Written by Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen
Directed by Ewald Andre Dupont
Starring Robert Shayne, Richard Crane, Robert Long, Joyce Terry, Jeannette Quinn
US Release June 19, 1953
RT 78 min.
Home Video Shout! Factory
Classic Horrors rating = 3 (out of 10)
Warning: review contains plot spoilers.
At risk of ruining any credibility I’ve earned in the few months since I launched Classic Horrors Club, I must admit that I don’t enjoy Mystery Science Theater 3000. I take movies too seriously. Although they can be a lot of fun, I don’t like to make fun of them. As I was watching The Neanderthal Man (1953) last night, though, I had an epiphany. This is exactly the kind of movie the TV series, soon to return on Netflix, is intended to skewer. And, oh my, it needs a good skewering!
Perhaps I enjoy some of the movies featured on MST3K and don’t want to witness others tear them apart. Making fun of them would be making fun of me. However, I totally get it with The Neanderthal Man (yet I can’t find that MST3K has even dealt with it yet.) Surely it’s not meant to be taken seriously; how could it be? It’s really bad, but you know what? The joy in it can be celebrated by pointing out how silly it is. I don’t think doing so would offend anyone, least of all the filmmakers.
My first clue of the movie’s unique quality came within the opening minute of The Neanderthal Man. Professor Clifford Groves (Robert Shayne), writing notes beside an open book, “Neanderthal Man & the Stone Age,” suddenly looks up when there’s a crash in the other room. His glasses pop to the top of his head and his eyes open wide, as if he’s never been surprised before. I laughed at his reaction. But that’s not all. The camera lingers on… his…face… for… a… long… long… time.
My next clue was when a man reports that he saw what seemed to be a Saber-toothed tiger in the California hills nearby. Charlie Webb (Lee Morgan) says, “Don’t sound no right to me.” Soon, the “warden hereabouts” joins them in Webbs Café (no apostrophe). This is how the people talk in this movie! One mentions moving there from Texas, but the entire community speaks like they come from the south and ain’t had them no schooling.
Clues went out the window, though, and any doubt was removed, when game warden George Oakes (Robert Long) drives along the winding roads at night and has an encounter with the tiger. It doesn’t look like a Saber-toothed in full shots; it’s just a regular tiger. When it leaps onto his car though, a quick close-up reveals it’s actually… a stuffed tiger with tusks attached to its face! Later, we’ll see more shots of this version of the tiger, and they don’t get more realistic.
The next morning, Oakes and Sheriff Andy Andrews (Dick Rich) investigate the same area. They find a huge paw print and Andrews comments, “By golly, it’s got to be the biggest mountain lion this side of Noah’s Ark!” Oakes says, “It don’t stand to normal reasoning.” When a townsperson reports a “murderous mountain cat” killing his stock, Oakes heads to Los Angeles with a plaster cast of the footprint to show Dr. Ross Harkness (Richard Crane), an assistant doctor of zoology.
He learns that the Saber-toothed tiger has been extinct for over a million year (“conservatively,” you know.) “Dang it man, don’t treat me like a crackpot!” cries Oakes. In a pseudo-scientific voice that Harknss uses throughout the movie, he admits that although his statement is incredible, his earnestness is infectious, and he will visit Oakes the next morning. So, what does Oakes do the next morning? He goes up into “bear country” and won’t return until the next day.
This allows Harkness a day to settle in at the Professor’s home when he meets his fiancée, Ruth (Doris Merrick) at Webbs Café (no apostrophe) and gives her a ride. Professor Groves returns from a disastrous lecture in Los Angeles at 4:00 a.m. and messes around in his lab with a hypodermic and a pussycat. The next morning, he sees a table full of people at breakfast and says, “We’re not running a hostel,” not even acknowledging that Ruth has come to see him.
When Oakes arrives, the gang’s all there and Harkness explains that he came because “Mr. Oakes intrigued my curiosity.” (I’m not making this up or exaggerating!) The two go exploring and discover a dead deer in the woods. They would wait for the predator to return, but it could be a long wait. “After a million years, what’s long?” asks one of them. Sure enough, it returns and they are able to shoot the stuffed tiger with the tusks attached to its face.
After insulting the two men for bothering him, Prof. Groves agrees to return to the spot to corroborate their story. Guess what? You’ll never believe it… the stuffed tiger is gone! Harkness pontificates about how he believes in science and everything has an explanation. He says he doesn’t believe in the supernatural and calls their experience an “unholy adventure.” He talks like Adam West on Batman. Really, who talks like this… besides Adam West on Batman?!?
All right, I can’t continue with this for much longer. However, the movie is called The Neanderthal Man, not The Stuffed Saber-toothed Tiger and the story soon shifts focus to Prof. Groves, who, Wikipedia says, has developed “a formula which causes animals to regress to the form of their primitive ancestors, and tries it on himself with disastrous results.” Injecting himself with the formula, Groves sweats a lot, his fingernails grow long and his face changes into one of the worst masks I’ve ever seen.
Fully clothed and walking upright, he climbs out the window and wanders the countryside, attacking a hunter and killing his dog by rolling around with it on the ground. Get the idea? If you don’t like all the silliness, you probably won’t watch it. If you do like it, though, I’ll let you dive in and enjoy the rest yourself. I don’t know how or why The Neanderthal Man was made; Wikipedia doesn’t tell me. But I’m sure someone has a story about it in a reference book somewhere. If so, I ask that you share it.