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Monday, December 10, 2012

Jungle Captive

Universal's final installment in their ape-woman trilogy was, Jungle Captive (JC). It was released, just a year later, in June of '45. It is a sequel to a sequel in that it picks up the story where the second film stopped. Prior film characters are mentioned in the script, but JC has an all new cast. Vicky Lane plays the ape woman, Paula Dupree, instead of Acquanetta. Otto Kruger plays the mad doctor, Stendahl. The young love interest pair are Amelita Ward, as Stendahl's nurse, Ann, and Phil Brown as Stendahl's assistant, Don. Rondo Hatton plays the classic Ygor role of mad doctor's brutish henchman. There is a trace more science in the fiction, but it is still essentially a "lite" horror tale.

Quick Plot Synopsis
At a busy downtown medical center, Dr. Stendahl has long been experimenting on animals, trying to revive them from being dead. He finally succeeds on a rabbit, with a combination of blood transfusion and electric shock (like a pacemaker) to restart the heart. Congrats all around. Don asks Ann to marry him. He can't afford a ring yet, so gives her his fraternity pin. All seems happy. Meanwhile at the city morgue, a large, disfigured man, Moloch, steals the ape-woman's body from the morgue. He transfers her to a '41 Woodie panel van, then pushes the ambulance off a handy cliff. Driving on, he comes to a gated house and carries her in. The police investigate the missing ape-woman. A torn lab coat was found at the cliff, with Don's laundry mark. Detective Harrigan's questions get Ann nervous. Where was Don last night?. Dr. Stendahl asks Ann to accompany him to meet a colleague. This turns out to be a rouse, as he drives her to the remote gated house. He needs a blood transfusion to revive the ape-woman. Ann will be the donor. Scream. The transfusion and shock therapy work and the ape-woman lives again. Moloch takes a shine to pretty (unconscious) Ann. He notices her pretty pin. Stendahl wants to complete the work, so sends Moloch to get Dr.Walters' notes from Dr. Fletcher's office. Meanwhile, Don is worried about Ann's disappearance. Newspaper headlines tell of Dr. Fletcher's murder and missing files. Stendahl, now knowing the hormone trick, drains yet more blood from Ann. Moloch frets for her. The ape-woman becomes Paula again, but with a blank mind. While Stendahl is in town, Paula escapes and wanders off. Moloch rushes to town to find Stendahl and tell him she's missing. Don notices Moloch wearing his fraternity pin, so follows Moloch back to the gated house. Don is knocked out and tied up. Ann will be the brain donor needed to perk up the blank Paula (who they did find in the woods). After a few twists and turns, Moloch objects to hurting Ann. Stendahl shoots Moloch. Unseen, Paula has morphed back to ape-woman. She rises up and kills Stendahl. Just as ape-woman was going for helpless Ann, Harrigan shows up and shoots ape-woman. Don and Ann are free and cleared. They marry and Harrigan buys them a honeymoon at Niagara Falls. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
If one has accepted the ape-woman / Paula Dupree character, there is curiosity over what will happen to her next. Overall, JC is "lite" entertainment that keeps moving along.

Cultural Connection
One feature that stands out about JC is that the villain defied the usual villain stereotypes -- those clues which signal that he's "mad." No outbursts of emotion, no angry eyes, no maniacal laugh, not even the customary moment of uplighting to make him look creepy. Throughout it all, Stendahl remains calm, almost affable. His evil was virtually invisible. In this way, he presages the coming ├╝ber-villain -- nuclear radiation -- that would drive so many 50s sci-fi stories. Whether this was intentional, or a lack of artistic flair by director Harold Young, is hard to say.

New Paula -- Acquanetta does not return for this third film. Instead, a 19-year old actress named Vicky Lane gets the ape-woman role. Vicky doesn't resemble Acquanetta all that much, other than being tall, thin-to-shapely, and brunette. But, this isn't disruptive. JC's Paula is a fairly small role with little screen time, and no spoken lines. All she does is stare blankly, not respond and shamble about like a zombie. Understandably, such roles did nothing to boost Vicky's career. She only did a few movies, mostly with bit parts. JC was one of her "big" one, after which she pretty much retired.

The Brute -- Rondo Hattan plays Moloch, "The Brute", and Stendahl's henchman. Hattan gained fame as "The Brute" and as a serial murderer of "The Creeper" idiom, in several films. Hattan suffered from a form of giantism which gave him his disfigured face and large hands. He was born average and grew up an otherwise average man, but exposure to poison gas during World War One affected his pituitary gland. This led to slow irregular growth of some bones (such as the face and hands). Universal "discovered" him in the early 30s and quickly exploited his looks for various brutish killer roles. This typecasting is said to have displeased Hattan, but a job is a job. Hattan died of a heart attack less than a year after making JC.

Face of Evil -- An interesting study in compare-and-contrast in JC are the two characters: Moloch and Stendahl. Moloch looked evil. He killed, yes, but had a sensitive side. He got all sentimental and protective over Ann. Stendahl, on the other hand, looked kind and friendly. Yet, he ordered the killings and couldn't have cared less. "A true scientist understands the unimportance of a mere life, when it might impede progress." Which was actually the worse evil?

Prop Watch -- Note the movable electro-control console used by Stendahl. This is the same prop as used in Universal's House of Frankenstein ('44) by Boris Karloff as Dr. Niemann. The other equipment, too, keeps up the Universal style for random sparky things being part of a mad doctor's lab.

Bottom line? JC is thin fare for the average sci-fi fan. It's even a bit thin if it's ape women you're after. Young's visual imagery is a bit flat, but the acting is okay (aside from Vicky, of course). There are enough plot twists to keep the story interesting, and enough suspense developed to keep you watching. A triple feature of all three ape-woman films might be fun, but on their own, each would be best watched by yourself.


Randall Landers said...

Interesting choice to use Moloch as the name of the Igor character. Moloch is an old Mesopotamian deity/demon renowned for child sacrifices. Not sure it's in any way relevant to this film, but certainly gave me some thought.

Nightowl said...

A good point. I forgot to mention the name Moloch. I'm certain it was a deliberate choice. As a biblical reference, it's nothing but bad -- just a bit less blatant than having the character named Demon, or Satan.