Willis H. O'Brien became one of the best known animators of the horror movie genre, but in The Dinosaur and the Missing Link we are given a taste of his talents and a hint of things to come.
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THE DINOSAUR AND THE MISSING LINK


(1915/Edison/Conquest Pictures) 5mins. BW. Silent. Animated. US.
Credits: Willis H. O'Brien.

 

Willis O'Brien's The Dinosaur and the Missing Link (1915)This little seen curio, being only one reel in length shows us a foretaste of what Willis H. O'Brien was to achieve with considerably greater success in 1933's immortal classic King Kong. THE DINOSAUR AND THE MISSING LINK is the earliest of "Obie's" work and still in existence today. In addition, all O'Brien's other prehistoric clay animation shorts are also available making it easier for film historians to study his techniques. His last film culminated with IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD, WORLD (1963) when he suffered a fatal heart attack on November the 8th. 1962 at the age of seventy-six.

Willis O'Brien's animation methods had been in use in the very early days of film, but it would be these skills that he would perfect from simple trick photography to the exhaustive stop-motion animation processes that became a vital element in feature-length motion pictures and a precurser to contemporary computer graphic animation.
The entire cast of his early films were constructed of wooden skeltons over which the likenesses were sculpted in clay. Today it's increasingly difficult to appreciate the sheer hard work that went into creating living, breathing monsters for early cinema audience's delight, particulary with the all too real graphics that we now come to expect.

THE DINOSAUR AND THE MISSING LINK is set in the Stone Age and relates the simple tale of Theophilus Ivoryhead.
The Duke and Stonejaw Steve vie for the attentions of Miss. Araminta Rockface, who asks them to  provide some meat for their dinner. Meanwhile, Theophilus is sent to catch some fish causing him to encounter, Wild Willie, a large gorilla (O'Brien would later credit him as being King Kong's ancestor), the terror of the countryside who is also hunting for his dinner. During a skirmish with a Brontosaurus, Wild Willie falls off the dinosaur's back, hits his head on a stone and killed. Theophilus Ivoryhead returns to the cave proudly standing over his catch to the disbelief of the others.

The film was produced in 1915, but not theatrically released until 1917 when the Thomas A. Edison company bought the film for $525. Edison also purchased other films by O'Brien including Prehistoric Poultry, the Dinornis or Great Roaring Whiffenpoof (1917).

After The Ghost of Slumber Mountain in 1919, which reputedly featured O'Brien himself in the cast, his next big venture would be an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, and from here his achievements were finally recognised. Ray Harryhausen, a pupil of O'Brien's would continue his mentor's form of animation until his retirement after CLASH OF THE TITANS in (1981).

Some American video companies carry in their catalogue THE DINOSAUR AND THE MISSING LINK and five of Willis O'Brien's other shorts, giving us the chance to study these fascinating works of early animation.