The Valley of Gwangi
Cowboys battle monsters in the lost world of Forbidden Valley.
Year of Release: 1969
Also Known As: Gwangi, The Lost Valley, The Valley Time Forgot, The Valley Where Time Stood Still
Genre: Western/Science Fiction
Running Time: 95 minutes (1:35)
Director: Jim O' Connolly
James Franciscus ... Tuck
Gila Golan ... T.J.
Curtis Arden ... Lope
Richard Carlson ... Champ
Laurence Naismith ... Professor Bromley
Gustavo Rojo ... Carlos
Freda Jackson ... Tia Zorina
Dennis Kilbane ... Rowdy
Mario De Barros ... Bean
Cowpokes head into a mysterious Mexican valley to head 'em up and move 'em out. But they're not looking for little dogies. They're looking for great, big dinosaurs.
James Franciscus stars in this thunderous adventure featuring amazing special effects by Ray Harryhausen. Franciscus plays a Wild West showman who leads his riding and roping crew into the title region, where prehistoric giants still roam. Thanks to Harryhausen wizardry, fantastic creatures lunge, fight and rampage in scene after dazzling scene (including an awesome sequence where the cowboys rope Gwangi, a razor-toothed Allosaurus). Saddle up and join the excitement.
The Valley of Gwangi, remindin' us that if anybody ever does discover a lost world nobody'll ever hear about it, cause the discoverers'll be eaten in short order when they try takin' selfies with a T-rex. Honestly, this's a loss that we as a society are capable of sustainin', cause I dunno about anybody else, but I have a heck of a time loadin' Facebook on my dial-up connection, an I really don't need anymore pics of my cousins from Nevada posin' with their dogs dressed up in demeanin' Mr. Rogers sweaters. Poor things look like they wanna go sprawl out under the neighbor's RV to wait for the Reaper. An speakin' of sittin' around waitin' for death, I had a fairly eventful evenin' last weekend that resulted in my bein' engaged to be engaged to Sadie Bonebreak in the event that she ever gets tired of perky breasts. I didn't really plan for this to happen, but that's what a Porky's marathon an six shots of Wild Turkey'll do if you're not careful. It was a little awkward for the first few minutes followin' the proposal, what with there bein' a house fulla movie patrons over. Billy Hilliard was so enraptured by the shower scene in Part 1 that he didn't even notice, but Cleave Furguson an Skunky Hernandez both got this look on their faces like they'd left home without shuttin' off their reloadin' kits an went outside to stare at the bug zapper awhile. Sadie's girlfriend was there too, an she was real P.O.'d til they disappeared out into the wood shed durin' the openin' credits of Porky's II where the events of the first movie get rehashed to bad honky-tonk music. Once they got back they were happy as clams. I dunno exactly what went on out there, but Apollo was barkin' like he'd treed a raccoon, an the next mornin' the handle on my splittin' maul was gooier'n a jar of marshmallow fluff that got left out in the sun for three days. I think it was the way we're always finishin' each others' questions that made me do it, cause it happened about four seconds after Ms. Balbricker grabbed onto Tommy Turner's shower snake when we simultaneously shouted: "Now why the heck didn't he pull that thing outta there when he heard the middle-aged woman growlin' like a 1985 Toyota pickup with a glass pack?!" Somethin' just hit me, like; "Who cares if she's into tunafish sammiches an wears less makeup than an 80-year-old nun. Where you EVER gonna find another one like her?" She was kinda weirded out at first, but the more she thought about it, the more havin' a backup plan in case of total sexual preferential reversal made all the sense in the world. Ya know, just in case Ben Carson's right, an she figures out several years from now that she'd been *choosin'* to be a lesbian all along. It'll prolly never happen, but when you find "the one," you'd hafta be a complete wussbucket not to take a chance. Even if the idea of 'er seein' you nekkid makes 'er wanna join a convent.
The next evenin' we decided to check out somethin' grounded a little more firmly in reality so there wouldn't be anymore spontaneous declarations of adoration, an checked out The Valley of Gwangi, which was prolly the best cowboys versus dinosaur showdown ever put to film before Jerry Jones bought Arlington Stadium. Only the '60s could produce somethin' this bizarre that takes itself mostly seriously, an only one man could produce the stop-motion dinosaurs necessary to get an audience to take it mostly seriously, so in appreciation of Ray Harryhausen's tireless efforts to produce dinophoria, I'd like to pass on just a few of the things I learned watchin' this one. First, when confronted with a threat from the Jurassic era, a guy's able to forget his petty differences with his fellow man pretty easily. It's kinda like how Ronald Reagan used to talk about the way humanity'd come together if aliens ever invaded after he'd lost his marbles. But what he said about us bein' able to get along with the Rooskies long enough to save the world's collective butt from gettin' probed was definitely true, an the only difference here is that our guide to survival was originally laid out by The Flintstones, rather'n The War of the Worlds. Second, dinosaurs'll stay knocked out long enough to design an build a 15' tall cage on top of a flat bed trailer. So if you ever happen to discover a dinosaur you'd like to capture an' exhibit for profit, just slip some roofies into its Triceratop sirloin. An third, a six inch tall horse can outmuscle a woman, while a single man can rope an (temporarily) control a five-ton skink with more teeth than the dishwasher at Mom an Poop's Senility Acres Hospice Care. That right there is pretty much why I never bought that "strong enough for a man, but made for a woman" ad campaign that Secret used to run for their deodorant. That stuff'd prolly make a woman's armpit pucker up like a man's sphincter at his mother-in-law's passion party.
I got a question about this movie though, an it's one that's been plaguin' my mind for decades an seems as unknowable the mysteries of why His Big Cheesiness put the stars where He did, but I'ma ask it anyway: how come nobody ever listens to the old crone in the movies? I mean, do we automatically assume that somebody's senile *just* because they're over the age of 127? Now, this might just be me, but when I wanna learn about somethin', I always ask the oldest, ugliest person I can find, an there're a coupla reasons for this. One, ugly peoples' only chance to succeed in life is to pick a subject an study their brains out, cause nobody's gonna show up to sweep 'em off their feet an ask 'em to get married an go live with 'em in their McMansion up on snob hill overlookin' the municipal drainage ditch. That kinda chivalry's reserved strictly for airheads with big yams an chunkheaded slabs of beef that can make their pectoral muscles jiggle to the beat of "Hearts on Fire." An two, anyone who's been embittered to that degree just by their children's refusal to ask their advice is itchin' to unleash the big "told you so!" speech they've been testin' out on their cats, an if there's one thing I can't stand its a self righteous old hag with naturally occurin' dreadlocks. So seriously, how come Nana Crankyknickers gets dismissed like a homosexual in George Patton's army? Is it because they cause Vietmom flashbacks in our psyches an send unconscious signals to our brains insistin' we rebel against 'er tyrannical hold over our arcade allowance? Are we still *that* P.O.'d about the time she made us stay home to mow the lawn, while our friends went out to party at Snatchahoochie Hill? At least maybe a little consideration aughta be in order when she's sayin' things like: "hey, school meat, don'tcha think it might be kinda bad for your bottom line when that man-eatin' horny toad escapes an digests half of Mexico?" Yet, still, we ignore 'er like the two month old pizza box on toppa the TV set. Just goes to show that we're all in an echo chamber in one sense or another, an the sooner we step outside for some fresh air, the better off we'll all be.
The movie begins in The Forbidden Zone from Planet of the Apes, where these Mexican Gypsies're lookin' around for their amigo who got high on peyote an ran out into the desert. Cept by the time they find 'im he looks like somebody drug 'im through a cactus patch an he's carryin' this onion sack with a Shetland pony inside, an the Mexican Zelda Rubinstein tells 'er banditos that "he who takes from Gwangi, the evil one, is cursed." Course, Carlos (the dead guy's brother) tells 'er to save 'er old wives' tales for the tourists an packs the sack back to town anyway cause she's so old that she's lost relatives in the La Brea tar pits. Some time later, James Franciscus shows up in town, where this kid (Lope) starts hustlin' 'im tryin' to sell 'im everything from firecrackers to donkey show tickets, til James gets caught up in his pitch an tells 'im to go find 'im a horse an not to try stickin' 'im with a cranky old pack mule. Then James heads over to the arena to watch some Indians chase settlers in circles, til the promoter (Champ) shows up an starts pokin' his finger about three inches into James' chest an givin' 'im the business for ditchin' out on T.J. (the show's headliner). James is about as interested as a high priced call girl listenin' to a drunk client babble about how much he loves 'er, an pretty much ignores Champ while T.J. takes 'er divin' horse up to the top of a spiral staircase an jumps it into a pool of what looks to be Linda Blair's vomit as the crowd goes mild. Then James follows 'er to 'er dressin' room, but she's real P.O.'d about 'im dumpin' 'er like spoiled left overs, not knockin' first, an for failin' to deliver a non-depressin' endin' to a Planet of the Apes movie. James wants to broker a deal between her an some huckster to buy the divin' horse, but T.J. tells 'im she'd rather sell the horse to Elmer than look at his dude ranchy threads another second, an ejects 'im like Andrew Wakefield from a clean room. T.J. needs a little time to settle down an quit barkin' fire, so James an Lope go wander the desert like Israelites til they run into Professor Bromley, who's stuck hitchhikin' after his pack mule turned into an unpack mule an pitched him an his Wolverine sideburns into the dirt. So James gives 'im a ride back to his camp, where Bromley tells 'im that he's a paleontologist an shows 'im a fossil he thinks's gonna prove that man's been around for 50 million years so he can finally dethrone Charles Darwin as Catholic enemy number one. Meanwhile, back at the arena, Carlos's tryin' to hitch his enchilada to T.J.'s taco now that they're both gonna be rich with the addition of "El Diablo" (the little horse) to their act, but T.J. brushes 'im off an plants 'im firmly in the compadre zone.
Then James shows up tryin' to grease 'er wheels, but hasta break off the negotiations to pull Lope outta the bull fightin' ring before he gets gored like a drunken reindeer herder, resultin' in James receivin' a bullonoscopy exam. Course, now T.J.'s rationalizin' about alla James' good qualities after he already bailed on 'er once for some chick wearin' nothin' but a sombrero at the girlie show, an James sees his opening an starts goin' for her opening. Then she patches 'im up an shows 'im the live action My Little Pony show she's been workin' on with El Diablo an James' eyes fill up with dollar signs like Scrooge McDuck at the horse track, promptin' 'im to bring in Bromley to find out whether the horse is the genuine article or a chihuahua in drag. Once the abscess minded professor confirms that they're lookin' at the real McCoy, they try convincin' Carlos to tell 'em what meat packin' plant they saved the horse from, only he's real P.O.'d about T.J. spillin' the refried beans about their acquisition an tells 'em to go chupa the cabra. So James an Professor Boreiarty get Lope to take 'em to see the Mexican Zelda Rubinstein to find out where the Forbidden Valley Ranch is. Moldylocks won't tell 'em squat, but pretty quick the professor's face wrinkles up like The Grinch when he got his wonderful, awful idea, an he decides to tell Zelda where the horse's bein' kept so that when she inevitably tries to recover it, he'll be able to trail 'er to The Land Before Time. So the next night, Zelda's bandito horse thieves sneak into town, roll Carlos like a flour tortilla, sack the stunted stallion, an start headin' for Gwangi Downs to get El Diablo back in time for the eighth race. Course, Bromley's plan works flawlessly, an he gets Lope to take 'im after the banditos so he'll have somebody around to help 'im shake the Gila monsters out of his boots in the mornin'. Unfortunately for Bromley, this ain't James' first rodeo, an once he senses he's got a James an the giant breach of contract on his hands, he rides out after 'em an shakes Bromley like a pair of maracas at a Mariachi set til Bromley convinces 'im that it might be psychologically damagin' for Lope to see 'im get his cabeza cracked open. Course, by this point, T.J.'s found Carlos takin' a siesta in the dirt, an he tells 'er James decked 'im an rode off with El Diablo an that James's been tellin' everybody about how she let 'im think inside the buns. This prompts T.J. to round up the dog an pony show, at which point she instructs everybody to ride out after James an Poncho his Villa. Unfortunately, the Gypsies've already returned El Diablo to Tom Thumb, but James an Bromley've got even bigger problems when this Pterodactyl shows up an carries Bromley's mule off to deliver to Sister Sara on account of 'er only havin' one.
Eventually, James' group finds the Gypsy trail an El Diablo, only T.J's gotten there first cause Carlos used to work as a coyote an knows all the best trails to take, an pretty quick we got about eight people (includin' 7 adults) runnin' all over the desert tryin' to scoop up El Diablo like a football after a fumbled snap. I've seen 3 Stooges sketches that carried themselves with a higher degree of dignity than this sequence. Then El Diablo runs inside a crevice an everybody hasta hook up their single horsepower engines to the boulder preventin' their entry to yank it outta there, an once they pass through the tunnel they end up in The Land of the Lost an immediately start searchin' for Rachel Welch an 'er fully loaded furkini. But it doesn't take long before the peace is shattered, an pretty quick the Blue Devil from Ghosts 'n Goblins shows up an tries to carry off Lope like a display table at a yard sale. Only the years of its strict red meat diet finally catch up with it, an it ends up crash landin' when its left ventricle explodes like a Chinese chemical plant, allowin' Carlos to jump on the beast's back, swivel its head around, an force it to watch 'im beat the crap out of it. Then they spot this ostrich with mange an try ropin' it for their show, cept before they can get ahold of it a T-rex (Gwangi) steps out an tears into it like a bucket of buffalo wings. Carlos immediately recognizes Gwangi an explains that if they don't leave like five minutes ago they're gonna be Jurassic Farked, but Bromley's blinded with science, an they hafta ditch 'im when he refuses to quit screwin' around with the Pterodactyl corpse. So everybody rides over to a cave an sets to work diggin' a tiger trap, while T.J. an James finally set aside their differences an agree to get married, even though James really only wants 'er so he won't have to subsist entirely on Hungry Man TV dinners an Beanee Weenees. Then Gwangi starts eatin' the Pterodactyl, an since the last thing Bromley wants is to be that obnoxious waitress that always stops by to ask how everything's goin' when you're tryin' to swallow a mouth fulla hash browns, he sneaks over to the cave an falls in the tiger trap an hasta endure a barrage of questions regardin' the origins of his bachelor's degree. The next mornin', James rides off into the sunrise to find a relatively dino-scat free area of the nearby stream to fill up his canteen, only about that time Gwangi's alarm clock goes off an he starts peekin' out from behind the rock wall lickin' his tyrano-chops. So now James hasta haul butt back to camp with Gwangi in tow tryin' to chew off his cowpoker every step of the way, an when he gets back Carlos pulls out his lasso an plays ring around the nosy, sealin' Gwangi's mouth shut an sendin' a shower of sauroid snot all over the camp.
Then everybody gets roused up an sling a rope around Gwangi's foot an drop 'im on his face like an Imperial Walker, til he realizes too late that it's a real bitch to get back up with those tiny arms an that he's also forgotten his Life Alert bracelet on his nightstand. Gwangi's P.O.'d, an after several humiliatin' minutes of tryin' an failin' to do a sit up like a fat kid in gym class, he finally gets up an starts chompin' through all the nooses around his neck, til a Triceratops gets in his face an he hasta turn it into Fred Flintstone's takeout order. All this tiger by the tail business is beginnin' to alarm James an his fellow Wrangler jeans spokesmodels, so they make a mad dash for the crevice where the "you must be this evolved to enter" sign (pictured is Ringo Starr in his Caveman garb) is waitin', only Carlos dicks around too long an gets picked off like a pepperoni on a vegan pizza an swallowed like a condom fulla cocaine at a drug raid. Gwangi tries chasin' the rest of the posse through the crevice, but ends up bringin' the house down on top of his dino-dome an gets knocked dingier'n Bethe Correia, allowin' James to Steve Irwin his jaws shut, an buyin' the group enough time to design an build a cage to haul 'im back to town. Bowser's P.O.'d about bein' King Koopa'd up in a glorified wicker basket, but he can't fight back cause James confiscated his Dramamine, an the lack of suspension on the wagon's makin' 'im sicker'n a fish in Cement Creek, Colorado. Then, after an undisclosed amount of time, James an T.J.'re finally set up an ready to pack in a crowd of bored Mexicans so they can get rich unleashin' their lizard. Only T.J. decides she'd rather be famous than pop out a litter of smarmy Francisci an watch 'er figure unravel like toilet paper in a tornado, an James storms outta there to find some whiskey to wash down the bitter irony. Meanwhile, Mexican Zelda's had it with all these young punks disregardin' 'er cryptic warnings, an decides to kick start the apocalypse she's been threatenin' all movie long by sendin' 'er midget flunkie onto the platform where Gwangi's bein' held without bond, at which point he starts unscrewin' the hinges in Gwangi's giant canary cage. He only manages to open one before Gwangi gets ahold of 'im an starts usin' his femur for a toothpick, an about that time the stagehands raise the curtain to expose the entire audience to a dinosaur chewin' up a dwarf like a Tootsie Roll. This's where things start to go downhill, cause pretty quick Gwangi finds the remainin' hinge in the cage, busts out, an starts doin' the Mexican hat dance all over the other attractions, while the parents in the audience're stormin' the manager's office to complain about how their children're gonna grow up to be serial killers after bein' subjected to his brand of entertainment. Gonna cut the description here, so if you wanna find out which popular tourist destinations Gwangi decides to visit, you'll just have to buy the movie.
Alrighty, well, just reading the synopsis on this thing makes you feel like there's absolutely no way a movie with this sort of premise could have any chance of being enjoyable based upon merit, rather than botched execution. I certainly didn't expect much, despite the decent cast and Ray Harryhausen providing the special effects, but that's precisely why we actually sit down and watch the movies, cause sometimes they'll surprise you. Don't get me wrong, it's not a groundbreaking, landmark picture that changed cinema forever, but just being watchable and enjoyable with a plot like this one is a major victory. The original story was written by Willis O'Brien back in the 1940s, but he was never able to get it off the ground, thus, his script languished for years until Harryhausen (who'd learned his craft under O'Brien in the 1930s) found it in his garage and was able to get it made, some 30+ years after the fact. Some things about it were changed, but the basic idea is the same. This isn't of course to say that O'Brien never got to see his dinosaur/cowboy movie plan come to fruition, as he was given a partial writing credit for The Beast of Hollow Mountain from 1956. It's crazy enough to think that there's even one flick with this premise, let alone two. Something else that's kinda interesting here, is that even though the two people that're eaten by dinosaurs are illustrated as such through stop motion animation, that's still feeding two people to their prehistoric creations, yet, this movie got a G rating when it was released. And this was at a time when they were utilizing an "M" rating, which would be the modern equivalent of a PG. Kinda strange, that. First they called it M (meaning: "mature, parental audiences advised," despite also having an R rating as well, which essentially meant what it does today, except that you could get in at 16 back then), then they changed it to GP (or "General Audiences - parental guidance suggested), and finally settled on PG, having realized which letters actually make sense as an acronym for "parental guidance." Still, you've got simulated dinosaurs chewing up screaming men, and yet, it gets the same rating as a Disney movie? I guess it's better to have the MPAA underreacting than overreacting. The other thing I liked was how, when you think about it, the Carlos character really wasn't any more of a jackass than James Franciscus' character (arguably less so), and yet, the female lead prefers James even after he ran out on her once before. Although one must acknowledge that Carlos broke one of the cardinal sins of a horror flick, and because he ignored the old crone's warnings, we knew he was as good as dead from the first five minutes of the movie. So maybe she just didn't like Carlos because she knew he'd be dead before she could get a life insurance policy taken out on him, who knows.
But anyway, let's feed all the available information through Gwangi's gut bucket and see if he gets indigestion. The plot, despite not makin' a lick of sense, is very unique, with the aforementioned Beast from Hollow Mountain not withstanding. So on the one hand, it's pretty hard to swallow, but on the other, you're not apt to see many other flicks that try something as bold as this in the face of certain ridicule. Personally, I liked the story, but my suspension of disbelief stretches quite a bit farther than the average viewer, so even though I liked it, I can see people being completely incapable of accepting any of it. The acting is pretty decent, with James Franciscus putting in a solid performance as the slightly scummy, yet ultimately redeemed, Tuck. I don't imagine it was easy pretending what they were filming was plausible, nor would it have been simple to put in a convincing performance without the actual monsters present in the scenes. Support wise, you've got Laurence Naismith adding some comic relief with the role of Professor Bromley, Gustavo Rojo as the perpetually P.O.'d Carlos, and Freda Jackson as the Mexican Zelda Rubinstein. Those three helped round out the cast pretty well, although Gila Golan came across a little pitifully as T.J. Her voice ended up being dubbed, but I'm not sure if that's because she spoke no English, bad English, or just wasn't a very good actress. It's hard to say what language she spoke, as she was born in Poland, educated in France, and eventually worked as a model in Israel, but you could assume English probably wasn't her first language. In any event, here's who matters and why: James Franciscus (Beneath the Planet of the Apes, The Cat 'O Nine Tails, The Last Shark, Night Kill, Killer Fish, Night Slaves), Richard Carlson (Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, Tormented, The Magnetic Monster, The Amazing Mr. X, Hold That Ghost, The Ghost Breakers), Laurence Naismith (Jason and the Argonauts, Village of the Damned 1960, Eye of the Cat, Vampire Over London), Freda Jackson (Clash of the Titans 1981, The Brides of Dracula, Monster of Terror, The Shadow of the Cat), Gustavo Rojo (The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse, Tarzan and the Mermaids), Mario De Barros (Pieces, Hundra), Robert Rietty (The Omen, Hannibal, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1982, Hawk the Slayer, The Devil's Men, From Beyond the Grave, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Frenzy, Tales from the Crypt, Barbarella, Blood Beast from Outer Space, Castle of the Living Dead, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1956). The normals out there might recognize Richard Carlson as Herbert Philbrick in I Led 3 Lives, while you'd pretty much have to be living in Mexico to be familiar with Gustavo Rojo's more popular roles. He does seem to be a fairly big deal if you're into Mexican soap operas though, and has played Aureliano on Que pobres tan ricos, Padre Jeronimo on Triumph of Love, Alberto Villareal on Wild Heart, and Nestor Videgaray on Distilling Love. No idea why so many of those have English titles.
The special effects, for the time, are superb. For 2015, not so much. Looking at them objectively, even someone like me who considers CGI to be the bane of modern cinema has to admit that stop motion animation was essentially the proto-CGI. It's stiff and unconvincing, where CGI is cartoonish and unconvincing. But I still hold a great deal more respect for stop motion animation than I do for CGI, because it was the best method available to them at the time. CGI is not the best method available to us now, but we use it any chance we get as though it were. And when you get right down to it, even though it may not be the best movie Harryhausen worked on, these are actually some of his best creations, particularly for the pre Clash of the Titans era. So if you enjoy stop motion, you're in for a treat. The shooting locations, while suitable and adequate, aren't particularly exciting. A whole lot of the movie takes place out in the scrublands of Spain, but let's face it; the scrublands look the same regardless of what country you're in, and they're not real pretty. I'm not faulting their choice of location, because given where they were supposed to be, this was really their only option. Spain does have cacti, but it's very different from Mexican cacti, so they really had no choice but to go with these dull, desolate landscapes. They get the job done well enough, because the idea is to feel a sense of isolation, as though their lost world really could have existed on the fringes of human civilization, I just find them dull. The city shots were far more interesting, although somebody like me would never know exactly how different Spanish and Mexican architecture are on an in-depth level. You can assume they're similar, but certainly not identical. And to be clear, the movie does have good cinematography, it's just that a lot of the shooting locations didn't exactly lend the cinematographer a helping hand very often. The soundtrack pretty much exemplifies why the primary genre listing for the movie is "Western." There's really nothing about it whatsoever that implies a science fiction or horror connection, and the tracks seem perfectly interchangeable with any random John Wayne movie from the 1960s. I think a little acknowledgement of the strange genre pairings might have helped a bit, but when you get right down to it, it's pretty difficult to screw up the soundtrack for a Western, and the tracks here work well in establishing that theme. Not surprisingly, the composer also worked on several TV series of the Western persuasion, including; Rawhide, Have Gun Will Travel, Wagon Train, and Lancer. Overall, Gwangi has a certain allure to it just based upon its content, and if you can read that synopsis without getting at least a little curious, I'll guarantee you won't enjoy it. However, if it sounds even remotely interesting to you, you almost certainly will, because it's exactly as advertised.