Archive for the 1940s Films Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Meets the CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943)

Posted in 1940s Films, 2013, Animals Attack, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Carnival Chills, Classic Films, Mad Doctors!, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on May 9, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943)

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Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Universal Studios was THE place to go for great horror movies in the early days of cinema.  From DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931) to THE MUMMY (1932), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) to THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), Universal spent money on their horror films, creating atmospheric, beautifully made monster pictures that still hold up to viewings today.  In between their A-Pictures, however, they churned out lots of fun B-movies as well.  These movies didn’t have the best directors in the canon; nor did they employ the top box-office actors.  They utilized lots of money-saving stock footage and re-used sets from the big movies.  This doesn’t mean the films weren’t often very entertaining.  Many of them exude a certain second-tier charm that makes them more than bearable.  Often, they are as much fun as the big productions.  Some examples of these B’s were MAN MADE MONSTER (1941), NIGHT MONSTER (1942), and our feature presentation, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943). 

While circus animals are being unloaded from a ship, Fred Mason (Milburn Stone, Doc Adams from GUNSMOKE, also in INVADERS FROM MARS – 1953) meets his fiancé and secretary, Beth (Evelyn Ankers from THE WOLF MAN, 1941 and THE PEARL OF DEATH, 1944), who is dressed in great clothes.  She kind of resembles Auntie Mame in every scene of this movie; the costumes are that fabulous!  After playing kissy-face, he tells her about all the big game he has brought back for his circus, including Cheela, a huge female gorilla (okay, a man in a pretty decent gorilla suit).  He introduces Beth to the gorilla as a crate holding a tiger bursts open and the wild beast escapes.  Fred grabs a chair and tames the snarling tiger (more on this footage later).  It’s actually a hell of an exciting opening! 

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Beth tells Fred all about her little sister, Dorothy (played by Martha Vickers as Martha MacVicar) —from THE BIG SLEEP (1946) and THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944)) —who has developed a glandular problem and was taken to the Crestview Sanatorium.  Dr. Sigmund Walters is a well-known doctor who specializes in the glandular issues between races.  The good doctor has changed several people who were deformed, making them normal by messing with their pituitary gland.  His nurse assistant helps him with his experiments with sex hormones, where he wants to take human hormones and transplant them into animal subjects. 

In his very first starring role, John Carradine (STAGECOACH, 1939 and THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, 1968, and over three hundred other shows and films) plays Dr. Walters, a mad scientist (is there any other kind, especially with Carradine on hand?).  Walters is obsessed with glandular disorders and charming young women.  He joins Beth and Fred to have a look at the circus, where they are all waiting on famous lion-tamer Clyde Beatty to answer them about his new act.  We get to see these beautiful animals, lions and tigers especially, caged, fed, and trained. 

Cheela, the gorilla (of my dreams —sorry, couldn’t resist) attacks one of the handlers.  Carradine is instantly smitten by the looks and talent of the gorilla.  He wants to buy her, but the circus says no.  So, he pays a thief to steal the animal.  “It’s a deal, mister.  You got yourself a monkey!”  Instead of paying the thief, Dr. Walters pushes the man into the cage, where Cheela kills him!

The legendary John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Walters.

The legendary John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Walters.

Once in the lab, Walters begins his nefarious experiments, and Dorothy is included in this mysterious research with Cheela.  Why does he want to turn a gorilla into a hot woman?  Who knows?  Maybe he can’t get a date any other way.  Dorothy starts to die on the operating table, but the gorilla changes through the magic of stop motion photography (like in THE WOLF MAN, 1941) into a sexy young woman, played by Acquanetta (who only had one name, much like Cher or Madonna and was known as the Venezuelan Volcano in press releases and also played in JUNGLE WOMAN, 1944 and DEAD MAN’S EYES, 1944).  Using his nurse’s glands, Walters finishes the experiment.  He saves Dorothy for future surgeries.  He renames the ape-woman Paula Dupree.  Acquanetta plays her as a mute, acting pretty much with only her eyebrows, although she looks stunning doing so.

Meanwhile, back at the circus, Fred gets to try out his new act, mixing lions and tigers in the same cage with himself.  Once again, the animal footage is terrific, exciting and scary and realistic.  The two big cats actually get into a fight, which was supposedly staged and filmed in a single take.  They really look like they’re tearing into each other.  This is not a film for PETA!

Walters brings Paula Dupree (aka Cheela) to the circus, where the animals go crazy, sensing her unnaturalness.  She steps into the lion cage, and the big cat is so afraid of her it backs away.  Fred believes she may be the best lion-tamer of all time.  He hires her, and she becomes a part of the act.  She also falls in love with Fred.  Rut-ro!

Paula Dupree hides a sinister secret in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Paula Dupree hides a sinister secret in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

When Paula/Cheela sees Fred kissing Beth, she gets angry and starts to change back into a gorilla.  Her teeth grow to gigantic form, her skin turns darker, and hair begins sprouting all over her body, her brow becomes huge.  The transformation is primitive and crude, but it works in context.  It’s created by the great Jack P. Pierce, who also created all the classic make-ups for the Universal monsters like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. 

She immediately goes after Beth in her home, determined to kill off her romantic competition, but she’s interrupted by a landlady.  The poor older woman is jumped and chewed to death.  Paula escapes, but Dr. Walters knows he needs to perform more operations to get her hormones back to normal.  Things aren’t looking good for Dorothy, who’s still at the sanatorium!

Will Dr. Walters get Paula’s glands back in order?  Will Fred be able to control all those big cats without the help of Paula, and with a big thunderstorm on the way?  Will Paula kill Beth and get the love of the man she adores?  How the hell does Beth afford those terrific glamorous outfits on a circus secretary’s salary? 

Tune in to find out, but it all ends in a spectacular circus finale with crazed big cats, a huge storm, and a lovelorn gorilla.  Watching the stunt footage, I can’t believe somebody didn’t get killed during the filming of these scenes. 

A credit at the beginning of the picture reads “We hereby make grateful acknowledgement to Mr. Clyde Beatty for his cooperation and inimitable talent in staging the thrilling animal sequences in this picture.”  In other words, thanks to Clyde (a world famous lion-tamer) for letting us borrow all your scenes from THE BIG CAGE (1933), a jungle adventure in which Beatty performed the thrilling lion-taming acts.  In fact, it’s rumored that Milburn Stone, a rather bland leading man, was only hired onto CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN because of his diminutive stature and resemblance to Clyde Beatty.

Other than Stone, however, the acting is quite good for this sort of picture.  Evelyn Keyes looks gorgeous in her beautiful outfits and is completely natural, even when spouting dubious dialogue.  Acquanetta is also unbelievably beautiful, and she does a good job, working the whole movie in short, sequined dresses and pantomiming everything she does.  She’s like an animal in a lot of ways, the way her eyes follow things, the way her lips curl when disappointed or angry, and the way she stomps more than walks.  Also impressive is John Carradine in a low-key role.  I love me some John Carradine, and in this film he could’ve turned into the later Carradine, mugging for the camera and camping it up as a mad doctor.  Instead, he reigns his performance inwards, and we can easily see how he could charm women.  He also exudes an innate intelligence.  The man was a terrific actor, and it’s too bad he was relegated to high-camp roles so often in his later years.  A lot of people should watch his earlier work to see how good he truly was. 

As noted before, the gowns in this movie are pretty spectacular for a B-picture.  This is due to Vera West’s costume design.  West was the gown designer behind most of the Sherlock Holmes movies of the 1940s, as well as THE GOOD FAIRY (1935), GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1934), MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1935) and SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), as well as ALL the major Universal horror films of the thirties and forties.  She designed the gowns for 342 movies, almost all at Universal. 

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN was directed by stalwart Edward Dmytryk, who also helmed such classics as THE CAINE MUTINY (1954), CROSSFIRE (1947), BACK TO BATAAN (1945), and HITLER’S CHILDREN (1943).  The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Dmytryk started working at Universal as a messenger boy at the age of fifteen.  Later in life, he was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten who refused to cooperate with HUAC and Joseph McCarthy.  He refused to name names as communists, and he ended up in prison.  After a few months, he testified again, informing on several “communists.”  He always believed he had done the right thing, but he was never forgiven by the rest of Hollywood, and his career stalled out in the 1970s. 

Overall, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN is a bit predictable, but that doesn’t lessen its entertainment value.  This is a fun movie, and it moves amazingly swiftly.  That’s a lot of plot and action for 61 minutes!  The acting is generally very good, the make-up is cool, and the big cat action (thanks again Clyde) is truly jaw-dropping.

I give CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN three glands out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes a Swim in SWAMP WATER (1941)

Posted in 1940s Films, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Fugitives, Killers, Melodrama, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

SWAMP WATER (1941)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk-till-dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

It’s ninety-five degrees outside as I write this, and it’s so humid you could cut the air with a knife.  Therefore, the weather is dictating my summer choice of a trilogy of swamp movie reviews over the next month.  What better time to remember the great swamp pictures than when they used to be shown at the local drive-ins, complete with terrier-sized mosquitoes (unless you bought one of those coiled smoke thingies)?

Jean Renoir was the son of famous Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir, and he was also considered France’s greatest living director in the 1930s.  He directed, and most often wrote, one masterpiece after another, films that would still be studied and adored in the next century, films like BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (1932), THE LOWER DEPTHS (1936), LA GRANDE ILLUSION (1937), and LA BETE HUMAINE (1938).  In 1939, he made THE RULES OF THE GAME, a comedy of manners and a harsh indictment against the bourgeois and pretty much any other class system.  The film infuriated the French, who truly take their cinema to heart, and it also disturbed the Nazis, who occupied the country at the time, with its left-wing politics.  The film was a flop, and Renoir decided if he was going to keep making movies, he would immigrate to America, thus escaping the Nazis’ condemnation, while still retaining his director’s chair, only this time in Hollywood.  He arrived in New York City with his wife and the author of “The Little Prince,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  Within weeks, he was in Hollywood, signed to Twentieth Century Fox by Francophile Darryl F. Zanuck.  What would be his first film in the United States?  A great war film?  An ant-Nazi drama?  A brilliant, elegant comedy?  No, it was a swamp picture: SWAMP WATER (1941) written by Dudley Nichols, who had just had several hits like BRINGING UP BABY (1938) and STAGECOACH (1939), and based on the Saturday Evening Post pot-boiler by Vereen Bell.

In the Okefenokee Swamp, 700 miles of marsh and cypress, Dana Andrews (LAURA – 1944 and CURSE OF THE DEMON – 1957) is Ben, a young man who loses his dog, Trouble (uh-oh, foreshadowing?) while searching for a couple of missing trappers on the edge of the swamp.  Not finding him, he returns home to his father Thursday (Walter Huston of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE – 1948 and THE FURIES – 1950) and his stepmother Hannah, played by Mary Howard (LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY – 1938 and ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS – 1940).  Trouble hasn’t returned home, but when Ben says he’s going into the swamp to find Trouble, his Pa goes plumb crazy, shouting and telling him if he goes into the swamp he shouldn’t ever come home again.  He would be disinherited (from what, I wonder, the old shack they live in?)  On his way, he runs into Mabel, his girlfriend, a high-falutin’ woman who yearns for a better life, played by Virginia Gilmore of THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942).  He gets supplies at the general store, where we meet the rest of the town . . . Marty, who owns the store (the great Russell Simpson of THE GRAPES OF WRATH – 1940 and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS-1954), two nasty characters, the Dorson Brothers, on their way to drown a bag of kittens (!) played by Ward Bond (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – 1946 and THE SEARCHERS – 1956) and Guinn Williams (a heavy in many Westerns, including THE ALAMO – 1960) and a beautiful, wild young woman, the ward (or slave) of the shopkeeper.  Played with a great naiveté by Anne Baxter (ALL ABOUT EVE -1950 and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS– 1956), Julie is a wildcat, a girl abandoned by her father: a convicted murderer who fled into the swamp and is presumed dead.   It’s a rough bunch.

The haunting opening shot from SWAMP WATER (1941)>

Our hero goes on his search for his missing dog into the heart of the swamp, and Renoir actually filmed this on location, unheard of in a film of this time.  The cypress trees, the algae, the water, the sweat, the alligators, and the beautiful play of light on everything is simply gorgeous and stifling.  I can almost feel the fecund air until Ben comes across, who else, Julie’s father, the escaped killer Tom Keefer, played by three time Oscar winner Walter Brennan (STAGECOACH – 1939 and THE WESTERNER – 1941.)  Trouble, it seems, has taken a shine to old Tom, who is hiding out in the deep swamp from the law, but the old man can’t let Ben go back to civilization and reveal where he is.  He ties the boy to a tree and prepares to kill him, but he’s bitten in the face by a cottonmouth, and he falls unconscious.  Ben decides to bury the man, the only proper thing to do, when the old escapee revives.  “If I’da let them things kill me,” he says.  “I’da been dead a long time ago.”  For the young man’s kindness, Tom shows Ben the way out of the swamp.

Fugitive Walter Brennan hiding in the SWAMP WATER.

Meanwhile, local horndog Jesse Wick, played by John Carradine (hundreds of movies) is hitting on Hannah while her husband’s looking for Ben.  His father beats the hide off of him, so Ben takes up in a shack near the general store, where he starts to become closer to the wildcat Julie and makes a living by trapping furs in the Okefenokee.  This, of course, infuriates Mabel, who decides to go to a dance with a Dorson Brother.  Ben accompanies Julie, who cleans up really well!  Ben informs her that her father’s alive, so she starts keeping house for him.

Jesse tries to rape Hannah, but is almost caught by Thursday, who blames his wife.  She can’t say who it is, because she knows Thursday will kill him and she doesn’t want the guilt.  Thursday goes on a quest to find out who his wife is protecting.

It doesn’t take long before the wicked Dorson Brothers and the jealous Mabel get Ben in a headlock and try to drown him, until he tells them Tom is hiding out in the Okefenokee.  Turns out, they know more about the murder than anyone thought, and they go into the swamp to kill Tom Keefer and shut him up.  They’re followed by the sheriff and a posse as well as Ben and Jesse.  The manhunt through the darkened swamp is creepy and quite terrifying.  Will Ben get to Tom in time to warn him?  Will Tom believe the young man or blame him for the men tracking him through quicksand and gator nests?

I won’t give away the ending, but after ninety minutes of dark drama and suspense, it comes out of left field to please wartime audiences.  Zanuck didn’t think anyone would want to see a realistic ending, so he tacked on a sunny bit that seems awfully unrealistic, but it does still work.  Zanuck must have known what he was doing.  Despite his tampering and Jean Renoir’s dissatisfaction with his whole Hollywood experience, SWAMP WATER was one of the five top grossing movies of the year.  Renoir would return to some of the same themes in THE SOUTHERNER (1945 ) and get nominated for an Oscar.

Even with all the cornpone dialog, SWAMP WATER is filled with terrific performances, especially the luminescent Walter Brennan, who just owns every scene he’s in and Anne Baxter, who plays the feral Julie in a way that makes you want to protect her yourself.  Dana Andrews is a bit hopeless at the beginning as an innocent young man, but he evolves into a full grown adult whose heart is too big for the small town he lives in.  The transformation is subtle, but quite wonderful.  John Carradine turns in a performance full of terror and shame, a man who can’t help what he is and is too frightened of life to change.

Dana Andrews comes across an angry Walter Brennan in SWAMP WATER.

The photography is brilliant black and white, with long depths and wavering firelight or dappled sunlight on everything.  Cinematographer J. Peverell Marley (HOUSE OF WAX-1953 and THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES-1939) uses Renoir’s trademark long takes and constantly moving camera.  As beautiful as it is, Marley was a replacement for original photographer Lucien Ballard (THE WILD BUNCH and TRUE GRIT – both 1969), who was fired.  It looks like an art film but it has the Tobacco Road plot of a Southern exploitation hit, so SWAMP WATER is an odd flick, but extremely moving and beautiful piece of Faulkneresque Southern gothic.

Twilight Time has released a limited edition Blu-Ray of this classic swamp picture, and it’s a lulu.  You can see every bead of sweat on every characters mug, every bug flying near the fires in the swamp, every grain of wood on the sad-looking shacks.  It’s a magnificent restoration, and you can even isolate the musical score by David Buttolph (KISS OF DEATH -1947 and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS – 1953), which samples the haunting Red River Valley.  They only made 3,000, so if you want one, you need to hurry.

I give SWAMP WATER three and a half kittens in a bag out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl