Friday, August 14, 2015

Joan Goes Ape!

In 1925, an eager young hopeful with dance experience made her way to Hollywood and broke into the movies in choruses and bit parts. By 1927 she was a leading lady and by 1928 she was a star! But by 1970, our girl had clung to top-billing for over forty years and was reduced to “starring” in some less-than-prestigious horror fare. Trog (1970) would be the last feature film to star legendary movie icon Joan Crawford.
One can almost envision a simultaneously clever and cruel trailer for the film: “On an otherwise ordinary day of exploring, these three brave young men descended into an unknown cavern...”
“...down, down they went, unaware of the unspeakable horror that awaited them...”
“...suddenly they were confronted with the eons-old, prehistoric terror from a time long gone...”
“...they faced the savage, staggering fright of...”
“...JOAN CRAWFORD!”
To be honest, the film makes beefcakey promises in its first twelve minutes that are never again kept. The college-age men (two of them anyway) must strip down to their boxer shorts and wade through an underground lake. One of them is more than a bit gangly and nerdy to boot.
But the other is beefy, built and beautiful in the extreme! His hunkalicious haunches are never on display as much as one would hope (or as much as the other stringbeany guy), but what we do see is dreamy.
Unfortunately, the trio stumbles upon a hideous cave-dweller, a half-man/half-ape (actually a half-man/half-Halloween costume!) who is not at all happy to have any interlopers coming into his underground abode.
The troglodyte (“TROG!”) proceeds to kill one guy (Geoffrey Case) and scare the bejesus out of another (John Hamill.) The third one (David Griffin) manages to get the surviving one to a nearby institute run by a top anthropologist, Dr. Brockton (Miss Joan Crawford.)
There, Hamill is kept under sedation until he might one day be able to articulate what happened to him apart from delirious mutterings such as, “That face! That horrible face!” (Not exactly the nicest thing to be saying while awakening to the sight of Crawford hovering over one's bed, eyelashes looming along with the ever-present smear of lipstick!) And, sadly, we never see Hamill again!

The police, led by inspector Bernard Kay, want to know what exactly happened in the catacomb and sincerely doubt the story from Griffin, the only person to exit the cave with his senses intact. He feels that it's either a prank gone wrong or a cover-up.

Crawford, on the other hand, fully believes Griffin's story and wants to be taken to the cave. She wants to get down there and see for herself what lurks beneath before the police head down there with guns blazing.

In one of the movie's screamingly funny absurdities, Crawford is bedecked in a smart, taupe, stirruped pantsuit and a miner's helmet and suddenly appears down inside the cave which heretofore was shown to be a significant challenge for the three strapping young men to get down to! Her lone concession to having had even the slightest difficulty is a brief brushing off of the front of her (spotless) jacket, as if perhaps a granule of debris ended up there during her spelunking...

Even though we're expected to believe that the sixty-five year-old Crawford made the arduous trek down this treacherous cave, she seems tentative when it comes to walking upon (convenient) stone steps across the water and allows Griffin to help her navigate them.

After poking about briefly, Griffin is ready to give up and head back to the surface, but Crawford persists, eventually finding a portal in the rock. Griffin tries to convince her that there's no point in looking on any further and suggests that she cannot explore this newfound hole, but she shoots him one of her patented, "Listen here, buster..." expressions and proceeds on.

She defiantly sticks her head and her trusty camera through the hole just in time to find Trog angrily raising a huge boulder he intends to hurl at her!
Safely back at her institute, Crawford shows her photographs to policeman Kay, but he is still unconvinced that the whole thing isn't some sort of wild scheme or prank. Finally, the authorities are coerced into going down into the cave to retrieve Trog so that Crawford can study him as a missing evolutionary link.

Later, at the entrance to the cave, workers are furiously clearing the cave entrance of brush, making a big to-do of dragging little sapling trees around, but acting as if they weigh a ton!

A plethora of newspeople, soldiers, gawking public and even hamburger and ice cream stands are parked, waiting to see what is dredged up. The reporter shown here is played by David Warbeck, an actor who was in line to play James Bond in Live and Let Die (1973) if Roger Moore was required to do another season of The Persuaders and was held in paid reserve as a back-up Bond for several years.

Note that Miss Crawford seems to have a mini-troglodyte all her own attached to the back of her head. The hefty wind reveals her own strawberry blonde locks being blown forward while her attachment remains stiff and plastered into place!
Anyway, with cameras rolling and lights blazing, everything seems fine until the cave explorers hear a violent splash of water. We meet a hapless diver who Trog picks up and kills when he discovers that his home has been infiltrated!

Trog scampers to the surface, emerges into the harsh daylight and proceeds to terrify most of the people there. (Observe that the hamburger stand is selling Pepsi, the company Crawford worked for in the wake of her last husband's death and whose product she mercilessly promoted during the late-'50s through the early-'70s.)

Having had enough of all this foolishness, Crawford retrieves and cocks her rifle, armed with a hypodermic dart, and shoots the creature several times until he falls at her feet. She then arranges to race him to her place where she can monitor and study him.
Back at the institute, Trog is placed in a sizable cage with a shallow, straw-filled pen inside for "comfort." (There's so little straw in it to provide padding, one wonders why they bothered!) Crawford tentatively attempts to communicate with the beast along with her daughter (Kim Braden.) They feed him raw fish and lizards, which he hungrily devours.

Crawford invites the press and some local leading citizens to come and take a look at her new find, warning them not to disturb the creature during their visit. Among them is Michael Gough, who previously was shown disputing the existence of the creature and now that it's been proven to exist, wants it dead (!), feeling that his upcoming housing development will be compromised if buyers know that a caveman has been unearthed and is lurking about!
One of the reporters in attendance is portrayed by Rona Newton-John, older sister of Olivia, who was pursuing a minor acting career at this time which didn't extend beyond a few more years.
Another reporter decides to take a flash photo of Trog, which sends him into a frenzy and causes Crawford to bark at him for disobeying her rules.
Crawford and Braden gingerly show Trog various toys, such as a spaceship (which he destroys) and as walking baby doll (which he opts to cradle.) The doll is amusing to say the least, with stringy blonde hair that's out of place and a mechanism that causes it to sllooowwwlly totter across the floor, shifting side-to-side unnaturally.
There is experimentation with music also, with classical selections to "soothe the savage breast" while jazz makes Trog want to destroy things! (It often has the same effect on me, too. Maybe my hairy chest is giving something away about my background...)

Another test involves reaction to color. Trog is cool with blue and groovy with green, but goes bananas when Crawford pulls out a cardboard circle that's red!
After being reprimanded by Crawford for his destruction of the red circle, Trog shows surprising tenderness when he caresses Crawford's scarf, eventually taking it from her and putting it around his own thick, hairy neck!
They also eventually take Trog outside to play ball and he seems to grasp the idea of catching it and rolling it back to his new friends. That is, until a German shepherd strolls onto the grounds and begins wanting to fetch the ball himself and then begins barking. This drives Trog over the edge and he begins fighting with the animal, ultimately killing it!
Now Crawford & Co. are in a bit of trouble because Gough has forced a town council meeting in order to force her to destroy the creature. He's even enlisted one of her trusted doctors to back him up at the hearing.

Gough's behavior at this meeting is completely off-the-hook to the point of absurdity. He never stops interrupting, even after being warned not to do so. Somehow, despite obstacles, Crawford manages to get a continuance rather than be made to kill Trog.
A cache of international scientists is brought in to meet with Crawford and assess Trog. Among them is Robert Hutton, a renowned surgeon, who wants to operate on Trog so that he might be able to speak! Another doctor is played by Golda Casimir, who had played the Bearded Lady in Crawford's prior film Berserk! (1967) and for some reason feels the need to scream most of her lines here.
Trog goes under the knife and later, in the movie's tackiest moment of all, we see his thoughts during the procedure played out on screen. He has an extended memory involving all sorts of (stop-motion) dinosaurs howling and fighting with one another. The footage is lifted from a previous movie, an old Irwin Allen documentary called The Animal World (1956.) Having this garish footage in the movie allowed Trog's trailer to punch up the cro-magnon angle a bit, but it's truly an unnecessary, cheap move that smacks of filler.
Crawford, armed with reports from the doctors and with Hutton by her side, returns to the next council meeting to plead her case for Trog. Again, Gough is insufferable and outrageous in his animosity towards the creature and her and is finally hauled out of the room by a security guard.

Now truly antagonized, Gough sneaks into the Brockton Institute and clobbers one of the security guards. He then heads into the laboratory and begins trashing the place, unlocking the cage and working Trog up into a frenzy so that he'll escape, be proven a danger and then eliminated.
Trog definitely lives up to the expectations of Gough and goes on killing spree! He enters the village at dawn, tossing a market owner through his own storefront window and giving the local butcher a taste of his own medicine by flinging the poor sap onto a meat hook! Then he upends a car with the driver still inside, which bursts into flames.
Next, he stumbles into a playground (which is strangely PACKED with children although the entire village seemed to be empty but for the three unlucky people Trog came up against!) Attracted by the sight of another ball, he heads into the area to play.
All the kids and mothers run screaming for their lives while one unfortunate girl just so happens to be coming down a slide right as Trog nears the bottom and, thus, is right in position to snatch her away!

Obviously reminded of the wobbly blonde doll he was once given to play with, he captures the little girl and heads back to his old underground abode.
There, a mass of people - military, press and local citizenry, have gathered to witness the capture of Trog and, hopefully, the retrieval of the little girl. No one wants to listen to Crawford as she exclaims that she could probably approach Trog herself and get the little girl back. Even the little girl's hysterical mother feels the need to come over and give Crawford a tongue-lashing. (Her reaction to everything below is greater than what wound up in the final cut.)
Ignoring the soldiers and police who have ordered her to stay back, she enters the mouth of the cave (which is suddenly bereft of people even though it was crawling with workers and soldiers a moment before) as her name is hilariously shouted, "Docccttooooor Brrooocccckton!" Under threat of being shot, she descends into the cavern one last time.

In a eye-popping continuity gaffe, Crawford's almost straight hair (having been pressed down by the outside wind) is suddenly tightly curled and neatly coiffed once inside the cave! Perhaps there's a beauty shop located in the cavern, though God knows Trog never patronized it!
I won't proceed to spoil what happens next though the movie's own lobby cards didn't mind giving away the ending (why did they so often do that??) Though this photo isn't from the movie itself, it promotes a happier ending than what awaited some of the characters! LOL  This sort of shameless promotion of Pepsi-Cola was a frequent part of Ms. Crawford's latter career, though it's a priceless shot of the performers.

Trog has made its way onto several (many!) lists of all-time worst movies and it certainly isn't good. However, during a recent high-def, widescreen viewing, I couldn't help but be struck by the still-present professionalism of Miss Crawford. Her full commitment to any role she played was still palpable here, even in this dreck. It's also, of course, filled with hooty campy moments that make for an unintentionally amusing viewing, best done in small groups of snarky friends. Nevertheless, I could watch Joan Crawford read a phonebook aloud and NO ONE can match those amazing, expressive eyes, even at this late stage.

Some fans of the film have, over time, become so fond of its loony charms that they've even gone to the trouble of creating a stage musical based on it! Chicago's Hell in a Handbag Productions put forth "Trogg! A Musical!" in 2011, with the playwright (a gay male, natch!) portraying Joan while Trog is depicted as a rather good looking caveman with spiky hair. The production incorporates aspects of 1960s Beach Party movies into the mix as well.  Though I tend to shy away from things like this, the show was reviewed as being clever and funny.
As mentioned above, this was Miss Crawford's final appearance in a feature film. She did a bit of TV, the last being an enjoyable episode of The Sixth Sense before officially withdrawing from public view in 1974 after a series of unflattering photos were published of her and an unwell Rosalind Russell. Crawford had always been proud of her appearance and up until that incident was frequently called upon as a hostess (see below a photo from 1972 in which she is entertaining some foreign dignitaries and industry men.)
Now Joan had enjoyed some cromagnon-ish costars in the past (even her eight-time leading man Clark Gable had been described by Darryl F. Zanuck as looking "like an ape!" in 1931 screen test!), a couple of which included Jack Palance in Sudden Fear (1952) and Barry Sullivan in Queen Bee (1955), but Trog tops all of them in that department.

In 1977 at the age of seventy-two (give or take - her birth year is in dispute even now!), Crawford passed away of a heart attack while simultaneously battling untreated pancreatic cancer. Having once remarked, "If you're going to be a star, you have to look like a star, and I never go out unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star. If you want to see the girl next door, go next door," she receded from view once confronted with evidence that she may not look the part anymore.

Gough enjoyed a lengthy, busy career as a character actor, having first appeared in the 1948 film Anna Karenina with Vivien Leigh. He proceeded to work in many movies, quite a few for Hammer Films, the studio who produced Trog. He'd also costarred in Crawford's prior film Berserk! He also took home a Tony award in 1979 for the play "Bedroom Farce." Later, he popped up in films of varying prestige from Out of Africa (1985) to Batman (1989) and three of its sequels (as Alfred the butler) as well as Sleepy Hollow (1999.) By then he was ready to retire, but lent his voice to two further Tim Burton films, having built a strong relationship with the director by then. He died in 2011 of natural causes at the age of ninety-four.

Kay also enjoyed a lengthy and prolific career with an early role in Carry On Sergeant (1958) followed by countless TV appearances. He performed in movies as diverse as Doctor Zhivago (1965), The Shuttered Room (1967), Darling Lili (1970) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), continuing to work up until 2010. On Christmas Day of 2014, he passed away at the age of eighty-six.

Braden barely registers here as Crawford's daughter, though she soon went on to successfully play the title character in the British miniseries Anne of Green Gables (1972) and its follow-up Anne of Avonlea (1975.) a highly sporadic career followed, though she amassed a new set of fans playing Patrick Stewart's wife in the 1994 movie Star Trek: Generations. It was the last time to date that she has worked on screen. She is currently sixty-six (and wouldn't it be nice to know what she thought of working with La Crawford?)

Griffin went from work on British television in the early-'60s to roles in various movies such as If... (1968) and Battle of Britain (1969.) He continued to balance the occasional film role with plenty of television and in 1991 won the part of Patricia Routledge's exasperated neighbor Emmet on the Underworld favorite Keeping Up Appearances, a show that lasted until 1995. He's only appeared in a handful of things since that and is currently seventy-two (and, again, wouldn't it be great to hear his take on working with Crawford?)

Hutton had worked in movies from 1943 on (inheriting a couple of roles that would have gone to James Stewart had Stewart not enlisted in the service during WWII.) By the mid-'50s, he was still appearing in films, but was leaning far more heavily into television roles. In the mid-'60s, he moved to England where he did a few episodes of The Saint and the occasional horror feature. (He also wound up in Anthony Newley's outre 1969 flick Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? as an insurance agent.) Retiring in 1975, he lived until 1994 when he dwindled in a nursing facility after a serious fall. He was seventy-four.

Chloe Franks, who played the little captive girl, proceeded to work with a couple more vintage stars such as Shelley Winters in Who Slew Auntie Roo? (1972) and Elizabeth Taylor in A Little Night Music (1978.) After exiting the biz in 1983, she was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis and eventually a campaigner for rights of disabled people. She is currently fifty-two.

And what about Trog, himself? The unfortunate missing link was played by a diminutive wrestler named Joe Cornelius. At 5'5" he was well-matched to (the surprisingly petite) 5'3" Crawford, and was even shorter when hunkered over. His physically demanding profession allowed for him to move adeptly as the troglodyte. Much has been made over his horrendous makeup and costume (allegedly leftover in part from 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1969!) and they really didn't do a very good job in making his face a deep grey while his body remained peach, the mask and hairy cowl just hanging over a normal human body.

However, credit must be given to Cornelius for succeeding in conveying some emotion behind that ticky-tacky facade. His eyes are expressive and his body language is usually appropriate. It's actually rather sad when Gough bursts into the laboratory and starts to bait him when he's right on the threshold of finally articulating and perhaps even becoming docile among modern man. For those who've always wondered, here is what Trog looks like out of his get-up. Mr. Cornelius is still alive today at eighty-six!

I saved Hamill for last because I always try to end posts with a bit of a treat if I can. The blond bodybuilder had been a mighty popular physique and posing strap model in the mid-1960s and parlayed his good looks into a movie career.

The same year as his work with Crawford, he acted alongside Beryl Reid and Flora Robson, two stalwart British talents, in The Beast in the Cellar (a moody chiller.) There was also the apocalyptic thriller No Blade of Grass this same year, in which the world's wheat and rice crops are threatened by a virus.
He kept very busy on TV and the occasional movie such as Travels with My Aunt (1972) starring Maggie Smith. (One can't say he was working with slouches!) He soon, however, began to segue into saucy, racy sex comedies which paid the bills at the time, but ultimately hampered his legitimate acting career.

By the late-'70s he was already out of the business (notwithstanding a single 1989 appearance on TV.) He instead began to support himself with a pine furniture making business. He is now sixty-eight (and is yet another person whose recollections of the stars he worked with in his early career would be fascinating to hear.)
Although I was tempted to make the above picture "the end," this publicity photo below of Miss Crawford's on-set chair, shaded by a Pepsi-Cola umbrella, seems to make a lasting statement regarding the latter part of her life and career, so I couldn't resist using it instead. How neat that someone took it during the making of Trog!

9 comments:

normadesmond said...

i wonder how many face lifts joan had. certainly one, but were there more?

rico said...

I think JC didn't opt for cosmetic surgery until the '60s and early '70s. BUT I think Mommie worked the Gene Hibbs style "lift tapes"like nobody's business!

So much crazy Crawford on-screen/off-screen weirdness like Strait-Jacket and Berserk!

My favorite detail is those "interesting" pockets in several of her dresses here. I understand Crawford designed some of her latter day dress designs...inspired by many sips of "Pepsi," I'm sure!

Armando Kotch said...

Another Joan Crawford gem I have to watch sometime. I've seen Berserk! and Strait Jacket and you are right, Joan Crawford was a complete pro in those movies, too.
Michael Gough shared a scene with a huge nail in Berserk!, but I'll always remember him as Lord Delamere ("D, if I'm lucky") in Out Of Africa.
Maggie Smith, one of my favorites, gave a very flamboyant and fun-to-watch performance in Travels With my Aunt, but the movie could have used some beefcake from John Hamill.

BloggerJoe said...

What a great post! I'm always interested to learn more of Ms. C's career. Thanks!

Gingerguy said...

OMG,"Trog"!!! what a great post. Too much to say, but nothing says Scientist like a clipboard, and I remember her walking around with one every time they were in the lab. This movie is a scream, and not for the right reasons. Totally agreed on her 110% commitment to the material. I love when she is playing ball and giving positive feedback "Good Trog!" Her delightful daughter Christina said in an interview I read that at the end her Mother did movies like this, which she compared to porn, as long as she was the star. I haven't seen this in a while and forgot about the village killing spree. I guess that's why it's a horror movie and not a comedy. But give me some scary Joan in mountain climbing gear any day. Outstanding Poseidon.

joel65913 said...

Terrific overview of this cinematic misfortune. I put off seeing it for years despite having several opportunities because I just hated the idea that this was how Joan wrapped up her film career. However after seeing all of Crawford's sound films, and several silents, I had to break down and complete the set. OY!! Poor thing. The thing that ran through my mind throughout the movie was how no matter the circumstances Joan was a pro to the bone and would not permit herself to phone it in.

With all that said this is a piece of dreck which while not quite as low as Veronica Lake's sad swan song Flesh Feast is the worst thing Joan ever did, even worse than Ice Follies of 1939 which until I saw this was without question the lowest rung on her filmography. It's a shame that she lost her confidence after this and passed on several project that might not have been classics, Crescendo, Airport 1975 but would surely have offered a more dignified exit and capstone to her film legacy. She was the first choice to play Martha Kent in the Christopher Reeve Superman but was too ill by that point to accept. That's a real pity, that would have been a great final bow.

Thanks for the lovely pictures of John Hamill, a casual stroll through the internet showed that he was not shy about his attributes. It would have been nice if he had stayed in the film longer.

David Brum said...

Joan's nemesis Bette Davis outlived her, but Bette's final film may have been even worse than Trog. 'The Wicked Stepmother' wasn't even campy-bad, it was just tragic. I would love to see a feature on "Infamous Swan Songs" (unless there has been one already).


Poseidon3 said...

My life has been INSANE. Not only a landslide of work, but my (86th! lol) birthday and a work convention at which I not only was putting in overtime, but sang two songs at the opening session... Anyway, I'm finally back on track and will be putting up a post momentarily.

Norma, I used to know Joan's facelift history, but have since let it slip though the cracks. I feel like she had at least two. One, perhaps her third (?), was done after her withdrawal from public view, I think!

I must concur with Rico that I believe she held off on them until the 1960s, though it is possible she did something cosmetic during that looonng time she cooled her heels at Warner Brothers before accepting any parts on her contract. Also, Rico she does indeed have many pockets in her "Trog" outfits and this has to set a record for the film in which her hands are in them the most! I seem to recall she even kept her hands in her pockets when she was lambasting the photographer for using a flashbulb (or, in her words, "a flashlight!")

Armando, you MUST partake in "Trog" asap! Every time I watch it, I like it more than the previous time...

Thank you, BloggerJoe! I try my best to give good post. ;-)

Gingerguy, so glad you liked this post and the movie! Christina had some nerve comparing films like this to porn... Hammer Studios was no MGM, but they had slick, well-made genre movies that were respected to a point within the genre and many that are considered classic now. ITA about treating Trog like a pet! There's also a definite umbilical cord between Dr. Brockton and Lucretia Terry from "The Caretakers" -- almost as if Lucretia was driven out of the psychiatric hospital, crossed the pond, changed her name, mellowed a bit and founded the Brockton Institute! LOL

Joel, I thought "Ice Follies" was poor, but I liked the way Joan looked in most of it. I would have to study her filmography further to pick my least favorite or "worst." Needless to say, had she accepted "Airport 1975," I'd be playing the movie on an endless loop in my house! "Airport '77," too! She tried to wrangle Joel McCrea as a costar, probably preferring not to work with Joe Cotten after that "Hush... Hush" debacle, and being horrified that they wanted her on set within a week of being offered the part.

David, I completely agree with you. "Wicked Stepmother" is barely a coherent movie, maybe even not! It's DREADFUL and so much more embarrassing than this in my opinion. Joan probably watches in in heaven with a big bowl of popcorn, laughing hysterically.

Gingerguy said...

Your Troglodyte was a Trog delight-HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!