This is the Universal monster movie that the studio kept chained up in the basement next to the boiler, discovered only when the house was torn down and practically every other monster movie in their catalog had been released to home video.
Jungle Woman is the second of three Universal horror pictures featuring a terrifying creature so evil, so monstrous, and so despicable that its name could only be 'Paula.' She was originally a gorilla, but mad scientist Dr. John Carradine, the recipient of a 'Dr. Moreau Study-at-Home' mail order course in vivisection, transforms the simian into a gorgeous young woman who goes ape whenever she gets jealous (you knew I was going to use that joke), and she gets jealous a LOT. This is all in a film called Captive Wild Woman (1943), but a Castle Films-type condensed version of the whole movie is shown in the sequel, Jungle Woman. Incidentally, much of the footage of Captive Wild Woman consists of stock shots of Clyde Beatty in the 1933 film The Big Cage (leading man/hero Milburn Stone is supposed to be a famous lion tamer, you see; in actuality, he never gets any closer to a lion or tiger than you are right now. Why get near a dangerous animal when you can cut to grainy footage of Mr. Beatty while you sip a Manhattan in your dressing room?), so much so that Mr. Beatty is given a credit in this film, which he not only isn't in, he probably never saw it.
After about a half hour of watching those older films, we finally get to the new footage: it seems that nice-guy scientist J. Carrol Naish has accidentally killed Paula (whoops) and is forced to explain to sleepy judge Samuel S. Hinds and cranky District Attorney Douglass Dumbrille what happened. This may be the only film in history comprised of equal parts stock footage, flashbacks, flashbacks of stock footage, and stock footage of flashbacks. Naish relates how he nursed the wounded gorilla from the last picture back to health, only to have it smash out of its cage and disappear, followed shortly by the appearance of a beautiful young woman (Acquanetta) who says little, but gets REAL annoyed when Naish's daughter's boyfriend shows his girlfriend any attention. The entire melodramatic love triangle would have a lot more gravitas if the boyfriend (Richard David) wasn't an exact double for Kramer, the wacky neighbor on Seinfeld, who, come to think of it, would be exactly the kind of person who'd attract an amorous ape.
As if that's not enough romance for any 61 minute horror picture, there's also Willie, the idiot handyman at the doctor's sanitarium, who has a crush on Paula (when he meets her, he says, 'Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, this place is getting better all the time!') and keeps annoying her with his attentions. Annoying the movie's monster, even when she's dressed in fashionable Vera West gowns, is rarely a good idea, and Willie pays the ultimate price, albeit off-camera.
Three writers are credited, and they give us such memorable dialog as:
Groundskeeper: 'I can't figure it out, doctor, how anybody could be strong enough to pull lock, hinges and all, right from the door of that chicken house. I never heard anything like it, not since the destruction of Vienna.'
Girlfriend, speaking of Paula the Ape Lady right in front of her: 'She isn't just an ordinary girl. She's a horrible creature.'
Kramer look-alike: 'Look, dear, she's not THAT bad. She may be a little mentally unbalanced, but...'
The girlfriend, incidentally, is just as hot-headed as Paula, but doesn't turn into a gorilla (not that we see). When she is bitten by the jealousy bug, she just yells at the Kramer look-alike: 'That explanation of yours isn't just LAME, it's HOBBLED!!!!' No WONDER the guy would rather date a monkey.
By the way, top-billed Evelyn Ankers dresses nicely (rather overdressed for an inquest) and sits in a chair for a while, then gets up, collects her paycheck from Universal, and goes home.
Acquanetta was a Venezuelan-born sexpot and one of the most exotic young actresses in Hollywood, Universal boasted, and the fact that she was actually Mildred Davenport from Wyoming didn't deter the studio's marketing campaigns one bit.
Jungle Captive did well enough to inspire a third Ape Woman picture, Jungle Captive, a year later, with Vicky Lane subbing for Acquanetta. Both Captive Wild Woman and Jungle Captive were part of the famous 1958 Son of Shock package sold to TV, but nobody bothered with Jungle Woman, probably thinking that seeing the other two films you were going to find all the footage from this one anyway. In the 1960s, Paula didn't rate an Aurora monster model kit, and when Universal began releasing lavish boxed sets of their monster movies, the three Ape Woman pictures didn't even inspire a release, nor are they included in this year's 'Complete' 30-disc Legacy set. Captive Wild Woman was released as part of the Universal Horror Classic Movie Archive with four other B-shockers in 2007, and only now is Jungle Woman being released through the Universal Vault series. The print is excellent, if a tad soft at the opening and closing.
The Ape Woman pictures are mostly for Universal monster completists, but if you're not expecting The Wolf Man or Bride of Frankenstein they're a fun watch, particularly if you rally love Clyde Beatty, who isn't in them.
Clifford Weimer is a writer and film historian in Sacramento, CA. He can usually be found lurking about the dark corners of a movie theatre at inthebalcony.com.