Keep It Caged

Dr. Sigmund Walters (John Carradine) keeps a book on glandular conditions. One paragraph says such research might lead to, “racial improvement.” Later, when almost killing a woman during experimentation, he asks, “Why should a single life be so important?” Walters isn’t a well disguised Nazi, German name and all.

Captive Wild Woman released during wartime, and Carradine, in his first major screen role, stands in for the German Reich. From an ape he spawns a beautiful woman – a white woman of course – who gradually turns black, and back into an uncontrolled, savage beast. Captive Wild Woman is not lacking in racist subtext, nor is the context unclear.

… the title is Captive Wild Woman’s greatest asset

Away from Carradine, there’s a circus. The vast majority is stock footage that endlessly cycles. It’s supposed to be star Milburn Stone in cages with lions and tigers; clearly, it’s not. Captive Wild Woman concerns taming the wild, and maintaining civility. Every second though is crude. Viewed nearly 80 years later, the staged fights between big cats only suggest a naive cruelty, not excitement.

The runtime barely crosses the hour mark. Yet, 20-minutes is spent viewing stock footage from 1933’s The Big Cage. Tigers and lions are shot at and whipped. In the decade between The Big Cage and Captive Wild Woman, no progress was made in training or sensitivity, considering this footage was still acceptable.

Worse, it’s not used for anything substantial. Carradine’s seedy performance broadly construes an enemy ideology. The few outbursts over morality stay within typical boundaries, obvious in their arguments. When that “wild woman” appears – Acquanetta in her third role – she stares blankly. Never does she utter a word. Transformed to an ape, her rampage claims a mere two lives, hardly the body count expected of low-grade exploitation. The ape suit looks pulled from a closet where it sat since the ‘30s.

No question – the title holds power. It’s suitably ridiculous yet undeniably evocative. If anything, the name is Captive Wild Woman’s greatest asset, still drawing the eye under a promise of seeing a woman lash out at her captor. That happens. Sort of. It’s mostly off-screen. Oddly, off-screen is the where Captive Woman belongs too – forever off any screen.

Video

Part of the Universal Horror Collection 5, Captive Wild Woman debuts on Blu-ray with a passable transfer. While from the vault’s scratch-and-dent section, marks on the print leave little genuine impact. It’s a stable source.

Ignore the stock footage. That looks as expected, flat and dull, damaged worse than the rest. New footage carries a rough grain structure, likely an older master. Gradients suffer hard edges, which in conjunction with elevated grain, reduce possible detail. Texture improves over any previous home release, yet there’s certainly more to find with a more modern, higher-res scan.

Gray scale seems purposefully reduced in range to match the faded stock footage. The loss isn’t total, just lessened. Black levels miss their deepest marks and contrast reaches rudimentary brightness.

Audio

Tiger growls nicely work some bass into the treble-heavy track. Clarity is sufficient for something this vintage, resolved nicely by the DTS-HD track.

Stock scoring holds true, wobbling only a little. Dialog cleanly survives without loss.

Extras

Tom Weaver jumps in solo for commentary work, but is aided by an animal trainer at times to speak on the circus footage. Weaver drops some fascinating information about Acquanetta late on this track too.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Captive Wild Woman
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Horrendously dated in its worldview, Captive Wild Woman stands against Germany’s WWII ideology, but makes equally egregious errors of its own.

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