In the subgenre of “Weird West” we have been treated to some truly fun stuff ranging from Billy the Kid Versus Dracula to Cowboys and Aliens but in the late 50s a film dealing with cowboys versus dinosaurs was released and credited as being “From an idea by Willis O’Brien” the man who created the legendary effects behind the original 1933 King Kong, and though O’Brien was to have done the special effects this did not happen and the end result was less than stellar.
It should be noted that as genre-blending goes The Beast of Hollow Mountain is a rather lopsided affair as about sixty minutes of its eighty-minute running time deals with cowboy drama and rather stingy on actual dinosaur action, and as a young boy having to wait an hour for the monster to show up was pretty gruelling, to say the least. Now, this is not to say that the “cowboy drama” found here is all that bad because as a western the plot of this film is fairly well-crafted, if a bit clichéd at times, as we have our stalwart American cowboy protagonist Jimmy Ryan (Guy Madison) who, along with his partner Felipe Sanchez (Carlos Rivas), owns a small ranch in Mexico that has become a burr in the saddle of a local rancher named Enrique Rios (Eduardo Noriega) and this man not only resents an American intruding into his domain but he is also very concerned that his fiancée Sarita (Patricia Medina) may have feelings for this hunky dude from the North.
Enrique Rios is your typical one-dimensional villain and the bulk of the film deals with his machinations in getting Ryan to either sell his ranch to him or by driving him off it by poaching his cattle and scaring away Ryan’s ranch hands. Enrique is aided in his efforts by the local legend surrounding a supposedly “Hollow Mountain” which locals believe is haunted by a mysterious beast and that when the swamp surrounding the mountain dries up men and cattle will begin to disappear. I’ll admit, that does sound like an interesting premise to a monster movie, and the idea of regions of the world that are cut off from the civilized world that harbouring prehistoric creatures is a good one – dating as far back as Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World – but where those stories were filled with fantastic locals and nail-biting action what we have here with is a typical oater that just so happens to have a dinosaur show up for the last act.
Sure, we do get the occasional animalistic noises and large shadow thrown across an unsuspecting victim, in this case a poor hapless Mexican widower, all while Jimmy and his partner Felipe search for their lost cattle, which Enrique’s men had apparently driven into the swamp to force the American to leave town, but a few spooky moments does not equal good a dinosaur movie and when the titular beast finally shows up it’s almost as if it had wandered in from a different movie. Another problem is that the love interest between Jimmy and Sarita isn’t all that interesting and the film wraps it up so quickly that it doesn’t even properly resolve things and the last we see of Enrique is him injured and inside a cave but whether he dies or lives is left a mystery. When the credits roll we just assume that Sarita will fall into the arms of Jimmy and I’d barely call that a happy ending. As to the dinosaur action itself, well, the script may have been based on an idea by Willis O’Brien but for unknown reasons, he was not and thus this film’s special effects fell to uncredited stop-motion animator Edward Nassour, who wasn’t quite up to the task of bringing the Allosaurus to life.
When our heroes do clash with the dinosaur, after the filmmakers made us wait an hour, it is a fairly fun encounter with the creature’s lashing tongue and snarling grimace but the overall design of the Allosaurus is fairly generic and lacks much in the way of personality, which is something stop-motion animation legend Ray Harryhausen was renowned for infusing into his creations, of course, the unproduced Willis O’Brien script The Valley of the Mists, which was the basis of this movie, would eventually be realized by Harryhausen for his film The Valley of Gwangi, a film that properly capitalized on the idea of cowboys versus dinosaurs. Overall, The Beast of Hollow Mountain makes a nice footnote in the genre and though it may lack a little in the dino-action department the anamorphic Cinemascope process did provide some nice visuals and when the Allosaurus does make an appearance it is adequate and only really pales when compared to the likes Gwangi.
The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)
Movie Rank - 5/10
If The Beast of Hollow Mountain is guilty of anything it’s in giving audiences a typical Western that suddenly does an about-face and becomes a dinosaur movie that it really doesn’t earn.