This is the one where John Carradine, in his first leading role, turns Ray “Crash” Corrigan into a beautiful and exotic woman.
Of course, as in a big percentage of his roles, that’s Ray in his instantly recognizable Ape suit, playing yet another big ape, a girl ape this time. He appeared in that suit in so many movies – usually with little or no billing – that one wonders if he even knew how many he was in.
This is one of the least remembered of Universal’s Horror cycle, and it’s not a complete surprise: it’s only an hour long, and we only get a few quick glimpses of the girl turning back into an ape, and some short and unbloody shots of the surgery.
But what makes this one truly unique is the fact that most of it was “borrowed” from Clyde Beatty’s first film, The Big Cage (1933), so it is primarily a story about a brave animal trainer, who has to figure out how to save the show. And put together an act with lions and tigers – lots of them – in the same cage.
Well, you don’t find that in any of the “Frankenstein” films.
Edward Dmytryk directs, which is probably why this wholesale theft works as well as it does. I suspect theatrical audiences who hadn’t seen The Big Cage probably had no idea they were watching a re-tread. The end result is mildly entertaining, although perhaps as much for the animal show as the ape girl part of the story. Still, there is a nice moment when Carradine’s mad scientist figures out just what he needs to make his experiment work – with his unwilling “donor” only a step or two behind him.
Milburn Stone (who would later play Doc Adams on Gunsmoke) got the lead because he looks a bit like Beatty. The ape girl herself (who doesn’t even get a single line of dialogue) was played by an exotic young woman billed as Acquanetta in her first major role. She would play the ape girl in another, even cheaper film, Jungle Woman, and end up typecast as mysterious jungle women and native girls. Which is rather odd for a girl from Ozone, Wyoming.
Although Jungle Woman is usually mentioned when this film is discused, one rarely hears about the third “Paula Dupree” film, The Jungle Captive. It was by far the cheapest of the three and didn’t even have Acquanetta – although they did cram in poor Rondo Hatton.
Which is, of course, a good sign that you’re scraping the bottom of the Universal Horror pool.
(Film available here)
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