PreCommentary: RKO had planned this film in 1942, but lacked sufficient funding. Willis O'Brien's original title, his story (involving cowboys), and his sketches were used by Ray Harryhausen and Charles Schneer; a British Museum paleontologist sculpted models for Warner Bros.

Notes: Warner Brothers / Seven Arts. 96 minutes. The video box reads: "Cowboys battle monsters in the strangest roundup of all!"
Tuck Kirby: James Franciscus ["Finder of Lost Loves"!]
T.J. Breckenridge: Gila Golan
Professor Bromley: Laurence Naismith
Lope: Curtis Arden
Tia Zorena: Freda Jackson
Carlos: Gustave Rojo
Champ: Richard Carlson
Howdy: Dennis Kilbane
Bean: Mario de Barro

Produced: Charles H. Schneer
Directed: James O'Connolly
Screenplay: William E. Bast
Visual Effects: Ray Harryhausen
Music: Jerome Moross.

Summary: Miguel's dying word to brother Carlos: "Gwangi." An old blind gypsy woman anticipates a curse. Credits.

At a turn-of-the-century Mexico parade, young Lope pesters newly arrived Tuck Kirby for chores and money, and is hired to guide him to the arena outside of town where a wild west show is playing. T.J. Breckenridge owns it, and she rides a horse which does a high dive. Tuck had run out on her years ago and is back for smug talk ("I might have to put you across my knee") and to buy Omar "the wonder horse" for Buffalo Bill's show. T.J. throws him out while he smirks, "My, my, you always did look sweet in a temper."

Florid Professor Bromley is not an archaeologist but a paleontologist: "We dig deeper." Tuck saves Lope from a bull, so T.J. is fine now with the slimeball and shows him what Carlos has brought from the Forbidden Valley which will save the foundering show: "El Diablo," an eohippus ("dawn horse") which should be extinct, taken to be just a miniature horse by the show people. Carlos won't reveal his source, so Tuck and the Professor have Lope take them to the gypsy camp where the blind woman, Tia Zorina, refuses to help. The Professor secretly tells her where the little horse is kept so that she'll have it stolen and returned, whereby he can follow.

After the gypsies do steal the eohippus, everyone follows someone to the Forbidden Valley, a "circle of mountains, jagged peaks, . . . perfect barrier." All meet up and chase the released eohippus into a crevice which becomes a passage when they remove some rocks. They ride inside, and Lope is picked off his mount by a pterodactyl. When it lands to eat, Carlos breaks its neck. An ornithomimus appears; "Let's get it for the show!" They chase it but a tyrannosaur, Gwangi, snatches it. One cowboy shoots; Gwangi charges; they flee. A styracosaur blocks one way and has a stand-off with Gwangi who then takes off with the dead pterodactyl.

The bullets were blanks from the show. They set up camp on a ledge and set a trap. T.J. and Tuck talk of selling out and settling on a Wyoming ranch. Their kiss is interrupted by the trap catching the Professor. The next day Gwangi chases Tuck to the ledge. Cowboys jab at the mouth with spears, Tuck below with fire. They ride out and lasso Gwangi, but he bites the ropes off and fights the styracosaur. During their escape, Carlos is eaten. Gwangi tries to follow through the passage but a rock slide knocks him out. They tie him and wagon him back to the arena. Along the way, the gypsy warns them again, knowing from a dream that Carlos, like his brother Miguel, has died. "Balderdash," says the Professor. "The only thing that's evil about him are his jaws." "Defy the law and perish," she replies.

An argument regarding scientific research vs. degrading circus stunts is pointless, and T.J. has temporarily abandoned the Wyoming idea. Now Tuck's so noble? He walks out, but within half a minute she runs to him. At the show, during an elephant act, a gypsy dwarf undoes part of the Gwangi cage, but at the curtain rises, Gwangi is eating him. Gwangi eescapes, the cage door crushes the Professor, the crowd panics, fruit baskets spill. Gwangi kills the elephant, kills and drops a Mexican, and chases people into a cathedral. They rush out the back while Tuck tries to trap Gwangi inside. T.J. and Lope are cornered in the cathedral, while Tuck jabs at Gwangi with a flagpole. After a tug-of-war, the organ disorients the tyrannosaur for Tuck to spear him in the head. In their escape, Tuck heaves a lit brazier at the animal and starts a fire. Screaming and panicking, the dinosaur hits another over with its tail. The cathedral burns rapidly and Gwangi looks to the heavens (we see a round stained glass window) while perishing in flames. Onlookers see the cathedral collapse and are silent.

Commentary: Gwangi is a glistening blue color--quite attractive. Ultimately though, I don't get it. I know he's Willis O'Brien, but dinosaurs and cowboys? It seems like a bonehead idea to me. And James Franciscus, bleach-blond? I know he's the Finder of Lost Loves and his teeth glow in the dark, but he and "T.J."--who cares? And why do only gypsies and Mexicans die?

And why doesn't anyone have anything to say at the end? This final silence is too frequent in action and horror movies, as if the explosions are so jaw-dropping awesome that mere language fails. But then we get no final perspective whatsoever.

Nor is one prompted to pursue sticky questions (as we do at the end of King Kong) such as the nature of superstition here and the religious imagery. I ought to be motivated to wonder about the connection between the gypsies' avoidance of the Forbidden Valley and the Mexicans' flight to the cathedral, and why the finale has Gwangi burning in flames and looking upwards towards the stained glass window. But I'm not.