Man Beast

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Connie Hayward leads an expedition into the Himalayas to find her brother, lost on a yeti hunt. Schlockmeister Jerry Warren’s debut movie is probably his best. Not that the bar is set particularly high. 4/10

Man Beast. 1956, USA. Written & directed by Jerry Warren. Starring: Asa Maynor, George Skaff, Tom Maruzzi, Lloyd Nelson, George Wells Lewis. IMDb: 4.3/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

Jerry Warren’s 1956 low-budget film Man Beast opens with aerial stock footage of the Himalayas, with a narrator giving us the short ABC of the yeti in a foreboding tone. The movie itself starts in medias res, as Connie (Asa Maynor) and her boyfriend Hud (Lloyd Nelson) enter what is presumably an inn in a Tibetan village, looking for a Dr. Erickson. Insteat they find dashing mountain climber Steve (Tom Maruzzi). It transpires that Connie’s brother has been lost with an expedition hunting the abominable snowman, and Connie is hoping to catch the follow-up expedition led by Erickson. However, she is half a day too late. Fortunately, Steve agrees to be their guide up the treacherous mountains. Up they go, Connie pushing ahead, with skeptical and irritable boyfriend Hud revealing himself to be of rather poor boyfriend material — and guide Steve revealing himself to be of much better stock. After evading falling rocks, avalanches and horizontal ice walls, they finally catch up with Erickson (George Wells Lewis), his suspicious Asian guide Kheon (Jack Haffner) and a third man whom I can’t recall anything about.

The jovial Dr. Erickson operates under the impression that the yeti are in fact not monsters or even animals, some prehistoric remnant of early humans. Kheon is not so optimistic. When asked whether he has seen a yeti, he replies that he hasn’t, fortunately, as he elaborates: “See yeti — die!” Eventually the six person strong expedition reach Connie’s brother’s camp, which has been thrashed and abandoned — save for their talkative and friendly guide Varga (George Skaff). Together they set out to find Connie’s brother and the yeti’s lair. But the yetis have already found them, and start stalking the party, appearing unseen from behind rocks and snooping around their tent.

Lloyd Nelson as Hud, Asa Maynor as Connie and Tom Martuzzi as Steve.

Now follows a series of mini expeditions where the party members split up to go roaming the snow-clad mountains in threes and pairs and return to their tents and disappear and reappear, and at one point Varga actually leads them to a cave inhabited by the yeti — and the audience is tuned in to the fact that Varga is actually in league with the snow men. The mole men attack the group, and I think this is where Kheon and the sixth member of the group are killed and Connie realises her brother is dead. However, the rest of the team are unaware that Varga is in league with the yetis, and after escaping, plan to return in hopes of capturing a yeti the next day. However, Hud gets thrown off a cliff by a yeti (the film thus conveniently removing the third wheel from the romantic triangle) and Connie and Steve are attacked by one, while Varga leads Dr. Erickson to his cave, where the film’s startling reveal is made: Varga is in fact a yeti himself. Just as Dr. Erickson had theorised, the yetis are in fact primitive humans, and for five generations, they have kidnapped human women for breeding purposes, trying to speed up evolution and breed out the yeti strain. And now they have their sights on poor Connie. Of course, this builds to the long-awaited showdown of the film — hunky Steve battling half-yeti Varga for the damsel in distress.

Varga (George Skaff) revealing his hairy chest.

Man Beast has the distinction of being the directorial debut of Jerry Warren, widely known as the creator of some of the shoddiest monster movies in cinema history, including such bottom-of-the-barrel fare as Teenage Zombies (1959), The Wild World of Batwoman (1966) and Frankenstein Island (1981). In an interview with Tom Weaver Warren says that as a kid growing up in Hollywood, he wanted to get into the movie business, and first tried to cut it as an actor in the forties, but only got a couple of uncredited bit-parts. Being told that producing was where the money was at, he he decided to try his hand producing and directing a movie. Calling on favours from friends in the business, he got together a small budget and a script, and started making Man Beast in classic Roger Corman guerilla mode. The script is credited to a “B. Arthur Cassidy”, which is probably a pseudonym for Warren himself. He tells Weaver he couldn’t afford professional movie actors, so the cast consisted primarily of players from Pasadena Playhouse and a number of small theatre groups in Los Angeles. Key footage from the snowy mountains were lifted from another film (“a Monogram movie”, according to Warren). Some of the climbing shots are quite effective and well-filmed, but alas, they are from the stock movie. According to one source it was Mexican, but it seems to have taken place in the Swiss Alps, which is why the actors in Man Beast are decked out the rather bizarre gear for hunting yetis in the Himalayas: Tyrolian hats, thin anoraks, knee stockings and most alarmingly: no gloves or mittens.

One of the effective stock climbing shots.

One of the people Warren enlisted was Brianne Murphy, who was credited as script supervisor, but in reality worked with a bit of everything behind the scenes. She was supposed to play one of the yetis, but was too small for the costume and collapsed under its weight after a couple of takes. Warren and Murphy got married after finishing the film, and they worked together on a few more projects, even though the marriage ended in 1959. Murphy later went on to become a pioneering cinematographer and Academy Award winner. Like the actors, the crew was also made up of people with little experience of the movie business. It was the debut movie of cinematographer Victor Fisher, production supervisor Richard George and sound engineer Jim Donovan and one of the earliest productions of musical supervisor Joseph Zimanich and actor Raymond Guth, working here in the capacity of set supervisor. Bit-part actor Ralph Brooke took on the tasks of assistant director, art director and associate producer.

George Lewis as Dr. Erickson and Jack Haffner as Kheon.

Warren tells Weaver he rented a tiny studio called Keywest Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard and filmed some of the exterior and cave shots at the ubiquitous Bronson Canyon. As opposed to many similar films made in the period, however, the actors are filmed on actual snow and ice, which adds greatly to the movie’s atmosphere and realism, and helps sell the transitions between original footage and stock footage. These scenes were filmed outside a ski slope near the town of Bishop, California, probably the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. “So we had ice and glaciers, that was no problem”, Warren tells Weaver. However, a problem was that they had no sets to establish the film in Tibet. Warren didn’t have the time or money to build a village, and of course going to Tibet was out of the question. So instead, he took his actors, climbed over the fence to a neighbouring studio, which had a backlot set of a Mongolian village, quickly shot the required scene, and climbed out again.

Tom Martuzzi and Asa Maynor in the snow.

The first-billed actor in the opening credits is “Rock Madison”, who doesn’t appear in the movie at all. Warren has claimed that “Rock Madison” played a yeti, and that he had another small part that was cut out of the finished film, however, others have confirmed that no such actor existed, and that Warren made him up in order to make the cast look bigger and have a star-sounding name at the top of the bill. At one point he allegedly considered billing Tom Maruzzi as “Rock Madison”. When Brianne Murphy collapsed under the yeti suit, the monster was played by a variety of people — mostly, Murphy tells Weaver, by Jack Haffner, who also played Kheon, a character with little interaction with the yetis. But at one point cinematographer Victor Fisher also donned the yeti suit, leaving Murphy to do camera duty instead.

The yeti.

The story implies that there is a whole colony of yetis living in the caves, and in one scene the explorers are attacked by a whole group of them. But Warren only had one yeti suit, and the inexperience of both director and cinematographer shows in the scene. It is painfully obvious that there is only one suit recycled in shot after shot. The suit itself is not very convincing, but as far as low-budget yeti/ape man suits go, it is better than many. Jerry Warren tells Tom Weaver that the suit was bought off the rack at a costume shop, and he suspects that it was the same suit that was used by Ray “Crash” Corrigan in White Pongo (1945). Warren says the film team swapped the monkey facemask for a black yeti mask.

Lloyd Nelson.

The above production notes should make it clear what sort of film we are dealing with, quality-wise. However, this is not by a long shot Jerry Warren’s worst movie, in fact it may very well be his best one. Of course, problems abound. For most of the film’s running time, nothing much happens, and the actors either go off on meaningless hikes in differen constellations or sit around a campfire, in the snow or in a tent debating either each other or the existence of the yeti. The whole business of Connie looking for her brother is a flimsy MacGuffin for a yeti hunt, and might have worked as such if it that storyline had just been left untouched. Now, however, for some bizarre reason Warren has written into the dialogue some inane notion of the brother taking some experimental injections that require him to stay at high altitude or he will die. This is something that Connie just blurts out in one of the many meaningless conversations, but this plot line never goes anywhere. Then there is the whole business with the shifty mountain guide Kheon, which takes up much of the conversation in the middle of the movie, which only serves as a red herring, as Kheon suddenly just disappears from the film. Another talking point is Varga, who is deemed the most excellent yeti guide in the Himalayas, despite the fact that it is common knowledge that someone goes missing on every single one of his expeditions. Should any warning bells ring here at some point?

George Skaff as Varga and George Wells Lewis as Erickson.

Despite large swathes of the film being made up by stock footage, it actually works. First, the stock footage matches the original footage quite well, it is well filmed and it works within the story, and seldom feels forced or tacked-on. As stated, the snowy surroundings add atmosphere and realism, not only for the viewers, but for the actors as well. There is a definite difference for an actor pretending to be cold under hot studio lights in front of papier mache cliffs and standing knee-deep in actual snow on a ski slope.

Actual ice climbing.

Plus, the actors do a hell of a job selling the picture. Most of the actors were new to the movies and probably took the job as a fun challenge and a change of pace from day jobs and low-pay stage work. There’s a sort of naive enthusiasm on display from almost all of the actors, even if the acting is a bit broad and stagey from time to time. (As a sidenote: some of the actors are billed under pseudonym — these were union actors who couldn’t appear under own name because the movie was made outside the unions.) In fact, I’d go so far as saying that Asa Maynor as Connie is great in this film. You absolutely believe her as the naive but headstrong no-nonsense gal who woould battle yetis and bigfoots in order to find her brother, and who throws her boyfriend under the bus when he can’t keep up. Maynor is magnetic in the role! Maruzzi and Nelson give adequate backup, even if they aren’t blessed with the best of dialogue, and George Wells Lewis as Dr. Erickson does a good Edward van Sloan impression. George Skaff is the other bright star of the movie, nimbly throwing himself between dashing hero and charismatic villain, always with a wry and mysterious smile. Jack Haffner, unfortunately, is stuck with the unenviable task of playing superstitious red herring in yellowface, and he doesn’t do a very good job of it. The cast certainly didn’t win any Actors Guild Awards for their work, they enthusiastically soldier on and to a large degree make the film watchable, and even enjoyable at times.

Asa Maynor.

Man Beast had a limited distribution and wasn’t picked up by many reviewers, either in the newspapers or trade press. Hortense Morton at the San Francisco Examiner called the film “what you’d expect” and opined that the suspense was better than the performances. The Exhibitor called it “hardly more than filler for the lower half”. Variety thought it was “exploitable, but just fair entertainment-wise”.

Jack Haffner.

Man Beast currently has a 4.3/10 audience rating on IMDb, based on 500+ votes and 2/5 stars at AllMovie. Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide gave it a “BOMB” rating, its lowest rating. Film historian Bill Warren in his book Keep Watching the Skies! calls the film “somewhat less rotten” than the rest of Jerry Warren’s films. Later in the article, he states: “The movie benefits from good use of stock footage and the several sequences Warren shot on real mountainous locations, and deserves a point or two for its part-human, part-yeti villain. But it’s slow going, with tedious dialogue and static direction.” The collective judgement from my usually well-informed sources in the world of online genre critique is pretty unanimous. Mark Cole at Rivets on the Poster writes: “this is an impressively cheap film, with lots of recycled stock footage, a lot of obviously studio bound scenes (mostly in tents), and lots of talk.  Lots and lots and lots of talk. But the end result is something Jerry usually only aspired to: an entertaining, if minor, B-Movie.” And Dave Sindelar at Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings says: “This is actually pretty amazing—a coherent Jerry Warren film. It’s still badly acted and the script is pretty clumsy at times, but he does a much better job of using footage from another film to augment this one than he usually does”.

Yeti action.

So, Man Beast is pretty much what you’d expect from a 50’s yeti movie: it’s cheap, it’s ridiculous, it’s creaky and amateurish. But it’s also quite entertaining, and surprisingly well cobbled together, considering it’s a Jerry Warren movie. Asa Maynor sprightly performance made this movie for me, with good backup by George Skaff. I watched it on my laptop during a train ride and it worked perfectly well as time-killing entertainment.

Alongside little green men and flying saucers, the yeti was all the rage in the evening newspapers and tabloids in the early fifties, with one British tabloid even funding a yeti expedition to the Himalayas, and Sir Edmund Hillary himself giving credence to the yeti myth. Given its gossip value, it’s actually surprising that relatively few B-movie makers latched on to the abominable snowman. However, there was a small boom of yeti films ranging from 1954 to 1957. Most horror film aficionados can name W. Lee Wilder’s The Snow Creature (1954, review), Ishiro Honda’s Half Human (1955, review), Man Beast and Hammer’s The Abominable Snowman (1957), which closed off the cycle. However, few know that the very first abominable snowman film was actually a Finnish comedy called Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä, or “Pekka and the Stump on the Snowman’s Trail”, released a few months prior to Wilder’s movie. And as far as production values go, it is possibly the best of the lot, rivalled only by Honda’s movie. After this minor explosion of yeti films, the subgenre more or less died out and has never really recovered.

Up and up we go.

Jerry Warren learned much from his experience on his first movie. Firstly, it convinced him that a bit of good stock footage is all you need to make an exploitation film. Second, he realised that if you want to make money of of dirt cheap pictures, you want to make two at a time, so you make money from both upper and lower bill. He tried to get Man Beast distributed as a single movie, but most distributors stuck in in the bottom bill of a double feature, meaning Warren made little profit from it.

Jerry Warren (left) on the set of “The Wild World of Batwoman” (1966).

Warren produced and directed three more films between 1957 and 1962: Teenage Zombies, The Incredible Petrified World and Terror of the Bloodhunters. However, he thought producing his own movies was still too costly, and instead started importing foreign films, around which he filmed new material, primarily ultra-cheap in small rented studios. His first project as such was the Swedish/American production Rymdinvasion i Lappland (1958), directed by Virgil Vogel, to which he added an on-screen narration by John Carradine and released it as Invasion of the Animal People. Carradine became one of his regulars for such productions, along with Katherine Victor, Robert Clarke, Bruno Ve Sota and Lloyd Nelson. In these productions, Warren often cut out all the foreign films’ dialogue and used the action sequences, and filmed new material with American actors who explained the plot either in exten sive narrations or simply by sitting in front of a camera talking to each other. He explained his style to Tom Weaver: “I’d shoot one day on this stuff and throw it together…I was in the business to make money. I never, ever tried in any way to compete, or to make something worthwhile. I only did enough to get by, so they would buy it, so it would play, and so I’d get a few dollars. It’s not very fair to the public, I guess, but that was my attitude…You didn’t have to go all out and make a really good picture.”

Tom Martuzzi.

Warren closed off, seemingly, his career with an all-original production, The Wild World of Batwoman (although not without special effects inserts from a menagerie of other films, for example from the film of our last review, The Mole People). The movie was born out of the popularity of the Batman TV series. The movie regularly shows up on lists of the worst movies ever made, and in looked a lot like it was going to be Warren’s last film, as he dropped out of the movie business to live on his ranch. However, getting wind in 1981 that B-movie schlock was on the rise again, he wrote a script for a new film, dragged his old stars out of their semi-retirement and made Frankenstein Island, which was released to scathing reviews. There was talk of a sequel, but it never came to pass. Warren passed away in 1988.

Asa Maynor.

The internet knows rather little about Asa Maynor, other than the fact that she born in Birmingham, Alabama, and that between 1962 and 1971 she was married to actor Edd “Kookie” Byrnes. This despite her having a decent line of IMDb credits between 1956 and 1972 as an actress, and later went into TV production. However, digging around old newspaper archives reveal that she moved to California to study theatre at UCLA. I thought perhaps her first name was a sign of Swedish descent, but according to an article in The Birmingham Post from 1982, she was named after her grandfather Asa Gibson Maynor. Like most of the cast of Man Beast, she did stock theatre in Los Angeles when she was discovered by Jerry Warren in 1956. And whatever what might say about Warren, Man Beast was her first movie or TV role, even if she tended to “forget” her debut film when asked about her acting career in newspaper interviews in the early 60’s. A fun little piece from the Orlando Evening Star from February 1957 features a short interview with Maynor as one of the 19 hopefuls auditioning for a role in producer Albert Zugsmith’s film The Girl in the Kremlin (1957). Zugsmith made a publicity stunt out of it, looking for a young actress willing to have her head shaved for the part. The paper describes her as a redhead, and she says: “I’m really a brunette, and I was thinking anyway of going back to my original color. This way it will come out natural and I won’t have to pay for a dye job.” According to the article, she didn’t get the part, on account of being too tall. Later in her career, she dyed herself blonde, noticing that she got a lot more attention from casting agents after she appeared in a play wearing a blonde wig, according to another newspaper interview.

Asa Maynor with William Shatner on “The Twilight Zone” episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” in 1963.

There seems to have been a small buzz around Maynor in the early 60’s, when she got a contract at Warner, as she appears in a number of interviews and promotional clippings, talking, among other things, about her diet and her hair colour change. In order to present her as a fresh face, her agency claims her debut film was the 1959 James Cagney vehicle Never Steal Anything Small, despite the fact that she had appeared in at least four films prior to that, mainly in small or uncredited parts, but claims she has over 150 TV credits to her name, which is a dubious claim, as IMDb lists only 5 TV appearances between 1957 and 1961. Nevertheless, she was busy between 1959 and 1963, working for Warner and appearing in numerous TV shows, including such mainstream favourites as Perry Mason, Lawman, McHale’s Navy, The Rifleman and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. She is best known, perhaps, for her role as stewardess opposite William Shatner’s panicked airplane passenger in the classic The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (1963). Genre fans may also recognise her as Mrs. Riley in a substantial supporting role in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), which was her last on-screen appearance. All in all she appeared in a little less than a dozen films, with Man Beast being her only billed appearance. IMDb lists around 20 TV appearances, so it’s probably closer to that than 150. In the 1982 interview she says she never regretted giving up acting in order to care for her son. When her son came into his late teens, she decided to give producing a crack, and ended up producing a small handful of TV movies. As of April, 2023, Maynor is still around at the age of 81.

George Skaff.

George Skaff went on to appear in Warren’s The Incredible Petrified World and a handful of other small film and TV roles, before returning to focus on stage work. According to newspaper clippings he had a succesful stint as a producer of lavish musicals in the early 60’s. He made a return to the big screen in 1972 in the cult SF/horror movie Frogs, and after that worked steadily in both film and TV in small roles close to his death in 1995. He can also be glimpsed in Exorcist II (1977) and Wavelength (1983).

Lloyd Nelson.

Lloyd Nelson continued working with Jerry Warren in such films as The Incredible Petrified World, A Bullet for Billy the Kid (1963), Curse of the Stone Hand (1965), Creature of the Walking Dead (1965) and The Wild World of Batwoman, on the side of his day job at the Pasadena Playhouse. Through the theatre he got a job as dialogue coach for the smash hit series Lassie (1954-1974) in 1960, as they needed someone to coach the young star of the show, Jon Provost. In 1967 he graduated to script supervisor on the show, a profession he liked so much that he almost gave up acting altogether in order to focus on his new career. In 1970 he switched from Lassie to Gunsmoke, where he worked for five years in the same capacity, before again switching to the big screen. In 1978 he was hired as supervisor on Every Which Way but Loose, and immediately struck up a friendship with Clint Eastwood, who would hire his services for most of his movies in the 80’s and early 90’s. Eastwood also liked giving him small cameos in his films, so he can ble glimpsed, for example, as a guard in Escape from Alcatraz (1979), desk sergeant in Sudden Impact (1983), bank teller in Pale Rider (1958), Sgt. Waldman in The Dead Pool (1988) and as a motorist in The Rookie (1990).

Brianne Murphy (left) in “Teenage Zombies” in 1959.

Brianne Murphy was born in London to Irish American parents in 1933. With WWII looming, the family returned to the US, where Murphy set her sights on acting, and started at the Neighbourhood Playhouse while attending college in New York. She hung around the set of Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront in 1954, and Kazan allowed her to follow the filming process. She did rodeo for a year, and one night crashed a travelling circus, where she performed as a clown for the entire evening in 1954. This led to a job as a still photographer for the travelling circus, which is what eventually took her to Hollywood, where she continued to work odd jobs in the movie industry. Her first jobs were for Jerry Warren and another low-budget filmmaker, Ralph Brooke. For both producer/director she often worked as uncredited production manager and often used herself as (again, uncredited) assistant camera operator. In the 60’s she filmed a couple of short films, and in 1972 made her debut as a director on the low-budget horror movie Blood Sabbath (1972). Most of her credited work still came from script supervision, but she got her lucky break in 1975, when the cinematographer of the hugely popular TV show Columbo quit to work on a movie, and suggested that Murphy take over his duties.

Brianne Murphy.

This led to more work as cinematographer at NBC and CBS and she cemented her reputation in 1978, when her work on one of the episodes of NBC Special Hour was nominated for an Daytime Emmy. The same year she worked as director of photography on her first TV movie. And in 1980 she broke a glass ceiling when she became the first female director pf photography on a feature film produced by a major Hollywood studio, when she was drafted by Anne Bancroft to film Fatso. She faced many hurdles — for example when she tried to join her local branch of the cinematographer’s union she was told by its chairman that he would let a woman join only “over his dead body”. “Well, he died”, she said in an interview, and she became the first female cinematographer to join the union. Other times she says she would get calls from producers asking to speak with “Brian Murphy”; “I’d lower my voice and get the job. When I showed up on set it was too late to fire me.” In 1982 Murphy received a shared technical Academy Award for designing a camera car and rig engineered to protect camera technicians while filming moving vehicles. Despite the odd detour to the large screen, most of her work was done in TV, where she became highly successful, snatching Primetime Emmy nominations thrice. Upon her death in 2003, ASC President Richard Crudo said that Murphy should be remembered for her artful cinematography in such classic television series as Little House on the Prairie, Trapper John, M.D., Highway to Heaven, Father Murphy and In the Heat of the Night.

Janne Wass

Man Beast. 1956, USA. Written & directed by Jerry Warren. Starring: Asa Maynor, George Skaff, Tom Maruzzi, Lloyd Nelson, George Wells Lewis, Jack Haffner, Wong Sing, Brianne Murphy, Victor Fisher. Cinematography: Victor Fisher. Editing: James Sweeney. Art direction: Ralph Brooke. Jim Donovan: Sound. Musical director: Josef Zimanich. Produced by Jerry Warren for Jerry Warren Productions.

4 replies

  1. Murphy sounds like quite a character! The sort of person you’d need on a low budget picture like this. As someone who has had the good(mis)fortune to sit through all of Jerry Warren’s pictures, I’d have to agree that ‘Man Beast’ is objectively the best. However, ‘Frankenstein Island’ can’t be beat for pure entertainment! It’s completely bonkers and quite wonderful.


    • Yeah! That’s maybe what I love most about doing this blog; finding all these wonderful life stories hidden away in the margins of movie history. People whose lives could easily be made into movies themselves.
      Haven’t seen Frankenstein Island in its entirety yet, but looking forward to it!


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