(0/10) Forget Plan 9 from Outer Space, that charmingly childish fantasy from Ed Wood. Bert I. Gordon’s super-cheap directorial (solo) debut King Dinosaur is a much better contender for the title of worst film ever made. This story of four scientists battling a T.Rex on an unknown planet is inept in every single department and doesn’t even have a redeeming amateurish charm to it. The most interesting aspect of the movie is probably the life story of one of its stars, a jazz singer who kickstarted fashion guru Mr. Blackwell’s career and almost caused a diplomatic incident in Argentina.
King Dinosaur (1955, USA). Directed by Bert I. Gordon. Written by Tom Gries, Bert I. Gordon, Al Zimbalist. Starring: William Bryant, Wanda Curtis, Douglas Henderson, Patti Gallagher, Marvin Miller. Produced by Bert I. Gordon for Zimgor Productions. Executive producer: Al Zimbalist.
IMDb rating: 1.9/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.
I had just finished my one-star review of The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), and thought it probably couldn’t get much worse, when King Dinosaur came along and proved me wrong. It seems that 1955 was the turning-point for sci-fi cinema in the sense that filmmakers realised that by running a shrewd marketing campaign promising monsters and babes, they could really film almost anything that had a fleeting resemblance to the poster, create a script that had a beginning and an end, and preferably some padding in the middle, and get the film released. And since the movies probably didn’t cost more than 30 000 dollars, a profit was almost inevitable.
Ed Wood profited from this environment – the fifties was the one decade that actually allowed him to make his inapt films – as did a young Roger Corman, who was quickly snatched up by the newly formed American International Pictures. Another person who was eventually picked up by AIP was Bert I. Gordon, or the original “Mr. BIG”, who did numerous cheap visual effects movies for the studio, including giant bugs and amazing colossal men and women, done with sometimes horribly shoddy superimposition techniques standing in for travelling mattes, and scripts written on the backs of matchboxes.
With a background in commercials, Gordon made his feature film debut as writer, producer, cameraman and co-director (with Tom Gries) with the film Serpent Island in 1954, in colour, no less. Filmed in Haiti, the film had actress Mary Munday enlist a ragtag crew of sailors to help her find her ancestor’s hidden treasure on an island guarded by a voodoo cult and a boa constrictor. When she wasn’t struggling to free herself from the embrace of the boa, she struggled to free herself from the embrace of a washed-up, alcoholic Sonny Tufts, looking more like 63 than his actual age of 43.
Gordon’s second film, King Dinosaur, was also a collaboration with Tom Gries. This time Gries wrote the screenplay from a story draft by Gordon and co-producer Al Zimbalist, whose output at that time consisted of films such as Robot Monster (1953, review) and Cat-Women of the Moon (1953, review). It seems the point of the film was to put together as much attention-grabbing antics as possible and pad out the rest of the time with idle talk and ”pseudo crises”. Which means the film contains space travel, snakes, an alligator attack, snogging, dinosaurs and an atom bomb. All this in one hour, and still the film mostly consists of padding, padding and more padding.
The movie opens with a ten minute(!) opening montage, where Marvin Miller (later the voice of Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet, 1956) explains – over stock footage – the plot of what would take a lesser film about 45 minutes to get through. It seems a new planet suddenly appears in orbit around the sun, just a short distance from the Earth, and astronomers ”using the world’s largest telescope”, decide that it has ”plant life of some form”. The space race is on, as all countries compete in trying to create a new form of rocket, one that can carry a team of scientists to the new planet and back. Over an endless stream of stock footage of fighter jets, army personnel, V2 rocket launches, airplane manufacturing, some ”scientific experimentation” and so forth, Miller not only narrates the first rocket test, but also ”rock test number two”.
In between the stock footage we also meet the crew of the rocket, complete with the dates they joined the operation, and their professional specs. Dr. Richard Gordon (Douglas Henderson) is a geozoologist, ”known for discovering the prehistoric tar pits near Salt Lake City”. Dr. Patricia Bennett (Wanda Curtis), a chemist, has studied ”the use of radio-chemistry in medicine”. Dr. Ralph Martin (William Bryant) is a real doctor, and his war-time experience has made him an expert in ”most diseases and fatalities that overtake men”. Finally, there’s Nora Pierce (Patti Gallagher), a geologist, who has ”conducted mineralogical research in the Himalayan mountains”.
Finally, after about 9 minutes of stock, the space rocket ultimately takes off – not that we get to see anything of the actual voyage, except a V2 badly superimposed over a starry sky, because filming inside the rocket would have actually required a budget. We do get to see the thing get all translucent as it lands in the middle of the forest on the foreign planet, which actually doesn’t look too dissimilar from the pine forest of Griffith Park outside Los Angeles. Next we see a poorly executed forced perspective shot, where a small metallic ”fin” from the rocket as been placed close to the camera, making it look as if the the actors, several meters away, are, climbing down from a huge rocket. Dr. Martin utters the first historic words of a man setting foot on a new planet: ”We’re first!” And very true, in that small glade where they landed, there’s no sight of a Soviet space ship. We should also note that this is the first line of actual dialogue spoken in the film. As far as first words on a new celestial body goes, I suppose ”We’re first” is better that ”It works” from Cat-Women of the Moon.
Martin and Bennett, or I should perhaps call them Ralph and Pat, because that’s what the movie does, start off by analysing the atmosphere of planet Nova, as it is dubbed. Ralph does this by scanning the grass with a hair-dryer, and Pat by putting it under a microscope. We should notice that the crew use those same space suits that were first used in George Pal’s Destination Moon (1950, review), and which had been re-used for at least five movies between that and this. As we have pointed out earlier, one possible explanation to the fact that suits of the same model kept popping up in different films by different studios here and there is that teams of marketers wore the same suits to advertise Destination Moon before it was released, so there was a surplus to go around. Another theory is that there was a company in Hollywood selling these more or less off the rack.
Ralph points at stock footage of a volcano and deduces that ”This planet is quite young”. Yes, because Earth hasn’t had a volcanic eruption in the last couple of billion years or so. Of course they soon come to the conclusion that the atmosphere is ”Earth-like” as it tends to be in these films, so they can strip down to their khakis and invite Richard and Nora out, because Gordon could only afford two space suits. Soon they spot both some deer and bear cubs (some have mistaken one of these as the screen-credited ”Joe the honey bear”, but the honey bear shows up later), and it doesn’t surprise them at all that this planet has somehow travelled through the emptiness of space for god knows how long before somehow settling into orbit around our sun – and not only has the planet developed the exact same species of animal we have on Earth, but somehow the plant- and wildlife haven’t been the least affected by all those long years in space without the light and warmth of the sun.
Anyhow, they just dump all their expensive equipment in a heap on the ground to go and check out a nearby lake, where Pat spots an island, which she says looks very strange, although it doesn’t because it’s just an island in Griffith Park. Ralph comments that the vegetation certainly looks very different from the one they’re standing in, although we can clearly see the same sort of pine trees on the opposite shore. We are now about 15 minutes into the plot, and the actual King Dinosaur of the title doesn’t appear before around the 40-minute mark, because there’s only so much footage of a an iguana with a horn glued to its snout you can put in a picture before the audience realises that it isn’t a Tyrannosaurus Rex. This means the film now has to kill time for about 35 minutes. This is done by having the four people wander around in the forest looking at more bear cubs, some birds, a few snakes that crawl up and scare Nora, an owl and a sloth. Gordon sure seems to like his snakes, and he had one of the best animal wranglers in the business, Ralph Helfer.
I’m not going to go into this padding in detail, but if you want an almost minute-by-minute breakdown, please check out the brilliant post by Dennis Grisbeck at The Monster Shack. But let’s just say that there’s a lot of snogging between the two pairs of the film. Yes, somehow in the few months of the operation, all the members of the expedition have managed to hook up with each other. And there’s a lot of sexism, as the men of the team at one point ORDER the women to get to bed, and generally don’t let them do much of anything. Our good geozoologist Richard stomps through most of the film looking like he hates every minute of exploring a new planet, shouting at the women and dealing out orders like a drill sergeant. At one point he even decides that it’s three o’clock on the planet, because he says so. Rotation time be damned, when a real man says it’s three o’clock, then by god, so it is.
For a group of scientists, the four seem oddly uninterested in doing anything related to science, like collecting samples, taking pictures or even jotting down the occasional note. At one point Nora does dig a little hole in the ground. By looking at a rock she is able to tell that the planet is indeed quite young. When Ralph asks what ”era” the planet is in she replies: ”Prehistoric”, which for some reason awes everyone. Now, dear Nora, I am no geologist, but I do know that ”Prehistory” is not a geological age or era. It simply refers to the time before humans started to record their activities in writing, which in some parts of the world is quite recent. At another point they somehow miscalculate the distance between where they, for no apparent reason, have wandered, and the space ship, and are forced to build a shelter, because it’s getting too dark to walk further. Now first of all: these scientists go out on a hike with full packs, scientific instruments and guns, but forget the tent? And two: it isn’t dark, the scene is filmed in clear daylight. In fact, throughout the whole film the actors need to inform the audience of whether it is night or day, because all scenes are filmed in sunlight.
The turning point of the film comes when Ralph and Nora go for a moonlight stroll in the woods (in sunlight), although Ralph has guard duty while Richard and Pat are sleeping. Ralph trips on a rock and falls flat on an alligator, a species which apparently inhabits grassy hills in pine forests on this planet, and wrestles it to death, but not without getting near-fatal injuries. Back at the shelter Nora only cries and cries while Richard patches up Ralph, because she is a woman, so she is not capable of doing anything once she gets upset, as fifties films so often tell us.
This leads to the fact that Richard and Pat have to go to the space ship, for some reason that remains unclear to me. Nora stays with Ralph, and they sleep through the rest of the night under the watchful eye of the sun, until Ralph wakes up by a bleating sheep. At least it sound like a sheep, but it is in fact a giant insect, poorly superimposed into the shot. Some viewers mistake it for an ant, but it is in fact a Jerusalem Cricket, which has the distinction of neither being native to the Middle-East, nor a cricket. It is sometimes called a potato bug. Ralph empties his gun at the beast, and as Dennis Grisbeck at Monster Shack points out, it does so much damage that the cricket ”becomes semi-transparent, flips over, and dies”. Speaking of animal sounds, Ralph was earlier threatened by a boa constrictor that growled. When geozoologist Richard returns, he doesn’t as much as acknowledge the seven-foot bug lying dead beside the shelter. God forbid that he should show any scientific interest in it. No, Richard and Pat are much more interested in the new pet they have befriended on their walk, whom they have christened Joe. Most reviewers have mistaken it for a lemur, which it resembles, but it is in fact a kinkajou – or honey bear. Joe becomes a constant companion. Pat suggests that they don’t need to stand guard the next night, because Joe will guard the camp for them. In all actuality, judging by past transgressions, Joe would probably do a better job than Ralph. I’m pretty sure Joe won’t take a moonlight promenade and trip onto an alligator.
Nearly fatally injured Ralph wakes up the next morning without a scar, and despite saying he is a bit weak, there’s no evidence of this in the film. Pat now finally wants to check out the strange island, and sets out with Richard and Joe. Usually I would put in a spoiler warning here, but there really isn’t much to spoil. However, if you really don’t want to know how the film ends, skip the rest of the plot description. So, when the pair get to the island (which is in fact Bronson Caverns outside Los Angeles), they meet the King Dinosaur of the title, which turns out to be an iguana with a horn glued to its snout. For it to have any resemblance at all to the T.Rex it’s supposed to portray, somebody holds it behind a rock in the first scene, so that it looks like it’s standing on its hind legs. The iguana chases Pat and Richard into a cave, and then commences to fight a baby alligator, while Gordon sometimes uses a split-screen effect to show the iguana and the actors in the same shot. After about 10 minutes of pointless lizard-on-lizard action, Richard fires a flare into the sky, and Nora and Ralph realise they are in trouble.
They set off to the rescue, and Ralph brings the atom bomb. Yes. The atom bomb. You see, part of the opening montage stated that the astronauts are taking with them a new hand-held nuclear reactor, as backup energy. But if that energy would ”go unharnessed” it would create a nuclear fission, and explode. The thing even has a handy timer for setting off the bomb. Well, call me Chekhov’s gun.
Nora and Ralph reach the site of the King Dinosaur, and – well, do nothing. But fortunately a monitor lizard distracts the iguana, so that Richard and Pat can escape from the cave. Why they couldn’t escape when the iguana and the baby gator battled it out in the exact same spot remains unclear. Taking cover behind some rocks, Richard continues his manhandling of the women, shoving Pat so hard (out of harm’s way, in character), that the actress hits her head on a rock and grabs her head in in pain. Finally Richard and Pat reach Ralph and Nora, and Ralph utters the legendary line: ”I brought the atom bomb, I think it’s time to use it”. Yes, it would be a damn waste if you dragged an atom bomb to another planet and then failed to use it. He sets the timer for 30 minutes, and then the four heroes + Joe literally run away from an atom bomb blast. This severe underestimation of the effect of an atom bomb aside, the logic is fantastic. If the lizard follows you, there’s no point in setting off a bomb, because the beast will be on your tail, not were you placed the bomb. And if it doesn’t follow you, what’s the point of killing it, if you’re going to leave the planet anyway? Well, I suppose the film had to have an atom bomb. The group take cover behind a sand bank (yeah, that’s gonna help) and watch the mushroom cloud form. Ralph says: ”Well. We did it.” Richard answers ”We sure did it. We brought civilisation to Planet Nova.” The sad thing is that it is impossible to discern whether this line is spoken in earnest or ironically.
According to my fifties sci-fi bible, Bill Warren’s book Keep Watching the Skies, the then up-and-coming producer Al Zimbalist had bought a script called King Dinosaur in 1953 from a certain Guy Reed Ritchie, although very little seems to be known about Ritchie, and he receives no screen credit. Also in 1955, the LA Times reports that Zimbalist was producing Baby Face Nelson, from a script by Ritchie and Zimbalist’s son Donald. Released in 1955, neither Donald Zimbalist nor Ritchie have writing credits for the movie. Later on, in 1959, The Indianapolis Star mentions that Zimbalist was putting together a film called The Cherry Blond, starring Marilyn Monroe, based on a stage play by Guy Reed Ritchie. However, this film was never made. In fact, the only reference to Ritchie online is in newspaper articles covering Al Zimbalist films still in development. This does beg the question if Ritchie was simply someone that Zimbalist made up to give credence to his film ideas. It sure sounds better when you say a film is ”based on a stage play”, and since there was no google in the fifties, no-one could fact-check you on whether there even existed a playwright called Guy Reed Ritchie. If someone has knowledge to the contrary, please let me know in the comments below.
Zimbalist himself was a Ukrainian immigrant who moved to the States as a young boy and started out with different jobs in the movie industry, first as an editor for Warner’s in-house magazine in 1929, as well as a producer and director of the studio’s club events. In 1931 he moved to the advertising and publicity branch of RKO-Pathé. He eventually became a production assistant for independent producer Edward L. Alperson, and in 1953 finally broke out as an independent producer and writer in his own right. His entire production catalogue, around a dozen films, are super-cheap exploitation films.
Bert I. Gordon started to make home movies at the age of nine, and, as stated, then moved into commercials before making his first film in 1954. Gordon became famous for his cheap visual effects, which he created himself along with his wife Flora, thus cutting costs on his productions. Unfortunately Gordon didn’t quite have the talent, the time, the money, nor the equipment to make good travelling mattes, such as for example Universal used on their giant bug films. Instead he often used high-contrast superimpositions, which sort of functioned as a poor man’s travelling mattes, but left fuzzy edges and often turned whatever critter he was adding to the picture more or less transparent, sometimes with big holes in them where they reflected highlights. Another one of his favourite techniques was the age-old method of back projection, which, when done well, can work very effectively, stationary mattes and split-screen. Sometimes his effects came out quite nice, but more often than not they looked very cheap and amateurish.
Gordon often used his effects to portray gigantic critters or people, earning him the moniker “Mr. BIG” (which of course was also an allusion to his initials), and is best known for films like The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), Earth vs. the Spider (1958), and his later, most successful film Empire of the Ants (1977), which was nominated as best picture at the first annual international fantasy film festival Fantasporto in Portugal in 1982. It lost to the Croatian movie The Redeemer. He became a prolific director for AIP, churning out super-cheap sci-fi pictures in the late fifties, but left the company in 1960, working as an independent director/producer. Some of his later pictures did hold a slightly higher standard, but not all of them. For all its hype, Empire of the Ants is still a very bad movie. But Gordon also branched out to other genres, like sword and sorcery, children’s movies, pirate films, witchcraft and horror films, a few murder thrillers and sexploitation movies. He kept on directing until the late eighties, although his films became less frequent, and then retired from the business after the movie Satan’s Princess (1989). He released an autobiography, and in an interview in 2015 said to have written a few screenplays. In 2011 he got a lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, which apparently prompted him to prove that he wasn’t quite dead yet. So in 2014, at 92 years old, he returned to the director’s chair after 26 years with the independently produced B horror film Secrets of a Psychopath, which had a limited theatrical release and was hardly noticed outside of genre circles. It received lukewarm reviews when it was released on DVD in 2015.
Tom Gries, the screenwriter of King Dinosaur, later became a successful TV director, although some of his films were released in cinemas, like the Charlton Heston western Will Penny (1967). He is perhaps best known today for his 1972 Charles Manson TV movie Helter Skelter and for the Muhammad Ali biopic The Greatest (1977). He won two Emmys for TV movies, and was nominated for three more. Gries had previously produced Donovan’s Brain (1953, review), went on to direct some episodes of Science Fiction Theatre and the sixties Batman TV series, as well as a space station TV movie called Earth II (1971).
The best actor in the movie is the Jerusalem cricket, but you really can’t blame the actors for their performances, because they obviously throw themselves into the action with as much conviction as they can muster. As you can see above, the dialogue they’re given isn’t necessarily intelligent, or even coherent. Tom Gries does try sometimes. He has Pat mention on two separate occasions that forty percent of the bacteria found on the planet aren’t found on Earth, and even specifies that this means that if someone gets sick on Nova, we might not know how to treat them. But then nothing is ever done with this information, as nobody in the film gets sick. This is the one piece of science the film actually gets right, and might have made for an interesting plot. Far more so than giant bugs and lizards. But then again, Mr. BIG was never subtle in his tastes.
Anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog will know that I love a good B movie, and can thoroughly enjoy an entertaining bad movie. However, this film isn’t entertaining on any level. The premise is so stupid that the mind boggles, and I don’t even know where to start. How about from the very beginning – a planet with a fully formed biosphere flies through the universe only to settle snugly in an orbit around our sun? And it just goes downhill from there. Almost every line involving any sort of scientific content in this movie is wrong – and the stuff we’re talking about here is Kindergarten level science. Not only do none of the scientists know anything about their own subject, they are also wildly uninterested in doing anything scientific. At one point Pat actually says that she is fed up with ”all this darn science stuff”, and suggests they should just go home and leave the rest of the work to ”the next people” who land on the planet. Astoundingly the film actually had a researcher, named Bernice Higgins. One can only hope that she wasn’t paid very much for her contribution.
Any film that starts with a ten minute opening montage with stock footage is in trouble, and it doesn’t get any better when the next 45 minutes is like watching a camping trip with the four most obnoxious people you can imagine. The two couples are necking each other at every chance, as if they were teenagers on spring break, the two guys are chauvinist pricks, and the women whine about having to do ”science stuff”, and although both of them carry guns, they never use them. Instead they stand around uselessly and scream every time something happens. As a viewer one never develops an ounce of sympathy for any of the characters, instead your sympathy is for the poor lizards that get roughly handled throughout the last third of the movie. While the fighting and the blood is fake, they sure don’t look comfortable.
The actor that handles his duties best is probably William Bryant, who had small roles in a number of science fiction films: It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955, review), The Satan Bug (1965), The Ressurection of Zachary Wheeler (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) and Metal (2001). After 1955 he primarily worked in TV, actually creating a rather successful career for himself as a guest and supporting actor on numerous TV shows. He kept working steadily until the nineties, and appeared in many sci-fi TV shows, including The Wild Wild West (1969), The Bionic Woman (1976), Battlestar Galactica (1978) and Batman: The Animated Series (1995).
Douglas Henderson certainly tries his best to immerse himself in the role of the gruff Dr. Gordon, but the way he manhandles the women in the film is appalling, pushing and throwing Patti Gallagher around, including that one time when she clearly clonks her head on a rock. He probably tries to portray Richard as a no-nonsense John Wayne type of man’s man, but the result is that he seems very little like a zoologist inspecting a new planet, and much more like a constantly sour army officer ordering every else around, shouting and growling at both the women and Ralph. Henderson also quickly made the move into TV, making a decent living with it, but never rising to any sort of fame. He appeared in Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), and had a small recurring role on the The Wild Wild West.
Of course the women don’t get to do anything with their roles, but on the other hand there’s very little to suggest they could have. Wanda Curtis was a nightclub jazz singer, whose first and only film role this was. She was managed by former actor Richard Selzer, who had trouble getting her booked in the early fifties. The pair had no money, but Selzer knew how to sow and Curtis had a sewing-machine. He decided to re-imagine her stage wardrobe, and whipped together a couple of flamboyant, revealing gowns that immediately made her a success in the Hollywood nightclubs. This lead Selzer to a famous career as a fashion designer and critic under the artist name Richard Blackwell, or simply Mr. Blackwell, best known for his annual ”Ten Worst Dressed Women” list, which he edited from 1960 up until his death in 2008. Curtis had her 15 minutes of fame in the early fifties, touring the world with different orchestras and entertaining troops abroad. According to newspaper articles, she caused a minor diplomatic incident when she was sent to South America in May 1954 as a goodwill ambassador. When performing in a club in Argentina she caught wind that her three Argentinian co-stars hadn’t been paid for weeks. She then marched up to the club manager and told him that neither she nor the other performers would sing a single note before they had been paid. The argument heated up, and ended with Curtis connecting a right swing to the manager’s chin, after he had pushed her. The result of the brawl was that all 218 artists connected with the club went on strike, until they reached a deal with the owner, and the three co-artists were paid. To avoid further ”goodwill” on her part, the US government swiftly made sure Ms. Curtis returned home from her diplomatic tour.
Curtis again made the news in September 1954, during principal photography of King Dinosaur. It seems legendary Hollywood animal wrangler Ralph Helfer had left a box with two boa constrictors used in the film unattended in her living-room, as she was in the shower, and he then went out to get a bite to eat. As Curtis exited the shower, she discovered the snakes loose in her living-room and retreated to the bathroom where she shouted for help, which came in the form of Douglas Henderson, who had a room next-door, but also four police officers notified by worried neighbours. The police officers were able to track down Helfer, who put the snakes back in the box. In 1957 Curtis and her singing group The Cover Girls were apparently thrown out of Egypt on suspicion of being American spies. According to Richard Blackwell’s biography, Curtis fled the USA in the late fifties to establish herself as a singer there. Her son, Michael DeWall, writes on his website that his mother toured the world during the fifties and early sixties, eventually settling down in Argentina in 1961, where she enjoyed ”immense” popularity as a jazz singer. According to a friend of DeWall’s Curtis later moved back to the States and passed away sometime in the early years of the new millennium.
She is not to be confused with the much later Hungarian porn star Wanda Curtis.
Patti Gallagher had a bit more experience than Curtis but her credits still only amount to 9 films or TV shows, mostly bit-parts. I have tried to dig up more information on Gallagher, but failed. There’s a Patti Gallagher who was a famous soprano and actress in the sixties and seventies, and was voted Ms. Senior America in 2000, but the geography and timelines don’t match up.
The narrator Marvin Miller is, of course, a legend in sci-fi as the voice actor who provided vocal cords for Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet. But he was also a part the cast of the live-aired kiddie series Space Patrol (1950-1955), and played many minor roles on the show. He appeared in Red Planet Mars (1952, review) as one of the Soviet baddies, dubbed Godzilla Raids Again (1955 review), and appeared in Destination Earth (1956), provided voice for Gerald McBoing! Boing! on Planet Moo (1956), and again for Robby in The Invisible Boy (1957), narrated The Deadly Mantis (1957), dubbed The Last War (1961), narrated The Phantom Planet (1961), dubbed Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), was the main voice actor on the TV series Fantastic Voyage (1968-1969), dubbed Submersion of Japan (1973), voiced the English version of Fantastic Planet (1973), narrated the TV series Electra Woman and the Dyna Girl (1976), narrated Bert I. Gordon’s Empire of the Ants and guested a number of other sci-fi TV shows.
Bert I. Gordon would go on to create many better films than this, and according to rumours, he wasn’t exactly proud of King Dinosaur himself. The schlocky director has his defenders, such as Gary Westfahl, who on his Biographical Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Film states that although horribly flawed from an adult point of view, his films still had a huge impact on children when they were released. According to Westfahl, children could relate to the idea of being small in a world of giants, and, he posits, children didn’t understand enough to realise how dumb the dialogue and the plots of Gordon’s films were, neither did it matter to them that the effects were bad. Giant insects were inherently scary.
Westfahl also writes: ”Further, while his early films were usually threadbare – classic mom-and-pop operations, with Gordon and wife Flora Gordon chipping in for most of the offscreen labors – they were not slapdash; within the confines of his circumstances, Gordon usually tried to do good work, and if blessed with capable performers and a decent story, he might succeed. Only when Gordon attempted to cater to teenagers – an age group he manifestly did not understand – was an abysmal failure guaranteed.”
While there is certainly some truth to what Westfahl writes, the fact is that many of Gordon’s films were abysmally bad. Furthermore, Westfahl makes the classic mistake of underestimating juvenile viewers – just because kids might not realise just how bad they are, there’s no excuse for making bad pictures for children. And to be quite honest, Gordon didn’t market his films as kiddie movies, even though his audience often consisted of such. And while effort is laudable, it doesn’t necessarily make a good movie.
The truth is that King Dinosaur is a film where one failure follows another, and it is genuinely bad in all departments. From conception to script to casting, acting, direction, design, editing and post-production. At one hour, it is astounding how much padding the film needs. It’s dumb, uninteresting, slow and just simply a very, very crappy film. The ineptness of it all sure makes it a great film to riff on a Saturday afternoon, and anyone who loves so-bad-they’re-good movies will certainly get a thrill out of it. But that doesn’t alter the fact that this is perhaps the worst movie I’ve reviewed on this blog as of yet, and only the third I’ve given zero stars.
King Dinosaur (1955, USA). Directed by Bert I. Gordon. Written by Tom Gries, Bert I. Gordon, Al Zimbalist. Starring: William Bryant, Wanda Curtis, Douglas Henderson, Patti Gallagher, Marvin Miller. Music: Louis Palagne, Gene Garf. Cinematography: Gordon Avil. Editing: Arthur Cornell. Sound superisor: Rod Sutton. Wardrobe: Flora M. Gordon. Visual effects: Bert I. Gordon, Flora Gordon. Animal Supervisor: Ralph Helfer. Produced by Bert I. Gordon for Zimgor Productions. Executive producer: Al Zimbalist.