The Valley of Gwangi
Movie Poster for The Valley of Gwangi
Director: Jim O’Connolly as James O’Connolly
Writers: William Bast, Julian More, Willis H. O’Brian (earlier film Gwangi uncredited)
Starring: James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson
Stop Motion Animation: Ray Harryhausen
I enjoy watching old monster movies. Not only are they fun to watch, they usually contain very little gore. They are by nature violent and yet the kind of violence one sees in an old monster movie is somehow not as terrible as the kind of violence we see today in movies, and not even horror movies but such offerings as Gangster squad or any cop movie these days. I also enjoy seeing what various cultures were like 50 or 60 years ago. The Valley of Gwangi is a cowboys vs. Dinosaurs movie. In 1969 that idea could have flown. The stop motion animation is top notch, as you would expect from Ray Harryhausen.
The Valley of Gwangi is based around the idea of a valley surrounded by high, steep mountains that protects it from the outside world. It is in this sheltered place, cut off from time it would seem, that creatures from prehistory have survived. Wait, no that’s not what The Valley of Gwangi is REALLY about. That’s just what we wish it were about. What The Valley of Gwangi is really about is a con man cowboy who walked out on his fiancee but now that she’s about to make it big with her own rodeo, he wants her to sell out and help him buy a ranch in Wyoming. Ok, maybe not that cynical—yeah, that cynical. The rigid gender roles in this movie are painful to watch and most of the movie is spent following this down on his luck cowboy with no redeeming qualities harass the girl.
You see he’s a man so when she tells Tuck to get out of her trailer so she can change he doesn’t have to because: manly! And when T.J., the woman, decides she wants to pursue her own life of adventure and see if she can’t make the rodeo work he tells her that he’s already been down that road so there’s no need for her to live her own life, she can just give everything up and become his maid.
There is a cute little Hispanic boy, Lope, who councils Tuck and T.J. both. (This is one monster movie where the child works but it’s because he’s not the main character.) Tuck gets to listen to the wisdom of a child because he is “afraid to love” and T.J. who finally sends Tuck away but then is told, “You must go after him, for he is a very proud man.” Yeah that’s the kind of guy you want to give up your independence for. Ugh. Oh well, at least it wasn’t Twilight. I mean we do get to see animated dinosaurs in The Valley of Gwangi, so there is that going for it.
Now around this riveting backstory we have a struggling rodeo and some rodeo hands that need to be paid. This is the real plot of the movie. Carlos, a decent guy who is in actually love with T.J., as opposed to Tuck who just thinks she’s his due, somehow provides a tiny prehistoric horse to draw crowds to the rodeo and hopefully lift them out of debt.
A blind gypsy woman has once before warned Carlos about taking things from that valley and of course the very first thing Tuck does once he sees the horse is go straight to a roving paleontologist from Britain and tell him all about this secret T.J. trusted him with. Because, you know, a woman trusts you and the first thing you do is tell someone with a vested interest in possessing the treasure; because: Manly! (You know, gentle reader, I had no idea I was quite so offended by the “romance” in Valley of Gwangi until I started writing this review. Honestly the movie isn’t half bad if you can get past that.)
Our scientist, eager to see where the creature came from and hoping to find out how it survived tells the Gypsies where the critter is. And so the cowboys are off on horseback chasing after the prehistoric horse to get it back for Miss T.J. Carlos, after having already saved Tuck’s life, lies and says it was he who stole the little horse and there is very little worse than being branded a horse thief in the old west.
The Gypsies release the little horse in the valley. Right behind them is the scientist and behind him is Tuck. Behind Tuck is T.J. And her posse. The Gypsies vamoose leaving everyone else to gather together and discover the valley. Lope is carried aloft by a Pterodactyl and Carlos has to save him. From there we see two or three dinosaurs, including a shockingly purple Gwangi who is some kind of Allosaur or maybe T-Rex. Shotguns serve only to annoy Gwangi. Carlos saves everyone’s life before finally getting eaten.
The cowboys take Gwangi captive to be the star attraction of the rodeo. This ends badly. This always ends badly. Gwangi goes on a rampage before finally being trapped in a huge catholic cathedral and burned to death. Surprisingly few people get eaten.
Despite the clumsy and sexist “romance” The Valley of Gwangi was a decent example of its era. In fact I found a list of movies Ray Harryhausen worked on and I might see if Netflix has them.
The Valley of Gwangi was inspired by an earlier unfilmed project Gwangi. While Ray Harryhausen would go on to do such classics as The Clash Of The Titans and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The Valley of Gwangi would be his last work animating dinosaurs. K.