Saturday, June 16, 1973: Dinosaurus! (1960) / The Island Monster  (1954)

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Synopsis: On a Caribbean island, an engineering crew is working on deepening the harbor to allow larger ships to enter. This is expected to be a boon to the local economy, but the presence of the engineers is an irritant to slimy local authority Hacker (Fred Engleberg).
The engineers, led by Bart Thompson (Ward Ramsey) plant dynamite charges to blast the harbor opening. After the charges have detonated, Bart’s girlfriend Betty Piper (Kristina Hanson) impulsively goes for a swim. She sees something that causes her to faint, requiring Bart to pull her out of the water.
In doing so, Bart sees what Betty saw — a large creature in the water that looks like a dinosaur. Bart notes that the water where they saw the creature was ice-cold; apparently the creature was preserved in some icy chamber beneath the island.
Bart orders a message be sent to the government, alerting them of the find. In the meantime he orders construction equipment be used to haul the monster ashore.
It turns out there are two creatures, a tyrannosaurus and a brontosaur. The frozen creatures cause great excitement in the town, and Bart decides to post a guard on the beach. Hacker skulks around the site where the two frozen dinosaurs are lying, and discovers a frozen caveman. He drags the body away from the site and covers it with brush. 
At the local restaurant and pub, local boy Julio tells Bart and Betty that one of the dinosaurs is a meat-eater, and the other a herbivore. Like a lot of children he has a keen interest in dinosaurs, and he’d even sent away cereal boxtops to get plastic models of dinosaurs, which he shows to them.
Hacker, who we learn is Julio’s legal guardian, sees Julio showing the toys to them, and angrily breaks them in front of the boy. This causes Julio to run off. Bart threatens Hacker, telling him that if anything happens to Julio, he’ll hold Hacker responsible.
Later, during a tropical storm, heavy rain falls on the dinosaurs. A bolt of lightning strikes them both. When Bart and Betty return to the beach, they find the guard’s bloody hat and the dinosaurs gone. Hacker, who had hoped to turn the caveman over to a museum for a reward, is astonished to find that his precious find is missing as well….
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Comments: Before it turned up on tonight’s schedule, I had seen Dinosaurus! exactly once, in the lecture hall at Isanti Junior High School in Isanti, Minnesota. This would have been in 1977 or thereabouts. Movies weren’t routinely shown to students in those days and I don’t recall what prompted this one to be screened. It’s possible that the end of the school year was at hand and there was time to kill; or perhaps it was held out as a treat for students to complete some task or other. In any case, the novelty of having a real film screened for us (I assume it was a 16mm print obtained through Swank or a similar film rental outfit) made an impression on me. So on this occasion I saw the film the same way that an older generation of film writers would have: with an audience, rather than alone in front of a television.
I knew nothing about Dinosaurus! when I saw it, of course, but many years later I would learn of the partnership between producer Jack H. Harris and the talented crew at Valley Forge Films that made it possible. Valley Forge was a one-stop shop in Pennsylvania that was owned by a non-profit organization called Good News Productions. It specialized in religious films, and could offer production values far beyond their films’ budgets. Harris saw an opportunity in Valley Forge and made them an offer to collaborate on a series of low-budget horror films.
The first of the three films, The Blob (1958), was a sleeper hit. 4-D Man (1959) was less successful but still packed a punch thanks in large part to a smart performance by Robert Lansing. Dinosaurus! was the third and last film, and followed the template of the previous two: it was shot in color, had no stars, but relied on a high-concept idea to drive the narrative.
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While all three films were pitched to younger audiences, Dinosaurus! was the only one that was strictly for the small fry. Its premise is rooted not so much in scientific ignorance as it is in scientific indifference; the screenwriters were probably aware (or should have been aware) that a) dinosaurs and Neanderthals didn’t live in the same era, b) living creatures can’t be perfectly preserved in ice for millions of years, and c) frozen animals can’t be revived by lightning. But to be fair, they clearly weren’t interested in telling a scientifically accurate story; instead, they wanted to tell an adventure story that was just plausible enough for kids to buy for the running time of the movie.
Judged by that standard, they succeeded. In spite of a good deal of creaky dialogue and poorly-drawn characters, Dinosaurus! works, thanks to the sure-footed direction of Irvin Yeaworth.
Tim Baar, Wah Chung, Gene Warren and model maker Marcel Delgado did effects work for the dinosaurs in this picture, and while it’s clearly inferior to Ray Harryhausen’s, it gets the job done. They had very little time and less money, and the results were better than would have been provided with a man in a rubber suit or, worse yet, a Slurposaur
— and some scenes, such as the climactic battle between the tyrannosaurus and the steam shovel, are pretty good. The crew also used the brontosaurus and some of the miniature tropical set to shoot the dinosaur footage used in the Twilight Zone episode The Odyssey of Flight 33.
The acting in this film is generally poor, and while Ward Ramsey and Kristina Hanson make a handsome couple, they clearly don’t have much in the way of charisma. Neither  Ramsey nor Hanson had much of a career either. Alan Roberts shouts most of his lines as Julio, and his performance becomes grating after a while. Fred Engleberg’s Hacker is so one-dimensional we don’t really have an opportunity to see whether or not he can act.
Interestingly, Gregg Martell turns in a very good performance as the Neanderthal. In most of his scenes he functions as comic relief, particularly in a fish-out-of-water sequence where he finds himself in a 20th-century house — destroying a radio with an axe when he hears a human voice coming out of it, putting on a frilly apron, running in terror when he accidentally flushes a toilet, and so on. It’s broadly comic stuff, but Martell makes it work because he convinces you he is experiencing all these things for the first time. Martell took up acting after service in World War II, and had a fairly lengthy but undistinguished career playing cowboys and henchmen. He did mostly one-shot appearances on TV shows through the 1960s before dropping out of the business.
Much of Dinosaurus! was filmed on location in the Virgin Islands and makes good use of the tropical exteriors.
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The Island Monster

Synopsis: Italian police detective Mario Andreani (Renato Vicario) is assigned to an interdiction effort on the island of Ischia, a fashionable tourist spot identified by the police as a hub of drug trafficking. Andreani’s wife Giulia (Jole Fierro) is the jealous type, and worries that the island’s surplus of wealthy and attractive women will lead her husband astray.

Despite her misgivings, Mario seems quite devoted to his wife and his young daughter Fiorella. Even so, the island’s police chief tells Mario that the most promising informant on the island is the beautiful lounge singer Gloria (Franca Marzi), and that since Andreani is such a handsome galoot, he should have an easy time seducing her and gaining her confidence.

Andreani’s task force carries out a number of successful raids against the local drug cartel. The cartel’s head,  Don Gaetano (Boris Karloff) decides that he’s been inconvenienced long enough.  Using his cover as a wealthy philanthropist who runs a free hospital for sick children, he befriends Andreani and his wife, learning their habits as well as their weaknesses.  One night, while Andreani is out on a raid, Giulia receives an anonymous phone call.  Her husband, the caller says, is at a local night club with another woman.  Alarmed,  Giulia goes to the nightclub, leaving her daughter asleep in bed.

The moment she leaves the house, Don Gaetano enters and kidnaps the child.  Giulia, finding no sign of her husband at the nightclub, returns home and is stunned to discover that Fiorella is missing.

Soon a representative from the cartel calls, demanding that Andreani resign from the task force.  If he doesn’t comply, his daughter will be killed.  As Andreani struggles to do the right thing, Gaetano stays close to the family, offering them his friendship and his counsel….

Comments: While The Island Monster‘s title strongly suggests a horror film,  it actually has no horror elements whatsoever; it’s a crime melodrama that comes by way of Italy.  This opus has very meager production values and some truly dreadful English dubbing (the voice of the little girl Fiorella is done by an adult — while this isn’t unusual in a dubbed movie, the voice used is astonishingly bad and would have fooled no one). The dubbing here is so poor it makes the frequently-mocked work done in Japanese monster movies look elegant by comparison.

But even worse than the dubbing are the dreadful gaps in logic.  Italian genre films are often indifferent to absurdities and plot holes, and this one is no exception.

For example, we’re told that Don Gaetano is a fiendishly clever drug kingpin (he maintains a front as a beloved local philanthropist) yet he hatches a hare-brained  scheme to kidnap Andreani’s daughter, with the idea that this will somehow force Andreani to step down as the head of the drug task force.  Now, I’m not a criminal mastermind, but even I can see the problem with this plan: kidnapping a cop’s daughter will make the police more interested in finding you, not less interested.

After all, the kidnapper’s power is quite limited because he ultimately has to do one of two things: kill the victim or let her go.  Whichever choice he makes, the child will be out of his control within a matter of days, and once that happens the cops will come down on him like a ton of bricks.  And even if Andreani steps down from the task force permanently (which is by no means certain), the cops could just appoint someone else.

It’s possible, of course, that Andreani is just such a superstar crime-buster that he can’t be replaced.  This seems unlikely, but if it were true, there would better options to defeat him –  bribery, for instance,  or blackmail. These tactics would leave the police department’s golden boy in place, and the police would therefore believe that everything was being done that could be done — even if Don Gaetano’s goons slipped through his fingers on a fairly regular basis. But really, any other tactic – including killing Andreani in order to get him out of the way – would be better than the one that Don Gaetano chooses.

Even daffier is Don Gaetano’s decision to kidnap Fiorella himself.  Doesn’t this guy have henchmen? Is he so much of a micro manager that he can’t leave the kidnappings to the specialists? Does he drive the getaway cars too?

I don’t understand why criminals in the movies are such nitwits.  But then they aren’t so clever in real life either, are they? There should probably be a school or something where criminals can get the training they need to do a professional job and not mess everything up.  I’d start one myself, but I have a pretty full plate already.  Maybe I’ll start work on that  idea when I’m done with the Horror Incorporated Project.

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2 comments

  1. DINOSAURUS I have never seen, while I can barely recall anything about THE ISLAND MONSTER except the awful dubbing. I’m guessing that this was one of its earliest television broadcasts, it didn’t play in Pittsburgh till the 80s.

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