The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Beast of Hollow Mountain

Growing up, one of my favorite movies was a combination of two of my favorite genres, a western and a science fiction, 1969's Valley of Gwangi. It tells the story of a prehistoric dinosaur that somehow survived to modern times and is now being hunted by a small group of rodeo cowboys. I loved the movie then and still do now in all its guilty pleasure charm. I had no idea that it was actually a loose remake of a 1950s MGM production, 1956's The Beast of Hollow Mountain, but I wasn't going to pass up a chance to see it.

It's around the early 1900s in Mexico with an American cowboy, Jim Ryan (Guy Madison), and Mexican cowboy Felipe (Carlos Rivas) working as partners on a small but successful cattle ranch. The partners are in trouble though as all their workers abandon their jobs, claiming that the ranch is cursed and a beast waits in the mountains to kill them all. Both Jim and Felipe think otherwise but can't prove it. A local rancher seeking more land, Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), would like nothing more than to drive the duo off their land, and he's got the plan in place to do just that. Running low on money and with no one willing to help them, Jim and Felipe have signed a contract to deliver some of their cattle to a needy buyer. That may be the least of their problems as the mythical creature in the mountains isn't a myth and is ready to strike.

I thought the Turner Classic Movies description had screwed me again upon first viewing here. The beast is only even hinted at once through the first hour, finally making his entrance at the 60-minute mark. Come on, creature features! The build-up can be a tad slow here, a pretty typical western story revolving around ranchers competing for who can be the most successful. A subplot among Madison's Jim, Noriega's jealous Enrique and Patricia Medina's Sarita is pretty slow with Sarita engaged to the fiery Enrique. Uh-oh, here comes that dreamy American cowboy! It's a tad on the slow to dull side, waiting too long in an 81-minute movie to introduce the titular character, in this case an allosaurus, a lone dinosaur (that we see at least) that managed to live on all these years.

Okay, so it's 1956 and computer generated images are years away. How then should a moderately budgeted film show a dinosaur? In stepped special effects legend Willis O'Brien to handle the shooting of a dinosaur, done here with a stop motion technique known as replacement animation. Sure, at times it looks pretty bad, but for the time it was made? It looks pretty impressive. The last 20 minutes of the movie plays like one bad chase, countless characters running from the beast that's finally revealed itself. Watch a big chunk of those scenes HERE. What it lacks in special effects polish that we might take for granted in this CGI-World, it makes up for in excitement and energy. It can be a slow-moving trial to get to this point, but the payoff with the dinosaur and one extended chase helps make it worthwhile.

Fans of the western genre will no doubt get a kick out of this one. 'Beast' was made by MGM Studios and was filmed in Cinerama, a filming technique that truly took advantage of a giant screen, filling the screen with shots of impressive scale and scope. Making that decision better is the choice to film on location in Mexico with some familiar locations popping up. If you've seen The Magnificent Seven, Vera Cruz, Bandido, The Wrath of God and many others I'm probably forgetting, you'll enjoy watching this movie. The story may lag at times, but on visual terms alone, it's worthwhile from beginning to end. The main location was in Tepoztlan, almost the entire movie shot outdoors away from indoor sets. Never a bad thing if you ask me.

Beyond Madison, almost the entire cast is Mexican actors who typically starred in Mexican films. Playing the archetypal western hero, Madison is solid as usual as Jimmy Ryan, an American cowboy trying to carve a life for himself far south into Mexico. If nothing else, he looks to be having a lot of fun, including Rivas in a decent supporting part as his partner, Felipe. Medina is eye candy and given little to do, Noriega a weak back-boned bad guy to go up against Madison, and Julio Villareal as Don Pedro, the local mayor trying to keep his territory in peace and in check. Another nod to The Magnificent Seven, but look for Mario Navarro as Panchito, a young Mexican boy trying to keep his tequila-loving father, Pancho (Pascual Garcia Pena) in check. Navarro played one of the three village boys who tries to look after Charles Bronson's Bernardo O'Reilly.

A mixed bag overall, worthwhile in the end if you can make it through a sluggish, too familiar first hour. Kinda difficult to find so jump if you really want to see it and get the chance.

The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956): ** 1/2 /****

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