Monday, 13 May 2013

The Valley Of Gwangi (1969)

Also known as the one with the cowboys and dinosaurs. The Valley Of Gwangi may not have been the first movie featuring the work of Ray Harryhausen that I ever saw, but it's the one that has stayed at the forefront of my memory over the years. While it's not the best of his works, it captured my imagination and fired up my love for creature features.

The story is all about a travelling wild west show that hopes to revive its fortunes with a new addition, a tiny horse that they will place on a platform atop a normal horse once it has been trained to dance. The tiny horse was acquired, at great risk, from an area known as the Forbidden Valley and a group of gypsies are determined that it be returned there. Everything falls apart one evening when the tiny horse is stolen and taken back to the area of the Forbidden Valley. A chase ensues and, eventually, people end up moving aside some rocks and squeezing their way through a passageway that leads to a prehistoric world. A world that holds a pterodactyl here and an allosaurus there. It's dangerous, but could also prove to be quite profitable.

Mixing the cowboy genre with some prehistoric beasties is something that had been done before (this movie is, apparently, a remake of The Beast Of Hollow Mountain), but I had never seen those two worlds collide until I first saw The Valley Of Gwangi. The film seemed to have everything in place designed to appeal specifically to my interests.

James Franciscus and the beautiful Gila Golan play the leads (with plenty of potential to love or hate one another) and do a good job, while Laurence Naismith is the professor who is able to keep everyone informed on just what dinosaurs appear onscreen, Gustavo Rojo is the bad apple of the bunch and young Curtis Arden has fun as the smart, money-making Lope.

Director Jim O'Connolly does fine with the material - a riff on King Kong, written by William Bast and Julian More - and keeps things moving along nicely in the first half before the action really kicks in during the second half. The stop motion effects from Harryhausen? Well, they're still the wonderful, warm creations that you'd expect from the man, even if they're not among his finest moments.

It's easy to lose this one amongst a pile of better Harryhausen films to choose from, but The Valley Of Gwangi remains a perfect film to stick on during a wet, dreary afternoon.


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