We are Devo: A mad scientist devolves into “The Neanderthal Man” in this 1950s sci-fi schlockfest

By on January 31, 2019

German-born director E.A. Dupont’s suspense-filled sci-fi schlockfest The Neanderthal Man (1953) — now streaming on Night Flight Plus — reveals what happens when a mad scientist develops a de-evolution serum which he hopes will prove his hairbrained theory that the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal Man was just as smart as his Homo sapien descendants.

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“Professor Clifford Groves” (Robert Shayne, listed as “Shane” in the credits) lives high up in California’s mountains somewhere near Mammoth Lakes, where he’s developed an anthropological theory which equates the size of skull and brain with intelligence, and therefore, he believes Neanderthal Man was equal to — if not superior — to Homo sapiens.

Groves secludes himself in his home lab, where he’s previously experimented on his deaf-mute housekeeper “Celia” (Derlene “Jeanette” Quinn/Tandra Quinn) with a serum which reverts any living being to its original evolutionary state.

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Meanwhile, at Webb’s Café, where the local clientèle meet, a hunter “Mr. Wheeler” (Frank Gerstle) claims to have seen a prehistoric sabre-toothed tiger in the woods,.

Bar owner “Charlie Webb” (Lee Morgan), “Danny” (Robert Easton) and skeptical game warden “George Oakes” (Robert Long) laugh off the hunter’s claims, but Oakes has a quick change of mind on his drive home after the sabre-toothed tiger leaps onto the hood of his car, baring its fangs.

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Oakes later heads down to Los Angeles to show plaster casts of the tiger’s footprints to a paleontologist named “Dr. Ross Harkness” (Richard Crane), who decides to head to the mountains to find out the truth.

Harkness ends up staying at the Groves’ home at the invitation of Groves’ fiancée “Ruth Marshall” (Doris Merrick), and also ends up falling for Groves’ grown daughter “Jan” (Joyce “Joy” Terry).

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Meanwhile, down in L.A., Groves’ theory is ridiculed by naturalists at a scientific conference, so he angrily returns home to the High Sierras.

The next day, Oakes and Harkness kill the tiger, but the dead cat’s body disappears before they can show the grumpy Groves (who acts skeptical about everything even though he’s already knows the real truth).

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Groves and Marshall’s relationship is on the skids, and he ends up throwing her out of his home.

He then injects himself with his secret sauce, turning into the Neanderthal Man and escaping into the forest, where he kills hunter “Jim Newcomb” (Robert Bray) and his dog.

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A local barmaid “Nola Mason” (Beverly Garland) and her photographer boyfriend “Buck Hastings” (Eric Colmar) are taking cheesecake photos in the woods when they encounter the Neanderthal Man, who kills the shutterbug and grabs the barmaid, carrying her off.

In Groves’ lab, Harkness comes across the serum, which he injects into a caged cat, turning the tabby into a tiger, which then escapes.

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Nola the barmaid survives, but she’s pretty banged up, and she’s brought to Grove’s home for medical treatment, but you’ll just have to watch for yourself to see what happens next.

The Neanderthal Man‘s screenplay — by writing-producing powerhouse duo Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen — is often singled out for its junk science, not to mention inconsistent Jekyll/Hyde-ish and Wolfman-like makeup and ugly masks, crap SFX and clunky props.

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By the by, Groves’ de-evolution theory reminded us of Devo‘s song “Jocko Homo,” and The Complete Truth About De-Evolution, which incorporate elements from German pseudo-scientist Oscar Kiss Maerth’s The Beginning Was the End (1970), which basically posits the idea that early hominids ate the brains of their primate cousins.

Professor Groves doesn’t seem to have any particular interest in being a cannibal, though.

Read more about The Neanderthal Man below.

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Ewald André “E.A.” Dupont — born on Christmas Day, 1891, in Zeitz, a small town in Burgenlandkreis district, in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany — and worked for many years as a journalist, film critic, screenwriter and playwright before directing his first feature, Varieté (1925).

The film — a vivid, sexually-charged thriller set in the circus world, starring Emil Jannings — featured a shifting point-of-view through the eyes of various circus performers, even showing us what trapeze artists see as they swing high above us.

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It was such a huge success internationally that Dupont was given many opportunities to work elsewhere, and so he left Germany for America, where he made one film before returning to Europe, moving to England to become director general of production for the newly-launched Elstree Studios in London.

Dupont would end up directing several more English-language films — notably the sophisticated melodramas Moulin Rouge (1928), and Picadilly (1929), starring Chinese/American actress Anna May Wong — before returning to Hollywood, where in 1936 he began directing low-budget, cheaply-made exploitation B-movies from inferior-quality screenplays.

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The main thing that most critics say about Duponts movies was that it didn’t seem like he gave a shit about any of the projects he worked on, which was likely accurate.

In 1940, Dupont even retired from directing, becoming the editor of the Hollywood Tribune as well as working as a talent scout and agent, but a decade later he was back again, directing low-budget movies while struggling with the serious drinking problems that plagued the rest of his life.

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He earned a reputation for being difficult to work with, on set and off, and unlike other German émigrés like Fritz Lang or F.W. Murnau, Dupont went from disappointment to disappointment.

Most of his shoddy schlockfests bombed at the box office, although his comeback film, 1951’s noir thriller The Scarf was later praised as an overlooked diamond in the rough.

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Dupont working mostly in television thereafter until his death in 1956.

Watch The Neanderthal Man 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.