Saturday, June 25, 2016

In short: The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)

Cowboy Jimmy Ryan (Guy Madison) and his friend Felipe Sanchez (Carlos Rivas) have established a cattle ranch somewhere in Mexico. Despite the obvious hatred the big man in town Enrique Rios (Eduardo Noriega) harbours for them, things have been going well so far. That is, until a few weeks ago. Now, cattle is disappearing in surprising numbers, and it looks as if someone is driving the animals into a nearby swamp surrounding the titular Hollow Mountain.

Or it might just be the swamp is cursed, for whenever a particularly heavy summer heat wave strikes, as it does this year, and the swamp shrinks, something attacks and eats men and cattle alike in the area.

What is clear is that Enrique is stepping up his attempts at sabotaging our protagonists, not only because he doesn’t approve of an American undercutting his cattle prices but also because his fiancée Sarita (Patricia Medina) has taken quite an obvious shine to Jimmy. Of course, Jimmy’s a true white hat, so he’d never do much more than pine for Sarita, but Enrique’s the kind of guy who projects his own rather more aggressive approach to life on others, so more trouble has to ensue.

If you think this sounds as if Edward Nassour’s and Ismael Rodríguez’ Beast of Hollow Mountain, the first of the tiny handful of cowboys versus dinosaur films is rather more interested in its B-western elements than it is in its stop motion dinosaur, you’re absolutely right. In fact, if you’d leave the dinosaur out of the plot completely, there’d be little about the film that would have to change.

That’s particularly disappointing since the fifteen minutes or so of cowboy versus dinosaur action we get are rather good, with solid stop motion and a handful of clever action set pieces. Still, if you’re going into this expecting much dinosaur or monster action, you’re bound to be disappointed.

As a B-western in the non-psychological style, Beast is perfectly alright fare that starts out with a bit of neat action but suffers from a middle that’s too talky for the flat characterisations it offers. There’s not even a decent shoot-out in there, even though there are at least two scenes that would set the scene for one beautifully. The film also suffers from a wide sentimental streak that mostly involves a sub-plot about the mandatory little boy and his alcoholic father. The Western parts are certainly not horrible if you like this side of the genre – which I do to a degree - but it’s not terribly exciting either.

At least the film looks good. Thanks to being a US/Mexican co-production (there’s supposed to be a Spanish language version shot back to back), it was actually shot in Mexico for the most part, providing the directors with ample opportunity to show off the local landscape, which they do with decided enthusiasm. It’s also quite pleasant to encounter a western whose Mexican characters are played by actual Mexican actors instead of white guys from Brooklyn in brownface.

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