The Neanderthal Man (1953)

neanderthal man title cardDirected by E.A. Dupont

Featuring Robert Shayne, Joy Terry, Richard Crane, Doris Merrick and Beverly Garland

‘Let me assure you… that modern man’s boasting pride in his alleged advancement is based on one hollow precept – and that is his ego.’

Pompous and arrogant Professor Groves has been busy injecting cats with an experimental serum, transforming them into sabre toothed tigers. One escapes from his lab, leading to a spate of giant feline sightings across the countryside. Boosted by his success, the Professor attends a scientific meeting in order to expound upon his theories about the intelligence of apes and early humanoids. Unfortunately his ideas don’t go down well with his colleagues, and his crackpot theories and inability to accept criticism lead to him being kicked out of the meeting.

Frustrated at this lack of acceptance from his scientific peers, the Professor injects himself with the serum, causing him to regress and become the eponymous Neanderthal man. In his Neanderthal form Prof Groves runs wild, committing murders and (implied) rapes. Meanwhile, another scientist joins local authorities to try to solve the mystery of the giant cat and ape man attacks.

Although it has the ingredients of a silly yet entertaining 50s b-movie, this film just fails to be compelling in any way. With some poor acting and an equally dismal script, it’s far too talky and feels like it goes for much longer than its modest runtime. Even the monsters and particularly nonsensical ‘science’ can’t save it. In static, stupid looking semi-ape makeup and an oddly formal white button up shirt/pressed trousers outfit, the Neanderthal Man is mildly laughable, but never sinister or frightening in the least. The supposed sabre toothed tiger provides some laughs, being portrayed by an obviously fangless normal tiger, or by an unbelievably corny model (looking more like comically bad taxidermy than anything else) in close up. But it’s barely enough to break up the tedium as one overlong scene follows another.

Prof Groves does get to rattle off some fairly funny lines, as he blusters about overacting and pontificating in a particularly overbearing manner. But his character is also possibly the most unlikeable mad scientist to appear on film, a totally annoying and over-inflated jerk who is unpleasant to watch. My favourite moment in the movie was when he was expelled from the scientific meeting, and I was equally pleased when he finally met his expected downfall during the (non-thrilling) climax of the film. It all wraps up with a preachy yet oddly sympathetic speech from the other scientist investigating the case – an ineffective and laughable ending to a mostly ineffective and laughable film.

Worth watching? This film features some admittedly nice photography, an under-utilised Beverly Garland, and a rare appearance from the unforgettable Tandra Quinn (also seen in the infamous Mesa of Lost Women (1953)). But these positive elements make up only a small part of this film and aren’t enough to save it: give this one a miss.

Truth in advertising? Well, they got one thing right: 5/5.

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