Synopsis: In ‘The Valley of Gwangi’. A cowboy named Tuck Kirby seeks fame and fortune by capturing an Allosaurus living in the Forbidden Valley and putting it in a wild west show.
When the owner of a wild west show. T.J. Breckenridge manages to capture a miniature horse from the Forbidden Valley. It gets the interest of paleontologist Professor Bromley who arranges to have the tiny horse returned to the valley. His hope is that returning it will lead to him being able to find more of them.
Meanwhile, having heard of the professor’s plans. Cowboy and general gambler Tuck Kirby gives chase. But things soon go south when they run into an Allosaurus.
Having found the dinosaur, which the Gypsy woman Tia Zorina refers to as the cursed Gwangi. Tuck along with T.J. Breckenridge makes plans to try and capture the beast to put it on show at the Wild West Show. But things do not go according to plan.
James Franciscus who is also known for his role of Brent in ‘Beneath The Planet of The Ape’s’ makes a pretty good go of playing the likable cowboy. His scenes with T.J. Breckenridge (Gila Golan) sell us on the idea of a romance that has burned out. In the film, Tuck left T.J. because she was to obsessed with her wild west show and understandably did not want to give up her life as the shows star to partake in Tuck’s dream of running a ranch. The film was made in 1969 so the social mores of the plot very much reflect the period that the film was made.
Of course, things don’t really get going until we meet Gwangi. But before we meet that beast we get to meet a tiny horse, and a pterodactyl first. All of which are animated with the use of stop motion by the late Ray Harryhausen. The stop motion work in this film still holds up well and Harryhausen’s manipulation of the model’s breaths life into them. So I’d say he deserves as much acting credit as the actors.
Although the film looks rather dated by today’s CGI standards. The visual effects work and stop motion work still holds up pretty well. Especially when you put it up against some of the modern stop motion work of Nick Park who himself was inspired by Harryhausen.
Perhaps my favorite moments are when the cowboys are trying to capture Gwangi. And the final moments when we see the creature in its death throws while burning to death. Were brilliantly filmed and really had me feeling a little sorry for the beast. Also, the sequence with Gwangi and the elephant in the arena was well executed. Though I did feel rather sorry for the elephant.
The film’s romance story, which is secondary to Gwangi will play as somewhat dated by today’s standards. But given that the movie was made in 1969. It was likely quite progressive back then to have a female lead playing a young woman who was the start of her own wild west show.
Overall. I enjoyed revisiting this film. It still managed to hold my attention. There’s a reason why George Lucas and a number of other modern filmmakers were inspired by Harryhausen films. And it mainly comes down to the care and attention to detail that he paid to staging his creations.
Want to read more of my thoughts on the work of Ray Harryhausen. Check out my review of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
- VISUAL EFFECTS & STOP MOTION9.2
- Incidental Music8.0