“King Dinosaur”: Four brave scientists on a newly-discovered planet battle oversized lizards

By on March 18, 2019

In low-budget filmmaker Bert I. Gordon‘s schlocky directorial debut, King Dinosaur, the atomic age collides with the stone age when giant lizards battle for supremacy after a strangely Earth-like planet suddenly begins orbiting around the sun. Watch it tonite on Night Flight Plus.

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Released in 1955, and set just five years in the future (!), the 63-minute long sci-fi b-movie tells us what happens after four brave scientists are selected to visit a new planet to see if it’s suitable for colonization by Earthlings.

The film’s official scientific error-ridden plot synopsis begins this way: “When a new star named ‘Nova’ settles in the Earth’s galaxy, a half-year’s rocket flight away, feverish plans are made to send an expedition of four to the new planet.”

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A voiceover narrator (Marvin Miller, from ’50s TV’s “The Millionaire” series) tells us about the crew while we see their rocket ship being assembled and packed with equipment and supplies, including a small, economy-sized nuclear power plant which can be converted into an atomic weapon.

Only four characters appear in the movie: medical specialist/physician “Dr. Ralph Martin” (Bill Bryant), zoa-geographer “Dr. Dick Gordon” (Douglas Henderson), chemist “Dr. Patricia Bennett” (Wanda Curtis), and geologist/mineralogist “Dr. Nora Pierce” (Patti Gallagher).

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The foursome are pleased to discover that Nova looks just like earth. After hiking into a forest, they manage to get themselves lost, and Martin slips and injures himself after landing on the back of an alligator.

Drs. Gordon and Pierce head back to the rocket to retrieve supplies, while Bennett takes care of Dr. Martin, who awakens after having been unconscious for a day and a half (or so we’re told).

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Nora wants to check out a strange little isolated island in the middle of a lake, so she and Dr. Henderson — along with a cute little “honey bear” (actually a kinkajou, intended as comic relief) they’ve named “Little Joe” — raft over to the island.

There, they get their first sighting of a “Tyrannosaurus Rex,” and the escape by hiding in a cave. The oversized reptile tries to squeeze into the cave behind them before it ends up fighting with another giant lizard, and then a second fight breaks out with the first fight’s victorious reptile.

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Patti Gallagher (“Dr. Pierce”), Doug Henderson (“Dr. Henderson”), Wanda Curtis (“Dr. Bennett”), Bill Bryant (“Dr. Martin”) and their economy-sized A-bomb, along with a tongue-wagging “king dinosaur”

Drs. Martin (miraculously recuperated) and Bennett join them, and they all decide, before they return to Earth, that the best thing to do to end everyone’s suffering (including the audiences) is to detonate that portable atomic bomb to free Planet Nora from its pesky dinosaur problem.

Afterwards, Dr. Bryant exclaims, “Well, we’ve sure done it. We’ve brought civilization to planet Nova. Let’s go home.”

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Read more about King Dinosaur below.

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Smile for the camera!

King Dinosaur was produced (that’s probably overstating it) on a microscopic budget by the same company, Lippert Pictures, which four years earlier had birthed Lost Continent.

The film’s original story — credited to Bert I. Gordon and Al Zimbalist — appears to have been based on a short story they’d written called “Beast from Outer Space,” although there’s also a 1953 screenplay called King Dinosaur by Guy Reed Ritchie, based no doubt around the theatrical re-issue of the original King Kong movie a year earlier, so perhaps he was involved too, or Gordon simply used Ritchie’s title for his own film.

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The production schedule for King Dinosaur — which features scenes shot in the mountains of Southern California’s Big Bear and in the caves and caverns at Bronson Canyon, a popular section of L.A.’s Griffith Park — was about two weeks long, beginning sometime circa early September 1954, although some online sources actually claim the movie was completed in as little as three days, which is pretty believable given what we’re seeing onscreen.

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As you can probably tell from the lobby cards and still photographs, the rocket ship is simply a superimposed German V-2, and Gordon’s prehistoric dinosaurs were nothing more than rear-projected over-magnified iguanas.

Setting any expectations aside is all part of the fun of watching an illogical black & white b-movie like this, which obviously cuts a lot of corners due to the shrimp-sized production budget.

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We’re also treated not only to hokey ’50s-era sci-fi heavy dialogue, but also stock b&w footage filler — some of it the non-dinosaur stuff from Hal Roach’s One Million B.C. — as well as laughably lame and wholly inadequate optical effects and sound effects, and just about everything else you’d expect from Gordon’s universally-panned Grade-Z rated King Dinosaur.

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This film’s ugly-ass iguana lizards, Gila monsters and at least one out-of-place looking armadillo — capably wrangled by associate producer and animal trainer Ralph Helfer of Nature’s Haven — are generally considered by most critics and moviegoers to represent the very nadir of the dino-movie sci-fi sub-genre, residing at the absolute opposite ass end of the spectrum from Steven Spielberg’s CGI and animatronic-laden magnum opus Jurassic Park (1993).

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During the rest of the Fifties, and into the ’60s and ’70s, Gordon — nicknamed “Mr. Big,” and not just because that was his actual initials — would helm a series of budget-challenged films featuring thematic giantism, including The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Beginning of the End (1957), The Spider (1958), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), Village of the Giants (1958), and The Food of the Goods (1976).

Mystery Science Theater 3000 memorably parodied the film in their show’s second season, in December 1990.

Watch King Dinosaur on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.