By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 176th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films
Sometime over the last year, I DVR’d a bunch of old movies I had never seen. I do this frequently. Sometimes I watch the films, other times I decide that my initial interest has faded and pass them up.
This last week, I was skinning through the recorded shows and I saw the title The Neanderthal Man and thought, “Why the heck not?”
It begins with Professor Clifford Groves (Robert Shayne, mistakenly credited as Robert Shane) living in the mountains of California, where he conducts experiments and formulates theories about Man’s ascent up the evolutionary ladder. He is working at home when he hears a loud noise and a crash. Something has happened in his laboratory.
Local hunter Wheeler is out looking for game and he runs across a saber toothed tiger, which he calls a “big cat,” even though it’s three times the size of a mountain lion and has tusks. Even though he is armed, Wheeler elects not to take a shot. Instead he goes down to Webb’s café and tells his story. No one believes him. Nola the waitress (Beverly Garland) is sympathetic but that doesn’t help. The local game warden George Oakes (Robert Long) decides to investigate and finds the spoor of something big. He makes a plaster cast of it. He takes the cast to Dr. Ross Harkness (Richard Crane), the zoologist at the local university. Harkness thinks it is a manufactured piece, rather than something authentic.
Professor Groves’ evolutionary chart shows Cro-Magnon man prior to Neanderthal and has the hoaxed Piltdown Man on the list. No wonder the local scientists group at the Naturalist’s Club thinks he is loony. And a mad scientist in the California woods is not to be fooled with.
Harkness is aware of some of Groves’ theories, having disputed with them in the past. He has a confrontation with him at Groves’ house when he brings the Professor’s fiancé, Ruth Marshall (Doris Merrick), up from the café where her car has broken down. Harkness is looking for Oakes, who parks his car at the Professor’s house since the roads end there. Groves throws Harkness and Oakes out when he confronts them. The two go out looking for the saber toothed tiger and find it. They kill the beast and go to get Groves so they can have another person verify the kill. They have to wait for Groves to emerge from his lab and when they take him to the spot, the dead body has disappeared. The Professor loses his temper over the wasted time and throws them out again.
Ruth notices changes between the man she fell in love with and the current Professor. And, no wonder! The Professor has run out of test subjects other than a small cat which he injects with an experimental fluid. We can now guess where the tiger has come from.
With his big cat dead, the Professor does what any sane man would do. He injects the serum into his own body. Within minutes he has grown lots of hair and bad teeth. He runs out into the woods and attacks Nola who is posing for photos with her boyfriend. The boyfriend dies in the scuffle.
I don’t think I need to tell you much more of the plot. You know the drill.
The Neanderthal Man is standard B picture fare, nothing startling, nothing revelatory. The acting is OK to poor. The special effects budget was somewhere between $5 and $20. The saber toothed tiger looks amazingly like a real tiger (occasionally on a not-unseen leash) though the tusks are only seen in close up shots. In other words, the saber toothed tiger walking looks like a tiger walking without the saber teeth. The Neanderthal make-up looks like it’s from a bad werewolf movie, replete with the time lapse fur-growing scenes.
But for 1953 drive-in fare, the movie is palatable. Robert Shayne overacts the mad scientist part quite well and slings erudite insults at his Naturalist Club members with ease. And, Beverly Garland is a young Beverly Garland and well worth the attention.
This is not a film to make great effort to see, but if you have 78 minutes with nothing better to do, you could do worse.
Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.