12 Days Of Dino Dicember #7: Valley Of The Dragons (1961)

Stock footage. The quintessence of cheap filmaking since its very beginning, the saviour of many low budget productions for decades, constantly growing over time and often very fuckin free, etc.

It’s and always will be a constant for visual media, but there are case when you can take it too far, like the infamous Gamera Super Monster, the final Showa era Gamera film, composed almost entirely of stock footage from previous movies in the series. Sometimes you can indeed go even cheaper, but shouldn’t, unless you wanna risk destroying any goodwill, fanbase or prospects.

Though this isn’t the case, with Valley Of The Dragons we have instead the story of trying to adapt the Jules Verne novel Off Of A Comet/Career Of A Comet, which was actually not published in US territories at the time, due to it being very anti-semitic.

A very loose adaptation mostly made to chase the success of previous film adaptations of Verne’ stories…. and because producer Donald Zimbalist wanted to have it heavily based around the stock footage from One Billion BC, as he owned the rights to that.

In its own way, this is also pure cinema at heart.

The plot begins in 1881 Algeris, with a duel between Irishman Michael Denning and Frenchman Hector Servadac, interrupted as a passing comet literally sweeps them off the face of the Earth, and they find themselves “isekai’d” in a prehistoric world with cavemen and dinosaurs. The two men try to find a way back home, but get involved in the rivarly between two tribes, while also having to survive the many encounters with the dinosaurs rampaging through the land.

We already mentioned 1940’s film One Billion BC during the review of King Dinosaur, and guess what, Valley Of The Dragons rips stock footage from King Dinosaur, as well as from Cat Women of The Moon (which Zimbalist also produced) and… Rodan? Yeah, i don’t have quite the time to properly research how the hell they did get the rights from Toho, but given that the production company Zimbalist set up for Valley Of The Dragons… never made anything else, i’m inclined to guess they never got the rights to begin with, and just used the stock footage anyway.

I mean, it’s literally 5 seconds of stock footage of Rodan flying around the volcano, and it not that clearly shown, so at the time of release you could easily not even notice that its stock footage, nor that it was from a japanese monster movie, unless you were already well versed in kaiju eiga.

To my surprise, this is a situation where the stock footage was most likely necessary due to budget woes, but was integrated when they clearly couldn’t afford to make expensive effects for the action scenes involving the creatures, and this isn’t that abhorrent in regards to the use of the stock footage. Aside from super laughable final scene where the cavemen are attacking the stock footage of an iguana with spears. Jesus.

Sure, it’s super obvious when the monsters are stock footage from something else (as their either rear projections and-or sport a noticeable difference in terms of actual film quality), but the main bulk of the movie, about the cavemen tribes and the two ex-duelists finding romance and shelter in this prehistoric world… it’s actually original footage, and to be honest the story it’s an interesting variation to the usual cavemen/dinosaur story (even if ridden with the usual sexist shit you’d expect from the decade and the subject), the acting is surprisingly good, and it’s fun enough.

The only thing that’s outright ridiculous it’s the nehanderthal hominids looking like cavemen versions of the aliens from They Live, but aside from that it’s a miracle that , despite the stock footage galore and very cheap nature of the production (as in the dinosaurs are the titular “dragons”, is that kind of cheap shlocky film), Valley Of The Dragons turned out to be even ok.

Curiosly, this would be the first but not the last time the novel was adapted for the big screen, with an attempted 1962 version from American International Pictures that ultimately wasn’t made, a Czech adaptation in 1970 called “On The Comet”, and ultimately a 1979 Australian production titled “Off On A Comet” too. Better than expected for a fairly unknown Verne story, overall.

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