Joan Crawford probably didn’t envision her film career ending with a notoriously bad, low-budget drive-in picture about the Missing Link. Yet, Trog (1970) was the cinematic swan song for the actress that graced the silver screen in classics like Mildred Pierce and Johnny Guitar. It was, incidentally, the only Joan Crawford movie I saw theatrically; it was the second half of a double-feature with Hammer’s Taste the Blood of Dracula.
To be fair, Trog isn’t as dreadful as many critics would have you believe. If you want to watch a truly awful film about a caveman coping with modern civilization, then I recommend you check out Eegah! (1962). With a (much) better script, Trog could have been an interesting ethical drama about whether the caveman should be treated as a scientific specimen or a human being. (By the way, that premise was explored in Fred Schepisi’s 1984 film Iceman and, to a lesser degree, in a 1970 Burt Reynolds movie called Skullduggery).
Trog opens with three spelunkers discovering a caveman in a cavern near the Salton Marshes. The troglodyte–dubbed Trog for short–kills one of the youths and leaves another wounded and in shock. The third young man, Malcolm, goes to work for anthropologist Dr. Brockton (Crawford) who wants to study Trog. She captures the caveman and keeps him chained and in a cage in her facility.
Brockton and her daughter Anne teach Trog how to imitate human actions such as winding up a walking doll. They even train him to retrieve a ball, which sadly leads to the worst dialogue Joan Crawford ever uttered in a movie: “That’s a good boy, Trog!”
Not everyone supports Dr. Brockton’s experiments. A local entrepreneur (Michael Gough) wants to build a housing project and argues that having a murderous caveman in the community is bad for business. There’s also an incident in which Trog kills a neighbor’s dog while playing fetch with Dr. Brockton. (This scene really bothered me…I mean, Dr. Brockton was playing with Trog in an open meadow where anyone could happen along?)
As one might expect, Trog eventually gets free–but he doesn’t go on much of a rampage. Sure, he kills a couple of villagers in fear and kidnaps a little girl that looked like the doll. It makes for a pretty low-key climax and reinforces the fact that, contrary to popular opinion, Trog is not a horror movie at all.
Neither Joan Crawford nor Michael Gough can do much with their cliched roles. Still, I think Joan might have been more effective if she had played Brockton with more restraint.
One of the more ridiculous scenes in Trog has the caveman “remembering” the days of the dinosaurs as the result of an experiment. (Never mind that humans and dinosaurs existed a few million years apart!) The good news is that the dinosaur scenes were lifted from the 1956 Irwin Allen documentary The Animal World and were animated by Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen.
Trog producer Herman Cohen also worked with Joan Crawford on the earlier (and better) psychological thriller Berserk (1967). Also, though it was paired with a Christopher Lee Dracula film in the U.S., Trog is not a Hammer film. However, two notable Hammer alumni worked on it: Freddie Francis (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) was the director and John Gilling (The Plague of the Zombies) co-wrote the original story.
Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café , on Facebook and Twitter. He’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course!