King Dinosaur (1955) – Friday Night At The Home Drive-In

POSTER FOR King Dinosaur (1955)King Dinosaur (1955) by #BertIGordon
#WilliamBryant #WandaCurtis

When a new planet appears near Earth, four scientists are sent to explore it.

“SEE…A prehistoric world of fantastic adventure come to life!”

“Terrifying! Fantastic! Startling!”

#Horror #SciFi

I’ve mentioned the name Bert I. Gordon several times on this blog. He was best known as a producer, writer, director of Sci-Fi and Horror features. He also sometimes worked as an editor, special effects guy, and even a cinematographer. King Dinosaur (1955) was the first film he every directed, which makes it somewhat historically significant to fans of his work and B-movies in general. Unfortunately, that may be the only thing that makes it significant. 

Tell me more about Bert I. Gordon

Forrest J Ackerman, the founding editor of the Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and quite possibly to godfather of science fiction fandom, nicknamed Bert I. Gordon “Mr B.I.G.”. This was not only a play on his initials, but also a reference to the fact that Gordon specialized in giant monsters. He liked to place actors in front of rear-screen projections of ordinary creatures, like lizards, to make them look gigantic.

Speaking of lizards…

King Dinosaur (1955) starts with a lot of stock footage and narration. Apparently a new planet has mysteriously appeared in our solar system. So a group of scientists are sent to check it out, and lo and behold it looks a lot like Earth. We can tell, because there’s a bunch of stock footage of animals from earth. They test the atmosphere, and it’s a lot like Earth’s, too, so they can remove their space suits and helmets and breathe the air. So now it really looks like we’re watching two couples wandering around a forrest on Earth, taking scientific samples of some sort.

They determine that it’s a fairly young planet – likely in the prehistoric period. Having collected their samples they head back to the ship so they can get the hell out of there before something bad happens… But unfortunately, they have trouble finding their way back, so they decide to make camp for the night.

At 22 minutes into the movie, there is still no proof as to why it’s called King Dinosaur. To be clear, we are over a third of the way through the running time at this point. Incidentally, there are a lot of animals like owls and deer that don’t necessarily match the idea that we are in a prehistoric time. One of the men trips and falls down a hill and find himself in a wrestling match with a normal size alligator (or crocodile). His name is Ralph, and he seems to be engaged to marry one of the women on the expedition.

The other couple heads back to the ship to get medical supplies, leaving Ralph and his blonde girlfriend to wait where they are (because Ralph is too injured to move.)

They are menaced by what appears to be a giant insect (hello Bert I. Gordon!). It’s never in the shot with them so it’s hard to tell how big it is but I think it’s supposed to be quite big. We are about halfway through the movie at this point.

Long story short (or perhaps short story that feels too long… somewhat shorter), they eventually discover that prehistoric dinosaurs are alive and well on this planet. Although, the “king” dinosaur (which I think is supposed to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex), looks a lot like a normal lizard (except made huge by Bert I. Gordon’s technical wizardry).

When this mighty beast appears in front of them, one of the men shoots his rifle at it. Why, I don’t know. Those tiny bullets surely couldn’t harm a gigantic dinosaur. Wouldn’t it be better to simply hide and be quiet? Aw, well, you get the idea…

Is King Dinosaur a lost classic?

No. But then again, “classics” are not what we tend to look for at the home drive-in.

Incidentally, the script for King Dinosaur was co-written by Tom Gries, who directed two of my favourite Charles Bronson movies: Breakheart Pass (1975) and Breakout (1975). I always wondered any they didn’t make more together, but it turns out that Tom Gries died far too young, at age 54 in 1977.

So what’s the final word on King Dinosaur?

King Dinosaur (1955) is the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that other #NotQuiteClassicCinema refers to as #NotQuiteClassicCinema. In other words, if you are in the right mood for it, it could be an inadvertently hilarious good time. Bert I. Gordon holds the dubious distinction of being the filmmaker whose work is featured most often on Mystery Science Theater 3000. King Dinosaur currently rates a 2.2 on the IMDb. I personally prefer Bert I. Gordon’s Earth vs the Spider (1958), or even War of the Colossal Beast (1958) – and I absolutely adore his much later cinematic triumph The Mad Bomber (1973) – but that’s another story. 

If you are a fan of Bert I. Gordon, you will definitely want to check out King Dinosaur. If you aren’t, really, and can take or leave his particular brand of science fiction madness, then perhaps you should steer clear. But if enjoy a late night descent into campy good fun, you can certainly do worse than add King Dinosaur to your next #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.