Fri 6 Nov 2015
by DAN STUMPF on:
THE NEANDERTHAL MAN. United Artists, 1953. Robert Shayne, Joyce Terry, Richard Crane, Beverly Garland. Written by Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen. Directed by E. A. Dupont.
It would be easy to pick at this shabby film for the confused story, wooden acting and choppy continuity — I mean how tacky is it when the movie credits misspell the name of the top-billed actor? And as long as we’re carping, there’s the scene where Beverly Garland walks into the background and is replaced by another actress, or the muddled montage where a sabre-tooth tiger attacks a car, intercut with footage of a bobcat and something hitting the windshield that looks like a suction-cup Garfield. And don’t let’s forget the stiff and unconvincing rubber mask that’s supposed to be a primitive beast-face.
Robert Shayne is remembered these days as Inspector Henderson on The Adventures of Superman but he did his share of Mad Doctoring in things like Face of Marble and The Indestructible Man. Here he gets to pull out a few stops and rave in the approved Lugosi style as a scientist (in what field I’m not exactly sure, and I suspect the writers weren’t either) who believes Neanderthal Man was our intellectual equal — a motif in some recent TV Commercials — and has developed a serum that will regress stuff.
As the film opens, he has used this on a house cat and a housekeeper, and when he tries it on himself he turns into the frozen-faced boogeyman of the title, lumbering amok about the countryside trying to make things lively.
The first disturbing element comes when he carries off a local gal and (it’s pretty clearly implied) brutally rapes her. But later on, after he abducts a waitress and they spend the night in a cave, she comes out in the morning and begs the surrounding posse to spare his life. Which makes one wonder just what went on, but I suspect that here again the writers had no idea.
For me though, the most unsettling part came earlier, in the standard scene where Shayne is being scoffed at by his scientist-peers after showing them a display that “demonstrates” how Neanderthal was more advanced than Cro-Magnon, and when they ask him for proof, he calls them stupid.
A silly scene, poorly written, but something about the temper of our times made it resonate with me. There are people coming on national TV these days who publicly boast that they can’t understand Evolution and want us to elect them President.
There are others who call us stupid if we ask for proof of what they say — as I sat watching the Mad Doctor spouting the same clichés about being misunderstood, I almost expected him to blame the Liberal Media.
And it got me to wondering if some of the public figures of these days maybe watched too many late-late shows. Or has public discourse moved to the level of a cheesy old horror flick? Which may be the scariest thing we’ll see this Halloween.
Pleasant dreams, children…..