Sunday, 5 July 2015

The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)

Low budget, undemanding but entertaining film

Directed by Edward Nassour, Ismael Rodríguez
Writers: Robert Hill (screenplay), Jack DeWitt (additional dialogue) from an idea by Willis H. O'Brien
Produced by Edward Nassour, William Nassour
Music by Raúl Lavista
Cinematography by Jorge Stahl Jr. (director of photography);
Film editing: Holbrook N. Todd, Maury Wright, Fernando Martínez
Art Direction by Jack DeWitt,
Visual Effects by Louis DeWitt, Jack Rabin (photographic effects); Henry Lyon (model maker); Edward Nassour (stop-motion animation)
Distributed by United Artists
Running time: 81 minutes


Guy Madison: Jimmy Ryan
Patricia Medina: Sarita
Carlos Rivas: Felipe Sanchez
Mario Navarro: Panchito
Pascual García Peña: Pancho
Eduardo Noriega: Enrique Rios
Julio Villarreal: Don Pedro
Lupe Carriles: Margarita
Manuel Arvide: Martínez
José Chávez: Manuel
Roberto Contreras: Carlos
Armando Gutiérrez: Employee
Guillermo Hernández: Jorge
Margarito Luna: Jose
Jorge Treviño: Shopkeeper

The Beast of Hollow Mountain is a 1956 film about an American cowboy living in Mexico who discovers that his cattle is being eaten by a giant prehistoric dinosaur, possibly an Allosaurus.

Movie trailer

 Spoilers follow below….

The scene and mood is immediately set for us, namely in southern Mexico at a place called "Hollow Mountain" about which tales have been told of a curse and where cattle and farmers have been mysteriously disappearing. The mountain has never been explored and there is a swamp at its base that claims the lives of anyone foolish enough to venture too close.

In almost direct defiance of such tales of curses, disappearances and certain death, an American cowboy (Jimmy Ryan) and three cowboys enter the area in search of lost cattle. We are then invited to start joining dots together by the placement of certain clues. First the men find mysterious tracks and then the carcass of a cow stuck in quicksand in a swamp. One of the men falls into a tar pit or quicksand at the base of the swamp and is nearly sucked down into oblivion, but he is fortunately rescued. Is this the curse at work or is the rival ranch owner Enrique Ríos responsible for what has happened to the cattle?

Later, when Jimmy rides into town, he manages to save a drunken ranch hand named Pancho by stopping his runaway horse that was spooked by a group of young pranksters throwing firecrackers at Pancho and his horse. Pancho and his seven-year-old son, Panchito (whose name you will hear again and again to an annoying degree!) are grateful to Jimmy thereby cementing a bond of friendship. The bond then extends and deepens to encompass someone else when Sarita, the daughter of Pancho's employer, Don Pedro, enters the scene wearing a fetching off the shoulder blouse.

The strengthening of this bond will serve to fuel the fires of future conflict when later, at Don Pedro’s ranch, as Jimmy is discussing the matter involving the missing cattle, Enrique angrily bursts in upon the scene, accuses Jimmy of underselling his cattle and warns him to return to Texas. The two almost launch into fisticuffs until Don Pedro intervenes.

Next morning, Jimmy wakes to discover that all his ranch hands have decamped due to fear of the Beast, a beast by the way that stubbornly lurks in the misty realm of superstitious tales and has yet to make an appearance! Have no fear, for Pancho and Panchito are here to replace the cowardly cowboys. Pancho promises not to drink anymore, while Panchito declares that he will be responsible for his father.

The beautiful Sarita angrily accuses Jimmy of luring Pancho away to work for him instead. However, when she learns that Pancho willingly came to help Jimmy, she apologizes to him.

Just as romance begins to reign supreme, Ryan learns that Sarita will be married to Enrique in two weeks and that Enrique can be cute and cuddly when you get to know him. There is a suggestion of obligation rather than love being involved in her engagement to marry Enrique as he has helped her father. Seeds of conflict are beginning to germinate! As Sarita leaves to go home, she finds that her horse is missing and has to ride back to town with Ryan using his horse. Guess you can see where all this is heading! 

So folks,.. 

Is this a Western? 
Is it a love (triangle) story? 

Is it a science fiction/horror genre film?

It is hardly surprising that when Jimmy and Sarita arrive in town, Enrique spots them and begins foaming at the mouth. A testosterone-fuelled melee ensues between Jimmy and Enrique as they both engage in a no-holds barred no-disqualification match in the street. After systematically destroying the livelihood of half the town’s population, Gringo Ryan emerges as Bareknuckle Champion of Mexico. Jimmy then reads a telegram he has just received informing him that the U.S. government has agreed to the price he is asking for his cattle.

Now the pressure is on when Don Pedro in the middle of “his town” tells Ryan that Enrique wants to buy his ranch and cattle for a fair price. Ryan refuses the offer and continues to do so despite the prospect of further conflict if Ryan does not give up the ranch before a new shipment of cattle arrives.

Shortly before the wedding at Hollow Mountain, Ryan and his pal and partner (business sense!) Felipe lead Pancho and his son to their cottage, whose former owner seems to have mysteriously disappeared. A search soon reveals the body of yet another missing cow. Could this be the work of you know what? Ryan dissuades Pancho from trying to explore the swamp claiming it would be unsafe for him to do so.

Back in town, Jimmy attempts to buy supplies but the merchant will not extend his credit. It turns out that Enrique has pressured the banker into not lending him money against the cattle sale. Soon after, Enrique catches sight of Ryan and Sarita talking to each other and he decides to come up with a new plan in which he sends out two ranch hands to steal some cattle while Ryan and Crazy-hat Felipe (whose sombrero takes up half the road!) are away. Enrique’s two henchmen are soon taken on as ranch hands by Ryan and Felipe.

That afternoon, Jimmy receives a note from Sarita to meet with her at the graveyard. When they meet, she warns him to be careful of Enrique and despite her feelings for Jimmy, pleads with him to leave for his own sake. Ryan, however, reads something different into her attempt to convince him to leave and give up his ranch up to Enrique, thereby ending hostilities between himself and Enrique.

Meanwhile at the cottage, Pancho asks Panchito to wait for him while he goes to the swamp in search of the lost cattle. He tells his son that If he is not back by dusk, Panchito is to tell Ryan about what happened. Despite Panchito’s pleas for his dad to not leave, Pancho goes ahead with his plan to search the swamp.

Enter the Beast! 

As Pancho makes his way through the swamp, he hears a terrifying roar and discovers to his extreme consternation that the Beast of Hollow Mountain likes to dine out on Mexican cuisine. Our view is not one of the creature itself but is instead a point of view shot suggestive of the Beast descending upon the terrified, cowering and soon to be consumed Pancho.

When Pancho does not return, the frightened Panchito rides back to the ranch where Jimmy has been telling Felipe that he is planning to sell the ranch leaving Felipe in charge. Felipe is aghast at this news. Suddenly, Panchito bursts in crying out that his father has not returned and telling the two men about what has happened.

After riding out to the swamp, Ryan and Felipe find Pancho's hat and assume that he was swallowed up by the quicksand, but decide not to tell Panchito that his father is dead or show his hat to him. Later, a grief-stricken Panchito, tries several times to look for his father in the swamp, but is prevented by Ryan and Felipe each time. It seems that Panchito will not be friends with Ryan ever again.

While a festival is underway in town, Don Pedro has made arrangements for Panchito to be cared for in a foster home. Ryan also informs Sarita and Don Pedro that he will be moving himself and his cattle that very day, leaving the land for Enrique. As Jimmy says goodbye to Sarita, he tells her that he can never see her again or he would never be able let her go.

Although our villain, Enrique is cock-a-hoop to learn that Ryan is leaving, he puts another plan into action to stampede the cattle away from the station.

As Sarita dresses in her wedding clothes and prepares to wed Enrique, it is obvious that she is in love with Jimmy but she pretends to be happy in front of Done Pedro.

Later, after being told bluntly that his father is in fact dead, Panchito decides to go to the swamp to look for his father. Margarita, Sarita's maid, tries to stop him, but he gets away. Margarita then rushes to tell Sarita, who orders her horse to be saddled. 

Lo! Behold The Beast!

All hell breaks loose when at the ranch, the Beast appears before us for the first time in the film as it decides to snack on a steer. This then causes the cattle to stampede straight toward the town where the festival is in full swing. Mayhem and pandemonium ensue as the cattle stampede through the town, brushing aside the futile efforts of the cowboys trying to stop them.

So now we have Panchito in the swamp looking for his father, Sarita going after Panchito, Ryan on the trail of Sarita and Enrique and his men following Ryan: A veritable smorgasbord making its own way to the diner!

Now the pace ratchets up another notch as Panchito is chased by the Beast in the swamp. As he makes it across a river and to the small cottage, he is met there by Sarita and they both decide to hide in the cottage. The Beast arrives at the cottage, breaks through the roof and tries to attack the two humans. Enter our hero Ryan who manages to distract the Beast by shooting at it with his gun. Sarita and Panchito then exit the cottage and make their way to Panchito's horse while Ryan lures the Beast up a mountain.

Meanwhile the indefatigable man-with-a-purpose, Enrique pops up and attempts to kill Ryan, but the Beast’s presence causes his horse to panic and buck him off. Now the Beast, who is spoilt for choice, chases Enrique and both he and Ryan become unlikely brothers in arms – or, in adversity at least!

A wonderful pursuit down a steep slope and into a small cave is followed by a nail-biting scene at the cave entrance with the Beast reaching into the opening, after the two men. The only protection they have is Ryan's knife but it cannot stop the Beast from reaching Enrique, pulling him out of the cave and killing him. Ryan is saved from a similar fate when the other cowboys open fire on the Beast causing it to be distracted.

Wile the Beast chases the others, Ryan and Felipe make their way to the tar pit but are soon located by the Beast. In a death-defying scene, Ryan throws a lasso around a tree branch and uses the rope to swing back and forth, just out of reach of the Beast's snapping jaws. At a crucial point, the Beast moves forward a few steps too many and gets its feet stuck fast in the quicksand. We are then left with the sight of the Beast roaring helplessly as it begins to sink down and disappear into Nature’s clinging, cloying, enveloping embrace of extinction while Ryan and the others reunited look on sadly and then slowly make their way toward their horses.

Points Of Interest

The Beast of Hollow Mountain is the first film to feature both dinosaurs and cowboys and would be later followed by such films as Valley of Gwangi, (1968)

There’d be some people scratching their heads and wondering what genre of film The beast Of Hollow Mountain fits into. The film can be seen as being part of what is termed “Weird West” subgenre that combines elements of the Western with another genre, as in this film’s case, sci-fi and horror.

What is refreshing about this film (especially in this tap, click, swipe, instant gratification, CGI saturated, deconstructionist and contrived reality media age) is that one can simply sit back and enjoy a presentation that makes no demands on the spectator other than sheer enjoyment. What we have are the basic ingredients for good entertainment: a genuine western with elements of sci-fi, a villain, a punch-up, a cattle stampede, a heroine who’s nice on the eye, a love story and a mysterious, menacing creature that might or might not be the stuff of legend and tales.

Despite any budget constraints, full marks for effort must go to the effects involving the Beast itself whose movements were quite convincing. Loved the crazy tongue-action! As for the Beast itself, it was animated using two different stop-motion animation techniques. First, in a time-consuming and painstaking process, a two-foot-high armatured, rubber-covered model was moved, exposing one frame at a time. Replacement animation was also used and this involved several different models of the same creature made of plaster, each positioned in a slightly different way to represent a particular movement. An illusion of motion resulted when filmed in sequence for a few frames per second. The breathing effect of the creature was achieved by pumping air into a hollow space within the throat area of the two-foot-high model and then releasing it. Finally recalling scenes from Godzilla, two large rubber feet were worn by a technician in some shots to represent the monster walking.

Because these days we are so used to seeing one damn thing after another happening on our screens, some viewers may be chagrined at the fact that the beast doesn't appear until the last half-hour of the film. Some things however, are worth the wait, especially if the tension and mystery is allowed to build up to an exciting climax, which in the case of this film involves an action-packed running battle between cowboys and the dinosaur.

©Chris Christopoulos 2015

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