Monday, March 24, 2014

The Neanderthal Man!

The Neanderthal Man from 1953 is rather ho-hum monster movie with clearly a small budget but with some aspirations too. It reminds me a lot of the later Monster On Campus from Universal, which has a modern day professor devolve into a murderous caveman from an earlier era. The plots are remarkably similar with a few notable changes.

Robert Shayne (of Superman TV fame) plays Dr Clifford Groves, a scientist who has concocted some serum which will devolve a modern creature into some prehistorically earlier variation of itself. House cats are transformed into sabre-tooth tigers for instance. The first half of the movie involves the search for just such a tiger after it is spotted by a hunter after escaping the lab. After entirely too much talk and rambling it is eventually killed but disappears which opens up the second half of the story in which Groves injects himself and begins roaming the woods looking for men to kill and women to carry off. It's never directly stated why he takes the women, but it's certainly suggested; it's enough I guess that he doesn't actually kill them. The hero of the piece is Dr.Ross Harkness played by Richard Crane (the future Rocky Jones Space Ranger), who eventually uncovers the secret and tries to save Groves but alas fails to do so.

Along for the ride are some dames, mostly interchangeable gals. Joyce Terry plays the dutiful and rather dim daughter of Groves and supplies the obligatory love interest for the hero. Doris Merrick plays the fiancee of Groves in a confusing role which is present to I guess make his predations on her not so awful as they might be for a mere stranger. She never complains, that's all I'll say. Beverly Garland plays the local waitress, who is caught by the caveman when she's taking some scantily-clad photos with her boyfriend in the woods. She seems to have been brought under the caveman's spell too, I guess. The movie is really subtle about what happens, so much so that it's easy to miss, which is the point I guess.

Tandra Quinn plays a deaf-mute housekeeper who it is discovered Groves has been experimenting on. This really drops his stock in my estimation, moving him from mildly eccentric kook to seriously deranged madman, but the folks in the movie don't seem as upset by this development.

The Neanderthal Man is a stiff production, with lots of time spent on relatively cramped sound stages passing for the natural world. There are plenty of actual outdoor scenes but they cut into the other bits with less grace than would be considered ideal.

The moral choices made by many of the characters in this movie really make you scratch your head. The professor is for all practical purposes a villain, but is shown a high degree of sympathy. The hero seems to want to be a good guy but does really odd things like break into the lab of his host for no actual real reason that he should have at that point he does it. Later local folks pay him heed in a crisis for no real good reason that I could detect. The daughter always seems confused as to her responsibility to her dad and to the community and to the man she clearly took a shine too early on since she invited him to stay with them almost immediately.

The most offbeat thing about this weird little movie is the overwrought high-toned dialogue which has a real steady pomposity to it. The characters do not talk like real people at all, but like characters in a show with lots of exposition and folksy philosophy dripping out of their mouths. I was reminded of Ed Wood, but these lines have more of a loquacious balance to them than the typical Wood effort.

The Neanderthal Man is an entertaining enough movie for fans of the genre who can forgive the usual shortcuts such genre flicks often make. There are lots of goofy moments which keep even the dullest scenes a bit saucy.

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