Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) has returned from two years away hunting wild animals - not to kill them, but to capture them for American zoos and circuses; he has an animal act himself where he trains lions and tigers. His girlfriend Beth Colman (Evelyn Ankers) is delighted to see him as she waits by the dock, but as they're catching up and the animals are being hoisted off the ship one of the cages falls from its ropes, breaking open and letting loose the tiger that was inside. Fred jumps into action, grabbing a chair and a walking stick and forcing the beast safely into a nearby office. The drama appears to be over, but there's the matter of gorilla Cheela to worry about...
Back in 1943, Universal was looking to cut a few corners and re-use the footage of lion taming (and tiger taming, too) from the 1933 film The Big Cage, an adventure film starring the then-famous tamer Clyde Beatty. He did not return for this, so a lookalike in the shape of Stone was recruited, providing what they hoped would be the perfect match for those archive clips. You would suspect that it was not really him doing the stunts nevertheless, but Captive Wild Woman found a cult audience for another reason, and that was the inclusion of the actress playing the title character: Acquanetta.
Acquanetta's image was played up to be as exotic as possible, which proved restrictive in the roles she secured, and she only made a handful of appearances. Nevertheless, her sensual and let's face it, more than slightly campy screen personality have offered her a place in the hearts of movie fans for decades now, and the fact that she wasn't a "Venezuelan Volcano" as the publicity would have it does nothing to hinder that. Actually, her real name seems to be in question, though most settle on her being born Mildred Davenport, but she said she had American Indian ancestry, which would account for her looks.
This playing up of an air of smouldering ethnic sexuality was her stock in trade, and here, in what could be seen as a dubious development, she gets to play a gorilla whose wild emotions she cannot keep in check. No, that wasn't her in the suit - no actual apes were employed in the making of this film, which is more than could be said of the lions and tigers - but that staple of forties horror movies, the mad scientist steps in to turn the creature into a beautiful woman for reasons best known to himself. He is Dr Sigmund Walters (Sigmund - must be psychological, right?), played by John Carradine in one of those roles which set him on a path of many a shocker, and he is obsessed with glands.
Walters is convinced that if he manipulates glands then he'll, I dunno, eliminate disease and create a race of supermen or something, he's a little fuzzy on the details, so to that end he takes Beth's ailing sister Dorothy (Martha Vickers) and uses her in obscure transfusion experiments at his sanitorium. The result is that combined with the kidnapped Cheela, a young woman is created who Walters names Paula Dupree for reasons best known to himself, and he introduces her to Fred and the rest. In this part, Acquanetta didn't speak, preferring to look soulful and mysterious, at least until she begins turning back into a gorilla when jealousy over Fred, who she is helping with his act, rears its head. If you can stomach the vintage lion and tiger footage, and there's a lot of it, Captive Wild Woman is winningly ridiculous and guaranteed to raise a laugh or three. Followed by two sequels.