Weird Westerns: The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)


A rancher learns the hard way that you shouldn't build a ranch by a swamp and a haunted mountain when a T. Rex emerges 10 minutes before the end of the movie.

By Max Sparber

The idea of having cowboys battle dinosaurs strikes me as an obvious one, but, then, I think you can throw cowboys into any sort of a movie and it becomes interesting. You can't tell me a cowboy or two wouldn't liven up, say, a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie, although I think the closest we got was the 1970 television movie "The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again."

For whatever reason, the combination of cowboys and dinosaurs didn't seem so obvious to filmmakers. The two best-known films about the subject, 1956's "The Beast of Hollow Mountain" and 1969's "The Valley of Gwanji," come from the same source: Stop-motion innovator Willis H. O'Brien, who was most famous for having animated the original King Kong.

Although both "Beast" and "Gwanji" are both version of the same story — a Wild West take on Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World" — and even though O'Brien is credited as having scripted both (in the case of "Beast" using the name El Toro Estrella), the films are quire different.

"Gwanji" borrows a plot point from "Kong" for its main plot, having an unscrupulous promoter (who also happens to be the film's hero) put a T. Rex on display as part of a Wild West show in Mexico. In "Beast," the film is almost entirely about a conflict between two ranchers, an American played by the blandly handsome Guy Madison and a Mexican played by Eduardo Noriega.

It's not clear what the beef is between the two men; after all, Madison has a Mexican partner and seems to be doing his best to blend in with the locals, peppering his English with a lot of Spanish. but perhaps Noriega has seen "Red River," in which John Wayne simply appropriates a section of a ranch from a Mexican landowner, and so knows that American ranchers can suddenly decide that Mexican land is their own. Also, there are hints of a romance between Madison and a local woman named Sartita, played by Patricia Medina, who happens to be Noriega's finacee.

In the meanwhile, Madison's cattle keep disappearing in a swamp near the titular Hollow Mountain; he'll sometimes find them drowned in quicksand. Madison is convinced that Noriega is actually rustling his cattle and then just drowning a few to make it look like they have wandered into the swamp and died, and, honestly, it's not clear what has happened to the cattle.

We come to learn that there is a T. Rex living in the mountain, and he might sometimes wander out to snack on a cow, but it is equally credible that Noriega is up to no good, and equally credible that cows are just wandering off and drowning.

There is not much dinosaur in this movie: The beast doesn't appear until perhaps the last 15 minutes, and it's not especially well animated. It's often represented with a puppet, and, when animated, has a ridiculous, flapping snake tongue that is constantly moving, like one of those new year's noisemakers that fill with air and expand outward. To the animator's credit, however, when the dinosaur wants to run, it's convincingly fast.

The pleasure of combining a dinosaur movie and a cowboy movie should be watching cowboys take down dinosaurs using cowboy skills — "Gwanji" had the cowboys circle and lasso that film's T. Rex like he was an especially enormous bull. This film doesn't do as much — Madison does use a lasso, yes, but it is to swing out over the swamp, tempting the dinosaur to step in, which it does like an idiot. Madison then amusingly swings over the dinosaur's head, and it drowns like Madison's cattle.

I think the lesson of the film is that it's not a great idea to have a cattle ranch near a swamp. Probably a useful lesson, but perhaps not one that required a feature film or a dinosaur to communicate.


Popular Posts