This is the second stop-motion dinosaur movie I’ve reviewed recently, and the second that came from the Warner Archive banner. That first one was When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970) and in that it was cavemen versus dinos, in this flick we have cowboys tangling with the ancient reptiles. Of all the Ray Harryhausen flicks they ran in my area when I was a kid this was one they never did, though I was fully aware of it through all the monster movie books I read. I did eventually see part of this movie, but I don’t believe it was during childhood. I have this nagging feeling it happened during my teens. All I remember was coming in on the middle, when the cowboys were dealing with the Pteranodon, and then subsequently with the capture of the Allosaurus later on. What amazed be about both of those sequences was how well integrated the stop-motion was with the actors. With the Pteranodon sequence I was amazed when the stop-motion dino became a full sized puppet as Carlos (Gustavo Rojo) tackles it once it’s on the ground, it then switches back to the stop-motion in long shots, then back to the puppet when he breaks its neck. The wrangling of the Allosaurus was also a deft exercise in live-action/stop-motion synthesis, especially when it comes to the scene where the cowboys lasso the reptile in hopes of bringing it down. When I first saw it I wracked my brain as to how the live action ropes and the stop-motion ropes were “linked” together, and it’s funny to see the FX artists interviewed in one of the included extras talk about how they too were amazed by this roping sequence when they first saw it. That’s about as much of the movie I ever saw though. Despite loving dinosaurs when I was a kid, and catching as many movies when them in it as I could, The Valley Of Gwangi didn’t interest me because the movie had a “funny name” in it. When I was a kid movie titles I couldn’t pronounce destroyed all interest with me. I remember reading about Gwangi in various books and even though it sounded right up my alley, the fact that as a kid I had no idea how to pronounce Gwangi made it a film I didn’t really care about. Last night was the first time I have seen it all the way through, and it’s a pretty good flick.
The movie takes place at the turn of the century in what looks like New Mexico. James Fanciscus (whom I always confused with Anthony Franciosa and vice versa when I was a kid) is Tuck Kirby, a cowboy/stunt man, who’s come back to town to see if he can rekindle a relationship with ex-love, T.J. Breckinridge (Gila Golan, who sounds like all her lines were looped). She’s a stuntwoman in a show that has her on a horse leaping off a diving board into a massive tub of water (the actual stunt is done with a stop-motion horse and T.J.). They obviously parted on bad terms, which means even her father, Champ (Richard Carlson), even hates him. At least I think that was her father. Hmmm, it might not have been, now that I think about it, but for some reason that was the vibe I got.
In a pre-opening credits sequence, Carlos, is seen with a sack that has some kind of animal in it. He’s part of a clan of gypsies who believe there’s a hidden valley with an evil in it they call Gwangi, and what he’s brought out of that valley will bring the wrath of Gwangi down upon them all. In the end that turns out to be a fairly accurate prediction by blind gypsy prognosticator, Tia Zorina (Freda Jackson), with some pre-mediated help from her dwarf friend who’s directly responsible for the freeing of Gwangi in the final act. A self-fulfilling prophecy in a way, I guess. That animal in a sack is a prehistoric mammal, a relative of the horse, but in miniature, called an Eohippus. Carlos takes the animal to T.J. and Champ and they decide to make it part of their act. Another major character is paleontologist, Horace Bromley (Laurence Naismith), who discovers this prehistoric horse in T.J.’s possession and wants to find this valley where Carlos got it from thinking if there’s one there should be more. It’s this desire to find this place and the gypsies who’ve stolen the little animal seeking to return it to it’s home that brings everyone into it. The other dinos encountered is an Ornithomimus and a Styracosaurus, the latter getting into a fatal fight with Gwangi. Of course, if you’re doing a stop-motion dino movie you have to always have a fight between a T-Rex type dinosaur and Triceratops-type one in it, plus it’s a Harryhausen film, monsters fighting monsters is a given in his flicks, one of the reasons I love them. After they decide this Allosaurus would be great for T.J’s act, they capture it and cart it back to town. Once it gets out in the arena it goes after a stop-motion elephant, much like Ymir did in 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957). It’s rampage leads it to the local cathedral, a unique location to see a rampaging Harryhausen creation, I must say. Trapping it inside, and while battle it, Tuck starts the place on fire, and up it goes in flames, correction . . . the collapsing roof is what kills it before the flames do.
I recognized Freda Jackson’s name as well as Naismith’s. Jackson was in Die, Monster, Die (1965) and Naismith was in Jason And The Argonauts (1963). Of course the most recognizable face to me is Richard Carlson who was in two more favorite genre flicks of mine, The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) and It Came From Outer Space (1953). I didn’t realize Franciscus was in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970).
Warner Brothers previously had this out on disc back in 2003, and I believe that DVD is still in print, but this past March 14th they finally added it to their blu-ray roster for the first time through their Warner Archive’s banner! Buy the blu here on Amazon.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio (Mono)—English SDH subs only.
I never owned the previous DVD, so no comparison can be made with it, but I can only imagine this new blu-ray is a major improvement, and it looks on par with Warner’s When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth . . . gorgeous, plain and simple!
Extras included . . .
- Return To The Valley (8:04)
- Gwangi And Vanessa (DVD Easter Egg) (1:02)