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The Valley of Gwangi

a/k/a The Valley Where Time Stood Still

a/k/a Gwangi

     "He who steals from Gwangi, the evil one, is cursed!"

-- An old Gypsy Proverb     

 

     

Reviews:

Gonzoid Cinema

 

 

Buzzkillers!

Lets see ... That makes it Harryhausen 2, pachyderms 0.

 

Watch it!

AMAZON

DVD

 
Sights &
Sounds:
The Valley
of Gwangi
(1969)
 Morningside Productions /
 Warner Bros./Seven Arts

Dynamic
Dynamation:
The CineMagic of
Ray Harryhausen.

20 Million Miles to Earth

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

Mysterious Island

Jason and the Argonauts

The Valley of Gwangi

Clash of the Titans

 

Our story begins at the turn of the last century down in Mexico, where a broken down circus barely ekes out a living touring the small villages along the Rio Grande. Enter Tuck Kirby (James Franciscus), a former stuntman for this one-lung outfit, who now buys acts for Buffalo Bill's renown Wild West Show. There to purchase Omar the Wonder Horse, the derelict show's only real attraction, whose act is diving off a high platform into a blazing pool of water, Tuck runs right into a brick wall when T.J. Breckenridge -- the show's owner, Omar's rider, and Tuck's former flame -- refuses to sell.

Not one to give up that easily, Tuck keeps pressing and pushing her buttons. Turns out there's still the teeniest hint of a romantic spark between these two, and in the ensuing battle to fan the flames, and to see who gets to be on top, T.J. (Gina Golan) reveals that Omar can't be sold because he's an integral part of the show's new main attraction, and then unveils El Diablo: the World's Tiniest Horse. 

Absolutely gob-smacked by the sight of the cat-sized creature, and taking note of the little horse's strange cloven hooves, Tuck soon gets an earful as T.J. can't help but gloat over her new guaranteed money-maker. Asked where it came from, T.J. reveals it was captured by Carlos (Gustavo Rojo) somewhere in THE FORBIDDEN VALLEY. Given to T.J. as a sign of affection, the jealous Carlos is none to happy about the rekindling romance between these two former lovebirds and refuses to divulge anything else. Actually, he can't. In truth, it was Carlos's brother who defied the old gypsy curse to avoid THE FORBIDDEN VALLEY and captured the animal -- but the curse lived up to its rep, and he barely made it out of that profane place with his prized captive. Mortally wounded, the last words he speaks to his brother is a warning, a warning of just one word: Gwangi...

It's kind of ironic that it was England's Hammer Studios that got master movie animator Ray Harryhausen back in the dinosaur business. For it was the same studio's gothic horror-shows that sounded the death-knell on the resurgent sci-fi boom of the 1950's and effectively brought an end to all those giant monster movies. (With one notable exception over in Japan.) But when they hired Harryhausen to provide the F/X for One Million Years B.C., with the film's resulting box-office success, dinosaurs were suddenly back in vogue. And that's why after a string of successful fantasy yarns based on the myths and legends of old, Harryhausen's long time creative partner, producer Charles H. Schneer, decided that their next collaborative project should also be set in prehistoric times.

Looking back to his own past for a suitable concept to fit the bill, Harryhausen recalled a certain aborted project by his one-time mentor, Willis H. O'Brien, called Gwangi -- a Native American word for "big lizard." After the success of King Kong, O'Brien dreamed up several more fantastic F/X driven pieces, including one about a group of rodeo cowboys who venture into a hidden valley, where, after discovering that it's inhabited by dinosaurs, in perhaps the wildest round-up scene ever conceived, they try to rope and capture an Allosaurus. Unlike his other unrealized project, War Eagles, Gwangi was well into the pre-production stage before RKO pulled the plug over budgetary concerns. But part of Gwangi still managed to survive, when several set-pieces were incorporated into Mighty Joe Young, including the team-roping sequence and a climactic battle between the gorilla and several lions. And it was while animating the sequence where the wranglers attempt to lasso the big ape that O'Brien gave Harryhausen a copy of the Gwangi script.

Twenty years later, Harryhausen unearthed the old screenplay in his garage, and after dusting it off, he passed it on to Schneer, who immediately gave it his blessing. Entrusting the story to William Bast for a little tweaking and fine-tuning, Schneer then went to work assembling the cast and crew for the tentatively titled The Valley Where Time Stood Sill. Harryhausen, meanwhile put pen to paper, dreaming up several creature-concepts and some amazing action-sequences for what would eventually turn out to be the most intensive F/X-driven project of the animator's career. How did it turn out? Read on...

Later, while returning to town, Tuck stumbles across a Professor Bromley (Laurence Naismith), a paleontologist, whose made a startling discovery out in the desert. Showing Tuck the fossilized hoof-prints he found of an extinct Eohippus -- the great-great-great-grandfather of the modern horse -- what makes this discovery so alarming is that imbedded in the rock, right beside the Eohippus' hoof-print, is a human footprint! And while Bromley believes this discovery will rewrite history, Tuck recognizes the similarity between El Diablo's cloven hoof and the eohippus' tracks. Sneaking Bromley a peek at the little horse, the once skeptical paleontologist is shocked to find a living fossil; and hoping to find more specimens, demands to know where it was found. But when Tuck directs him to Carlos, the surly no-goodnik still refuses to help.

Undaunted, the scheming Bromley makes a deal with the local gypsies to steal the eohippus back and releases it, with the hope it will lead him back to THE FORBIDDEN VALLEY. Though Tuck doesnít quite catch him in the act, and immediately heads into the desert in hot-pursuit, his badly timed arrival and quick departure is witnessed by several of T.J.'s hired hands, including Carlos. And when El Diablo's pen is found empty, Carlos and Champ (Richard Carlson) immediately blame Tuck for the theft, and, along with T.J. and a few other cowboys, form a posse and head after these horse thieves. Eventually, all the interested parties manage to catch up with each other in time to follow El Diablo through the secret entrance into THE FORBIDDEN VALLEY. Once inside, however, they find more than they bargained for as the boxed-in canyon is littered with living dinosaurs! Almost immediately, the lassos are out and twirling as the cowboys try to round up a few more exhibits for the show, including a spectacular sequence where Carlos bulldogs a Pterodactyl and snaps the flying reptile's neck. And it's while pursuing a "plucked ostrich" -- actually an Ornithomimus -- that the group runs smack into Gwangi: the legendary king of THE FORBIDDEN VALLEY. And what follows lives up to the hype as the wildest round-up in screen history:

Armed with stage rifles that only fire blanks, the crew must rely on their rodeo skills to survive the encounter; and to their credit, the Allosaurus is almost trussed up and captured until a horned Styrachosauraus rumbles into this rodeo. Managing to chew through the ropes, then, Gwangi breaks free. And as the two great beasts engage in mortal combat, this distraction allows the cowboys to make a break for the valley entrance. However, Gwangi quickly kills the other dinosaur and roars after them; and while the others make it out, Carlos is overrun and plucked off of his horse and gruesomely turned into an appetizer! Not satisfied, in its attempt to get to the main course, Gwangi tries to come after them, but the entrance isnít quite big enough and he gets stuck; and when his struggling eventually causes the cavern to collapses, the dinosaur is knocked out out cold.

With the monster subdued, he's caged-up and hauled back to civilization as the new main attraction for T.J.'s show. Well, you can probably guess what happens next, but weíll tell you anyway ... With a little help from the gypsies, who considered him a god, Gwangi breaks loose, runs amok, munches on a few locals and kills an elephant (-- and I really think Harryhausen has something against pachyderms since he killed another one in 20 Million Miles to Earth), but then eventually meets his doom when he gets trapped in a cathedral and is burned to death as the building collapses around him.

The End

Since The Valley of Gwangi was backed by Warner Bros. and Seven Arts, this allowed Harryhausen to work at Hammer's Shepperton Studios again, the same place where he completed the F/X work for One Million Years B.C. The picture was originally offered to Columbia, who normally backed these Schneer and Harryhausen co-productions, but was turned down over cost considerations. Quickly snatched up by the rival studio's new boss, Eliot Hyman, everyone hoped that lightning would strike twice at the box-office. After the location shooting wrapped up in Spain, Harryhausen immediately went to work and it took almost a year to complete the 400 stop-motion cuts for the film -- the famous roping sequence itself took over five months to complete, and in his rush to complete the project explains why Gwangi appears to change colors throughout the film because the animator didn't have time to light each scene properly.

Unfortunately, by the time the final print was finished, Warners had gone through another regime change and The Valley of Gwangi was lost in the shuffle, and was eventually banished to the bottom-bill below the likes of Girl on a Motorcycle and The Seven Golden Men, where it completely missed its target audience and quickly disappeared from circulation -- though it did play with the another, more traditional western, The Good Guys and the Bad Guys, locally. And that's why for the longest time this was considered Harryhausen's forgotten film, or at best least known, and that's too bad because you're missing one heck of a movie.

As with most Schneer and Harryhausen films, one of Gwangi's main perks is that it doesn't fall into a familiar B-movie trap. For even though Harryhausen's creatures are the showpieces and the main reason to watch, their films are seldom boring in between those F/X shots as the stories surrounding them are solid, competently directed, acted and executed -- although I understand there were some nasty creative differences between Schneer and director James O'Connolly on this one; but you honestly can't tell by what appears on screen. And beyond Harryhausenís optical stunts, there is some wonderful live-action stunt work as well. (Human and equestrian.) Another big plus in most of S&H's collaborations is the music, and here, you canít overlook the impact of Jerome Morossí spirited score, which I think ranks right behind his work for The Big Country:

Video courtesy of fanfaremusic.

On top of the box-office failure, one of Harryhausen's biggest regrets about the picture was that due to some union hassles, Willis O'Brien didn't get a proper credit for his contributions. O'Brien did eventually oversee the F/X for the similarly themed The Beast of Hollow Mountain, where a spat of cattle-rustling turns out to be a forked-tongue Allosaurus. And if you believe the internet rumors, War Eagles might also soon see the light of day.

Thanks to home video and DVD, audiences are finally getting to see The Valley of Gwangi. And I know that most people think the climactic skeleton battle in Jason and the Argonauts is Harryhausen's masterpiece and the epitome of his craft ... Iím sorry, but I gotta cast my vote for the team roping of the Allosaurus in Gwangi. The combination of six actors, six horses and six ropes is absolutely amazing to watch, and one can only boggle when told the man seldom used tools and did all the movements by memory!

What is it about Ray Harryhausenís films that compel us to break out the Playdough and make some dinosaurs of our own? But was Gwangi a real dinosaur to begin with? According to the script it was supposed to be an Allosaurus, but his creator often claims it was more of a T-Rex, or a strange combination of both that he often referred to as a Tyrannosaurus-Al. Regardless, whatever species it was, watch and marvel as the animated creature interacts and pull things away from the live actors and ponder, like the rest of us, just how in the hell does he do that?

The Valley of Gwangi (1969) Morningside Productions :: Warner Brothers/Seven Arts / P: Charles H. Schneer / AP: Ray Harryhausen / D: James O'Connolly / W: William Bast / C: Erwin Hillier / E: Henry Richardson / M: Jerome Moross / S: James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson, Laurence Naismith, Gustavo Rojo, Freda Jackson, Dennis Kilbane, Mario De Barros, Curtis Arden
Originally Posted: 12/22/99 :: Rehashed: 04/24/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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