The ear­ly 1950’s were a boom time for sci­ence fic­tion on the big screen, pro­duc­ing a lot of gen­re-defin­ing favorites like War Of The Worlds, It Came From Outer Space and Invaders From Mars.  It was also an era when movies were shown in dou­ble or triple bills so that left plen­ty of room for inde­pen­dent pro­duc­ers to get in on the act with their own cheap­ies.  These quick­ies rarely hit the aes­thet­ic heights of the films men­tioned at the begin­ning of this para­graph, instead try­ing to fig­ure out how to spend the least mon­ey to hit the basic marks of a gen­re pic­ture.

NeanMan-posThe Neanderthal Man is a per­fect exam­ple of such a quick­ie, start­ing with a premise hasti­ly cob­bled togeth­er from famil­iar sources.  In this case, the sto­ry is a blend of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde and The Wolf Man.  Dr. Groves (Robert Shayne) is the cat­a­lyst of the sto­ry and an arche­typ­al ‘50s mad sci­en­tist, an anti­so­cial lon­er who is in the thrall of his own crazy sci­en­tific the­o­ries.  In this case, Groves believes that man’s nean­derthal stage offers knowl­edge and brain­pow­er that today’s man isn’t capa­ble to access.

Groves has been a busy man, secret­ly exper­i­ment­ing with a for­mu­la designed to push his ideas by allow­ing a liv­ing thing to revert back to a prim­i­tive phase.  Unfortunately, a cat he test­ed his serum on became a big sabre­tooth tiger that has run ram­pant in the local woods.  The sher­iff brings in zoo­log­i­cal expert Dr. Harkness (Richard Crane) to help him track down this beast.  Meanwhile, Groves is frus­trat­ed by the rejec­tion of his ideas by his peers and decides to test the serum on him­self.  Cue some man-in-a-cheap-mon­ster-suit antics and then rin­se and repeat until the film fits an 80-min­ute times­lot.

Before infomer­cials destroyed the con­cept of late-night movies on local t.v., films like The Neanderthal Man were exact­ly the kind of cheap­ie that tele­vi­sion sta­tions would use to fill their 2:00 am slot in their pro­gram­ming.  The script, penned by pro­duc­ers Audrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen, relies on exces­sive­ly chat­ty dia­logue over action and is packed to the gills with every mad sci­en­tist cliché imag­in­able.  There’s the occa­sion­al fun scene, the best being a moment where Groves berates his dis­be­liev­ing sci­en­tific col­leagues, but the chat­ter is most­ly there to fill the time when the bud­get isn’t capa­ble of offer­ing more thrills.

The direc­tion by German émi­gré  E.A. Dupont is util­i­tar­i­an in nature and unin­spired, get­ting the required sce­nes on film with a most­ly sta­t­ic cam­era.  Surprisingly, the look of the film is pret­ty nice, with noirish black-and-white imagery cre­at­ed by a young Stanley Cortez a decade before he worked with Sam Fuller on Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss. The per­for­mances have a stodgy, old-fash­ioned qual­i­ty that might charm fans of b-movies from this era, with Shayne’s ham­mi­ness tak­ing top hon­ors.  There’s also an all too brief appear­ance from gen­re star­let Beverly Garland.

Beast-Nean-bluIt’s a good thing the cast is com­pe­tent because the effects aren’t. The “sabre­tooth tiger” is cre­at­ed via a mix­ture of stock footage of a real tiger plus close-ups of a laugh­ably uncon­vinc­ing stuffed ani­mal head.  The title crea­ture is even fun­nier: it’s basi­cal­ly a stunt man wear­ing an ape head with a per­med wig — and a polite shirt and pants com­bo to avoid extra expens­es on a body suit.  The laughs pro­vid­ed by the­se effects are prob­a­bly the liveli­est ele­ment in an oth­er­wise turgid film.

In short, The Neanderthal Man is mid­dle-of-the-road stuff as far as ‘50s sci-fi cheap­ies go: it’s not good enough to be tru­ly enter­tain­ing but it’s not bad enough to provide the kind of quirky, out­sider-art joy that the best bad movies provide.  Thus, it is best left to those obsessed with the sci-fi of this era as they might find a cer­tain camp enjoy­ment in its straight-faced approach to the cheap­est of cheap thrills.  Everyone else should approach with cau­tion.

Blu-Ray Notes: In a sur­prise move, this film was revived as half of a dou­ble-bill disc with The Beast Of Hollow Mountain by Scream Factory, pre­sent­ed in a blu-ray/DVD com­bo pack. The blu-ray was viewed for this review. It presents the film in its orig­i­nal 1.33:1 full frame ratio and the results look pret­ty decent for a film of this bud­get. The inte­ri­ors in par­tic­u­lar have nice lev­els of detail and con­trast.  The mono sound­track is pre­sent­ed in loss­less form and deliv­er a solid bal­ance of ele­ments.  There are no extras but there is a sec­ond film to enjoy and the view­er gets the choice of blu-ray or DVD for­mats.