One of the more depressing careers in the history of movies has to be that of E.A. Dupont, who went from being one of the most celebrated of German filmmakers in the world — thanks to a film called Variety (1925) — to making The Neanderthal Man (1953). Variety (which the IMDb insists on calling Jealousy for some reason) pushed him into the ranks of F.W. Murnau. Carl Laemmle brought him to Hollywood to work at Universal. He made one film, Love Me and the World Is Mine (1927), and, for unclear reasons, beat it to England where he made two more big hits — artistically and financially — Moulin Rouge (1928) and Piccadilly (1929). (The latter the IMDb claims is “uncredited,” but this is because the IMDb can’t get it through their heads that in that era “An E.A. Dupont Production” was the equivalent of our “A Film by,” and does not mean it was produced by Dupont, but was directed by him. The IMDb makes me tired.)
Then sound came in and he apparently didn’t adapt too well. By 1933 his career in Europe came to an end and he spent the next few years knocking out B movies in Hollywood. Even that came to an end in 1939. He wouldn’t make another movie till he entered the realm of the low-grade independent film in 1951. This would lead to working for exploitation schlockmeister writer-producers Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen and The Neanderthal Man — a very low-rent production that is indefensible on every level, despite the once great Dupont and having been shot by the still great, but never very choosy, Stanley Cortez, who two years later would shoot Night of the Hunter.
What is there to say about The Neanderthal Man? I mean what is there to be said, apart from noting that it’s unintentionally very funny? Not much really. Robert Shayne (billed as Shane) — already established as Inspector Henderson on TV’s Superman — stars as a loony scientist of the George Zucco school. In other words, he’s as much out to prove that his detractors are wrong as he is to make any scientific breakthrough. An expert on prehistoric life (you can tell because he owns a book on the topic), he gets it into his head that Neanderthal man was actually more advanced than we are. To this end, he’s prone to transforming his mute maid (Jeanette Quinn) into a kind of ape woman (we only see photos of this) and housecats into saber-tooth tigers. Actually, he just turns them into tigers — except for a few lovably awful inserts (see above) of the dopiest looking stuffed toy saber-tooth tiger head imaginable.
As his madness mounts, he decides to turn himself into the title character. Mayhem, murder, and the obligatory Wisberg-Pollexfen cheesecake ensues. The strange thing is that the actual transformation scene — using the old trick of removing colored filters to allow already applied make-up suddenly appear — is pretty good. Unfortunately, this is not the make-up used once he’s fully transformed. That is an appalling over-the-head mask (with stylishly wavy hair) that looks exactly like what it is — not to mention that the film forgets that he grew long, pointed fingernails and hairy hands in the close-ups. Oh well. There’s also no evidence that his Neanderthal self is more advanced intellectually than modern man — and this despite the fact that the local yokels are far from prime subjects of humanity. Another good scientific theory gone south — just as the Piltdown Man displayed on the Professor’s evolutionary would be debunked as a hoax a few months after the film’s release.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Neanderthal Man Thursday, Sept. 4, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.