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Not Rated
Copyright 1958 American International Pictures
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 6 January 2007

The Characters:  

  • The Symbol Maker - He who draws the crude symbols and is revered for it.
  • The Symbol Maker's Son - Robert Vaughn! An inquisitive young caveman, he believes that a whole world of opportunity awaits the tribe on the opposite side of the river. It will be Paradise...if they can avoid the dinosaurs, wild dogs, and quicksand.
  • The Symbol Maker's Son's Woman - These relational titles start getting pretty long. Imagine if she had a child from a previous marriage.
  • The Old One - You will lament the fact that he does not wear an animal skin to cover his scrawny chest.
  • The Boy Who Could Not Float - He sank.
  • Three Wise Men - They tend the three gifts given to Man: fire, a wheel, and something else.
  • The Evil Lame Caveman - He covets the Symbol Maker's power and eventually earns an arrow in the chest.
  • The God That Kills With Its Touch - Konstantin Karaghiosis! (Or his son.) Not a god at all, but a man who was born before the nuclear war. Radiation gave him amazing longevity and made him deadly to any who might approach. Brain mushed.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

First things first: typing "The Symbol Maker's Son" over and over is a surefire way to drive me batty. I am going to do it anyway, rather than use a catchy acronym like "SMS." Would you like to know why? The movie goes over the same thing, time after time, and I watched the movie in order to write about it for you. At the very least, you can suffer through me being repetitious as well.

The movie is set in a primitive time, when men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures lived in fear of being skinned and worn by them. The Symbol Maker's Son is unhappy with his lot in life. He questions the Law that governs the tribe, preventing them from crossing the river and hunting in the lush forest that lies beyond. Each time that he questions the Law, the usual answer from older cavemen is, "Because, that is the Law!" Convincing, when the agitated elder is standing in front of you with a club in his meaty hand, but the young man persists in his quest for "Why?"

Understanding the Symbol Maker's Son's unhappiness with the status quo is not difficult. Game and forage is sparse on the tribe's traditional hunting grounds, yet the cavemen refuse to venture farther due to the Law. Their solution to the lack of game is to spread out, shaking rattles and making noise until something attempts to eat one of the men. Other hunters quickly rush to his aid and kill the animal, hopefully before it does too much damage. The Symbol Maker is badly injured by a bear during one such hunt and is carried back to the tribe's cave on a litter. Luckily, the Old One has a medical leech handy.

Hold the phone! This guy gets chewed on by a bear and the remedy is to stick a leech on him? Who else thinks that the tribe probably has a high mortality rate?

Fed up at last, the Son of the Symbol Maker (ah, mixed it up on you) gathers a group of young men together and crosses the river. They find a land of plenty, but with many hazards. One of which is the famous and often reused scene of the caiman fighting a lizard from "One Million B.C." No matter how many times I see it, that fight always makes me cringe. After throwing some spears at the monsters, the caveteenagers flee from the terrible beasts. During their return trek, a member of the group is lost to quicksand (or, in this case, I believe it was quickmud). Knowing that the Law looks down on those who break it, particularly when the transgression results in the death of another, the Symbol Maker's Son elects to remain in the forbidden lands. The other teenagers return to the tribe's cave.

While exploring his new domain, the Symbol Maker's Son spies a squirrel. At first, I was under the impression it was supposed to be enormous, about the size of a large dog. How neat would that have been? Unfortunately, the director (Roger Corman, you may have heard of him) missed the opportunity for a unique arboreal menace. When the protagonist fells the sciuridae with a thrown rock, it turns out the rodent is regular-sized. He then builds a fire to roast the meat, but the feast is interrupted by the God That Kills With Its Touch. Fearing the hideous monster, which looks a lot like the suit from Night of the Blood Beast, the Symbol Maker's Son flees into the dark forest. He quickly runs into a tree and knocks himself out cold. I imagine that the man inside his radiation suit was disappointed by the caveman's reaction. "And to think, this is the smart one!"

I would like to point out that Robert Vaughn's skills with simple flint and tinder are miraculous. Remembering that he must be using true flint and steel, rather than what is called such today by many people, the fire building scene is terribly wrong. He grabs a huge wad of dry brush, stuffs it into a pile, puts both hands with the flint and steel down into the mess, and instantly has a blazing fire. No fine wood shavings, char, nor even a small handful of carefully selected dried grass and leaves were used. Maybe he is a pyrokinetic caveman! Now, that would be a fun movie to make. You could have Oog, raising up his hands and hosing down a threatening Allosaurus with a gout of flame created from thin air.

I probably just described the plot of next summer's blockbuster movie, "X-Men: One Million B.C."

During his brief exile, the young man invents the reed flute, bow, and, presumably, the bowline knot. He only gets into trouble after killing a deer with his new bow. While carrying the carcass (notice the terrible taxidermy job on the stuffed deer) back to his camp, a pack of feral hounds catches the scent and comes after him. The Symbol Maker, now recovered from his wounds, has been searching for his son and arrives just in time.

Upon returning to the tribe, the Symbol Maker's Son is condemned to a year of being a ghost, ignored by the rest of the population. The censure does not prevent him from flirting with the pretty cavegirl who is destined to become his mate.

An unexpected event stirs up the primitive society: the appearance of a man riding a horse, emerging from the impassable desert that borders the tribe's land. Unfortunately, the horse does not recognize the danger and the man is too weak from his ordeal; the Evil Lame Caveman and others chuck spears at the "strange apparition" until they knock him off his mount. Despite an impassioned plea by the Symbol Maker and his son, the wayward explorer is greeted as any new or different thing is dealt with.

It means that they stick a spear in him. Carry on.

Following the murder of the stranger, yet another long discussion of the Law takes place. It is so drawn out as to wear on the viewer, even if you go to the bathroom and fix a snack while the characters debate. Think of it as a caveman filibuster. If you do stay to watch the entire thing, God bless your patience, you will learn that the cavemen believe in precedent. They also believe in food and sometimes in cooking such food. Mostly, they believe in food. Who can argue with that sort of reasoning?

Troubled by the enforced isolationism, the Symbol Maker's Son makes another foray into the forbidden lands. His father goes after him, no doubt bored with this constant game of, "Come get me, I am in the forbidden lands." The disappearance of the two is highly suspect and Evil Lame Caveman, who has gained much popularity in the tribe by persecuting the pair, immediately rallies the hunters. This time, the party intends to find and kill the breakers of the Law, not merely deny them a voice in tribal matters. The single, glaring problem is that the primitive fugitives have already waded across the river.

The conversation between the Evil Lame Caveman and the other hunters is priceless. Let me paraphrase it for you.
Evil Lame Caveman: "The Law is not to cross the river. We must kill them for crossing!"
Hunter: "But they are already on the other side."
Evil Lame Caveman: "Well, go across and kill them for it!"
Hunter: "Wait, what was that first part again?"

Will the Symbol Maker's Son survive his ordeal, discover the secret of the God That Kills With Its Touch, and make lots of inquisitive babies with his blonde mate? Find out, by watching "Teenage Caveman" yourself! (Or you can hazard an educated guess based on all available information.)

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • "Teenage" has had different meanings over the years.
  • Some cavemen were capable of weaving fine cloth, while others would hollow out a sheep to wear.
  • Dinosaurs evolved due to the fallout from a nuclear war.
  • Bear maulings rarely result in any visible wounds.
  • Spears must be kept dry.
  • Sometimes, your worst enemy is a tree.
  • Gazing at your betrothed with loving eyes is a demanding task under the right circumstances, like a waterfall.
  • All that some women want from their husband is a nice, warm cave.
  • Men with large noses often die from having heavy objects dropped on their heads.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • Opening Credits - Who eventually domesticated, ate, or irradiated everything else.
  • 3 mins - You two need a larger pole.
  • 6 mins - The prop manager should have reminded him to use the same spear for every scene.
  • 21 mins - Crikey! Look at the size of that goanna!
  • 32 mins - Your strategy is what, exactly? Jamming your arm into the dog's mouth, so that it cannot bite you?
  • 42 mins - You guys need a website!
  • 49 mins - I should have counted how many times they say, "The Law." On second thought, I am not certain that I can count that high.
  • 59 mins - Ah! Dogs out of nowhere!
  • 62 mins - Nearly a third of the plot is explained in the next thirty seconds, so pay attention.


  • The Symbol Maker: "It's forbidden."
    The Symbol Maker's Son: "Why?"
    The Symbol Maker: "The Law!"
  • The Symbol Maker: "A Law is truth to itself. We must find a new Law."

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note teencaveman1.wav Evil Lame Caveman: "What does the Law say of he who would question the Law?"
Caveman Elder: "He must be punished."
Evil Lame Caveman: "How?"
Caveman Elder: "All will keep their voices from him for a time according to the years."
Green Music Note teencaveman2.wav The Symbol Maker's Son: "Are we to be made afraid by an old one's baby dream?"
Other Caveboy: "The Law..."
The Symbol Maker's Son: "Is old, but age is not always truth!"
Green Music Note teencaveman3.wav Evil Lame Caveman: "I say it is evil! Kill it, kill!"
The Symbol Maker's Son: "Stay! Look, it moves! It is no one beast, but a man atop an animal!"
Evil Lame Caveman: "There is no such thing!"
Green Music Note teencaveman4.wav Evil Lame Caveman: "What does he do?"
The Symbol Maker: "He makes a sleeping place for him and his woman."
Evil Lame Caveman: "Why? The old caves are big enough for all."
The Old One: "There is no Word of Law against it."

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipteencaveman1.mpg - 2.9m
The Evil Lame Caveman and other hunters have tracked down the Symbol Maker and his heretic offspring, who are looking at the God That Kills With Its Touch. Then, dogs out of nowhere!

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Comments:Write CommentPages: [1] 2
Re: Teenage Caveman (1958)
Reply #1. Posted on January 07, 2007, 09:31:26 AM by RCMerchant
Hahaha!I always had a soft spot in my heart for this movie.James Dean-Caveman!
Re: Teenage Caveman (1958)
Reply #2. Posted on January 08, 2007, 04:18:16 AM by Yaddo 42
Wow from a "teenage" anything to a burned out gunfighter to a suave (by TV standards) globe-hopping spy to an ambitious but cynical and cold DA with political aspirations in roughly a decade. I'll bet Robert Vaughn even looked middle aged in his baby photos and probably had the same hair style as well.

One of the first four or five times I saw MST3K was with this film. I knew the show was roughly two hours with commercials, and I came in on it part way through the show, but this episode seemed to last for several hours. I'm convinced experimentation in how to harness temporal holes in the fabric of the space continuum can be discovered by enough research involving this film. Or is that too cruel a task to give to anyone?
Re: Teenage Caveman (1958)
Reply #3. Posted on January 10, 2007, 09:56:07 PM by Dennis
I first saw this movie at the theater, cost me 10 cents to get in (I was under 12 years old) always wondered why the cave man was so clean and why his hair was always perfect, also considered, however briefly, asking for a refund.
Re: Teenage Caveman (1958)
Reply #4. Posted on January 11, 2007, 12:53:57 PM by BoyScoutKevin
Not only did Corman like to recylce film from earlier films (i.e. "One Million B.C.), he liked to recycle his actors. For example, not only did Beach Dickerson play the Fair-Haired Boy, who was sucked down by the quicksand, but also the Man from the Burning Plains, the Tom-tom Player, and the man in the bear costume. I also believe he is the man who rides into the encampment on the horse, unless that character and the Man from the Burning Plain are one and the smae.

Unlike alot of B movies, there are some farily well known names associated with this one. Not only Robert Vaughan, who is probably best known for playing Napoleon Solo on television's "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," but also perennial villain Frank DeKova, Corman regular Jonathan Haze, Ed Nelson, who would work almost constantly in films and on television, and Robert Shayne, who would play the police inspector on "The Adventures of Superman."

Yes, it would be nice to have a teenager, or someone who looked like a teenager to play a teenager, but the same year that Robert Vaughan would play the title character in "I Was a Teenage Caveman," 28-year-old Steve McQueen, would play a teenage character in "The Blob." Somewhat better would be 21-year-old Gary Conway, who would  play the title character in "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein," and 20-year-old Michael Landon, who would play the title character in "I Was a Teenage Werewolf."

As bad as this one would be, it is far better than the 2002 television remake of the same title. That one makes you want to gouge your eyes out, before it is over.
Re: Teenage Caveman (1958)
Reply #5. Posted on January 11, 2007, 07:17:21 PM by JaseSF
I actually LOVE this movie. My friend Jeff from another board highly touted it and I became a huge fan. Robert Vaughn is quite good and like nearly all the early Corman films, this movie actually does have a message.  The surprise ending actually caught me by surprise the first time out.
Re: Teenage Caveman (1958)
Reply #6. Posted on January 13, 2007, 12:59:09 PM by Rachel
This movie hurt me like Mr T hurt Rocky. Beach Dickerson should've been top billed; he plays like 5 roles.
Love the "theme music" for the search party in the MST3K version, though: "Doo doo doo do DOO do, doo do doo do DOO do" etc. Cheers
Re: Teenage Caveman (1958)
Reply #7. Posted on January 13, 2007, 05:44:54 PM by CheezeFlixz
I hadn't seen this movie in years, I queued it up on my online rental/ Should get it this week.
Re: Teenage Caveman (1958)
Reply #8. Posted on January 18, 2007, 08:28:27 PM by Kooshmeister
I just got done watching this movie, and I wanna say, I didn't think it was half bad. I thought that its heart was in the right place, and that, at its core, the story was pretty solid, and the acting passable, apart from Robert Vaughn who was pretty good. Its only real problem was its low budget and reliance on stock footage to represent the monsters. The scene where the Symbol Maker's Son tries to persuade the others not to kill the injured stranger was surprisingly moving. It's unquestionably a B-movie, but it was better than most, I thought, and the twist ending was handled fairly well.
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