Film

Don't Open That Door! #8: Prehistoric Women (1950)

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?

POSITIVES:

Earliest known footage of Jurassic mini-skirts

Opportunity to make "homo erectus" jokes (see above)

A compelling glimpse of primitive life. Nah, only kidding

NEGATIVES:

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)

2

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image