Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Neanderthal Man (1953)

As if it weren’t embarrassing enough for Robert Shayne that he’s starring in such a dud as THE NEANDERTHAL MAN, his name is misspelled “Shane” in the main titles. Or maybe Shayne arranged it on purpose, so he could deny he was in this cheap, boring Jekyll/Hyde riff.

Whether through incompetence, laziness, or just plain penuriousness, the special effects are among the worst I’ve seen in a ‘50s movie. Harry Thomas (FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER) is credited with the makeup, which mostly consists of an unconvincing rubber mask stuck in a silly expression with goo-goo eyes. One scene in which the transformation of a mute woman (the striking Tandra Quinn, also in MESA OF LOST WOMEN) is revealed in a set of photographs loses whatever meek impact the filmmakers were striving for when you realize the prop department doctored the photos instead of putting makeup on Quinn.

Shayne, likable and authoritative as Metropolis police inspector Henderson on THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, is hammy and klutzy as a petulant, angry, vainglorious mad scientist who speaks in ten-cent words named Cliff Groves. He’s a laughing stock down at the scientists’ nerd gatherings because he believes cavemen were just as intelligent as modern man. To prove his theory, he injects himself with a serum that transforms him into the title character. He climbs out the window (it’s unlikely Shayne wore the immobile mask, though the makeup he wears during the transformation looks not half-bad) and kills (and possibly rapes).

Meanwhile, zoologist Ross Harkness (Richard Crane, later in THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE) is summoned to investigate sightings of a giant sabretooth tiger (played by both a regular tiger on a visible chain and a stuffed tiger with tusks). Joyce Terry (THE BEATNIKS) plays Groves’ daughter, Doris Merrick (UNTAMED WOMEN) is Groves’ fiancé (somehow he has one), and Beverly Garland (IT CONQUERED THE WORLD) is charming, especially in a gratuitous swimsuit modeling scene, as a Groves victim. Future LASSIE owner Robert Bray gets killed too.

Producers Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen (THE MAN FROM PLANET X) also take the blame for the absurd screenplay, which pumps Shayne full of so much ponderous dialogue that not even a better actor giving a good performance could do much with it. By the way, director E.A. Dupont made his first film in 1918, and his handling of THE NEANDERTHAL reflects the style of someone decades out of date. He had only a couple more films and some TV episodes left in him, and he died in 1956 at the age of 64.

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