Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Gwangi goes to church
THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969). Director: James O'Connolly.

T.J. (Gila Golan) runs a circus in turn of the century Mexico with her older friend, Champ (Richard Carlson). Back into their lives comes T.J.'s old boyfriend, Tuck (James Franciscus), who ran out on T.J. some time before. T.J. has a new act, a cute little horse (or prehistoric eohippus) who was found in the desert. But this attraction is nothing compared to the animals inside a hidden valley where the tiny horse came from. There are pterodactyls, a belligerent triceratops, and most of all, Gwangi, a fearsome combo of allosaurus and T Rex that chomps on one luckless fellow (Gustavo Rojo) and is ready for more before a rock slide helps Tuck and the others capture him. This is another in a long line of movies (stretching from before King Kong to Jurassic World and beyond) in which a dangerous creature is put on display and breaks out of confinement, causing havoc. The chief selling point of this is some absolutely amazing stop-motion effects work by Ray Harryhausen, clearly working on all cylinders. Gwangi is a wonderful creation, angry, confused, hungry, snapping and tearing at anything in its way. The sequence when the cowboys attempt to lasso the monster is superb, seamless -- I mean, who needs CSI? Another stunning sequence has the monster entering a huge Cathedral and stalking Tuck and the others while its heavy footsteps reverberate all through the building. There is the infrequent use of unconvincing props of assorted creatures, but generally the FX work is fluid and exacting. The story is based on a script put together by stop-motion specialist Willis O'Brien (King Kong), and it is serviceable. Carlson [Riders to the Stars] and Franciscus [Great White] are fine, as is Laurence Naismith as a paleontologist. Gila Golan appears to be dubbed, along with little Curtis Arden as the orphan boy, Lope. As for the film's romance between Tuck and T.J., one can only imagine the real melodrama will come afterward considering what happens to the circus.

The DVD for the movie has a featurette in which several CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) specialists are highly complimentary of Harryhausen's influential work on this film, of which they certainly should be.

Verdict: Lively Gwangi, and some superb stop-motion effects, make this a winner. ***1/2.

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