MOVIE REVIEW: SKULLDUGGERY (1970)

Man’s search for the Bigfoot, Yeti and Missing Link was a fascination for decades. With Google Earth and GPS, these myths seem more and more unlikely.

But two years before his breakout role in ‘Deliverance’, Burt Reynolds was adventuring around the jungles of Papa New Guinea.

He starred in an adventure film called ‘Skulldiggery’, based on the 1953 novel ‘Les Animaux dénaturés’ by French novelist Jean Marcel Bruller.

In the film, Burt plays Douglas Temple, a con-man and airplane mechanic, who tricks his way onto an expedition into the jungles.

The expedition is headed by Dr. Sybil Greame (Airport 75’s Susan Clark) and Father ‘Pop’ Dillingham (veteran Australian actor Chips Rafferty) are in search of the missing link.

Douglas and his partner Otto (Roger C Carmel aka Star Trek’s Harry Mudd) figure that being on the expedition they can discover a phosphorus deposit to make themselves rich. Well that is until Douglas falls for the Sybil.

It is interesting how this film predates Indiana Jones by over a decade and the sets, jungle shots and savages remind me so much of the 1970s ‘Tarzan’ TV Series starring Ron Ely. But the strange part is seeing Burt Reynolds in this kind of adventure film.

The Missing Link creatures or Tropi are really interesting to watch so you can see why the actors are having so much fun. The actors playing the Tropi must have had fun too. They give quite a good performance.

Reynolds is his charming self and really is the best part of the film. His chemistry with both Susan Clark and Roger C Carmel is quite memorable.

Carmel is quite funny even though his character is very similar to the character he played on ‘Star Trek’, the scheming Harry Mudd. His outfit even has extra deep pockets like on the show. You know, the pockets where he carried all his Tribbles.

The first hour of ‘Skullduggery’ is all about adventure and the innocence of the creatures.

But the movie takes a strange turn as the Tropis are enslaved to mine phosphorus. But the film never shows their enslavement or that anyone thought it was wrong. Just business as usual.

It is really no wonder that one of the original titles for the novel was “The Murder of the Missing Link”. But what is most sadistic is there is no conscience in this story.

The abuse of these innocent creatures and you would think scientists would know better. One the scientists exclaims, “well if these creatures can breed with humans, then they are human?”

WTF?? Then you won’t believe what happens next, never have I seen such a stupid turn of events.

The third act of the film goes into what is the measure of man. I think it was trying to be like the infamous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial where human evolution was put on trial. It just keeps getting sillier.

I think the producers of this film were trying to capitalize on the success of Planet of the Apes, which was released two years before. The sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes was released the same year as Skullduggery. All the pieces were there to make an Apes rip-off. An acclaimed French novel about our evolution and all the controversy surrounding that. You have a dashing star in Burt Reynolds. And finally a capable director and screenwriter. So why not?

But I can’t believe this was written by Nelson Gidding, the same screenwriter who would write the classic 70s sci-fi flick “The Andromeda Strain” just a year later. After this mess of a film I can’t believe he got another job.

(1 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer

 

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