|Submitted by Iain McLachlan |
(Nov 09, 2004)
RT: 67 mins
Pro Co: Jerry Warren Productions/Medallion TV
Dir/Pro: Jerry Warren;
Wr: B. Arthur Cassidy;
Assoc Pro/2nd Unit Dir: Ralph Brooke.
Phot: Victor Fisher;
Film Ed: James R. Sweeney;
Mus Dir: Josef Zimanech;
Art Dir: Ralph Tweer.
Script Sup: Bri (=Brianne) Murphy.
Cast: “Rock Madison”, Virginia Maynor (=Asa Maynor), George Skaff, Tom Maruzzi, Lloyd Cameron (=Lloyd Nelson), George Wells Lewis, Jack Haffner, Wong Sing.
The mid-1950s saw a short-lived cycle of movies dealing with the subject of the yeti or “Abominable Snowman”, probably as a result of press reports of sightings by members of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Everest expedition of 1953. Among the titles that appeared were W. Lee Wilder’s The Snow Creature (1954), Inishiro Honda and Kenneth G. Crane’s Half Human: The Story of the Abominable Snowman and Val Guest’s The Abominable Snowman (both 1957), along with the film under review here, Man Beast, which marked the directorial debut of former bit part player (Ghost Catchers 1944) turned trash auteur Jerry Warren.
Connie Hayward and Trevor Hudson arrive at a remote Himalayan trading post, hoping to catch up with a Professor Erickson. Unfortunately the owner of the trading post tells them that the Professor and his team had left for the mountains the day before. Just then, another Westerner appears and introduces himself as Steve Cameron. When he hears the woman’s surname, he recollects a Doctor James Hayward from some time previously, and explains that Hayward left several days ahead of Erickson’s main party in order to establish a base camp high in the mountains. Connie tells him that the reason that they have travelled so far is to contact the Doctor, who happens to be her brother, on a matter of life and death, and she resolves to follow the expedition. Later, Cameron informs her and Hudson the purpose of the Erickson expedition is try and capture a living example of a strange creature know as a yeti or “Abominable Snowman”. When asked if the beasts are dangerous, he replies that the last four parties to venture into the area all lost at least one member. Hudson expresses grave reservations about going any further, while Cameron insists that they cannot journey into the mountains without the help of local bearers, and they will only follow one man called Warga, and he has already left with the Erickson team. Connie, stressing the importance of finding her brother manages to convince Cameron, who is impressed with her determination, to show them the way to the Erickson camp. The trio leave immediately and make their way through the hostile terrain, scaling sheer rock faces and avoiding avalanches. Despite calls to rest by Hudson, their guide suggests that if they carry on, they will cut the time between them and Erickson quite dramatically, to which Connie agrees. That night there is further friction from an increasingly reluctant Hudson, resulting in him retiring to his own tent. Cameron and his client discuss the legend of the yeti, including his meeting with people who claimed to have witnessed their activities. Sometime during the next day, Erickson and his team are spotted through binoculars some distance. A pistol if fired to attract their attention, which succeeds, and the expedition waits on the arrival of Connie and her party. After meeting up with Erickson and Connie explaining the purpose of her own journey, the combined group continue higher up into the mountains. After some time traversing the increasingly bleak landscape, Connie is of the opinion that the yeti are a myth, since it seems so unlikely that anything could survive in such an inhospitable environment. She asks the local bearer accompanying the party whether he has ever come into contact with the creatures, but his reply is ambiguous. High above the mountains’ snowline, the group eventually discover the base camp, completely destroyed and with no sign of life anywhere to be found…
For those familiar with Jerry Warren’s subsequent output as a filmmaker, Man Beast may come of something as a revelation.
From 1957 until 1966, Warren’s productions can be divided into two camps. The first, including such fare as Teenage Zombies (1958) and The Wild Wild World of Batwoman (1966), were domestically produced ventures, shot on impossibly low budgets and tight shooting schedules, and displaying all the shortcomings its circumstances would indicate as a badge of honour. The other group was made up of cheaply acquired foreign-language movies (often from South of the Border), which Warren then spared every expense redubbing and recutting, before inserting cheaply and hastily shot addtional footage, featuring slumming character actors like John Carradine and Robert Clarke, as well as members of Warren’s own stock company, notably Katherine Victor. The resultant “patchwork” efforts, whose titles included The Face of the Screaming Woman (1959), Invasion of the Animal People (1962) and The Curse of the Stone Hand (1964), bore very little resemblance to the original works and are often largely incoherent. Thanks to some very alluring titles, and imaginative marketing by Warren and his distributors, however, they did prove very attractive to unsuspecting audiences.
Man Beast does share some faults with the filmmaker’s other ventures, notably threadbare production values, mismatched stock footage and ineptly handled dialogue scenes. To compensate for this, the film does offer other, more positive, features that set it apart from the rest of the Warren canon.
Probably the enterprise’s biggest asset is the screenplay by B. Arthur Cassidy, whose only credit this appears to be (implying that the name could, in fact, be a pseudonym). While certainly lumbered with an excess of mundane expositional dialogue, it does have in its favour two related plot strands, Connie’s search for her dangerously ill brother and Professor Erickson’s obsessive quest to discover the truth about the legend of the yeti, which combine to provide the narrative with a stronger momentum than is normally found in bargain-basement genre product.
Cassidy also introduces a feature that was all too uncommon for genre cinema of the time, a strong female character in the form of Connie Hayward, as played by Virginia Maynor, who proves to be as tough and resilient as her male counterparts, often more so. Here, although exhausted and freezing, she continues her journey through the Himalayas, despite the protestations of her much weaker companion, Hudson (Lloyd Cameron), who struggles to keep up. It is easy to see why her impressively feisty character would feature so prominently in the schemes of the villain of the piece.
Some refreshingly ambitious pulp science fiction concepts also feature in the screenplay. Among them is the fact that Warga (George Skaff, The Incredible Petrified World 1957) represents a new strain of yeti/human hybrid, part of an ongoing scheme to breed out the more obvious physical traits of pure-bred yetis in order to become more humanoid in appearance. As the latest stage in this evolution, Warga has successfully passed himself off as a homo sapien, travelling abroad and being educated to college level, but still retains some of the characteristics of the yeti such as excessive body hair, an aversion to rises in temperature and apparently an ability to use ESP, through which he controls his more primitive cousins.
Ultimately, Warga’s intention is to create a new species which will infiltrate the human world, eventually gaining control of it. To this end, he believes that mating with someone with the qualities inherent in Connie Hayward will speed up the evolution of his project quite dramatically, by as many as two generations. In an amusing piece of irony, earlier on in the script Professor Erickson (George Wells Lewis), impressed by Warga’s intellectual, and especially his physical, capabilities, suggests that he should marry and disseminate his superior genes amongst future generations, something of course which he was intending to do, but for a different purpose. The implied bestiality and rape subtext, which is actually rather obvious, is very daring for a film of this era.
A potentially interesting subplot that is referred to in the script, but later abandoned, is that involving Connie’s brother who, it turns out, is the recipient of a mysterious experimental serum which, it has been discovered, reacts violently when the host is subjected to high altitudes. Quite how this reaction manifests itself and how it would tie in with the rest of the plot is never examines, and may have been an additional plot element too many for the film’s meagre running time.
Given the patchwork nature of most of Jerry Warren’s productions over the years, there has been some debate over his actual contribution to the making of Man Beast. While incorporating a lot of footage from a much earlier, unidentified, mountaineering documentary, together with grainy generic library shots of the Himalayas, a significant portion of the movie was shot in the ubiquitous Bronson Canyon and, more importantly, Bishop County, California, and is usually attributed to second-unit director Ralph Brooke.
This exterior-shot material tends to stand out from the rest of the picture, not only because of the unique visual quality that locations afford the production, but also, despite its rudimentary execution (Victor Fisher’s cinematography is merely functional), because there is an underlying energy which is largely absent from that located on interior sets. Often the difference in quality between interior and exterior sequences is quite marked, notably from the second act onwards when dialogue exchanges between characters reveal very poor direction, and some decidedly awkward performances, particularly George Wells Lewis who looks desperately ill at ease.
With Warren’s reputation for claiming much of the credit for others’ work in his later composite works, some reviewers have suggested that since Man Beast features such a significant amount of location footage shot by Ralph Brooke, whose best-known work remains his gory 1961 Bloodlust!, a retread of Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s The Most Dangerous Game (1932), that the movie actually began life as a solo Brooke project, with Warren taking over the venture in order to complete the film so that it could be shown to potential distributors. If this is indeed the case, it is truly remarkable that a sense of continuity has been maintained throughout and, unlike the majority of Warren’s efforts, remains coherent overall.
While there are no truly outstanding scenes in the movie, some are of interest, such as a yeti emerging from a snowdrift, and a flare-lit exploration of a deep cavern, which proves to be quite atmospherically staged. Unfortunately, this sequence is marred by a poorly edited yeti attack, where one costumed actor plays several of the creatures by running to an fro in front of the camera. It must be said that the actual yeti suit is very well made, capturing the weird, bestial nature of the animal, the face-mask being probably the most effective part of the costume.
Special mention should be made of the library music employed by musical director Josef Zimanich, which is very well integrated into the movie, adding an extra layer of mystery and menace to the proceedings.
As to be expected from such a low-budget venture, the performances are variable, with Lloyd Cameron, and especially female lead Virginia Maynor proving to be the weakest. Compensation is provided by Tom Maruzzi (who sometimes also dabbled as a screenwriter in the early 1960s), as the athletic hero, and George Skaff, both of who appear as strong, authoritative in their roles. Skaff appears, along with an equally impressive Lewis in the film’s dialogue scene, where the former calmly explains his ambitious plans for the introduction of a new species in to human society, to the horrified scientist.
Man Beast ends with a brawl on a mountainside between Maruzzi and Skaff, after the former manages to shoot a yeti ordered by the latter to kill him. In what may be seen as another piece of irony employed by B. Arthur Cassidy, Skaff, the consummate mountaineer, falls to his death from a cliff face, after his grappling hook dislodges itself.
This remains a minor triumph of the pulp imagination and the best film with Jerry Warren’s name attached to it.
©Iain McLachlan 2004
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