Saturday, March 30, 1974 (Noon): Mothra (1961) / Jungle Woman (1944)

Synopsis: A typhoon rages off the coast of Japan, and a maritime monitoring station notes that one ship, the Genjin Maru, has inadvertently wandered close to the center of the storm. When the crew finds the nearest island on the charts, they realize it is Biru Island, which had previously been used as a test site for nuclear weapons by the powerful nation of Rolisica and is considered deadly. However, with the ship foundering, the captain has no choice but to tell the crew to abandon ship.

After the storm has passed helicopters scour the area, looking for survivors. Four men are picked up on a beach at Biru Island.

After the men are retrieved, they are kept in an isolation ward in the hospital complex. The four men appear to be in perfect health, though they should all be dead. Newspaper reporter Fukada (Furanki Sakai) — known as “the Bulldog” (“Snapping Turtle” in the subtitled version) because of his tenacity — asks the men why they aren’t feeling any ill effects, and one of them says it must have been the juice they drank while there — juice given to them by the natives on the island.

This causes enormous consternation, because the island is not only supposed to be completely uninhabited, but uninhabitable as well. An expedition to the island is organized. Camera-shy scientist Dr. Chujo Nazako is set to accompany the expedition, and Fukada and photographer Michi Hanamura (Kyoko Kagana) visit him in his home, and despite his icy demeanor, Fukada manages to befriend him by rescuing a pet rat lost by one of his kids.

No reporters are allowed on the expedition, but Fukada stows away on the ship and by the time he’s discovered it’s too late to send him back ashore. The trip is financed by the oily Rolisican emissary Nelson (Jerry Ito), who would just as soon throw Fukada overboard, but the scientists on board — even though they have little sway over Nelson — lobby for Fukada to be allowed to join the shore party and chronicle the events that unfold.

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The island proves to be very dangerous place, with perils up to and including carnivorous plants, but the most astonishing discovery is two very tiny women who speak in unison. Seeing the potential of exploiting them, Nelson returns to Japan with the two girls and places them in (what else) a popular nightclub act. The girls are lowered to the stage in a tiny golden carriage, where they sing sad songs that repeatedly use the word “Mosura”

Fukada, Michi, Chujo and his mouse-owning son get in to see the girls, who are being held captive by Nelson in his nightclub. The girls are not too worried about themselves, but they do express some concern for their friends. Their protector is a giant caterpillar called Mosura (“Mothra” in the dubbed version) with whom they are telepathically linked; and it’s only a matter of time before it will arrive in Tokyo and tear it apart until the girls are returned….

Comments: Mothra represented  a new twist on the giant monster genre when it premiered in 1961: unlike Gojira (1954) and Rodan (1956), it wasn’t an extinct creature thrust into the 20th century, eager to mete out destruction. Rather, Mothra’s only aim is retrieving the twin fairies who have been stolen from Biru Island and thus restoring the balance to a world that had been thrown out of order by human machinations — not the least of which is the nuclear tests which have poisoned the environment. Thus all the destruction that occurs in the film is the fault of the greedy Nelson, who embodies all the worst traits of “Rolisica” — a country that, while fictional, was clearly modeled on the United States.

Japan is depicted as under the thumb of the powerful but immoral Rolisica, but always manages to retain the high ground. Throughout the film the Japanese are presented as unfailingly wise and reasonable, free of the ruinous devotion to profit that has tainted Nelson and his fellow gangsters (in the end they are revealed as no more than gangsters) who destroyed Biru island with atomic tests and who now seek to exploit the fairies. This is the first overtly political entry of Toho’s kaiju movies (and the last until 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: All-Out Giant Monster Attack, in which giant monsters are depicted as a curse brought on by Japan’s sins against her neighbors in the 1930s and 40s) and the first to depict the monster as a hero, defending the good guys instead of just destroying cities.

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Speaking of good guys, we have a pretty winning cast at work in Mothra, with the beefy Furanki Masai standing out as the “Snapping Turtle” reporter who won’t let go of a story. Chujo is played by Hiroshi Koizumi, who would appear in a number of kaijus and who gets some funny moments as the scientist afraid of having his picture taken (“the sound of the shutter clicking is to me like the sound of the guillotine”) he says uncomfortably. Kyoko Kagana’s Michi is one of a long line of female sidekicks to the hero that inhabit this sort of film — not quite a romantic interest, more like a kid sister tagging along with the hero. She doesn’t get many good lines here, but she makes them count, particularly her rejoinder to Chujo’s guillotine line. She holds up her cigarette lighter / camera and tells him, “Unlike the guillotine, you can’t always tell when you’re picture’s been taken.”

Yumi and Emi Ito were popular twin singers of the time who were billed as “The Peanuts” and who were splendidly cast here as the twin fairies. They weren’t really called upon to do much in the way of acting, but they were able to say their lines precisely in unison, which isn’t as easy as it looks. The two would return for Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964) and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964).

Jungle Woman

Synopsis: Dr. Carl Fletcher (J. Carroll Naish) is being held for the murder of Paula Dupree (Acquanetta), whom we’d met in Captive Wild Woman (1943). Through the testimony of Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) and his former girlfriend (now wife) Beth (Evelyn Ankers) we hear again the strange story of Paula: that she was not a woman at all, but a gorilla named Cheela that had been transformed into a woman’s image by glandular researcher Sigmund Walters (John Carradine); how she began appearing at the Whipple Circus where Fred Mason tamed wild beasts and how she subsequently fell in love with him. Dr. Fletcher reveals that he had been at the Whipple Circus the night Cheela / Paula had been shot, and gained permission to take possession of the gorilla’s body. Discovering that the gorilla (which had been pronounced dead) was actually alive, Fletcher restored it to full health.

Fletcher also reveals that he had purchased the sanitarium that had been owned by the late Dr. Walters, and once again transformed Cheela into Paula Dupree.

Fletcher’s daughter Joan (Lois Collier) shows up at the sanitarium with her boyfriend Bob Whitney (Richard Davis). Paul approaches Bob and introduces herself, which astonishes Fletcher: up until now, Fletcher says, she hadn’t spoken a word.

It soon become clear that Paula has fallen for Bob. She waits obsessively for him to appear at the sanitarium, and she becomes insanely jealous when she sees Joan kissing him.

Now that her jungle passion has been unleashed, Joan is in terrible danger from Paula, even if she doesn’t know it yet….

Comments: Though barely an hour in length, Jungle Woman spends nearly a quarter of its running time recapping the events of Captive Wild Woman, and we’re treated to a number of recycled flashback scenes which include scenes that were in turn recycled (or re-recycled, I guess) from 1933’s The Big Cage. Say what you want about this picture, it’s very economical.

I will admit it’s fun to see so many Universal contract players together here. Aside from Milburn Stone, Evelyn Ankers and Acquanetta herself, all of whom we saw in the last picture, we also have Samuel S. Hinds (The Strange Case of Dr. Rx) as the coroner, Douglas Dumbrille (The Frozen Ghost) as the prosecutor, Lois Collier (The Crimson Canary) as Joan and J. Carroll Naish (House of Frankenstein) as Dr. Fletcher. As is often the case, the versatile Naish is the standout in the cast; his gentle research scientist is a nice counterpoint to the gland-obsessed Dr. Walters from the previous film (oddly enough, Naish had himself played a gorilla physically altered to resemble a human in Dr. Renault’s Secret at Fox the year before).

The flashbacks are clumsily framed with a lugubrious coroner’s inquest setup, in which witness after witness dumps expository information from the previous film for the benefit of audience members who missed (or have forgotten) the events of the previous film. But it makes little difference: this movie sports not only recycled footage but a recycled plot, with Paula becoming obsessed with another guy (this time Joan’s doofus boyfriend) for no clearly-explained reason.

Acquanetta was pefectly fine in Captive Wild Woman because her character never spoke. Jungle Woman’s biggest gamble is giving dialogue to the Venezuelan Volcano, and this gamble does not pay off. Every time she opens her mouth she’s in trouble. Even the most mundane lines (“Hello Bob, I’m Paula”) are uttered in a strained, stilted monotone. Perhaps director Reginald LeBorg thought audiences might attribute this awkwardness to the fact that Paula only recently transformed to human form from being a gorilla, but not even a recent change of species can excuse Acquanetta’s painful delivery. To make matters worse, LeBorg allowed her even more dialogue in Dead Man’s Eyes, which was an even greater mistake. I don’t know if Acquanetta ever took acting classes, but if she did I hope she got her money back.

The familiar cast helps make up for for the paucity of the production, but just barely. Jungle Woman fails in just about every category: it’s dull, derivative, silly and is little more than a reminder of just how far Universal’s horror output had fallen since its glory days.

One comment

  1. Uncle Mike – I am pretty sure THIS date was the first time I ever saw Mothra. Thanks again for doing the “good work”. It is appreciated by me and the rest of the Monster Movie Happy Hour crew.

    Like

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