24 November 2011



1953/Director: Ewald Andre Dupont/Writers: Aubrey Wisberg,
Jack Pollexfen

Cast: Robert Shayne, Joyce Terry, Richard Crane, Doris Merrick, Beverly Garland, Robert Long, Tandra Quinn (as Jeanette Quinn)

I had heard about The Neanderthal Man for awhile and refrained from seeing it even after I had gotten it and burned it to disk a couple months back. I just figured it would be Z-movie fodder for a commentary here and nothing more. Well it is not only that but it was a pretty enjoyable slice of cheese. The acting is pretty bad but with some decent moments (Beverly Garland plays the waitress Nola), the monster makeup by Harry Thomas (Missile to the Moon, Frankenstein's Daughter, The Mole Men, Killers from Space and some Ed Wood Jr. classic like Plan Nine from Outer Space and Night of the Ghouls and loads of TV shows including The Munsters) is some of the worst of the man's career and yet is perfectly campy and likable, and the scientific explanations are golden. I have long been planning an ¡®audio excerpt' style posit here and have done a few experiments and I am sure that the lecture given by Professor Groves to his incredulous colleagues will wind up there eventually. The film was produced and written by the team of Aubrey Wiseberg and Jack Pollexfen who either separately or between them churned out, as writers and producers, some of the great horror/sci-fi B-movie classics like The Man from Planet X, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, Captive Women, and The Atomic Brain (Monstrosity).

The film is sometimes called a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story but I think the story is more similar to something like Ken Russell's Altered States. In the Dr. Jekyll story there is something appealing and addictive about the character of Mr. Hyde that makes the urge for the timid Dr. Jekyll to trade places periodically reasonable. In Altered States Edward Jessup (played superbly by William Hurt in his film debut) seeks to de-evolve not only to man's primordial past but to some state of consciousness that existed at the time of the big bang. In The Neanderthal Man Prof. Clifford Groves (Robert Shanye/Shane) is content to stop at man's primordial past. He is convinced that the size of a animal's brain determines the animal level of intelligence. While his colleagues scoff at him Groves has the last laugh since the idea is in fact true according to modern science. He (or the script writers) makes an error in stating that the brain of Neanderthal man's was larger than modern man's and his dubious associates scoff and ask for someh8itng that drives groves off the deep end. What do they ask for? Well how about a little proof. I am actually getting way ahead of myself here but I love this scene of the film so much I got a little impatient.

Better to start at the beginning when a local hunter in California's Sierra Madres spots a creature that is three times the size of a mountain lion and has what appear to be tusks for fangs. When he tries to retell the story at the local watering hole he is laughed out of the place by the regulars. Well the guy did see a huge cat but it was hardly three times the size of a mountain lion and it did not have tusks. In fact the creature was nothing more than stock footage of an average sized tiger. Later when game warden George Oakes (Robert Long) is driving home from the same bar the creature leaps onto the hood of his car. Now the creature is a stuffed tiger with tusks implanted in its mouth for a shot that lasts about half a second. Oakes manages to get a plaster imprint of the creatures foot print and takes to the office of scientist Dr. Ross Harkness (Richard Crane) who after having a look at the plaster cast gets upset and makes sure Oakes knows he has no time for practical jokes. This is the paw print of a saber tooth tiger which he states has been extinct for millions of years. Actually they have only been extinct for about ten or twenty thousand years but why squabble over a few eons. Harkness goes to the same bar and there meets Ruth Marshall (Doris Merrick) who needs a lift to her fianc¨¦e's place. Her fianc¨¦e happens to be Prof. Groves who I introduced earlier. When Harkness and Ruth arrive at this place his daughter Jan (Joyce Terry) informs them that he is away at his lecture for the Naturalist Society or something. At the lecture we get the idea that Groves is not only a driven and obsessed man but his basically a rude prick as well. After the group goes to ridiculous extreme of asking for a little proof to support his theories that Neanderthal man was as intelligent (or more so actually) than modern man Groves storms out the meeting and back to his house where he shows his rude behavior extends to guest in his house and his fianc¨¦e as well. He quickly kicks Harkness out of his place and is so cold and distant to Ruth we have to wonder what she sees in him.
Soon Groves is in his basement laboratory shooting up some de-evolution theory that he has already tried on one of his house cats (that explains the saber toothed tiger) and he soon transforms into all the proof he will ever need to convince those blind fools at the Naturalist Society; a dim witted, murderous ape man who roams the country side killing everything its path. He does manage to open the window (unlike the saber toothed tiger which simply jumped through the glass) so in that sense he has the intelligence of a three year child maybe. I mean a modern three year old child of course. Soon Harkness is piecing two and tow together because he continues to hang around the professor's house and snoop through his lab and photo collection. In that photo collection are some pretty compromising images of deaf/mute illiterate house keeper Celia (Tandra Quinn of Mesa of Lost Women). No they are not of Celia in her undies doing the cha cha for the doctor but they show her in various stages of de-evolution rather than undress.

Of course Grove's already asinine and sour personality is deteriorating more. He totally gives the brush off to codependent Ruth despite her playfully mussing up his greasy hair and calling him a lug. That's usually melts my heart even in my most manically obsessed states of mind. The masochist gal leaves his lab letting him know he knows where to find her when he needs another human door mat. The film winds up with Grove's dying at the claws of his other house cat that Harkness injected with serum earlier in the film as a test (and that saber toothed tiger escaped from the window as well). Certainly not a film to go into with a serious state of mind. The dialog is riotous and the acting labored at best. The character of Prof. Groves is surely one of the strangest mad doctors ever. He spends the bulk of his time on screen grimaces 'madly' and insulting everyone in his life. The character of Celia is interesting and the fact the Professor hires a deaf/mute who cannot read or write so he can experiment on her with de-evolution drugs is some indication of his twisted personality. The weird thing is the character of Ruth and exactly what her history with the Professor is. That is never explained and no explanation would suffice probably. The film is only about 78 minutes and not a waste of a night on the sofa at all. I will probably watch this again someday, if for no other reason to ponder the complexities of human love as it is presented between needy Ruth and half human (even without de-evolution serums coursing through his veins) Prof. Groves.


The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I've had this for years but haven't watched it yet. Looks like a lot of fun and I do kinds like that make-up design! I'll try to watch this this month.

Anonymous said...

is this the movie wear an axe is thrown and hits a cop in the head?

Bill D. Courtney said...

That scene does not stand out in my memory but it is possible as some cops find the Neanderthal Man up in the mountains. I would have to rewatch it to find out and i am not sure I am up to that. The scene does seem like it happened though. Now you have me curious...

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