Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: it's back to basics (in more ways than one) with Prehistoric Women (1950)
Director: Gregg C. Tallas
Cast: Laurette Lues, Allan Nixon, Joan Shawlee, Johann Petursson
US Release Date: 1950-11-01
Alternative titles: Valley of the Cro-Magnon Dolls; How Does This Homo Erectus?
Earliest known footage of Jurassic mini-skirts
Opportunity to make "homo erectus" jokes (see above)
A compelling glimpse of primitive life. Nah, only kidding
It's fairly dumb and bad
Pace is glacial, if not actually geological
Story is told via narration, not dialogue
Monsters are thin on the ground, although there is a bearded giant, a strange flying chicken-thing and assorted zoo animals
"Homo erectus" jokes are tough to deliver convincingly (see "Party game", below)
It's not as funny as the title makes it sound
SYNOPSIS: A tribe of horny cavewomen with names like Tulee, Lotee and Nika, under the leadership of the well-coiffed Tigri, spend their time sewing revealing outfits and fur booties, doing interpretive dance and wondering why they aren't enjoying the nightlife more. The answer is revealed by the tribal wise woman: there aren't any boys. Years ago, when these jungle girls were just tiny prehistoric tots, their moms got tired of getting slapped around by their maladjusted mates, so they did what any self-respecting bunch of women would do: hit the boys' leader on the head with a rock. Then they ran into the jungle and formed a support group to get in touch with their inner Neanderthals. This worked out fine for the late Cretaceous and early Mesozoic eras, but lately the women have grown restless. They're also mightily tired of nine-foot-tall Guadi, a bearded giant who used to play bass in one of the San Francisco hippie bands that were so popular back when life was just evolving out of the ocean, and who now spends his days abducting helpless jungle women (something those hippie bands were famous for).
So times are tough—even the hair-care products are primitive!—when who should show up but Engor and his tiger-hunting pals, a surprisingly well-groomed band of primitive jungle savages who seem perfect candidates to save these ladies from both the evil giant as well as, ah, species extinction. Engor proves his mettle by rolling around on the ground with a black cat, and that's enough for the ladies to make up their minds: He's the one we want! Sadly, he escapes their raid, so they tie up his buddies and carry them off, and then the fun really starts. ("Fun" being, as ever, a relative term, along with "plot", "character development" and "complete waste of time".)
Engor turns out to be the kind of guy who smashes rocks against cave walls as a form of proto-Dadaist self-expression, and he has rescue on his mind. The giant, Guadi, has pillage on his mind. And the ladies? Well, we all know what they want. As the plot proceeds with all the slowness of tectonic shift, there is the odd attack from an elephant (where are we, anyway?), a snake, and a truly bizarre proto-chicken, the "scourge of the skies," which is over practically before it starts. Happily, our jungle innocents find the time to invent fire and figure out levers. Jealousy quickly sprouts up between Tigri and Arva and is just as quickly thwarted, and the inevitable confrontation between the hulking Guadi and slickly-groomed Engor is, well, inevitable. After that, only the tension between the sexes remains unresolved. Hey! It'll work out—just give it a few million years.
Best line of dialogue: "Grok! Grok! Nayla!" (Translation: "It's been a long time since I’ve been with a guy.")
Best line of narration: "Strangely enough, the swan dive was invented before the swan."
What goes prehistorically extinct: A cave woman, a tiger, a panther, another tiger, a chicken-pelican-dragon, a bearded bass-playing hippie, Darwin's theory, some self-esteem, 71 minutes of your time, several careers.
What gets saved: Somehow, humanity lives on to invent beer and I Love Lucy.
Moral of the story: Bad acting has existed since the dawn of civilization.
Party game: Play "Seventh Grade Anthropology." Players compete to make the funniest joke involving the phrase "homo erectus." Alternative game: Play "Seventh Grade." Players compete to draw the funniest cartoon involving the phrase "homo erectus."
This reminds me of... …The Lost World (1925). Stop-motion maestro Willis O'Brien made his dinosaur debut with this silent film before moving on the greater glory with 1933's King Kong. 1960's Lost World remake would use close-ups of lizards instead of animated models, to poor effect, as did One Million B.C. (1940), which was remade in 1966 as One Million Years B.C. with Raquel Welch and a bunch of Harryhausen-animated dinosaurs. 1958 brought us Teenage Cave Man, for which a numbed nation can only say, "Um, you really didn't have to." Fans of the "babes in tiger skins" genre should seek out Italian offering Tarzana (1972), starring the shockingly lovely Femi Benussi.
Somehow their careers survived: Laurette Lues (Tigri) would make a splash in 1956 TV series The Adventures of Fu Manchu, along with such movies as the 1961 musical Flower Drum Song. Allan Nixon (Engor) would show up in Mesa of Lost Women (1951), as well as 1956's Untamed Mistress, another jungle adventure (this one featuring a woman kidnapped by gorillas), which he also directed. Johann Petursson (Guadi the giant) featured in 1981 documentary Being Different, concerned with people who are physically extraordinary, in which he is billed as "the world’s tallest man." Joan Shawlee (Lotee) had a small role in 1955's The Conquest of Space.
BOTTOM LINE: Forever petrified in the "so bad it's funny” stratum, but it's actually not very good.
NEXT WEEK: X the Unknown (1956)