Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Valley of Gwangi

Go To

Cowboys versus dinosaurs!

The Valley of Gwangi is a 1969 American film about cowboys fighting an Allosaur (not a Tyrannosaur, though it is often mistaken for one). The film is known for its Stop Motion Animation creature effects provided by Ray Harryhausen.

The idea had already been done years earlier in the movie The Beast of Hollow Mountain but "Gwangi" is the better known of the two. 'Gwangi' was originally conceived by Willis O'Brien, the man who did the special effects for King Kong (1933).

Sometime near the turn of the century, a cowgirl named T.J. hosts a traveling rodeo show, currently parked near a desert town. Her former fiancé, cowboy "Tuck" Kirby, wants to buy her out, but T.J. has hopes that her latest discovery -a tiny horse- will boost attendance to the show. A British paleontologist named Bromley declares the creature to be an Eohippus, a prehistoric horse.

The horse came from an area known as "The Forbidden Valley". A gypsy woman claims that it should be returned or they will all suffer the wrath of a being she calls "Gwangi". Later Bromley helps a group of gypsies steal the horse, (he hopes to follow it to its home). Tuck, T. J. and several of their cowboy helpers set out to recover it, and follow them into the valley.

It turns out the valley is a Lost World that has a variety of prehistoric creatures including a Pteranodon that attacks them, but the cowboys kill it. They are then attacked by the titular Allosaur. Gwangi battles a styracosaur and wins. The cowboys try to capture the monster by lassoing it around the neck and pulling it down with several horses. However they only succeed when Gwangi knocks itself out while pursuing them.

The cowboys take it back to the town where it is to be put on display in T.J.'s show. However on the opening night one of the Gypsies sneaks in and begins to unlock Gwangi's cage in an effort to free it. He gets killed for his troubles, and Gwangi escapes, killing Bromley and a circus elephant in the process.

Eventually Gwangi, Tuck, T.J and a Mexican boy named Lope end up in a cathedral which catches on fire. They (the humans, that is) manage to escape and lock the door behind them, trapping Gwangi in the burning building which then crumbles around it. The movie ends as everyone watches Gwangi die.

Tropes in this film:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Paleontologist Doctor Bromley.
  • Artistic License – Paleontology: Cowboys fighting dinosaurs in the Lost World? Check. Gwangi depicted as a bloodthirsty monster with kangaroo stance? Check? Pteranodon with bat-like wings? Check. Suffice to say, the film was not made with paleontologists in mind.
  • Bring It Back Alive
  • Carnivores Are Mean: Played with and subverted. While Gwangi is considered a devilish figure in local folklore, the professor emphasizes that he's just an animal, no more evil than an alligator.
  • Character as Himself: The titular Allosaurus / Tyrannosaurus rex is credited as Gwangi in the end credits.
  • Character Development: Tuck loses his greedy selfishness over the course of the movie. Interestingly, T.J. briefly develops it.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Carlos restrains a bull in the amphitheatre by wrestling it to the ground by its neck. He uses those same tactics to kill a Pteranodon that captured Lope by giving it a Neck Snap.
  • Children Are Innocent: Lope, by virtue of being the most honest character among the entire cast. Sure, he tried to con Tuck out of a few coins, but he really needed the money.
  • Covers Always Lie: Unlike the more traditional green colouration on the film poster, Gwangi is a rather splendid shade of purple. T.J. also has red hair, not black.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Downplayed with Tia Zorina's dwarf assistant. He's technically an antagonist, but the most depraved thing he does is an Evil Laugh after knocking out Carlos from behind.
  • Domesticated Dinosaurs: Attempted twice, succeeds with the Eohippus. But fails with Gwangi himself.
  • Escaped Animal Rampage: Gwangi escapes from his cage, and naturally goes on a rampage, killing everything he can get his teeth on.
  • Failed a Spot Check: It is not until the expedition is very deep within the dinosaur valley and really needs them that they notice they accidentally brought the firearms of the Wild West spectacle that are loaded with blanks instead of ones loaded with real bullets. Tuck even calls Carlos (who collected the firearms) an idiot for making such a gaffe.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The protagonists' plan of bringing dinosaurs to civilization and use as an attraction just ends with death and destruction.
  • Greed: Both Tuck and Bromley catch a bad case of this when they see the Eohippus. T.J. isn't immune either, once Gwangi is caught she planned on using him to make a fortune in her show. Needless to say, in the end nobody got what they wanted.
  • Horse Returns Without Rider: When the heroes are all riding out of the Forbidden Valley, Carlos the Mexican Roma is pulled from his horse by Gwangi, and the Allosaurus then eats him alive, thereby fulfilling the prophecy Tia Zorrina gave Carlos at the start of the film that Gwangi would kill him like his brother Miguel if he took anything from the Evil One ("anything", in this case, being the Eohippus Miguel stole from Gwangi and brought back to Carlos at the cost of his life). Tia Zorrina specifically mentions Carlos' horse when confronting the heroes to tell them about his fate.
    Tia Zorrina: In a dream, I saw it. The great jaws snapping, the riderless horse. He was doomed.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: The little boy Lope survives both the Pteranodon attack in the middle of the movie, and Gwangi's rampage near the end. Pretty much anyone else who crosses the Dinosaurs' path aren't so lucky.
  • Informed Species: Gwangi is officially an Allosaurus though Harryhausen describes him as more of an allosaurus/tyrannosaurus hybrid.
  • Jerkass: Tuck and Carlos.
  • Kill It with Fire: How Gwangi dies at the end of the film, trapped in a burning church that collapses from within.
  • Living Dinosaurs: Gwangi and some other fauna of the "Forbidden Valley".
  • The Load: T.J., though Professor Bromley may be a better example.
  • Lost World: The "Forbidden Valley" where Gwangi comes from.
  • Neck Snap: Carlos kills the Pteranodon this way.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Carlos spearing the Styracosaurus enables Gwangi to kill it faster, after which he's free to run after the heroes, and Carlos is the first one he catches up to.
  • Prehistoric Monster: Gwangi himself, of course, but also a Kidnapping Bird of Prey Pteranodon and even the Styracosaurus hassles the humans!
  • Redubbing: The actress playing T.J. had such a thick Israeli accent, she had to be redubbed.
  • Romani: As typical of the times, presented as superstitious, sinister, and Too Dumb to Live.
  • Rule of Cool: The whole point of the movie.
    • Allosaur versus Styracosaur!
    • Allosaur versus Elephant!
    • Ray Harryhausen himself has expressed that the idea of cowboys lassoing a prehistoric monster several magnitudes larger, stronger and heavier than what those ropes should be able to hold is more than a little silly, but also provided visuals that were simply too entertaining to pass up.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The gypsy woman predicts that the "spirit of evil" (i.e. Gwangi) must return to the valley or there will be much death. When the circus ignores her, she sends another gypsy to try and free Gwangi in the middle of the main act, which does indeed result in lots of death.
  • Shout-Out: Later on, Gwangi appears not on the warpath and he scratches the side of his head, just as the Tyrannosaurus in King Kong (1933) did.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A diegetic version with the band playing circus music while Gwangi escapes from its cage and everybody's running for their lives — until the musicians decide to follow suit.
  • Spexico: The movie was shot in Cuenca, Spain. Also, Gypsies are far more common in Spain than in Mexico.
  • Starring Special Effects
  • Super-Persistent Predator: Averted. Gwangi's behavior seems to be more that of an animal whose territory has been invaded by aggressive forces, then taken to an unfamiliar environment, causing him to lash out. When we see him in his home environment, he's far less eager to fight.
  • Temper-Ceratops: The Styracosaurus hates everyone.
  • Trampled Underfoot: Tia Zorina sends her dwarf assistant to release Gwangi from his cage, but once Gwangi kills him, Tia Zorina, as a blind old woman standing by the entrance tunnel of an amphitheatre, can't find her way out of there, and ends up being run over by audience members fleeing through the tunnel.
  • T. Rexpy: Though Gwangi is meant to be an Allosaurus, the stop-motion model is based on Charles R. Knight's depiction of Tyrannosaurus and consequently, many viewers thought that Gwangi is a Tyrannosaurus despite clearly being small enough to be wrangled by cowboys. Even Harryhausen himself seemed confused as to exactly what kind of dinosaur Gwangi was supposed to be. The confusion eventually led Harryhausen to retcon Gwangi's species as Tyrannosaurus al, a hybrid of the two dinosaurs.
  • The Unreveal: The movie never explains how prehistoric creatures (from various eras separated by millions of years to boot) had survived in the valley. Does anyone really care about finding that out?
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The gypsies, especially the old woman who claims the little horse should be returned to the "The Forbidden Valley" or everybody will suffer a curse, to the one Gypsy who sneaks around and tries to free Gwangi from his cage.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: T.J.'s Eohippus just disappears after leading the characters to the valley. It's never seen or even mentioned again.