too hard on the director and producers for the denouement, because at least they tried. It was rare for films to have such structural niceties during those days.)

While disappointing when considered in the light of the cinematic greatness that Universal had once brought to the world, "Captive Wild Woman" is well-acted and well-filmed, with a fast pace to carry us quickly through the story. While Carradine is no Bela Lugosi or Lionel Atwill, he does a decent enough job as the mad doctor at the heart of the story, and the exotic beauty of Acquanetta makes the movie more enjoyable as well. This is not a "classic" in any sense other than it's an old movie, but it's worth checking out if you like the fantastic pulp-fiction science of the early sci-fi and horror flicks.

(A bit of cast trivia: The Universal Studio marketing department nicknamed Acquanetta "The Venezuelan Volcano." Her real name was Mildred Davenport, she was born in Ozone, Wyoming, in 1923, and was of Arapaho decent with no trace of Venezuela in her blood or family tree.)

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