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Trog

Trog(1970)

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teaser Trog (1970)

An easy critical punching bag since its original release, Trog (1970) earned its place in cinematic infamy as the final theatrical film for Joan Crawford, who was spending most of her career taking television roles ranging from soap operas to a segment of the TV pilot Night Gallery, directed by Steven Spielberg. Here she assumes the role of Doctor Brockton, a deeply dedicated anthropologist who spearheads the retrieval of a living missing link, nicknamed "Trog," after discovering him in a remote village. Her colleague (Michael Gough) is inflamed by the creature's violent reactions when it feels threatened by others, but Brockton manages to arrange its captivity and discovers the creature's capacity for growth, including spoken communication. Unfortunately, Trog's potential is soon squandered by human pettiness and ignorance.

After the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) Crawford found herself in demand throughout the 1960s (along with fellow Golden Age survivors like Bette Davis and Tallulah Bankhead) in a succession of shockers designed to exploit the appeal of actresses "of a certain age" dealing with various horrors both psychological and physical. Of course, most of Crawford's projects were less reputable than her MGM days as she found herself giving her all to showman producers like William Castle (Strait-Jacket [1964], I Saw What You Did [1965]) and Herman Cohen (Berserk!, 1967). Thus, her agreement to appear in another Cohen film seemed perfectly in keeping with her other projects fun and hokey pieces of ballyhoo for the matinee crowd. However, thanks to the highly unconvincing caveman rubber mask, a warped and utterly ludicrous script, and jarring inserts of stock footage from 1956's The Animal World, the end result became an instant object of ridicule. The threadbare production values didn't faze the star, however; as noted in Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell's Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography, Crawford "had to supply her own wardrobe for the film and she showed up with seemingly more luggage than the rest of the cast combined... [T]here was no trailer for Joan to relax in, so she had to make her costume changes in a car."

Crawford also felt some degree of loyalty and odd possessiveness towards Cohen, who had churned out a series of successful, grisly British shockers starring her Trog co-star, Michael Gough. Cohen was aware of Crawford's legendary drinking habits and struck a deal with her to never drink in the morning, or without his permission. Crawford agreed, calling herself "a sipper... It makes me feel good." (Joan Crawford: A Biography, Bob Thomas.) To maintain a more youthful appearance, she recruited the assistance of Ramon Guy, a hairstylist and makeup artist who devised a method of using sex tape appliances behind her hairpiece to pull back any wrinkles. The illusion worked so well many viewers suspected the star of having plastic surgery, a practice she had still avoided to that point.

Crawford, unfortunately, did not get on quite so well with her director, Freddie Francis, an established cinematographer on such notable films as Sons and Lovers (1960) and The Innocents (1961) whose innovative use of scope compositions continued for decades through such films as Martin Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear (1991). His directorial career is far more erratic, encompassing a few Hammer thrillers and odd European co-productions such as The Vampire Happening (1971). He accepted the task of helming Trog to work with Crawford but soon became frustrated with her reliance on cue cards; as he explained, "I've never seen the film since it was finished and I will not see it again on the soundtrack you can actually hear the prop man moving the boards. And still, even in those days, when I got around to it I liked to use the camera and have lots of complicated movements. But you can't with these idiot boards" (The Films of Freddie Francis, Wheeler Winston Dixon). Indeed, the film is visually inert by Francis' standards, with regular Cohen cinematographer Desmond Dickinson assuming duties as cameraman.

Though most commercial audiences didn't realize it, Trog boasted a few other notable names which were immediately recognizable to horror and cult movie fans. The story was the brainchild of two top-notch Hammer veterans, John Gilling and Peter Bryan, who had previously collaborated on The Plague of the Zombies (1966), and the music score was provided by the underrated John Scott, a prolific composer who began with such films as A Study in Terror (1965) and later provided one of his most popular scores for a much more respected primate film: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984).

Producer: Herman Cohen, Harry Woolveridge
Director: Freddie Francis
Screenplay: Aben Kandel, Peter Bryan, John Gilling
Cinematography: Desmond Dickinson
Film Editing: Oswald Hafenrichter
Art Direction: Geoffrey Tozer
Music: John Scott
Cast: Joan Crawford (Dr. Brockton), Michael Gough (Sam Murdock), Bernard Kay (Inspector Greenham), Kim Braden (Anne Brockton), David Griffin (Malcolm Travers), John Hamill (Cliff).
C-93m. Letterboxed.

by Nathaniel Thompson

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