Teenage Cave Man (1958) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A young man defies tribal laws and searches for answers. The result of his quest yields knowledge of past generations.

  • Robert Vaughn stars as a white 25-year-old teenage caveman with styled hair who seeks to discover what is in the uncharted jungles beyond his tribe's campsite. It is against the Word (and the Word is the Law), but he breaks it anyway. Soon he discovers a strange creature which kills with its touch.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The movie opens with black and white images of prehistoric cave art. A narrator tells us, "In the beginning there was chaos and eternal night. And a voice said, 'let there be light' and the dark was separated from the night. There was created the waters and the land and there were made the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night, and the stars to give light to the darkness. The Earth was made to bear growing green things and fruit. The animals were created and they were fruitful and multiplied. And then there came man." A torch burns on a cave wall. Title and credits follow.

    The Curly-Haired Boy (Jonathan Haze) calls to the other tribe members carrying a dead elk back to the village (Bronson Canyon, Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA). The Symbol Maker's wife (June Jocelyn) talks to her husband, the Symbol Maker (Leslie Bradley). He asks, "Where is the boy?" The wife mimes, beyond the river. The Symbol Maker's Teenage Son (Robert Vaughn) leans against a tree holding a spear. His father approaches. The father reminds his son of the law. The son admits he did go beyond the river, but only a little way. He argues that the area is plentiful with game, but his father tells him it is forbidden. The Symbol Maker tells his son it is a place of sickness and death. The Symbol Maker admits that he once visited the forbidden area, but only once. He warns of a creature known as The God that Gives Death with its Touch. The Symbol Maker tells his son it is time to return to the village.

    The Black-Bearded One (Frank DeKova) tells the Blond Maiden (Darah Marshall) that the Symbol Maker's Son will not reach the rights of manhood. There is a growing antagonism between The Black-Beaded One and the Symbol Maker's Son. Three men sit in the center of the village. The Symbol Maker's Son asks the first, "Why do you do what you do?" The Tender of Fire (Robert Shayne) answers, "It's the first of the three great gifts of man." The Symbol Maker's Son asks the second man, "What good is it to worship a thing that turns?" The Turner of Wheel (Joseph Hamilton) replies, "It is the second of the great gifts of man." The Black-Bearded Man asks the Symbol Maker's Son if he questions the keepers of the gifts often. The Symbol Maker's Son asks the third why he builds and then breaks. Breaker and Builder (Marshall Bradford) replies, "It's the third gift to man and the first great lesson." The Black-Bearded One has an agenda, and it involves taunting then tempting the Symbol Maker's Son to violate the law.

    That evening the Elder Keeper of the Law (Charles P. Thompson) announces that before the hunt two symbol makers are the glory and the life. Their power is to insure a good hunt. They have the power to see visions. The Symbol Maker reminds his son that it is against the law to question the signs and gifts of the gods. The son asks his father what the God that Gives Death with its Touch looks like. After the signs are made, the male tribe members venture off to hunt. The Symbol Maker is attacked and injured by a bear. The hunters return to camp carrying the bear, and the Symbol Maker on a stretcher. The Elder Keeper of the Law tends the Symbol Maker's wounds. The Black-Bearded One again tells the Symbol Maker's Son that one brave man could supply enough food for many days. He then limps over to the Tender of Fire. He asks, "What is the punishment for questioning the law?" The reply is that he be shunned for a time, but if evil comes to the village, then death is the prescribed penalty.

    The Curly-Haired Boy practices his fighting skills with the Fair-Haired Boy (Beach Dickerson) and wins. He hands the spear to the Symbol Maker's Son. The Symbol Maker's Son tells his clan members that the meat won't last long so another hunt must be arranged. He tells them that just beyond the river there is plenty of meat. The tribe members are horrified by the concept of breaking the law and walk away. They remind the Symbol Maker's Son of the dangers. At first light, the Symbol Maker's Son and three young clan members venture to the river, then beyond. They encounter two large lizards and watch them battle each other. The Fair-Haired Boy falls into quicksand, and despite the others' best efforts, he sinks to his death. Two boys return to the village but the Symbol Maker's Son continues the hunt alone. He sees more strange animals. He builds a fire and cooks a small game animal for dinner. A large, hairy, ape-like creature approaches the Symbol Maker's Son and his fire. It has large hemispherical eyes and a trunk like an elephant. The Symbol Maker's Son runs away from the creature, and hits his head on a tree and is knocked unconscious.

    In the village, the Elder Keeper of the Law announces, "The blood is clean. The Symbol Maker wakes. He asks after his son." The Symbol Maker asks his wife to fetch his son, but she informs him the boy is not in the village, but beyond the river. The Black-Bearded One confronts the Symbol Maker. He warns him that death will be visited upon the tribe. The Symbol Maker vows to go retrieve his sun in three days.

    The Symbol Maker's Son finally wakes and gets an idea. He fashions a primitive bow and arrow. With it he kills a deer. The Symbol Maker leaves camp. The Symbol Maker's Son carries the deer back to camp. A pack of dogs follows him. They get his deer and attack him. The Symbol Maker sees the attack and assists his son, killing the dog. Symbol Maker and son return to the village. The Black-Bearded One talks to the clan. He demands the Symbol Maker's Son be punished with death. The Symbol Maker, speaking for the defense, reminds the clan that everyone has questioned the law. He stipulates the law was broken, but since no evil has presented itself, he recommends shunning. Over strong objections by the Black-Bearded One, the Elder Keeper of the Law decrees the punishment of shunning. The Black-Bearded One is incensed and tries to take the law into his own hands and attacks the boy. The Elder Keeper of the Law breaks up the fight with a strong word.

    The Blond Maiden goes for a bath. The Symbol Makers Son entertains her with his pan pipes. She is amused, and contrary to the law, she speaks to him. She reminds him to abide by the law. A man on horseback wanders into the village. The Black-Bearded One wants it killed. The Symbol Makers Son proclaims the creature is just a man on an animal. The Man from the Burning Plains falls off and the horse rides away. The Symbol Makers son tries to protect the bearded stranger, but BB kills the stranger after he utters but one word, Peace.

    A tribal elder meeting is called. The Symbol Maker speaks of other clans and the need for contact. The Black-Bearded One argues against such contact. In addition he demands the position of Symbol Maker. The Symbol Maker is removed from his position and the Black-Bearded One is made the new symbol maker. A ceremony is held for the Symbol Maker's Son--entrance into manhood. The Symbol Maker's Son agrees to hold to the word and to the law. Part of the ceremony is the revealing of ancient symbols left by the gods. One is a meteor. The Black-Bearded One again antagonizes the Symbol Maker's Son. The Symbol Maker's Son warns the Black-Bearded One to stay in front of him when they go to the cave to make symbols. He foresees one dead by the other's hand. The Symbol Maker's Son and the Blond Maiden engage in conversation. She suggests a place of their own higher up on the mountain. He tells his woman he still dreams of the forbidden area. He reveals his goal is to seek the God that Gives Death with its Touch. He prepares for the journey. The Blond Maiden goes to see the former Symbol Maker and tells him his son has gone beyond the river. Father intends to go after his son. As he departs, the Black-Bearded one stirs up trouble with the clan. The men of the clan go after father and son. They want to prevent evil from coming to their village.

    The Black-Bearded One tells the men to cross the river, but the Blond Tribe Member (Ed Nelson) questions the orders. The Black-Bearded One crosses the river and promises that the journey is righteous and that no harm will come to the clan. The men do follow. The dogs catch the scent of the men. The Symbol Maker's Son finds the God he seeks and aims his bow and arrow at the creature. The clan reaches the former Symbol Maker and his son just as the dogs attack. Both the Blond Tribe Member and the Curly-Haired Boy are attacked. The Black-Bearded One climbs to a higher vantage and throws a rock on the hairy creature. Incensed, the Symbol Maker's Son shoots his arrow and kills the Black-Bearded One. The Symbol Maker's Son cautiously approaches the creature and pulls the head off. Underneath is a very old man with white hair and a white beard. He searches the body and finds a book. He opens the book and shows his father pictures: two men shaking hands, pictures of the New York skyline, and the explosion of the atomic bomb. The clan leaves the body and returns to their village. A narrator, the dead creature, tells us, "I and a party of 23 others were on a scientific expedition when the bombs began to fall. The terrible power of nuclear weapons was unleashed all over the world. Retaliation added to retaliation until all traces of man's works had been wiped from the face of the Earth. Of the few living things that escaped the blast, some grew huge beyond all reason and formed as the dinosaurs of pre-history, or took on new shapes all together: Mad in shape and purpose. My comrades and I, half-protected by our radiation suits, found ourselves given an age far beyond the span allowed. Out of all the sprawling millions of the Earth, a handful escaped all harm, through fortune or design. After the holocaust the wisest of them set down a long list of taboos, the laws are in the form of a religion now. It is strange to see them living life of Cro-Magnon man and not knowing why. On occasion we tried to contact them, but they feared us and our radiation killed those who came too close. Now only I'm left and the radiation is worn away these long, long years. Now a new one thinks and wonders about the proof of the law. Perhaps man will dare try again. I am very lonely, very, very tired. This happened a long time ago and as you know men did meet other men. And fire smelted metal, made explosives, the wheel turned machines and made gun barrels. The towers were built and flattened. How many times? Will it happen again? And if it does, will any at all survive the next time? Or will it be the end?" We close with a scene of the clan walking single file out of the canyon and a torch burning in the cave.

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