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.
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.
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.
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
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