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Monday, December 28, 2009

Valley of the Dragons

I closed out 1961 just a bit too quickly. There was one more "sci-fi" film of '61, though like many B-grade sci-fi, it only just barely qualified.
Columbia Studios' B-wing put out a low-budget film based on lesser known Jules Verne story: "Career of a Comet." Edward Bernds directed and wrote the screenplay. Bernds made a mark for himself in 50s sci-fi with such films as World Without End ('56) and Spacemaster X-7 ('58) and others. Valley of the Dragons (VoD) is part Robinson Crusoe, part caveman/dinosaur flick, and only marginally a sci-fi tale. In all this, it is throughly a "50's" era style of film.

Quick Plot Synopsis
It is 1881, outside of Tangiers. An Irishman named Michael Denning and a French Captain Servadac are about to fight a duel with pistols over some fracas involving a woman. The duel is interrupted when a comet rushes in, narrowly missing, or perhaps grazing the earth. Everyone but Denning and Servadac are swept away in a windstorm. The two duelists find themselves alone in a changed landscape. The sahara had become a lush jungle. They are attacked by brutish Neanderthals. They watch "dinosaurs" fight. They find a tribe of cave-dwelling people (Cro-magnon?). When a "mammoth" attacks, the two are separated. Servadac fell over a cliff and is swept far down river. A pretty blonde cave-babe finds him and takes him home to her tribal camp as "hers". While recovering from his injuries, Servadac teaches her english. Meanwhile, Denning helps the cave people's leader after a failed ox hunt. Denning is taken to the cave where he becomes the fancy of a pretty brunette cave-babe. Both Denning and Servadac go through similar exploits as modern men in cave society. While exploring a cave with Servadac, the blonde Deena is captured by Morlock-like cavemen. She escapes but is lost. Men from the cave tribe find her. Denning hears her broken english and knows Servadac is alive. While en route to restore Deena to Servadac, the volcano erupts and causes an earthquake. The rest of the cave tribe are trapped in their cave by dinosaurs displaced by the lava. The part of cave tribesmen and hut tribesmen must work together to save them. Servadac finds the ingredients to make gunpowder and his men set charges on the ridge above the cave. The ensuing landslide buries or frightens off the dinosaurs. The two tribes learn to be friends. Servadac figures the comet will pass by earth again in seven years. In the meantime, they'll enjoy their pretty mates. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Several of the tried-and-true plot devices and tropes are trotted out once again, with predictable results. There is something familiar and comfortable (to a 50s fan) about them.

Cold War Angle
As an adaptation of a Verne story, there is little of the usual Cold War symbolism. Only the two rivals setting aside their difference for a common defense, might be seen as a soft Cold War message.

Semi-Verne -- As with most film adaptations of Verne novels, Hollywood tweaked things heavily. In Verne's novel, many people were taken by the comet, not just two. Like other disaster film plots, the band of castaways must survive both the elements and interpersonal friction. Verne's novel was more of a spotlight on Anglo-French tension, with a dash of anti-semitism. Bernds cast the story in more traditional Hollywood tones of boy-meets-babe.

Ancient Recycling -- VoD contains a good deal of footage recycled from One Million B.C., a 1940 dinosaur-caveman film by Hal Roach. Aside from the oft-reused scene of the alligator (with fins) battling a large lizard, the earthquake and lava footage was reused too. Bernds even reused the basic plot elements: a member one tribe is lost and taken in by rival tribe. The lost man and beautiful blonde girl of the other tribe fall in love. This romance becomes the key to intertribal peace.

Fanciful "Science" -- At one point, Servadac theorizes what happened to them. They are riding on a "comet" which periodically has visited earth over the millennia, each time, it snatched off some hunk of earth bringing with it some flora, fauna and atmosphere. This handily explains the co-existence of dinosaurs and cave men, as well as themselves. Servadacguesses that evolution would be 'frozen' with such isolated samples. Therefore both dinos and cavefolk did not advance during the thousands of years. Handy.

Cave Brutes, Cave Babes -- It is interesting that in the film, cave men (not the Neanderthals) are brutish and not too bright. Cave women, on the other hand, are exactly as we idealize them today -- beautiful, shapely, and hungry for love. Oh, and they can learn english pretty quickly, while the men are stuck with grunting and pointing. Much food for musing in all this stereotyping.

Morlock Ancestors -- One intriguing short scene is when the Morlock-like subterranean men try to capture Deena. Clearly not just more Neanderthals, these white-haired brutes were some other form of humanoid. Did the comet take them off the earth at some point too? Did they come off some other planet? No explanation is given, so the pre-Morlocks are just a fun tangent in VoD.

Bottom line? VoD amounts to a semi-remake of One Million B.C. with some help from Jules Verne. In that, it is yet another caveman & dinosaur movie with little "science". A fan of saucers and aliens will not find much to like. Yet, there are some minor points of interest for the hard core sci-fi fan.


Anonymous said...

Did you notice that the first dino that they see is Rodan?

Unknown said...

Where can I see this movie online? I live in México. My mother talked me about this movie when I was a kid. She died this March 27th, 2013. Due to that it is so important for me to see the movie: It is a way to remember her in love.

Nightowl said...

I have not searched for an online version of Valley of the Dragons. There is a 3 minute sample on YouTube. there may be some pay-per-view sites out there, but I have not looked for them.

Staying connected to loved ones is important. If you cannot find the movie online, let me know. I would have to dig through what I have to see if I have a disk (or a VHS?) of it. I may, I may not. I don't recall.

Unknown said...

I have not found this movie complete online.

Anonymous said...

The movie is now available on DVD (all-region NTSC) from Amazon, TCM, etc.

Unknown said...

Great movie! Watching it now on channel 38-3 in the Metro Detroit area💕

Nightowl said...

Hi Nikki,
Thanks for the comment. Glad to hear the 'classics' still get some air time. Happy New Year, too!

Anonymous said...

Indeed! Rodan makes another appearance during the eruption.

Anonymous said...

Valley of Dragons, on a vintage sci-fi DVD 6 movie disc for $9. Or, DVD by itself for $18. The 6 movie pack, maybe. But there's no way I would consider close to $20 a fair value price for this.

Pat S said...

METV, based in Chicago but viewable nationally, has shown this movie a couple of times. "Svengoolie" is the place to go for sci-fi and horror movies every Saturday. The next showing of VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS will be December 26, 2020 at 9 pm EST. If you're near the Mexican/U.S. border you can probably find a signal.