King Dinosaur (1955)

King Dinosaur

Written and Directed by Bert I. Gordon

Tagline: " SEE…A prehistoric world of fantastic adventure come to life!"

Run Time: 63 min

Nora:"What time would you say it is?"
Dick:"Say it’s about 3 o’clock Earth time here."
Nora:"Except that we don’t know how many hours are in the daily cycle here. You know this place could move around faster than our Earth!"
Dick:"Well let’s figure it for 3 o’clock anyway! That gives us 3 or 4 hours before dark."


Oh boy. Another Bert Gordon film. (Or, as he liked to be called, "Mr. B.I.G.") In fact, this is BIG’s first directorial effort: and what a doozy it is. In my eyes, King Dinosaur encapsulates everything that is so ‘bad’ with 50’s sci-fi: A ridiculous premise, shameless sexism, cheap special effects, no regard for any laws of physics or nature, jaw-dropping dialog, mounds of stock footage, and of course, a goofy monster: I love it!

In a nutshell, astronomers on Earth discover a new planet, called Nova, which has "settled" into our solar system. Four scientists, 2 men and 2 women to simplify the romantic relationships of course, are sent to Nova to investigate. Unsurprisingly, Nova has gravity, atmosphere, and temperature exactly the same as Earth’s, which makes things a lot easier for the scientists as they run around getting into all types of trouble with the local wildlife: bears, snakes, lemurs, deer, alligators, and birds. (Amazing how Nova has exactly the same type of wildlife as Earth…go figure.) Gordon also uses his infamously poorly-executed matte shots to create "giant" ants and other creepy crawlies (most of which are actually partially transparent (!) due to the poor processing). Oh yeah, don’t forget the titular "King Dinosaur"…an iguana that is constantly referred to as a Tyrannosaurus Rex. (Ok. If you say so Bert…) In the end, the scientist get fed up with all the problems and simply nuke the planet before heading home.

No bones about it: This movie is really bad. The special effects are terrible, in fact, in one scene you can see somebody’s hand holding onto the tail of one of the "giant" lizards! The dialog is stunningly awful: "I brought the atom bomb…it might be a good time to use it!" Hell, in one scene one of the actresses is shoved back into a rock and you can see her bang her head and shout in pain…does Bert do a second take? Nahhhh…cut and print!

A quick run down of the cast and crew before we begin. (In fact there’s only 4 actors in the entire film…everybody else is old military stock footage.)

Bert I. Gordon of course is legendary for his 50’s cheapies, especially his B-movie ‘giant bug’ movies such as Earth Vs. The Spider (1958), and his giant grasshopper "epic" Beginning of the End (1957). Bert and his wife, Flora, are also well known for having done most of his films post-processing special effects work. His lack of expertise (and money) inevitably ended in the monsters being semi-transparent and full of "holes" revealing the background "behind" them. Bert also completed a few rip-offs of the popular "Incredible Shrinking Man": The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and its sequel, War of the Colossal Beast (1958). Say what you want about Mr. BIG, he has staying power. Bert has continued directing films through the decades; his last effort entitle Satan’s Princess in 1990: a career of over 35 years.

William Bryant (who plays Dr. Ralph Martin) was a popular, well, at least prolific actor in the past. He appeared in over 70 films and 170 TV guest appearances in the past 4 decades. Dr. Gordon is played by Douglas Henderson, also quite a productive actor who appeared in such films as Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), From Here to Eternity (1953), and a bit part in the 1953 sci-fi classic The War of the Worlds. Sadly, Mr. Henderson committed suicide in 1978 at the age of 59. The two female leads, Dr. Patricia Bennett and Nora Pierce, are played by Wanda Curtis and Patti Gallagher respectively. Neither actress had a career to speak of after this film. In an interesting note, the film’s (abundant) narration is done by Marvin Miller, the same man who did the voice for "Robby the Robot" in both Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Invisible Boy (1957). Miller’s deep, rich voice often landed him in the role of narrator, including such great B-movies as The Deadly Mantis (1957), The Phantom Planet (1961), and one of Bert Gordon’s later films, the 1977 "Them!" rip-off, Empire of the Ants.

Anyway, this film certainly is bad: Tons of stock-footage, cheap special effects, and headache inducing dialog. I guess that’s the whole point of this web site so I might as well get going…

After the usual credit sequence full of blaring horns and crashing drums (i.e., an effort to convince the viewer that the film is some sort of ‘epic’) the film dives right into narration and military stock-footage…lots and lots and lots and lots of narration and lots and lots and lots and lots of stock-footage.

Basically, the USA needs to build a "passenger rocket ship" as quickly as possible. Why? Because of the "new planet" discovered by an astronomer. (Name not important. Like I said, there’s only 4 actors in the entire film, everybody else is from stock-footage.) Amazingly enough, the planet’s discoverer, thanks to the, <ahem>, "world’s largest telescope", can even see that there exists plant life "of some kind" on the surface. The planet is named "Nova", which actually is an astronomical term for an exploding star, but, oh well.

King DinosaurMoving right along we learn that "new metals must be developed with tensile strength capable of withstanding great atmospheric pressures." This is odd because ‘tensile strength’ is the measure of substance’s ability to withstand stretching, while atmospheric pressure is a compressive force. Well, it sure sounds scientific!

Oh brother…yeah, it gets better. Apparently a new source of power is created. Why in fact, a hand-held nuclear power plant will be brought along to serve as an "auxiliary source of electricity" for the astronauts. (And it will also be used as an atomic bomb to blast the dinosaurs to smithereens. Oops. Spoiler Alert.)
Plot Point:The narrator takes the extra step to explicitly explain that the nuclear reactor could explode if the power was "unharnessed".

King DinosaurAfter about 4 minutes of narration and stock-footage…yes, 4 solid minutes, we meet our first crew member, zoologist Dr. Richard Gordon (Douglas Henderson), who’s tagging along just in case any "animal life" is encountered. (Or any back-projected ‘giant’ lizards.) Richard was chosen for this mission because of his discovery of "the giant prehistoric tar pits near Salt Lake City." I have no idea why that qualifies him to travel to a newly discovered planet, but there you go.

King DinosaurAh yes, now for our first female astronaut. As the narrator explains, we see geologist Dr. Nora Pierce (Patti Gallagher) clumsily chipping away at a pile of rocks with a pick-axe in a manner which suggests she certainly is not a geologist. As if it really matters, we learn that Nora was chosen because of her "mineralogical research in the Himalayan mountains." (!) (Yeah, and she’s pretty hot, too. I wonder if that had a role to play.)

Halfway through the crew now. Isn’t this fun?

King DinosaurLet’s see. Ah yes, more stock-footage, before meeting the physician that will be joining the crew. Why, it’s none other than Dr. Ralph Martin (William Bryant)! You remember him, don’t you? Well, it was his "war service that fortified [?] him with the experience of treating most diseases and fatalities that overtake men." (Who wrote this stuff?! Oh wait, now I remember. Never mind.)

King Dinosaur"The chemistry of the planet," the narrator continues without pause, "was to be studied by doctor Patricia Bennett [Wanda Curtis]." Needless to say, the attractive blonde doctor is shown shaking a test tube filled with colored fluid (yes, I know it’s a black-and-white film) and jotting notes. Yup, her studies in the use of "radiochemistry in medicine" have hooked her up with a ticket to Nova. You betcha.

Yet more stock-footage ensues, this time of a V-2 rocket being readied for launch. Whoops. I meant the rocket that’s going to take the 4 astronauts to Nova. Hilariously, the narrator’s ever-so-slightly modified voice calls out the count down to ignition as if the count down sequence was actually part of the stock footage. Ah, Bert, how do you do it?

Ok, the V-2 finally takes off as we hit the 6-and-a-half minute mark of the film. All you math majors out there will quickly realize that the first 10% of the film’s running time has been nothing but stock footage. Oh joy.

The journey to Nova is reduced to a mere 5 seconds as we quickly transition to some truly awful special effects showing the rocket landing on the planet’s surface. (In typical Bert Gordon fashion, the rocket is semi-transparent as it lands, allowing you to see the trees behind the rocket showing through the ship’s hull. Or is it the trees that are in front of the rocket? Who knows.) Did I mention that the rocket lands in a very very very Earth-like forest? (The movie was filmed around Bronson Canyons. Regardless, Bert didn’t bother doing anything to even remotely disguise the fact that this is all taking place on Earth. I mean, I’m willing to suspend disbelief, but c’mon, you gotta meet me half-way here, Bert!)

King DinosaurAs in all cheap sci-fi movies, the actors will quickly test the atmosphere, (amazingly) find it "Earth-like", and immediately remove their suits so as to be more comfortable while filming the duration of the movie.

A brief sweep of a Geiger counter and a couple other bogus "tests" reveal that, surprise!, the atmosphere is breathable. Satisfied that they’re safe after that awesome barrage of tests, Patricia exclaims, "Now let’s get outta these suits!" Following her lead, the other astronauts clamber out of their ‘space suits’ and bask in the warm sunlight and fresh air.

"The air is a bit richer in oxygen…" remarks Ralph, "It should speed up our reactions!" at which time him plants a kiss right on Pat’s cheek.

"Oh! You take care of your own reactions, doctor!" Pat coyly responds.

Well, that establishes the first romantic pair. Boy, that took, oh, 2 minutes…

"There’s animal life here," Nora notes with a smile on her face as we see (stock) footage of two deer and a pair of bear cubs. (!)

For some reason, oh, of course, the script says so, the four researchers leave behind all their equipment and head off to take a look at a nearby lake. (The walk to the lake is interspersed with more stock-footage of bear cubs ("Isn’t he cute!" says Pat), and birds. ("The look like vultures!" Richard notes, although they are clearly crows.))

King DinosaurIn the middle of the lake is an island. Despite being a completely normal looking island (and it is a normal island since it was filmed in Griffith Park), the script requires Nora to remark, "Boy, that sure looks strange!" (A trumpet blare on the sound track attempts to confirm Nora’s observation.) Being the dedicated female scientist that she is, Patricia changes the subject by saying, "All I can see is that water and that means a bath, Nora, and let’s get some clean clothes and have one." (Cue smug chuckles from the men as the two women scamper off to get cleaned up.)

Unfortunately for the male viewers, we don’t get to see Nora and Patricia swimming in the lake but instead cut to see the foursome armed with pistols (for the ladies) and rifles (for the men). As they head of to…do something…investigate I guess. After a lengthy trudge, including cut-away stock-footage shots of a flock of ducks and a sloth (!), the foursome stop to take a look around and engage in one of my favorite bits of dialog ever:

Nora: "What time would you say it is?"

Dick: "Say it’s about 3 o’clock Earth time here."

Nora: "Except that we don’t know how many hours are in the daily cycle here. You know this place could move around faster than our Earth!"

Dick: "Well let’s figure it for 3 o’clock anyway…that gives us 3 or 4 hours before dark."

Yeah, Dick, you go ahead and decide how long the day is.

Anyway, Patricia the chemist has had enough of all this darn ‘science stuff’ and wants to go back to the ship, leaving the rest of the exploration to the "next people" who come to the planet. After another small bit of hiking they take yet another pause. This break in the, er, ‘action’ allows a stock-footage snake to crawl down the back of Patricia’s blouse and provide a cheap ‘scare’. (Ralph quickly blows the snake away with his rifle. Great scientists. Boy, travel to another planet, encounter exciting new life forms, and blow them away.) Well, after that unnerving brush with stock-footage, the scientists decide to call it a day, and build a shelter in which to spend the night. (The men split the guard duty while Nora and Patricia are simply ordered to "get some sleep!")

Well, what do you know. Ralph’s watch is interrupted when Patricia crawls out from the shelter.

"I can’t sleep," Patricia says.

"What’s the matter?" Ralph queries.

"I don’t know…," answers Patricia and then they immediately proceed to make out. (Oh boy…Bert, Bert, Bert…why?)

"Tell me doctor," Patricia whispers in Ralph’s ear, "Do you still want to marry me?"

Um, what?! Did I miss something? To make matters worse, Patricia and Ralph wander off into the woods for some no particular reason (besides being in the script) and leave Nora and Richard completely unguarded as they slumber on the ground. (Thanks, Ralph!) After about 5 seconds, Ralph is attacked by alligator stock-footage, but manages to wrestle the alligator to death. Or something. After the struggle, Ralph collapses to the ground while Richard and Nora run up to see what all the commotion is about. With Ralph severely injured, Richard is forced to carry his injured buddy back to camp.

King DinosaurBack at camp, Richard tends to Ralph’s wounds while Nora looks on and Patricia cries her eyes out. (Women! Just kidding…hey! I didn’t make this movie.) The next morning Ralph is awakened by a loud buzzing sound. Sitting up and rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Ralph sees a giant ant snooping around the camp. (Why the ant buzzes like a bee is not explained.) If you look at the ant, you can easily see the table that the ant was filmed on is visible "under" the giant bug! Wow, this is great stuff.

The bullets from Ralph’s rifle do so much damage to the giant buzzing ant that it becomes semi-transparent, flips over, and dies. (Please, please see this movie if you ever get the chance. It’s really unbelievable.)

After dispatching the translucent intruder, Ralph collapses into Patricia’s arms and looks around to see that Richard and Nora are missing. "They went back to the ship for supplies…You’ve been unconscious for a day and a half," Patricia informs him. (Huh?!)

"Come here," Ralph says, laying back on his sleeping bag, "I need some medicine!" Yes, he grabs Patricia and they start making out again. (Ugh.) After a few seconds of kissing, Ralph falls unconscious (!) and Patricia worriedly caresses his head.

Later that day, I presume, Richard and Nora show up, laden with equipment and a friendly ‘lemur’ that they’ve affectionately named "Joe".

King DinosaurAfter some boring conversation, they finally agree to investigate the Oh-So-Creepy island the next day. When the question of the nightly watch comes up, Nora suggests that they all sleep and just let Joe keep guard. (Seriously. She suggests that they leave guard duty to the bloody lemur!!!) Richard poo-poos that suggestion and takes guard himself while the others slumber soundly in their sleeping bags.

Time for some more excitement. A stock-footage snake crawls up to the camp at which point it turns into a completely different type of snake and crawls over Ralph’s legs while Richard watches in horror. After a while, the snake crawls away and returns back into its original stock-footage form. Wow, that was really an exciting, and necessary, scene.

King DinosaurWell, I guess it’s the next day because Nora, Richard, and Joe head off to the island in a rubber raft while Ralph and Patricia stay behind to perform goofy experiments. (And undoubtedly to make out some more.)

"Maybe you can help with this…do you remember any of your chemistry?" Patricia asks while she sets up a microscope.

"Enough to know about the chemistry between us," Ralph coyly responds as he plants a wet kiss on Patricia’s cheek.

OK. If you think watching 2 people set up an inflatable raft is exciting, then this is the movie for you. You probably like wildlife stock-footage too…don’tcha?

Oddly, upon arrival on the other side, Joe the lemur is not present in the boat, although we plainly saw Richard grab him by the tail (!) and toss him into the raft before they left the other side. A continuity error? What? No way! Oh wait, cut back again and he’s back in the boat. It’s Joe! The Amazing Teleporting Lemur! Nora casually grabs Joe by the tail (again!) and slings him up onto her shoulder. (Truly, the actors handle poor Joe rougher and rougher as the film goes on. I suspect they started getting sick of having to film their scenes with a damn monkey climbing around on them all the time.)

King Dinosaur

Lemur abuse! Lemur abuse!

More exciting walking sequences ensue. So, so exciting. Eventually Richard spots a cave, so big surprise, he and Nora scramble up and incline to investigate.

King DinosaurOh no! It’s "KING DINOSAUR". Well, at least it’s an iguana being somehow forced to stand on its back legs…(Somebody glued a horn on its nose to make it appear more ‘dinosaur-like’, I guess.)

King DinosaurRichard opens fire with his rifle as the back-projected iguana stands around looking slightly bored, which the lizard most likely is since it literally exists in another movie. Nora does her part by screaming her head off until Richard shoves her back with his arm. In a great shot, you can see that actor Douglas Henderson shoves Nora too hard causing her to bonk her noggin on a rock and cry out in pain. Doh!

Yadda yadda. Nora and Richard scramble to the aforementioned cave and take shelter from the roaring iguana. For some reason Nora is concerned about the lemur and Richard runs out to find it before the lizard, sorry, T-Rex, eats it. This not-so-well-thought-out Lemur Rescue Operation results in Richard being bitten by the viscous back-projected beast…I’m referring to the T-Rex, not Joe.

Anyway, the goofiness continues as the iguana tries to force itself into the cave:

Shot of iguana shoving its head into a ‘cave’.

Shot of Nora screaming.

Shot of iguana shoving its leg into a ‘cave’.

Shot of Nora screaming.

Need I continue?

The day is saved, sort of, when a baby alligator, sorry, another dinosaur, enters the scene and begins fighting with the iguana. (To be honest, this fight scene is rather repulsive as the iguana is obviously forced to fight the much stronger and more dangerous alligator. I’m pretty sure the iguana was killed in the process.) Oh, yes. A third lizard, er, dinosaur, is observing the reptilian struggle from the top of a ‘cliff’. I assume it will also be tossed into the fray at some point, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

As the battle rages outside of the cave, Richard and Nora realize that their only hope for survival is to signal Ralph with the flare gun. (You do remember that Ralph and Patricia are waiting back at the ship, right? Don’t worry if you didn’t. It really doesn’t matter.) Back at the ship, Patricia and Ralph spot the signal flare, grab the atomic auxiliary-power supply (i.e., atom bomb), and head off to lend a hand. (Why on Earth would they take a ‘power supply’? Oh, so they can nuke the dinosaurs of course.)

Cut back to the cave. Somehow the iguana has defeated the alligator (yeah, uh, sure it did…) and is now menacing the captive scientists yet again. Oh, wait, enough of that. Cut back to Ralph and Patricia who are hopping into their own rubber raft and paddling like mad to get over to the oh-so-scary island.

King DinosaurMeanwhile, back to the cave again, Richard examines a photograph of the lizard sticking its head into the cave entrance. "It resembles a Tyrannosaurus Rex…King Dinosaur!" notes expert zoologist Richard Gordon upon seeing a photo of an iguana sticking its tongue out. (Oh, and by the way, where the hell did he get a picture from? I’m pretty damn sure that wasn’t a polaroid instamatic camera they had with them!)

"Oh who cares! Nobody’s ever going to believe us anyway!" shouts expert geologist Nora Pierce as she yanks the picture out of Richard’s hand and rips it to pieces. (I guess the pressure of all the stock-footage has finally gotten to her.)

Ok, this review is taking waaaayyyy too long. Bullet Time:

  • Ralph and Patricia finally reach the ‘canyon’…"It’s horrible! Shoot it! Do something!" Patricia gasps upon seeing the lizard.
  • Another startled lizard jumps down out of nowhere and starts fighting with the iguana. (Look carefully to see an ‘almost’ off-camera stage hand holding the lizard’s tail before it ‘jumps’ into battle! Good grief!)
  • Lizards biting each other with lion roars foleyed onto the soundtrack.
  • Richard and Nora take advantage of the distraction and run from the cave. (Why didn’t they do that when the iguana was fighting the alligator?)
  • The four scientists re-unite as Ralph says my favorite line in the film: "I brought the atom bomb…I think it’s about time we use it!"
  • Atom bomb set to explode in 30 minutes.
  • On the way back to the ship, the scientists encounter a ‘giant’ armadillo. Yes, it too roars like a lion.
  • Oh, lets see what else they encounter: giant elephants, water buffalo, a turtle, and some sort of yak.
  • Richard and the others make it to the mainland. Oh, Stock footage a lemur reassures us that Joe made it too. (How? When did he make it back from the cave to the boat? What the hell?)
  • Stock footage of an atom bomb test.

"Well, we’ve done it," Ralph gasps as the mushroom cloud expands in the sky overhead.

"Yeah, we sure have done it. We’ve brought civilization to planet Nova," says Richard without the slightest bit of irony in his voice.

"Let’s go home."

The End.

No kidding. That’s it.

Dennis Grisbeck (Jan 2006)

Afterthoughts

Well, pretty bad stuff here. I read somewhere that Bert Gordon himself didn’t particularly like the film either. Finally something me and Bert agree on I guess. Although, by definition, B-movies aren’t necessarily very good, King Dinosaur is lazy, cheap, and contemptible. Furthermore, the animal mishandling is appalling. (Especially the poor iguana which gets its ass kicked, and presumably killed, by the alligator.)

If you really want to watch this film, make sure to note the rough-housing of the actresses by the actors. Seriously. They are shoved, pushed, and generally man-handled in many of the ‘action’ scenes as the men ‘help’ them to safety. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Oh, and yes. I know Joe the lemur is actually a different kind of monkey, but I don’t remember what kind and to be honest, I don’t care at this point. You try watching this movie and then see if that’s still an issue at the end of the film. Me? I just want a beer.

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5 comments to King Dinosaur (1955)

  • Tim

    I can’t be sure, but I think Joe the Lemur is a kinkajou, which isn’t even a primate, and is instead related to raccoons, so yeah…epic fail on the part of the scientists.

    Of course, they DID mistake an iguana for a T. rex, so they might not be all that bright.

  • Garit

    LOL what an ending because there attacked by a dinosaur, they do the only logical ting, set off an atomic bomb.

  • Guts3d

    “Well, we’ve done it,” Ralph gasps as the mushroom cloud expands in the sky overhead.”

    They said, blinded by the intense light, skin falling off in droves as they succumb to radiation sickness…

    Great review! Not sure I am brave enough to watch this one, tho…

  • A boring movie, but the end with the atomic bomb is kinda funny X)

  • @kloroxx:
    Yeah, that nuke must have really helped the local fauna get back on track.

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