WARNING: MODERATELY NOT WORK SAFE THIS WEEK.
Proof That It’s Pre-Code
- Lots of topless women and naked rear ends. You’re not missing that much, really, even for boob and butts aficionados.
- Have you ever wanted to see animals maimed, killed, and dissected? I mean, there are cute koalas too, so if that balances things out for you, maybe you’ll be okay.
The Blonde Captive: A Trite Attempt at Titillation
First and foremost, if you are Australian, do not watch The Blonde Captive. Second and secondmost, whoever you may be, do not watch The Blonde Captive. It is a film not for modern audiences; only the most ardent historian will feel the attempt is worthwhile, and even they will hide their faces after sitting through the experience.
I am, it should be noted, one of them. The Blonde Captive is a hell of a relic, from a time where the white man was above all else on the social and economic food chain. It’s a film with the gumption to have a narrator blame white hunters for the destruction they’ve wrought on native populations, and then a few minutes later goad them on to dissecting a dugong or ripping out the heart of a sea turtle. This film is a hideous achievement in inconsistent and dangerous thinking, making it a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of its time.
The film starts with an extremely long introduction about anthropology and an Adventurer’s Club’s desire to retrace the evolution of mankind. Their goal is to discover a modern day neandertal, and, yes, it’s the kind of documentary that misses the ‘h’ in neanderthal.
Lowell Thomas is our host. Thomas, for those not in the know, was one of the most famous radio personalities in his day. He was one of the architects of the film travelogue (and, later, Cinerama), and Thomas became an accomplished traveler the world over. Hell, at the point this movie was made in 1931, he had spent a year as the very first television newshost. In 1930.
The Blonde Captive is one such travelogue, though it’s hard to tell if Lowell tags along for the journey or merely plays the part of bemused narrator from afar. After a lengthy prologue about what a neandertal is, the bold film crew sets out to travel across the South Pacific, hopping from island to island until they reach the land of the backwards mammals and the most primitive men to still live: Australia.
Look, the movie said it, not me. In fact, to quote the film, Australia is, “Yes, the land of backwater men and backwater animals.” This sort of narration is telling. Like when Lowell gets a load of the women on Fiji. They are “Simple, childlike creatures” who “make civilization seem unnecessary”, and yet we’re the ones staring at their breasts.
And, just to emphasize once again, bare breasts do make their way into this film. Like a lot of documentaries and photography, only the bare breasts of white women are anything to take offense at, and while we may be a rare pair here, it makes National Geographic look like the Playboy Channel.
That brings us to the overall purpose of The Blonde Captive, whichis simply as an invitation to gawk. Lowell’s narration is full of rye and sexist comments, such as when he compares the topless aboriginal women to those on Polynesia: “we find that these women aren’t quite up to the high standards that us scientists had grown accustom to!”
Those are the reasons the movie was made, but it’s still an interesting trip back to when things that are commonplace now were strange and exotic. A stop in Hawaii (still an American colony) reveals to the audience the wild sport of surfing, with Lowell breathlessly noting that surfers are “the gigolos of the South Seas”. Whatever the hell that means.
A couple of nice moments slip through in the movies running time. We see an aboriginal boy, dirty and trapped in Australia’s hellish interior, stare at the camera with contempt. We see a marksman break into a wide smile after his spear throwing hits its mark precisely. A female wildlife caretaker covered in koalas tries frantically to contain them all. A young boy gets his two front teeth removed in his tribe’s ritual to transition to manhood, as well take a wife; both are ten years old, and have no idea what they’re getting into.
But all of this is almost smothered in a schizophrenic air of condescension and brutality. Hear Lowell chortle over how kangaroos are hunted by riding next to them on a horse and then kicking them in the head. Or watch as our brave explorers just go around being total dicks to turtles. Few people are as big of dicks to turtles as the people contained in this documentary are.
If you’ve been reading so far, you may have noticed something, and that’s that I have yet to mention the titular Blonde Captive. That storyline doesn’t actually pick up until the last ten minutes of the travelogue, as the explorers encounter a fair skinned boy living amongst a mix race pack. They follow one of the men home to find that his wife was an English girl who’d washed up on the shore and gone native. She expresses no desire to return to the outside world, and, thankfully, the filmmakers let her be.
Of course, on a less cheery note, the explorers find their ‘neandertal’ — merely a tribesman with a rather large brow. They breathlessly exclaim the scientific breakthrough it is to find such a ‘primitive’ man, while we the audience are left to shudder.
There’s one more thing I wanted to note about Blonde Captive, and that’s that it is not available in the best of prints. Considered lost for a considerable while, Alpha Video’s version sometime facilitates to the point that it looks like bad animation. If you need proof, that screenshot at the top of the page? That woman is topless. That’s how blurry this movie is; squinting hard and imagining things is an improvement.
Blonde Captive is a curiosity for a select few, those with strong stomachs and either the morals of a man of the 1930’s or the fascination with such. The movie is nigh unwatchable, but the insights it gives– unintentionally or not– do a great job of showing just how much the world has changed in 80 years, and in so, so many ways for the better.
Here are some extra screenshots I took. Click on any picture to enlarge!
Trivia & Links
- Live in or around Victor, Colorado? Visit the Lowell Thomas Museum! (Odds of his participation in this movie being acknowledged there remain startlingly low.)
- In case you’re curious, at one point our bold adventurers go out and murder a dugong to eat. Believe it or not, they’re endangered, and, like most sea cows, fairly benign. Here’s Wikipedia for all your dugong needs.
- Speaking of Wikipedia, that obscure source of information, their page on this movie goes into the controversies surrounding it, from the allegations of staging to the fact that it was banned in Australia for being very, irritatingly condescending. But then I think you’ve picked up on that attitude by now.
- One of the only blog entries I found about this film comes from Cine-Miscreant (which I’m sure even they have to admit is a bit of a stretch for a name) (also, NWS). He pretty much reaches the same conclusions as me.
- The posters for this film certainly play up the nudity in this flick:
- For anyone who pays attention or cares, according to the narration, the titular blonde captive is actually gray haired. Also, she stays willingly. So it’s just a little bit of a mislabel. Those wacky explorers!
- This film is available on Amazon, and can be rented from Classicflix. For the cheap people among us, it’s also free to be streamed over at Archive.org.
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