Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Dino Flicks: The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)

I actually first saw this movie, or at least the last fifth of it, when I was very, very young; I couldn't have been no more than five at the time (I know I had to have been around that age because this memory involves my maternal grandfather, who died when I was around six). I was over at my maternal grandparents' house, as I often was on Fridays, which was when I was visiting my aunt, who lived near them, and my grandfather told me that Godzilla was on TV. This was not too long after I'd first become a big fan of Godzilla, thanks to the movie my paternal grandparents had over at their house (Godzilla vs. Megalon, for those who've forgotten), and he obviously knew that, probably because I'd talked about it a lot, although he clearly seemed to think that any dinosaur that vaguely resembled an old-school T-Rex was Godzilla. In any case, I instantly turned my attention to the TV and, within just a couple of minutes, the titular Beast of Hollow Mountain trotted out onto the screen and started a rampage. In the back of my mind, I knew instinctively that this wasn't Godzilla, as he didn't look or, for that matter, move anything like him, but it was still a dinosaur and, since I loved dinosaurs, I decided to go with it. We watched the movie to the end and, when the dinosaur met his demise by sinking down into the quicksand, my grandfather, knowing how that might affect me, since he'd told me that was Godzilla, piped up with, "Aah, that was just Godzilla's brother." Mind you, I didn't get choked up or anything because, again, I kind of knew that this really didn't have anything to do with Godzilla, but I always remembered that ending, although for a good long while, I didn't have a title to go with it. I learned of the other, much more well-known western/dinosaur movie, The Valley of Gwangi, a few years later but I knew that couldn't have been what I'd seen, given how the trailer looked. In fact, it wasn't until I was in my teens that I caught another glimpse of this movie one morning when I was getting ready for school. I can't for the life of me remember what the channel was (I severely doubt it was Encore Westerns, which we did have by that point) but I saw the part where the character of Pancho falls victim to the dinosaur, which is offscreen during the scene and, as I later learned, remains so until the last fifteen to twenty minutes. That's also when I learned that this movie was called The Beast of Hollow Mountain, thanks to the information bar of our cable, so I, at last, had a name to go with this movie but, like before, I wouldn't see it again for many years.

I saw it all the way through for the first time when I bought a DVD-R of it at a convention in early 2011. It was of horrendous picture quality, more than likely because it was a bad VHS rip or, for all I know, a recording off of TV, but I was still able to finally see it from beginning-to-end and I came out of it thinking... eh, that was okay. I know some have really trashed this flick and, believe me, it's not a good movie by any means but I wouldn't say it's out-and-out horrible either, which is why this isn't an installment of Movies That Suck or B-to-Z Movies. Like I said, for 90% of the time, it's really nothing more than your standard western, with some very bland, typical characters, and doesn't become a dinosaur movie until the last fifteen to twenty minutes. Even then, the dinosaur is far from impressive, as the effects used to bring him to life are horribly archaic, with even the stop-motion looking bad (especially ironic since the movie originated from an idea by the legendary effects artist, Willis O'Brien). But, that said, I've never found the movie to be all that dire to sit through. I don't find it boring, it's only 80 minutes long, the characters may be bland but they're not loathsome (at least those that aren't intended to be), the CinemaScope and Technicolor look really good when you watch a nice print of the movie, and, overall, it has a charm to it. I liked it enough to where I eventually ended up getting Shout! Factory's Blu-Ray release of it, where it was paired with The Neanderthal Man.

Jimmy Ryan is an American cowboy who owns a cattle ranch in Mexico with his partner, Felipe Sanchez, but lately, he's been having trouble, as his cattle have been disappearing. After finding one of his cows dead in some quicksand in the swamp near a mountain that the locals feel is cursed, as people and animals tend to vanish near it during times of drought, Jimmy believes that the animal was driven into the quicksand by some rustlers. Heading into the nearby village to get some information, he saves a drunk man, Pancho, from being seriously hurt when he ends up getting dragged through the streets by his horse. Pancho and his young son, Panchito, as it turns out, works and lives at the house of a wealthy man named Don Pedro, whose lovely daughter, Sarita, is friends with Jimmy. However, this friendship has exacerbated Jimmy's tense relationship with Sarita's fiance, Enrique Rios, another influential man who doesn't like that Jimmy is ranching in the area anyway, as he fears the low prices he offers for his cattle will put him and other ranchers out of business. The next day, Jimmy and Felipe wake up to find that their ranch-hands have all left, leaving a note telling them that they fear the mountain, and the two then learn that Pancho and Panchito have arrived to volunteer to take their place; desperate, they reluctantly agree to take them on. Another encounter with Jimmy and Sarita causes a street-fight to break out between the former and Rios, but Jimmy not only wins but also receives a telegram that tells him he has a buyer for his cattle. Afterward, Don Pedro tells Jimmy that Rios, intending to get rid of him, has offered to buy his ranch, an offer that both the American and Felipe turn down, despite the trouble they know it will probably lead to. They find another dead cow near the swamp, which they attribute to Rios, and Pancho, sure that the rest of the cattle are beyond the swamp, is intent on finding a way through it to help Jimmy. Rios begins turning up the heat, using underhanded tactics not only to drive Jimmy away but also to ensure that his cattle are the ones that end up on the shipment. What's more, after Pancho disappears without a trace, everyone is about to learn that the legend of the Hollow Mountain is very, very real.

Willis O'Brien may be revered now as a legend in the history of movie special effects but, during his lifetime, he had more failures than successes. During the latter part of his career, he had trouble finding work, despite how groundbreaking and popular his major works of The Lost World, King Kong, and Mighty Joe Young were, because of the expensive and time-consuming nature of stop-motion animation. What's more, he churned out a number of story ideas and scripts that were never produced, although some of them were taken up by other people after his death in 1962. One of them was Gwangi, which was the basis for The Valley of Gwangi in 1969, with the effects there done by Ray Harryhausen, and it was one of several ideas O'Brien had of combining dinosaurs with western elements down in Mexico. Another was Emilio and Guloso, which would have centered around a little boy who, along with his pet bull, save their village from a marauding dinosaur. This story was later elaborated on in another script called Valley of the Mists (which also contributed to what became The Valley of Gwangi) and it eventually became the basis for The Beast of Hollow Mountain. O'Brien is credited with having come up with the story and he was also meant to do the stop-motion for the dinosaur but, for whatever reason, that ended up not happening, which was a major blow to the film, as we'll get into. Also, if you have any extensive knowledge of O'Brien's work you may initially think that this is an expansion on a short film he did in 1919 called The Ghost of Slumber Mountain, which featured stop-motion dinosaurs. As I learned about that short in that documentary I've mentioned before, The History of Sci-Fi and Horror, I did wonder for a long time if this film (which is never mentioned in that documentary, I might add) was indeed connected to it, given the similar titles; however, that short is one of the special features on Flicker Alley's Blu-Ray release of The Lost World and, having now seen it, I can safely say that they have nothing in common whatsoever except that they both involve dinosaurs.

The film was the only fully-completed directorial work that Edward Nassour made during his lifetime. Nassour was himself a stop-motion artist and, like O'Brien, he experienced a number of failures in his life. Among them were a proposed stop-motion, Technicolor dinosaur movie called Lost Atlantis that he and Walter Lantz, the creator of Woody Woodpecker, tried to set up at Columbia, and a stop-motion animation company the two of them tried to set up. He and his brother, William, did manage to set up a studio in Hollywood that produced a number of independent films (most notably Africa Screams, which starred Abbott and Costello and also featured Shemp Howard and Joe Besser) and TV shows and, after that, Nassour acted as the stop-motion supervisor on the 1951 dinosaur movie, Lost Continent (some footage from that film ended up in Gigantis, the Fire Monster, the butchered American version of the second Godzilla film, Godzilla Raids Again). He and his brother began doing projects down in Mexico, producing the TV series, Sheena: Queen of the Jungle before getting around to The Beast of Hollow Mountain, which he also produced along with William and, not surprisingly, was also involved with the stop-motion effects. Nassour co-directed the film with Ismael Rodriguez, a very prolific Mexican-born writer and director who was involved with Sheena in a few capacities and who probably handled the directing of the scenes involving the Mexican actors, as a Spanish-language version of the film was made at the same time (except for Guy Madison and possibly Carols Rivas, who plays Felipe, just about everyone is clearly dubbed). Following this, all of Nassour's fortunes seemed to dry up, as the only other thing on his resume on IMDB is a producing credit on a 1959 movie called La ciudad sagrada, which was directed by Rodriguez. He also sued the King Brothers around this time, claiming that their Oscar-winning movie The Brave One was plagiarized from a never-produced project of his called Ring Around Saturn; the case was settled out of court. Nassour committed suicide in 1962 by stabbing himself in the heart; he was 51. William eventually made Ring Around Saturn into an animated movie called Emilio and His Magical Bull, which was released in 1975. Rodriguez, meanwhile, continued writing, producing, and directing fairly steadily all the way into the 90's, with his last film being 1999's Reclusorio III. He died in 2004 at the age of 86.

Like I said, the characters in this movie are typical bland, 50's monster movie characters, including our lead, Jimmy Ryan (Guy Madison). He comes across as likable enough, as just an all-American cowboy trying to make a living with the cattle ranch he and Felipe Sanchez own down in Mexico, and he has a good enough heart to help Pancho when he gets in trouble in town, as well as to take both him and Panchito on as ranch-hands when they ask for the job (though a lot of that is desperation). But, despite his good intentions, he keeps finding trouble at every corner, with his cattle disappearing, his other ranch-hands quitting on him through fear of the Hollow Mountain near the ranch, and Enrique Rios dogging him every chance he gets, both because he sees him as a threat to his own cattle business and because he's friendly with his fiance, Sarita. In spite of Rios constantly harassing him, pulling him into a street-fight at one point when all he does is graciously ride Sarita back to town after her horse runs off, Jimmy is encouraged when he finds a buyer for his cattle and is not about to let Rios run him off, even if it is with an offer to buy the ranch. But, things continue to get worse when Rios uses his influence to turn people against him and Felipe in town, forcing them to pay cash for their supplies rather than credit and also denying them a loan at the bank; on top of that, Rios hires a couple of thugs to join them as hired hands, with instructions to sabotage his ranch. When Sarita herself asks Jimmy to leave, knowing that things will eventually lead to a fight to the death between him and Rios, he, after thinking it over, decides to do just that, along with the shipment of his cattle. After he and Felipe fail to find Pancho after Panchito tells them that he went missing near the mountain, Jimmy also decides to take the boy back to Don Pedro's house when he leaves the next day, as he's become obsessed with going into the swamp to look for his father. He says goodbye to Sarita and tells her that she'll never see him again, because if he does, he won't be able to let her go (as you might expect, this romance between them feels very forced and cliche, as they came across as close before but not that close). But, Jimmy doesn't get a chance to leave, as the Beast emerges from the swamp and causes a cattle stampede before going on a rampage. Jimmy then finds himself battling the dinosaur to save Sarita and Panchito, and even tries to save Rios, but fails, and ultimately uses the quicksand in the swamp around the mountain to kill him.

Sarita (Patricia Medina) is just as kind as she is lovely, as she's the only one in town who remains friendly with Jimmy and Felipe when Rios manages to turn everyone else against them, and she admonishes her fiance for being so cruel to Jimmy. However, she can also be rather hardheaded, initially thinking that Jimmy stole Pancho and Panchito away from her father's house and tries to make them come back with her; it's only when they get a chance to really make her understand how desperately Jimmy needs them that she realizes she was wrong and goes to apologize to him personally. Given how close they are as friends, Sarita wishes that Jimmy and Rios could also be friends, especially given how she's to marry Rios soon, but it becomes a question of just how much she actually loves him, as it seems like she's marrying him purely out of gratitude for his having helped her and her father to get by. As the tension between the two men in her life mounts, Sarita knows that it will eventually come down to one of them killing the other and she meets with Jimmy in private the day before the wedding and asks him to leave. Jimmy does decide to leave, but when he drops Panchito off at her home the next day and says goodbye to Sarita, it causes her to have doubts about whether or not she's willing to go through with the wedding. Eventually, she decides to let Jimmy decide who she will marry and puts on her riding clothes to run out to meet him. But, she's then told that Panchito went to the swamp to look for his father and she rides off to search for him. When she does find him, he's being chased by the Beast, which traps the two of them in an abandoned ranch-house and nearly kills them when he manages to smash through the roof. Fortunately for them, Jimmy arrives and manages to draw the Beast away, giving Sarita and Panchito the chance to escape. The two of them return with Don Pedro, Felipe, and a group of armed men to help kill the Beast, and after he's met his doom in the quicksand, Sarita is reunited with Jimmy.

Felipe Sanchez (Carlos Rivas) is both Jimmy's joint partner in the ranch and also his good friend, helping him in any way he can and also getting fed up with how Rios is trying to interfere with their business. In fact, when they find a drowned cow in the swamp near the mountain at the beginning of the film, Felipe is quicker to blame Rios than Jimmy is. Like his friend, Felipe doesn't believe in the legends surrounding the mountain, brushing them off as nothing more than silly superstitions, and he's really irritated when their ranch-hands quit because of it, angrily calling them a bunch of fools. He's also not too keen on hiring Pancho and Panchito as replacements, given how the former drinks too much and the latter is just a little kid, but when Jimmy decides to take them on, he has no choice but to agree, as much as the prospect dumbfounds him. Continuing to support Jimmy, he sticks with him on his decision to refuse Rios' offer to buy the ranch to get rid of them, although he soon comes to suffer for it as much as his friend, as those in the village begin shunning them and he's forced to pay cash for supplies rather than credit like before. When Jimmy decides to leave after his talk with Sarita, Felipe, in spite of the fact that he'll become the owner of the ranch and that they'll split the profits of the cattle shipment, makes it known that he intends to kill Rios for what he's done. Before they can argue about it, they learn of Pancho's disappearance and head out to find him. All they do find is his sombrero and they believe he drowned in the quicksand (which Felipe himself almost does during the opening). The next day, Felipe realizes that Jimmy is not going to change his mind about leaving, but just as he's about to leave, the Beast causes a stampede, which he and Jimmy try to get under control, and he also joins the others in helping his partner fight the dinosaur during the climax. (He also often wears a sombrero that's so big on his head, it looks downright silly.)

Enrique Rios (Eduardo Noriega) is nothing less than a complete slimeball, a really greedy landowner who is determined to get rid of Jimmy by any means necessary simply because he doesn't like the competition, feeling that he's going to undersell him and everyone else in the country, despite the fact that he sells his cattle at government price. The fact that Jimmy is friendly with Sarita only makes things worse, as Rios is more than willing to drag Jimmy into a street-fight simply because he was nice enough to give her a ride back into town when her horse disappeared. He claims that it's because he loves Sarita so much but, given the way he is, one can't help but wonder if he sees her as nothing more than something he owns, especially given how she's marrying him out of gratitude for helping her and her father in their times of need. While it's more likely that the Beast is responsible for the disappearance of Jimmy's cattle, Rios still tries whatever he can to make life hell for him and Felipe, especially after they refuse his offer to buy their ranch from them (preferably, before the shipment). First, he sees to it that everyone in the village shuns them, forces them to pay cash for their supplies rather than credit like before, and the bank denies them a loan. Second, he hires a couple of thugs to volunteer to be ranch-hands for them in order to sabotage them. Finally, even when Jimmy does decide to leave with his cattle shipment, Rios is still intent on making sure he doesn't make a profit, ordering his thugs to start a stampede of the cattle when he attempts the shipment. Even when his plans are revealed by the stampede apparently endangering the village (it was actually caused by the Beast), Rios has no remorse whatsoever and, when he hears that Sarita is probably with Jimmy in looking for Panchito, he heads out, determined to kill him. He's so focused on doing so that he doesn't even notice the Beast nearby until the dinosaur gets after him. After running for his life, Rios actually finds aid from Jimmy (although he does nothing to return the favor, as he looks like he's about to run off and leave him at one point before collapsing) but, when they take shelter in a crevice in a cliff, he's grabbed by the Beast and pulled out. He's dropped by the Beast when the cavalry arrives and attacks him and Jimmy pulls his body back into the crevice, which is the last time you see him. It's never made clear whether or not he's dead but, if I were a betting man, I'd say he is.

Unlike his future son-in-law, Sarita's father, Don Pedro (Julio Villarreal), likes and respects Jimmy, and is more than willing to treat him as a guest at his house. While he doesn't approve of the way Rios treats Jimmy, admonishing him for disrespecting him at his house, because of how much he and Sarita owe him and how much he's counting on her marrying him, he can't really afford to do anything about it. He wants there to be peace between the two men, as he stops a near fistfight between the two of them when they're at his house and is hopeful that Jimmy would accept Rios' offer to buy his ranch, which he himself personally delivers. But, when Jimmy rejects it, Don Pedro is disappointed, as he knows it'll lead to more trouble, especially given Rios' influence in the town, a prediction that soon comes to pass. When Jimmy does decide to leave, bringing Panchito back to his house after his father disappears, Don Pedro says that he is sorry to see him go but also tells him that he's made a wise decision and ensures him that Felipe will not be harassed as the sole owner of the ranch. But, when he meets up with Rios in the village not too long before the wedding is set to begin, he learns of his stampede plan when Rios' foreman opens his big mouth about it during the one the Beast caused. Don Pedro is aghast at this, as he now knows the kind of person Rios is, and even though he asks, he has to know what he has on his mind when he rides off with an armed gun upon learning that Sarita is likely with Jimmy, looking for Panchito. He joins in with the cavalry who help Jimmy in dealing with the Beast during the climax.

Pancho (Pascual Garcia Pena) is a heavyset who works for Don Pedro and lives at his house, but ever since his wife passed away, he's apt to spend most of his time at the local cantina and get drunk on tequila, much to the chagrin of his young son, Panchito (Mario Navarro), who often has to be responsible for him. One day, Pancho's drinking really lands him in hot water, when some mischievous kids spook his horse just as he's mounting it, causing it take to off running, dragging him down the street with one of his feet caught in the stirrups. Fortunately for him, Jimmy is able to slow the horse down and save Pancho from getting killed. He and Panchito are grateful enough to come to the ranch to thank Jimmy personally and even go as far as to volunteer to replace the ranch-hands who've left them, with Pancho promising to stop drinking and Panchito saying that he'll make sure he does. With that, Jimmy allows them to stay and they prove to be hard-working and loyal, refusing to go back with Sarita when she insists, believing initially that Jimmy stole them away from her father. Pancho also tells her that they overheard someone paying the hands off to leave the ranch, instructing them to say that they were leaving for fear of the legend of the mountain, but given the looks the two of them exchange after she rides away, it's suggested that he may have been embellishing the truth. Regardless, the two of them continue working at the ranch, and when they find another dead cow near the mountain, Pancho, wanting to help Jimmy out, is intent upon finding a way through the quicksand to see if they've hidden the rest of the cattle back there. Despite Jimmy and Felipe's warnings, Pancho's stubborn nature prompts him to go out early the next morning and search the area, telling Panchito to go get help if he's not back at a certain time. Pancho, when he wanders into the swamp, falls prey to the Beast, and when Jimmy and Felipe later find no trace of him except his sombrero, Panchito becomes obsessed with going to look for his father. He keeps trying to sneak away at every opportunity, his mind only thinking about finding his beloved "Papa," and he refuses to believe that he's dead. He manages to ride off during the confusion of the wedding preparations and the chaos of the stampede, but he ends up getting chased by the Beast himself. Fortunately, he manages to escape his father's fate when first Sarita and then Jimmy come to the rescue.

If you're at all interested in seeing this movie at least once but don't want to go through the trouble of buying it, I'd say try to find a HD-rip of it to watch online, rather than watching one of those crappy-looking VHS-rips because, when viewed in the best quality possible, it is nice to look at. The Technicolor is quite rich and lovely, especially when it comes to the colorful costumes the characters wear, while the use of CinemaScope makes it feel bigger than it probably was (although, it sure made it difficult to get good close-up shots of the actors when I was going through the characters). The cinematography is also well-done and manages to really capture the natural beauty and scope of the actual locations where they filmed a lot of the movie. I really like the long ranges and rocky, hilly landscapes near Jimmy and Felipe's ranch, the way the Hollow Mountain itself is often shot looming over everything, the sight of that abandoned ranch-house sitting at the edge of the swamp around the mountain, and the long expanse of that graveyard where Jimmy meets up with Sarita. The village where some of the action takes place has a nicely quaint look to it, with the architecture and what few interiors you see looking acceptable. In fact, the only real problem I can come up with in terms of the film's look is how they use day-for-night shots and aren't too good at covering them up with filters. There are a couple of moments, like when Pancho and Panchito head out towards the Hollow Mountain and when Jimmy catches Panchito trying to sneak away to look for his missing father, that are supposed to take place in the very early morning or just before dawn but it's very obvious they were shot in the middle of the day.

Another reason why, as rather unimpressive as it is, I don't mind sitting down and watching this movie every once in a while is because the western aesthetic gives it a kind of charm that I mentioned before. I know I've said it before but I'll say it again: I'm not a big fan of westerns at all. I do really like the spaghetti westerns that Clint Eastwood did with Sergio Leone but few others. That said, though, I can't deny that there is something appealing about them, especially the big, color ones that were being made around this time. I don't know what it is, if it's the fact that they're the movie genre that's pure Americana, that they represent the tales that are the closest thing the United States has to mythology and lore, or if it's the quaint, more innocent period they evoke, where things are often more black-and-white, but regardless, they do have a magnetic quality, especially in the visual and style department, and for me, this movie is no exception. Moreover, I like how, instead of being set in the American west, it's set in the rugged terrain of Mexico, some time in the 1800's or around the turn of the century at the latest. I don't know if it can be considered stereotypical or not, given the period, but I just smile at the sight of these Mexicans wearing sombreros and those old-fashioned style of dress clothes, particularly when Enrique Rios is sometimes wearing the type of clothes you associate with classic bullfighters. The same goes for the aforementioned look of the village and the way it's decorated during the fiesta leading up to the wedding, with people dancing around in those costumes and masks and guys walking around, strumming guitars and playing violins. If nothing else, it makes for an interesting setting for a dinosaur movie.

Unfortunately, the Beast of Hollow Mountain himself is a very small part of the plot, as you don't see him until almost an hour into this movie that's just 79 minutes total and before that, save for the moment where he kills Pancho (during which you only see his shadow), he's alluded to in only the subtlest of terms. When the movie's not focusing so much of its attention on the trials and tribulations of Jimmy trying to run a cattle ranch, you get the legend of the Hollow Mountain itself and how the locals believe it to be an evil place, as people tend to disappear near it during times of drought. Jimmy and Felipe find some of their cattle dead there a couple of times, which they attribute to Enrique Rios but is more than likely the work of the Beast, and they also find an abandoned ranch-house near the edge of it at point, with the owner having disappeared during a previous time of drought. The swamp that circles around the mountain is also shown to be a very ominous and foreboding place, a primordial-looking one filled with deadly quicksand and where the air is often penetrated by bizarre, eerie animal sounds, especially when Jimmy and Felipe explore it at the beginning of the movie. But all of this makes up only a tiny bit of the story and because of the lack of focus, when the Beast finally does show himself around the hour-mark, you may still be prone to go, "Holy crap, there's a dinosaur in this western?!" That's one of the reasons why The Valley of Gwangi is a much better movie, as the western story has a much more solid connection with the dinosaur aspect, rather than the movie seemingly forgetting what exactly it's supposed to be.

Since he's just barely built up at all, it's kind of fitting that the Beast, when you finally do see him, can hardly be called impressive, both in design and portrayal. He's just a typical carnivorous dinosaur, one that stands straight up and drags his tail along the ground, as they were always depicted back then, and is probably meant to be a Tyrannosaurs but, like the "T-Rex" in King Kong, looks more akin to an Allosaurus. For the most part, his color is a purplish-gray, just as Gwangi would be a decade later (in some shots, the purple outweighs the gray), but when you see close-ups of his head, he's suddenly a reddish-brown, and he often flails his long tongue in a manner that would make Venom envious. Really, his overall look is so generic that there's not that much else to say, and what else would you expect from his portrayal except for him being depicted as a killing machine that attacks anybody and anything he comes across? (And yet, they still try to arouse sympathy for him when he lets out panicked cries at the end when he's sinking down in the quicksand.) In fact, despite how little they're dwelt on, the tales surrounding him are more interesting than he is, with how it's hinted that he literally lives within the Hollow Mountain and how, whenever there's a drought, he begins venturing out of the swamp to hunt for food. Given how old these legends are, it makes you wonder whether the Beast has lived for centuries or if he's part of a breeding population, possibly the last of his kind, but, of course, this movie, being what it is, is not at all interested in exploring them.

You might be thinking, "Okay, so the Beast isn't that original of a creature, but at least you get to see some cool stop-motion whenever he's onscreen." Well, you'd think, but that's not the case at all. While this movie is notable not only for being the first example of dinosaurs being placed in a western setting (as well as one of the earliest of the "Weird West" subgenre altogether) but also the first to use stop-motion in color and CinemaScope, the effects are one of its weakest aspects, if not the absolute weakest. Stop-motion, even at its best, has never been 100% smooth and natural, but this stop-motion looks really off. It's so slow and stiff, to the point where it looks as if it's on a different plane of existence than everything around it; in other words, when you're cutting back and forth between it and the live-action, they don't mesh at all. Sometimes it's passable, like when the Beast is attacking Sarita and Panchito in the ranch-house after smashed through the roof and his movements become quicker at points, and it is impressive that they were able to get some breathing motions out of the thing, but otherwise, it's terribly archaic. Speaking of meshing the stop-motion with the live-action, instead of creating a number of miniature sets, it looks like they mostly tried to put the animation in front of or within still shots of the real locations and you can definitely tell because, in those moments, the Beast is often the only thing that's moving. And when they do try to blend the real and miniature elements into the same frame, like one moment where the Beast is looking for Jimmy atop a cliff that's a matting of a miniature and the real location or when he peers down at Enrique Rios for the first time, the divide between them is very obvious, as the effects footage is much sharper in quality, and it also doesn't help that the miniatures are lit in a way that completely exposes their artificiality. The most laughable bit comes when the Beast chases after Rios across the desert and Jimmy picks him up on his horse, as it's clear that the Beast is being animated in front of a moving process screen of the background, which goes on to incorporate footage of the real actors on horseback. It's just a shame that Willis O'Brien couldn't have been involved with the effects as well as in creating the story.

For close-ups of the Beast's feet when he's walking, the filmmakers came up with a pair of oversized, rubber feet that a technician stomped around in and, not only do they look really bad and clumsy, but they don't fit the stop-motion Beast, both in the movement and in the way they match up with the feet of the model. They did the same with a pair of hands for when the Beast is reaching into the crevice to get at Jimmy and Rios and it has the same, fake effect. And as if these flubs with the dinosaur weren't enough, when he causes the cattle stampede, it's obvious that they sped the film up to try to make it feel more frantic but, as usual, it comes off as silly-looking. Not an uncommon practice for the time, mind you, but in this instance, it only adds to the movie's sheer cheesiness.

The film begins with Jimmy, Felipe, and a ranch-hand riding their horses through the brush, following some cattle tracks towards the Hollow Mountain, as a narrator tells us of the legend surrounding it and how, perhaps, it's only a tale told by simple, superstitious people. Not noticing a cow skull hidden behind a rock, they stop at a spot where there appears to have some sort of a struggle. As the ranch-hand is frightened of the mountain, they have him stay behind and guard the horses, while they explore the area, with Felipe following the tracks and Jimmy skirting off in the opposite direction. They walk around the edge of the swamp for a little while, not sure what to make of the bizarre sounds permeating the air (the ranch-hand is weirded out by them enough to almost draw his gun), when Felipe comes across a solid-looking patch of ground that's actually a lot more mushy than he expected. Trying to find a way around it, he steps into another section and falls straight into the muck, as it's revealed to be a quicksand pit. Yelling for help, he manages to lasso a large rock next to the muck, but when he tries to pull himself out, the loose hoop of the lasso slips up the rock, eventually slipping off completely. Jimmy arrives and, realizing what's happened, throws Felipe his own rope and manages to slowly but surely pull him out. Once he's out, Jimmy looks off to the left and finds the body of a dead cow, almost completely submerged in the quicksand, with only its head, horns, and a bit of its back sticking out. Jimmy believes that somebody forced the cow into the quicksand so they would think that's what happened to all of their missing cattle and Felipe is pretty sure that Enrique Rios is behind it; Jimmy, however, is willing to find for sure before making accusations.

When Jimmy rides into town afterward to see Don Pedro, we get a little foreshadowing of what's about to happen when he and several other riders fall victim to see kids who startle their horses by throwing some firecrackers on the ground. He then rides by the cantina and we get our introduction to Pancho and Panchito, when the latter is seen sitting outside, waiting for his father, who comes stumbling out through the double-doors, clearly sauced. Pancho insists that he's not a drunk, that he simply drinks to forget Panchito's dearly departed mother, and he almost heads back inside to "forget about her for another little while." Panchito, however, stops him, telling him that their horse is tired of waiting, and Pancho, after thinking it over for a bit, decides they might as well head back. He drunkenly climbs up onto the horse and is just about to pull Panchito up with him, when those kids come out and throw their firecrackers, spooking the horse. The horse lurches forward, causing Pancho to fall backwards off the side, with one of his feet stuck in the stirrups, while Panchito is flung back on the ground. Jimmy looks back upon hearing the commotion and watches as Pancho is dragged through the streets, with Panchito chasing after him. Riding up to the horse, he jumps onto its back and manages to make it stop. Seeing this, Sarita rushes to the scene, as Jimmy pushes through the small crowd that's gathered and helps Pancho to his feet, asking him if he's hurt. It becomes clear, though, that Pancho's only a little rattled by what happened and the crowd disperses after Panchito runs up to him. Sarita, however, admonishes Pancho for getting drunk again and not considering what it does to his son. He then tells Panchito to take his father back to the house.

Following the scene where Sarita talks with Jimmy about Pancho and Panchito now working for him, and about Enrique Rios, he rides her back into town when her horse disappears. Unfortunately for him, Rios is nearby and becomes enraged when he sees them together. As he stomps towards Jimmy, the man who runs the post office tells the American that he has a telegram (this guy seems to begin speaking in his normal voice, only for it to suddenly transition into an obvious dub). Jimmy follows him over, unaware of the approaching threat, and is handed the telegram. Just as he's about to read it, Rios reaches him, smacks it out of his hand with his whip, and tries to whip Jimmy, who quickly ducks. He backhands Rios across the face and then flings him into a nearby display of flowers. Rios attempts to draw his gun but Jimmy draws his quicker. Approaching him, Jimmy tells him he's going to find out what kind of an "hombre" he is and tells him to unbuckle his gun-belt, indicating that they're going to settle this with fisticuffs. Rios does remove his belt, but as Jimmy is doing the same, he trips him, sending him to the ground, and then tackles him into a pottery stand, causing it to collapse. The two of them struggle and roll along the ground, when they get to their feet and Jimmy gives Rios a couple of gut-punches before knocking him back down with one to the face. But, when he gets back up, he manages to deliver some gut-punches of his own and knock him down himself, before, jumping on him. As the two of them struggle, Rios flings Jimmy down on a collapsed fruit-stand, attempting to choke him out, but Jimmy manages to show him off with his knee, flinging him into another stand across the way. When Jimmy rushes at him, Rios grabs a tent-pole and starts swinging it at him, smashing it into the edge of a long table at one point, but Jimmy manages to disarm him and deliver another pair of gut-punches and face-hit, knocking him back to the ground. Jimmy attempts to jump him but misses and gets kicked in the chin, with Rios following that up with a blow to the shoulder. He tries to jump on Jimmy but gets flipped over and gets another gut-punch, an uppercut, and series of punches to the face. Jimmy punches him in the gut again and knocks him to the ground, only for Rios to grab a large, clay pot and throw it at him. Jimmy dodges it, with the thing shattering against a wall behind him, and Rios punches him over a counter, jumping back there to continue the fight. The crowd that's been watching the whole thing rushes over to see how it turns out and, after a few moments, Jimmy stumbles out, his mouth bleeding and his head bruised but the victor nevertheless.

Later, Jimmy, Felipe, Pancho, and Panchito come across a ranch-house near the edge of the swamp around the mountain, with Pancho saying that the owner disappeared during a time of drought, supposedly swallowed by the mountain. Pancho then leads them to the swamp, where they find another dead cow nearly submerged in quicksand. Jimmy is now quick to pin it on Rios and Pancho then comes up with his idea that the rest of the cattle have been hidden back in the mountain, convinced that there must be some way through the swamp to reach it. But, before he can begin exploring to find it, Jimmy stops him, telling him that they don't need him to get lost in the swamp. Jimmy and Felipe talk about paying some men with guns to join them on the ranch and they then catch the stubborn Pancho about to walk into the swamp, although he insists he's just looking... and falls without even really trying. Laughing, Jimmy tells him to come and Pancho clumsily stumbles back up through the path. Even stubborn, though, he heads back out early the next morning with Panchito, and when he reaches the ranch-house, he tells his son to keep his eye on a shadow being cast by this lone post near it. Placing a rock nearby, he tells Panchito that if he hasn't returned by the time the shadow touches the rock, he's to go tell Jimmy where he's gone. As he heads towards the swamp, Panchito, frightened by the legends of the mountain, tries to stop him, but Pancho doesn't believe the legends and says that they must help Jimmy find his lost cattle. The two of them then share one last loving embrace before Pancho begins the trek towards the swamp, with Panchito then walking back to the house to wait.

Following the scene where Jimmy meets with Sarita in the cemetery, Pancho is shown to still be making his way through the swamp, crossing over a little stretch of solid ground to a spot with a tree that's divided in half. As he looks around and wipes his brow, rustling is heard, followed by a loud snarl. Startled by something large offscreen, Pancho quickly draws his gun and fires at his attacker, but immediately runs out of bullets without doing anything to harm the creature. He lets out a scream as a large shadow descends on him and he falls off to the left, with the camera panning over to show his sombrero lying on the ground. At this point, back at the ranch-house, the shadow has reached the rock on the ground and Panchito, knowing something is wrong, kicks it away in frustration and rushes to his horse to begin the ride back to Jimmy's ranch. He arrives there and tells Jimmy and Felipe what's happened, crying hysterically. The two of them quickly saddle their horses and ride to the site. It isn't long before they reach the spot where Pancho was attacked and they find his sombrero. They yell for him but get no reply, as Felipe deduces that whatever happened to him must have occurred hours before. With only half an hour until dark, he also suggests that they'd better head back but Jimmy, feeling they owe it to Panchito to find out what happened, yells for Pancho again. Again, he gets no answer and, deciding that he doesn't want Panchito to see the abandoned sombrero, tosses it away before they head back. When they emerge from the swamp, Panchito frantically runs to them, asking about his father. Jimmy and Felipe simply say that they didn't find him, with the latter adding he won't be back until he finds the stray cattle. Panchito wants to go to him and is so determined to that he actually rushes for the swamp, with Jimmy having to run after him, pick him up, and carry him away as he cries for his "Papa." The next morning, Jimmy catches him attempting to sneak off with a horse to go look for his father and orders him to go back to bed. Because of this, he decides to take him back to Don Pedro's house the next day.

The film's climax begins when, as Jimmy is leaving and the village is holding a celebration for the impending wedding of Sarita and Rios, the latter rides out to his own ranch, where his man tells him that the cattle are ready to be shipped. Rios tells him that, when the two thugs he hired to work as hands at Jimmy's ranch are driving the cattle to the station, they're to start a stampede by firing their guns. Since it's meant to take place a mile or more from the village, Rios is confident no one will be injured, and he also doesn't care that Jimmy is leaving, like he wanted; it's going to be his cattle on the shipment. Meanwhile, at Jimmy's ranch, he arrives back to begin packing his things, as Felipe leaves the two thugs in charge of the cattle. The two of them decide to kill time by getting in some drinking. Back at the village, as the celebration continues, Don Pedro's servant, Margarita, catches Panchito attempting to sneak away to go search for his father. She tries to reason with him, telling him that his father is dead, but the kid refuses to believe it, and when Margarita tries to make him go back into the house, he runs off. She chases after him but stumbles and falls, giving him enough time to find a horse nearby, mount it, and ride off. Frantic, she runs to Sarita, who's not wearing her wedding dress as expected, and tells her what happened. Deciding to go after him herself, she tells Margarita to have someone saddle her horse.

Back at the range where Jimmy's cattle are kept, the two thugs are getting into some gambling as well as drinking, when we get a shot of a pair of big, dinosaur feet stomping across the ground and stopping in order to turn and face them. The Beast lets out a hissing snarl and the two men look up to see him standing on a nearby ridge. At the sight of him snarling at them, they take off running, just as his presence spooks the cattle and causes them to stampede. As he moves in to attack, he makes the cattle even more frantic and they end up trampling the thugs. The Beast grabs a screaming cow in his mouth and carries him away, as the stampede really gets out of control. Sarita, ignoring Margarita's pleas, rides off on her horse, while at their ranch, Jimmy and Felipe see the stampede as it travels across the plains and mount their horses to try and head it off. The men at Rios' ranch see it too and they work to try to divert it away from the village but, try as they might, the cattle stampede past the ranch and head down the road towards the town, where the fiesta is still going on, with people dancing in the street and setting off firecrackers. At the same time, Panchito comes across the stampede and takes a lower trail to avoid it; Jimmy and Felipe are too busy trying to get it under control to notice him. The stampede reaches the village, with Sarita having to skirt around it, as the fiesta stops and the people start running in a panic. Jimmy, riding after the cattle, comes across Margarita, who tells Jimmy that Sarita has gone after Panchito. Hearing this, he promptly turns around and rides off after them. The cattle reach the town square, causing more panic and destruction, and Rios and Don Pedro then see what's happening, rushing out of a building where they were meeting up. Rios' man rides up to him and admonishes him for his idea, reminding that it was a very dangerous plan... right in front of Don Pedro. Rios backhands the guy and calls him an idiot, as Don Pedro confronts him about what he's done. Before it can go too far, Margarita shows up and tells Don Pedro about Panchito and that Sarita and Jimmy have gone to look for him; she also tells Rios that Sarita said she wouldn't marry him until she spoke with Jimmy. Furious at this, Rios takes his man's horse and rides off, as the stampede continues wreaking havoc in the village.

At the swamp, Panchito is calling for his father, unaware that his cries are attracting the Beast, which soon zeroes in on him and comes stomping down towards him through the muck, stalking him through the swamp until he turns and sees him snarling at him. Yelling in horror, Panchito runs and dives into the water, swimming for it, as the Beast attempts to chase him but finds it hard to move through the thick mud at his feet. Panchito manages to make it through the water but, unfortunately, the Beast finds a more solid stretch of land through which to cross and resumes his chase. Sarita then arrives at the ranch-house, dismounts her horse, and checks inside, while Jimmy is riding as fast as he can to the spot. Not finding him in the house, Sarita calls for Panchito and sees him running frantically out of the swamp. He runs up and hugs her, and Sarita, seeing how frightened he is, asks what happened. She immediately gets her answer when the Beast reaches the edge of the swamp himself and snarls at them. The two of them run to the ranch-house, only to find that their horses have run off in a panic, and as the Beast storms up to the house, they try to creep along the wall to reach the front door. When they do that, they find the Beast looking at them and run back around the rear of the house, as he follows them. They then manage to run inside, slamming the door and attempting to barricade it, as the Beast comes back around the front. Jimmy arrives nearby and, hearing the Beast roaring, leaves his horse behind a hill, which he climbs up. The Beast, meanwhile, smashes his hand through the roof, trying to get at Sarita and forcing her and Panchito to take cover in a corner. She sees him ripping away the remaining beams, as Jimmy reaches the top of the hill and sees the Beast for the first time, as he roars up into the air. Jimmy makes his way down to the spot, as the Beast reaches into the house and Sarita grabs a wooden pole, trying to fend him off by jabbing at him. But, after a few attempts at this, he grabs the pole with his mouth and bites it in half, leaving them defenseless. Before he can attack, Jimmy runs up outside and shoots at him, getting his attention. He manages to shoot the Beast on the side of his snout, which does bleed but the Beast seems more irritated than hurt. Jimmy then runs, trying to draw the Beast away, and it works, as he begins chasing him. He then yells at Sarita to get away from the house, and as she and Panchito look through a hole in the bricks, they see him firing at the Beast.

With the monster now completely focused on Jimmy, Sarita and Panchito see their chance to escape and run out the door. Seeing this, Jimmy tells them to wait until he draws the Beast away and then around the hill where his horse is. Panchito, however, seems to take off prematurely and Sarita runs after him. The Beast does notice this, but when Jimmy fires at him again, he decides to continue chasing him, with Sarita and Panchito make it safely over the hill. Jimmy runs around a corner at the foot of the mountain and then heads up a hill, with the Beast not too far behind. He sees him squeezing his way through the hillside's rocks and follows after him, as Sarita and Panchito reach the horse; seeing another horse nearby, they decide to catch it as well. Having let him follow him up the hill, Jimmy leads the Beast in circles around a boulder up top, managing to hide in the crevices and alongside the rock. He then starts to make his way back down, keeping an eye on the increasingly frustrated dinosaur, and takes cover behind an outcropping right below where the Beast is standing on the cliff. Rios has now shown up and spotted Jimmy, who yells at him to get away. Rios, of course, is too keen on killing Jimmy to notice the Beast and trains his gun on his enemy. It's only when the Beast looks down and snarls at him that Rios looks up and sees him. The sight of him causes Rios' horse to buck him off in fright and the Beast quickly makes his way back down the hill to take advantage of the easy prey. He's almost on top of Rios when he gets up and runs for it, jumping into a nearby stretch of water and swimming across. Seeing this, the Beast roars in frustration but doesn't give up the chase, making his way around the water after Rios, as Jimmy catches up to Sarita and Panchito. He takes his horse back and tells them to go back to town, riding off to help Rios, riding his horse through the shallow water as Rios reaches the other side and runs out into another stretch of desert.

Reaching the spot himself, Jimmy sees that the Beast is hot on Rios' heels and rides after him. Catching up to him, he lets Rios climb up onto his horse and the two ride together, with the Beast tromping after them. Coming upon a steep hillside, and realizing that they have no alternative, they try to ride down it but near the bottom, the horse loses its footing and falls over, knocking both riders off before it runs away itself. Both men lie on the ground, dazed, and Jimmy looks up to see the Beast standing atop the hill, looking down at them. He gets Rios to his feet, as the Beast actually slides down the hill himself (man, that looks silly), and they run for an opening in a cliff-face nearby, Jimmy trying to stave off the Beast with gunshots. This does nothing and the Beast continues the chase, as the two men take shelter in the tight crevice. They back up against the wall in there, with Jimmy trading in his gun for a knife, as the Beast reaches them and, finding he can't squeeze through, reaches his hand in to grab at them. As Sarita leads a group of men that includes Felipe and Don Pedro to help them, the Beast manages to grab Rios but Jimmy stabs him in the hand, forcing him to recoil and shake his hand in pain. Undeterred, he sticks his hand back in, grabs Rios again, and, despite Jimmy's stabbing, manages to pull him out, screaming. Before he can eat him, though, the posse arrives and fires on him, prompting him to drop Rios. Growling, he glances back at Jimmy in the crevice but ultimately decides to retreat from the gunfire. Jimmy calls for Felipe and then pulls Rios' body back into the crevice, leaving him there. Felipe rides out to the crevice, which doesn't go unnoticed by the Beast, and lets Jimmy jump on his horse, as the two of them ride past the monster, which begins chasing them. Getting off, Jimmy tells Felipe that bullets can't kill him and, grabbing a rope, tells him to ride back to the others.

Spying the nearby swamp, Jimmy has the Beast chase him over there and, wading through the muck as he stomps over to the edge of it, he twirls his rope in the air and flings it at the dinosaur. The Beast does little more than snarl at the rope, though, and doesn't take the bait like Jimmy hoped. Looking up, he lassos a high tree branch and then cuts the rope short, leaving it swaying back and forth in the air. The Beast watches this curiously and Jimmy, grabbing onto the rope and lying down in the water, flings his knife at the dinosaur, hitting him above the nose. The Beast manages to dislodge the knife from his skin and roars angrily at Jimmy, who climbs up the rope and swings back and forth along the length of the bog. This irritates the Beast further, as Jimmy gets just within reach but not enough for him to be able to lean forward and snag him, although he does manage to rip off a section of the back of his shirt. With one last swing, Jimmy manages to get the Beast to lean forward enough to where he slips in the mud and falls into the swamp. He's able to swing over the dinosaur and land on the solid ground on the other side. The Beast stands up and tries to get at him but, as the others join Jimmy, the dinosaur begins to sink down into the quicksand, its cries turning from ferocious roars to frightened screams. Jimmy runs up to the top of the hill and embraces Sarita, with Panchito hugging his leg, as they watch the Beast completely sink down beneath the muck, some blood gushing up through it once his head has been pulled under. The movie then ends with everybody heading back to town.

The music score was composed by Raul Lavista and, while nothing great or all that instantly memorable, it's one of the movie's more well-done aspects. It hits all the right notes, such as high adventure and excitement during the action scenes; low, brassy, menacing bits of music for the Beast, often for whenever his presence is implied; bumbling, comedic music for Pancho and his drunkenness; and sweet music for the occasional emotional moments. There's also a piece of music that's just pure western, which plays when Jimmy rides off after talking with Sarita in the cemetery: it's this really epic-sounding trumpet piece that's something that wouldn't be at all out of place accompanying John Wayne riding off into sunset in one of his films. And you get some good old-fashioned, Mexican fiesta music during the celebration in the village that's meant to lead up to Sarita's wedding to Enrique Rios. Again, all in all, not one of the greatest movie scores ever by a long shot but definitely a well-done one that helps to add something to this rather so-so movie.

That's truly the best way to sum up The Beast of Hollow Mountain: so-so. It's not an absolutely horrible movie but it's certainly not a great one either; it's just kind of "eh." The characters are okay but pretty bland and run-of-the-mill for this type of movie, the movie is nothing more than a very standard western for about 90% of its short running time, with the title creature just barely having a presence before his belated appearance about an hour in, and when he does finally show up, it not only feels like you're suddenly watching a completely different movie but the special effects used to bring him to life are quite lackluster and laughably archaic. On the other hand, the film is shot well, using a lot of great location work, the Technicolor is very lush when you see the movie in a nice, HD-print, the western aesthetic and the setting in turn-of-the-century Mexico gives it a feeling of charm and quaintness, and the music score, while nothing major, does help the movie come across as more than it actually is. If those qualities are enough to prompt you to check it out at least once, then by all means, but if you're looking for a good western or a well-done dinosaur, you'd best look elsewhere, because you're not really going to get either here.

No comments:

Post a Comment