"The Last Dinosaur" (1977) d/ Alex Grasshoff, Tom Kotani
I couldn't wait for Friday night to arrive, when my seven year old eyes came upon the above advertisement for tonight's review in that week's TV Guide, impressive as all Hell to a little dinosaur-friendly bastard like I was at the time, with the Tyrant Lizard topping my list of faves. Co-starring with Toru Kawai in a baggy Japanese kaiju suit (the quadrupedal dinosaurs are handled by two actors, pantomime horse-style!) are the likes of Richard "I Bury the Living" Boone, Joan Van Ark in her most challenging role ever (she's got to kiss Richard Boone), Steven Keats, and a whole tribe of Japanese cavemen.
"Unplug the projector, Bunta. I've got you covered!"
After a catchy Bond-esque theme song belted out by Nancy Wilson (the jazz vocalist, not the "Crazy on You" chick), we meet Masten Thrust (Richard Boone), as he's entertaining a young concubine with his exploits as the last great white hunter, in his curio room, filled with taxidermied big game from all over the world. After he's bagged her on his private Leer with a functional fireplace, he sends her packing with a solid gold bullet as a memento. It's love 'em and leave 'em for Thrust, as he's about to embark on his latest adventure: a trip directly into the pocket of a polar ice cap inside an amphibious drill called the Polar Borer, naturally, with a crack accompanying team consisting of Dr. Kawamoto, who'll be gathering samples, Chuck Wade (Steven Keats), the lone survivor of the last mission, who will provide ample back-sass and complaints and get called a ding dong for his efforts, a savvy photographer named "Frankie" (Joan Van Ark) who actually pretends to be sexually attracted to Thrust to land a seat, and a Maasai tracker named Bunta (Luther Rackley).
Racial stereotypes: Still funny enough for tv audiences in 1977.
After Thurst and Frankie are nearly trampled by a pantomime uintatherium, a saggy T-Rex with a lopsided face sneaks up on Kawamoto and squashes him like a bug before prodding and pushing their drill-ride back all the way back to the dinosaur bone yard set it calls home. The stranded Thrust, a seasoned hunter, loses his rifle in minutes, yells an awful lot, murders the Japanese caveman chief with a makeshift crossbow bolt, pushes around his new Japanese cave squeeze, Hazel (Masumi Sekiya), and even builds an elaborate catapult that has no effect on the monster's flexible latex skull. Frankie never runs out of makeup (months later) and the gang play Hot Potato with a plucked chicken while the tyrannosaur has a bloody battle with a pantomime Triceratops, and eventually adds Bunta to his list of victims, before Wade and Frankie realize that Thrust is finally in his element, and has no intention of returning to civilization with them after Wade stumbles upon the Polar Borer and improbably Fitzcarraldo's it back to the lagoon with her help. In a revolting last ditch effort, Frankie offers to be Eve to Thrust's Adam (Adam's grandfather, more like), but the stubborn hunter, the real last dinosaur, is left behind with his hairy arm candy and we're left with a refrain of that aforementioned theme over end credits.
"...The fuck just pierced my cardiac muscle?"
Though a seven year old me undoubtedly dug the shit out of tonight's review, thirty-seven years have left me more critical to the mostly laughable affair. The Tsubaraya Productions suit-mation isn't quite up to the late Eiji's standards, with it's spotlight T-Rex suit not on par with Toho's earlier Gorosaurus, but slightly more impressive than the Allosaurus puppet on Land of the Lost, which isn't saying much, really, considering the suit is the best one on display in the movie. If you listen carefully (and you've seen as many Toho movies as I have), you can hear that the dinosaur's roar is a combination of Gargantua/King Kong and Godzilla. On the scale, I gave Dinosaur two Wops for the nostalgic kick I got out of it and also, for the memorably cantankerous Boone performance. Worth a look.