Monday, 29 September 2014

The Neanderthal Man (1953)

The Neanderthal Man is a low-budget sci-fi/horror flick that really does suffer from its meagre budget but it’s not entirely without interest.

In the Sierras in California a strange creature has been seen. It’s obviously a cat but it’s much too big to be a mountain lion, and no-one has ever seen a mountain lion with tusks! The local game warden decides this is a case that needs to be investigated by a real scientist. There happens to be a real scientist living in the town but Professor Groves (Robert Shayne) contemptuously dismisses the idea, Undeterred, the game warden goes looking for a scientist who will listen to a story, and he finds one in the person of Dr Ross Harkness (Richard Crane). It takes some doing but eventually Dr Harkness agrees to go back to the mountains with the game warden to look into the matter.

He soon makes the acquaintance of Professor Groves. Groves is a brilliant but controversial scientist who has been ridiculed by the scientific establishment for his rather bizarre ideas about man’s ancestors. Groves is irascible and seems more than a little unhinged. Eventually we discover exactly what Groves has been up to in his laboratory. He believes that every animal contains within it a kind of essence of the animals from which it evolved. And he has come up with a serum that he believes can unlock those memories or essences of earlier species.

It takes him a while but eventually D Harkness figures out that the sabre-toothed tiger has come from the professor’s laboratory. By injecting an ordinary cat with the serum he has awakened kitty’s sabre-toothed tiger heritage. More disturbingly, it appears that Groves has been trying out his serum on humans. The result is a neanderthal man!

This could be dismissed as merely a rather outré line of research except for the series of murders that takes place, with survivors describing an ape-man of superhuman strength.

The plot plays out as a fairly standard story of a brilliant but tragic mad scientist who has pushed his researches too far.

The big problem is the sabre-toothed tiger. It’s clearly just a plain old common and garden variety tiger. Occasionally we see crude close-ups of a stuffed tiger head with gigantic fangs but in every shot where we see the whole living animal it obviously just has regular tiger teeth. One can’t entirely blame the film-makers - trying to persuade even the tamest tiger to allow someone to fit it with prosthetic fangs is an undertaking to which the tiger would be likely to take grave exception. The fact remains that all the scenes involving the sabre-toothed tiger are embarrassingly unconvincing.

The neanderthal man makeup effects really aren’t too bad for a low-budget feature, but they aren’t particularly scary. They don’t allow any changes of expression at all and the one expression the neanderthal man does have is too benign. He looks more like a kid with a halloween mask than a ravenous monster.

 The initial transformation scene is done rather well although the later transformation scenes are much less effective.

The premise might be rather outlandish but it has to be said that it’s really no goofier than the premise of the average sci-fi/horror movie and in some ways it’s an idea that seems to indicate that writers Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen have actually tried to come up with something that at least sounds very vaguely scientifically plausible. Obviously it isn’t plausible at all but as sci-fi technobabble goes it sounds good. 

German-born director Ewald André Dupont had enjoyed some acclaim in Germany during the silent era. His later career, which saw him making movies in various countries, was less successful.

The acting is generally no more than adequate although Robert Shayne does the mad scientist scenery-chewing with considerable enthusiasm and to good effect.

It can’t be denied that The Neanderthal Man needed a much bigger budget, and that the  screenplay fails to do very much with an idea that might have had promise. 

This is one of the movies in the Shout! Factory / Timeless Media Movies 4 You: More Sci-Fi Classics set. All four movies are on a single DVD. The transfer is 16x9 enhanced and is quite reasonable, especially given the ridiculously low price.

If you want harmless slightly silly fun The Neanderthal Man is enjoyable enough within its limitations. Recommended.

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