The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, and Western Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.

Release Date: September 3rd, 1969 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Jim O’Connolly Actors: James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson, Laurence Naismith, Freda Jackson, Gustavo Rojo, Curtis Arden




f it does not go back to the forbidden valley, we shall all suffer a terrible fate.” Somewhere south of the Rio Grande, at the turn of the century, the Breckenridge Wild West Show takes place. Cowboys, Indians, a wagon with a lasso artist, a stagecoach, plenty of horses and guns, and more ride through a small town to a large (though not bustling) arena where they put on a striking performance, full of shootouts, fire, and Miss T.J. Breckenridge (Gila Golan) herself – who dives, atop a horse, from a towering platform into a vat of water (surrounded by flames). It’s quite a view, though this grand finale meets some hesitation when T.J. catches sight of perpetually self-absorbed, big-shot wheeler-dealer, former employee, and old flame Tuck Kirby (James Franciscus).

“This is business!” Tuck has a lucrative proposition for the lover he previously abandoned, but T.J. wants nothing to do with him – despite her career posing significant health risks and decreasing revenues. Curiously, she changes her mind quite suddenly when Tuck is injured by a bull while trying to rescue his young assistant Lope (Curtis Arden), who stupidly wanders into the ring. Abandoning all reason – and the bitterness of romantic betrayal – she not only agrees to his offer, but also reveals her most prized treasure: a new attraction dubbed “El Diablo,” a house-cat-sized horse (specifically, an eohippus). But when too many unscrupulous people learn of the tiny quadruped – a secret that really shouldn’t be shared with so many random associates – trouble is bound to follow.

The mini-horse comes from the forbidden valley, which, expectedly, serves as an untouched-for-millennia home for dinosaur-like monstrosities. Within this pseudo-Monument Valley (brimming with impressive scenery and supplemented by thunderous music by Jerome Moross), visual effects wizard Ray Harryhausen gets an opportunity to showcase his animation mastery. Unfortunately, the selection of creatures isn’t terribly vast or creative, while the stop-motion technique itself can’t help but to demonstrate a certain primitiveness inherent to the era (and the general limitations of the late ’60s). During one sequence with a pterodactyl, a close-up with a rubbery prop head proves to be more engaging than in the flying shots. Perhaps most detrimental to the film’s success in this department is the fact that similar species were seen in “One Millions Years B.C.,” aided by a better setting and far superior actors (making the most of no dialogue, of course). Even their rambunctious battles don’t feel fresh or unpredictable.

Here, the plot (disappointingly similar to “King Kong”) and the cast (particularly Golan) are notably mediocre. It’s evident that the main idea is merely to merge Western tropes with dinosaurs – something admittedly unique (and an excuse to further use Harryhausen’s appeal). The tone, however, is one of playfulness, which never feels appropriate; T.J. has a difficult time treating any scenario with sincerity, while Tuck remains unfittingly optimistic or nonchalant at all the wrong moments. Immediately after encountering obvious dangers, Tuck and his entourage are undeterred in their pursuit of sideshow attractions. “Let’s get him for the show!” And a subplot involving Tuck and T.J. daydreaming about a future together on a ranch comes across as comically disingenuous; these types of terribly unconvincing, paper-thin characters really bring down what might have been an exciting prehistoric adventure – had the roles offered up humans worth caring about. Ultimately, they barely provide fodder; the body count is extremely low. At least the climax is destructive and chaotic, even if it plays out with minimal originality.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10

The Complete Ray Harryhausen

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960)

Mysterious Island (1961)

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

First Men in the Moon (1964)

One Million Years B.C. (1967)

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Clash of the Titans (1981)