I was halfway through this one when I realized that it seemed very familiar.
I’d seen virtually the same plot in Amicus Productions’ The Mind of Mr. Soames. While the two came out the same year (and Mr. Soames doesn’t seem to have reached the theaters until 1971), the Amicus film was based on a novel by British SF writer, Charles Eric Maine. While Maine hardly seems to be someone to get all excited about, he somehow ended up having a remarkable number of his stories adapted for movies, television and radio — including Spaceways, Timeslip and Escapement. Frankly, he strikes me as a thriller writer who threw a few SF gimmicks into his books, but at least at the time he was one of the better known British SF writers.
As in Mr. Soames, we have a childlike innocent thrust into the modern world. However, instead of a man who has been in a coma since birth, we have a prehistoric Apeman someone finds in a cave — and both find that they do not fit very well into the modern world. In this case, the slightly obsessed Research Scientist overseeing the innocent’s education is played by Joan Crawford in her final role. She is almost little-kid-in-a-candy-store excited about the chance to study the thing, and we know that things are not going to end well..
After all, the apeman’s limited intelligence and impulsive and instinct-driven nature mean that it could easily become violent when confronted with the terrors of our modern world…
The apeman actually looks quite good, but that’s because they had one of the leftover masks from 2001. Which does prove that Kubrick was right about destroying his props, although you can never be entirely certain that you got all of them!
However, it is notable that the thing’s face is a bluish shade, and yet the rest of the creature has a normal skin tone. I suppose the actor under the mask didn’t want to be smeared with body makeup.
The strangest moment in the film comes when, after showing the apeman pictures of dinosaur bones during some sort of procedure, it dreams of stop motion dinosaurs fighting each other, courtesy of some mostly black and white footage borrowed from Irwin Allen’s 1956 film, The Animal World, which was created by animation legends Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen. The sequence is best described as puzzling, partly because the dinosaurs do not fit very well with prehistoric apemen (whether the people making this thing knew that or not), and partly because we are never given much of an explanation of what the doctors are doing and what it has to do with the procedure they are performing on the creature. I have to wonder if two sequences got edited into one, removing the explanations.
But maybe I’m just assuming that it was supposed to make sense.
Someone put this one on his list of the best worst movies. Now, while I’ll agree that its slow, and that one doesn’t normally watch a movie about a prehistoric apeman to see a lengthy number of courtroom scenes, I really don’t see this one as all that bad. In fact, considering that it was produced by the king of schlock himself, Herman Cohen, it actually stands out as one of his better films (certainly miles better than Konga, not that that was very hard). In fact, it is an all too rare attempt at creating a serious SF drama. It might not be a very good one, but, like Samuel Johnson’s dog walking on its hind legs, the impressive thing is that they did it at all.
Tigon, the number three British horror filmmaker (after Hammer and Amicus) was originally going to make this one, and I suspect that it would have been better in their hands. However, it was directed by one of Hammer’s top directors, Freddie Francis (not that he didn’t have his share of turkeys), and is quite well made. As always, Joan does overplay a touch, but she was aiming for larger than life. However, after all the horror stories about her it is a touch difficult to buy her deep emotional bond to her prehistoric “baby.” Michael Gough has a large but thankless role as the sort of fanatic opposed to change, progress and science that one only finds in these sorts of things.
You could do worse. I don’t even think you’d have to look very hard to do so. It is somewhat predictable, and it really isn’t going to give you your monster on the loose fix, but it has its moments…
Even if we know one of the better ones was stolen from the 1931 Frankenstein.
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