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The Valley of Gwangi

The Valley of Gwangi(1969)

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What happens when you run out of ideas for a Western? You come up with a really crazy angle to add pizazz to your movie. Like Edward and Mildred Dein did for Curse of the Undead (1959), the first vampire Western. Or how about Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1965) in which the legendary outlaw's best pal, Hank, gets turned into a lumbering brute named Igor. And then there's Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1965) in which the world's most famous bloodsucker stalks the cowpokes at Bar-B ranch. But probably the most successful of the western horror hybrids is 1969's The Valley of Gwangi (now on DVD from Warner Video) which pits cowboys against dinosaurs and features a daredevil stuntwoman. Although the film quickly vanished from theatres after its theatrical release, it has gone on to acquire something of a cult reputation, thanks to the special effects wizardry of Ray Harryhausen.

In his book, Film Fantasy Scrapbook , Ray Harryhausen recalls the original origin of The Valley of Gwangi
: "The ill-fated Gwangi....was originally to have been an RKO Radio Picture produced by John Speaks and Willis O'Brien. It was begun in 1942 and later abandoned after almost a year of preparation of scripts, production sketches, continuity drawings, and about five or six large glass paintings....For some rather complicated reason Gwangi was abandoned by the front office and Little Orphan Annie was made in its place."

Almost thirty years later, Harryhausen came across the Gwangi script which Willis O'Brien had once given him. The story, which is set in Mexico in 1900, follows the adventures of several cowboys as they make their way into a mysterious valley where the eohippus, an ancestor of the modern horse, is rumored to dwell. The cowboys eventually find the eohippus AND a lot more than they bargained for!

Naturally Harryhausen became fascinated with the screenplay's possibilities and decided to co-produce it, utilizing his world famous stop-motion animation techniques. In perhaps the movie's most spectacular sequence, a group of cowhands attempt to rope the prehistoric beast known as the Gwangi.

The Warner Video DVD of The Valley of Gwangi features a sparkling new transfer of this Harryhausen favorite and includes a recently filmed featurette "Return to the Valley," in which the animator recounts the making of the film and the special effects. There is also a giant monsters trailer gallery included with previews for other new WB DVDs - The Black Scorpion, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Clash of the Titans.

For more information about Valley of Gwangi, visit Warner Video. To order The Valley of Gwangi, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford