B&W, 1941, 64 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Stuart Heisler
Starring Ellen Drew, Robert Paige, Paul Lukas, Joseph Calleia, George Zucco, Phillip Terry, and Skipper the Dog

B&W, 1943, 60 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Starring John Carradine, Evelyn Ankers, Milburn Stone, Acquanetta, Martha MacVicar

B&W, 1944, 63 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Starring Evelyn Ankers, J. Carrol Naish, Acquanetta, Richard Davis, Milburn Stone, Lois Collier

B&W, 1945, 60 mins. 44 sec.
Directed by Harold Young
Starring Otto Kruger, Vicky Lane, Amelita Ward, Rondo Hatton
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Universal (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Two The Monster and the Girlyears into its much The Monster and the Girlappreciated cycle of boxed sets devoted to Universal horror classics, Scream Factory goes completely ape with this collection of four films loaded with monkey suits, nefarious medical experiments, and so much cigarette smoke you'll need to open your windows. The selection of titles might lead one to expect that these are really jungle adventures masquerading as horror fare, but have no fear; there's plenty of monster action on hand here with a game cast tailor made to please genre fans.

First up is The Monster and the Girl, which is actually a Paramount feature that, as with its other peers of the era, ended up switching over to Universal decades later. Though positively received and given an affectionate section in the seminal book Classics of the Horror Film, the film has mostly flown under the radar after its obligatory run on syndicated TV for a while. It was issued as Universal MOD title on DVD, but its Blu-ray bow here will hopefully help raise its profile as this is a peculiar and endearing genre mash-up with some startling dreamlike moments (not least the opening scene). Inspired by the success of Warner Bros.' The Walking Dead with Boris Karloff, this is part of a spate of horror movies that tried to cross pollinate with the popular gangster genre that made stars out of the likes of James Cagney and George Raft. Here we have a ruthless crime lord, W.S. Bruhl (Lukas), who wields his power in the courtroom when he's testified against by one of his victims, The Monster and the GirlSusan (Drew), apparently forced into a life The Monster and the Girlof prostitution. Her brother, Scot (Terry), pays for his attempts to save her by being framed for murder and sent up to the river to death row. Meanwhile mad scientist Dr. Perry (Zucco) is performing brain swapping experiments and finds an ideal subject when Scot gets executed and ends up with his consciousness inside a gorilla. Now unencumbered by his human form, the rampaging Scot-monster decides to strike back against the underworld that ruined his family.

Atmospheric and quickly paced, this one delivers plenty of fun during its swift running time and actually delivers one of the creepiest gorillas in movie history thanks to inventive lighting and skillful use of an ape suit utilized in several other Paramount productions as well. The horror element doesn't really kick in full force until the halfway point, but it's worth the time investment including the chance to see the engaging Drew taking starring honors. The Scream Factory disc looks quite solid with what's advertised as a new 2K scan of a fine grain film element; given the highly inconsistent state of the Paramount library from the time, it's great to see it looking crisp here with some nice depth in the more ambitious camera set ups. Some element damage is evident here and there, but it's nothing serious and rarely even all that noticeable. The DTS-HD MA English mono track (with optional yellow English SDH subtitles) is par for the course here (as with the other films in this set), perfectly fine and clear for what amounts to a basic and undemanding mix. The big extra here is a new audio commentary by Tom Weaver, who makes an opening case for Paramount's unsurpassed but largely unknown record for horror fare in this era. He also touches on the unusual structure, the very colorful histories behind some of the participants, his attempt to get an interview with Ellen Drew, some variations against the shooting script, the white slavery angle that annoyed the Production Code, a Captive Wild Womanreenactment of an interview he conducted with Bob Burns, and the unexpected scene Captive Wild Womanthat caused censorship hassles in some territories. Some appreciative prerecorded comments by Steve Kronenberg are also sprinkled in here, too.

Next we venture into bona fide Universal horror territory with 1943's Captive Wild Woman, which introduced the recurring character of Paula the Ape Woman played by the striking and enigmatic former model Acquanetta. Here the action starts at a circus where trailer Fred Mason (Stone) has delivered some new animals including a particularly rambunctious tiger and an unusually intelligent ape, Cheela. His fiancée, Beth (The Wolf Man's Ankers), has an unstable little sister, Dorothy (MacVicar), who goes into the care of Dr. Sigmund Waters (Carradine). As it turns out, the doc is using his sanitarium as an experimental playground for glandular experiments and even swipes Cheela from the circus as part of his perverse plans. Fred and Beth soon cross paths with the doctor's most successful experiment, Paula, a sentient woman developed through simian gland experiments and a brain transplant courtesy of Waters' ill-fated assistant. She quickly gets a job at the circus, but her attachment to Fred soon proves to be a big problem...

Pulpy and unapologetically absurd, this is a deeply odd potpourri of gorilla mayhem, tons of big cat footage (some of which will have you very alarmed for their welfare), and a mustachioed Captive Wild WomanCarradine doing his trademark villain routine. Though she doesn't get unveiled until well into the action, Acquanetta is an Captive Wild Womaninteresting presence, not exactly delivering a "performance" but commanding the screen all the same. As you'd expect from the title, she's painted here as a subhuman "other" mixed with the usual exotic fetishizing of the era, which obviously ties in to the time capsule nature of the production and marks it as a product of the era. Today the most fascinating aspect of this film is the fact that it was an early effort by none other than Edward Dmytryk, who had just helmed the fun Boris Karloff vehicle The Devil Commands and would become a big Hollywood name (as well as a controversial figure during the McCarthy Red Scare era) with films like The Carpetbaggers, Raintree County, and Walk on the Wild Side. He does an efficient job here, conjuring up some nice noir-worthy visuals at times even with an obviously strapped budget. The Scream Factory disc looks perfectly fine and makes for an upgrade over the 2009 DVD (which was packaged with its two semi-sequels), revealing the patchwork nature of the production with the preexisting animal training coverage obviously looking lower quality by its very nature. Here you get a new audio commentary by Weaver who provides thoughts on the use of footage from 1933's The Big Cage, the wild narrative consistencies caused in the later films, and the, um, vivid reason why Carradine couldn't wear white pants for very long. You also get some bonus integrated comments from zoo keeper Jungle WomanDave Jungle WomanHodge and a recreation of an Acquanetta interview about her Native American background as well as her life in Arizona at the time (and her vaguely defined ability to see the future!). A theatrical trailer and a still gallery (1m56s) are also included.

Thanks to its reasonable box office success, a sequel swiftly came along in the form of 1944's Dmytryk-free Jungle Woman, this time helmed by Reginald Le Borg (who directed several of Universal's Inner Sanctum horrors with Lon Chaney Jr. as well as the later The Black Sleep and Diary of a Madman). Here Paula comes back with a vengeance right in the very first scene, pouncing on one poor sap during a nocturnal stroll. Cut to a trial underway involving the seemingly but not really deceased Paula at the hands of Dr. Carl Fletcher (Naish), who came upon the reverted Cheela during the last film's circus finale and brought her to his lab where she was turned into Paula again. Beth and Fred also return but mostly serve as exposition devices as we find out how Paula became a functioning, verbal human in her new environment but developed another unhealthy fixation, this time on Bob (David), who's engaged to the doctor's daughter, Jungle WomanJoan (Collier). Prone to turn ape any time her passions get aroused, Paula is soon connected to some Jungle Womanmysterious animal and human deaths in the vicinity.

Cheaper and more padded than its predecessor, this one drew immediate understandable comparisons to the Val Lewton classic Cat People with the more unsavory aspects of the ape-woman narrative device kept more off screen this time around. That's likely due to the Production Code cracking the whip even harder this time around, and the rushed production (as little as a week according to some) wasn't a particular favorite of anyone involved. That said, it's a reasonable little chiller with some occasional fun bits, a less racially queasy approach to its leading lady, and the most excessive reliance on flashbacks in a sequel until Boogeyman 2 and Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2. Plus you get to hear Acquanetta speak this time around, including elocution lessons straight out of My Fair Lady with lines like "A happy cat will purr." Unlike the prior film, this one has merited a fresh 2K scan (again cited as a fine grain film element) and looks fresher than the DVD, with the nighttime (well, really day for night)) sequences in particular having some nice depth and detail that was absent before. Damage is also extremely minimal with the element kept in very good shape. In addition to an image gallery (2m31s), the disc comes with a new audio commentary by film historian Gregory William Mank; he makes no bones about the film's shortcomings and even addresses the racist accusations against the films head on the opening moments. However, he also provides a lot of production detail here and increases your appreciation for the film's modest pleasures as he swerves through the Production Code's Jungle Captiveobjection to the bestiality implications of the script, the postwar plastic surgery that saved one actor's face, the Lewton-esque Jungle Captivetactics that don't quite come off, and the conflicting information about the star's biography and temperament.

Finally we wrap things up with the fourth and final film in the set, 1945's The Jungle Captive (or just Jungle Captive going by the promotional material), which keeps going with the ape woman idea but doesn't bring back Acquanetta this time. The '40s Universal horror cycle was quickly winding down by this point (with House of Dracula coming out the same year), and here we get Irish-born Vicky Lane in the most notable lead role of her short career as Paula this time. However, the big draw here for horror fans is the presence of Rondo "The Creeper" Hatton, who headlined such films as House of Horrors and The Brute Man (and would sadly pass away less than a year after this film's release). Here Hatton plays Moloch, a body snatcher who delivers the body of Paula to yet another scientist, Stendahl (Kruger). Lab assistant Ann (Ward) is chosen as the blood donor who will be key to bringing back Paula, who is not only brought back but soon reverts to her (different) human form -- abet in dire need of a new brain. When Paula soon goes missing, the doctor and Moloch are also implicated in another path of mayhem across town.

Presenting its monstrous female character in a more sympathetic light here as well as providing a fine showcase for Hatton (who also gets to Jungle Captivedisplay a bit more depth and Jungle Captivelayering than you might expect), this entry shifts the most fearsome activity right onto the shoulders of Kruger who proves up to the task. As usual it's still ridiculous cinematic junk food, of course, but the cast manages to pull it off and the absence of all that preexisting footage that bogged down the prior film is much appreciated here. Lane may not cut as vivid a figure as her predecessor, but she's still game and puts up with all that heavy makeup like a pro. Like the others, this one clocks in just over an hour and doesn't wear out its welcome; basically you could knock out all of these films in an evening without too much fuss. Here you also get a new 2K scan resulting in a pleasing presentation with nice textures, convincing film grain, and rich, deep blacks. The main titles are in less than great shape, but the rest of the film looks quite nice with only some very minimal flaws on display. A trailer is included (and it's worth noting the trailers in this set are in better shape than usual for Universal titles), the disc features a new audio commentary by film historian Scott Gallinghouse who has plenty to say about Hatton, the approach of this entry compared to the other titles, and particularly Lane, with quite a bit about her privileged background and the domineering marriage at the time that may have had an adverse effect on her professional career.

Reviewed on June 15, 2020.