The first Godzilla was released in 1954 by the Toho Company of Japan. There were other creatures that were “inspired” by Godzilla, perhaps, most famously, Gamera – a giant flying turtle with big teeth. The original Gamera film was released in 1965. This is the Japanese trailer.
The Thing from Another World
Dir. Christian Nyby (but apparently really by Howard Hawks)
Starring Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan and James Arness.
RKO Radio Pictures
A group of pilots are flying to a remote research base in the arctic but their compasses keep getting thrown off by some magnetic disturbance. Eventually, they go to investigate this disturbance and find what appears to be a spacecraft from another planet. They seem pretty darn calm to have just discovered a spacecraft from another plant. The bad part is the spacecraft is buried under several feet of ice. To get to the spacecraft, a rare artifact from another planet, they naturally chose the delicate method of using a shitload of explosives. KABOOM! Ok, the ship is mostly gone but somehow it’s pilot survived encased in a big block of ice. The big block of ice is a useful gimmick – that way you can’t see exactly what the creature looks like – they just say it’s man-shaped. They bring the Thing via airplane back to the research center and debate what to do with it. Of course, shenanigans ensue when the guy guarding the Thing accidentally leaves his electric blanket on top of the Thing’s block of ice. The Thing attacks and kills some sled dogs BECAUSE IT NEEDS BLOOD. Oh, by the way, they discover that it’s a plant too. A PLANT THAT NEEDS BLOOD! Oh shit! They go on to fight like hell against the dreaded plant/man/alien/monster/bloodsucker/dog killer/celery stalk from hell. The action and dialogue in the fighting or good enough. Naturally one of the scientists is wowed by the alien plant and wants to protect it. Scientists, pffft.
The Thing from Another World was “unofficially directed” by Howard Hawks, a legendary director who directed other movies like Sergeant York, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Rio Bravo. Sorry Howard, but I like Rio Bravo, with John Wayne and Dean Martin, better than this movie. I didn’t like The Thing from Another World quite as much as Them! or The Beast from 20000 Fathoms. The acting, dialogue, cinematography and the like were all fine but the least convincing thing was The Thing. To be a plant from another planet, it sure looked a hell of a lot like a regular guy from earth. Since it’s black & white, you can’t even tell that he’s supposed to be green. Given the vague clues given by the scientists about the nature of the plant creature, they could have gone any direction with the evil plant effects, instead, they just put a guy in a green suit. When you make a monster movie, the identity of the monster is important! Interestingly enough, the guy playing the plant was James Arness, who later became better known as Marshal Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke. Granted, this movie was made in 1951, before films like Them! and The Beast from 20000 Fathoms. But still, I found the Thing himself (itself?) to be not as interesting of a bad guy as in some other monster movies. Still worth watching.
Entertaining – 4, Serious Movie – 3, Camp/Silly/Goofy – 4 (because of the damn bad guy costume)
Available on Amazon Instant View
The Beast from 20000 Fathoms
Dir. Eugene Lourie
Starring Paul Hubschmid, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway and LEE VAN CLEEF!
Warner Bros. Pictures
The snowy arctic. There’s a government research station setting off nuclear bombs in the arctic. I’m not sure why they are doing this but it’s the 50s and it’s the government so don’t ask too many questions. Two scientists go out in the snowy hinterlands to measure their scientific instruments…but only one comes back alive! The one that comes back alive, Professor Nesbitt, swears that the creature that attacked the two scientists was a dinosaur. Ok, it’s a gigantic dinosaur that can swim like Michael Phelps. Nobody believes him, of course, but he keeps trying to prove the existence of the beast. In the meantime, the beast attacks a lighthouse and a fishing vessel on its way to New York City, apparently guided by GPS. Eventually, Professor Nesbitt is able to convince another respected scientist of the existence of the beast but… it’s too late. Naturally, Nesbitt also wants to boink the scientist’s female assistant. The giant beast arrives in New York Harbor without enough money for even a hot dog and proceeds to wreak havoc. The army fights it block by block through the streets of Manhattan. Hey, who’s the sharpshooter with the rife? Why it’s Lee Van Cleef! Maybe my favorite spaghetti western actor making an appearance as the guy who finally does the big, bad lizard in. Hey, you knew someone had to.
The stop-motion special effects are interesting. The monster effects in this movie were done by Ray Harryhausen. Though they may look dated to modern eyes, they were state of the art for the time. What’s even more amazing is that supposedly, they were done in camera – the background of the dinosaur would be shot, with the bottom part of the frame covered and then the film would be rolled back, the top now covered, and the bottom portion with the crown reaction was shot. Simple but effective. The movie is dated but entertaining. The effects are dated but important to see if you want to compare and contrast them with movies today.
One note – the story is told that this movie was what inspired the Toho Company of Japan to start making the Godzilla movies. So we have it to thank for that.
A second note – 20000 fathoms is almost 23 miles. No ocean is that deep.
Entertaining – 4, Serious Movie – 4, Camp/Silly/Goofy – 2
Available on Amazon Instant View.
Dir. Gordon Douglas
Starring James Whitmore, Edmond Gwenn
Warner Bros. Pictures
The movie starts in the New Mexico desert. The New Mexico state police are investigating some suspicious reports. They find a little girl walking dazed through the desert. They also find her family’s camper trailer with the side completely torn out – something no ordinary human can do. The only clue they can find is an odd sort of footprint, likely made by an animal of some sort After more suspicious deaths in similarly inexplicable circumstances, the local FBI office sends a cast of the mysterious animal footprint to Washington, D.C. to see if any of the government scientists can make anything of it. The FBI can find nothing, but a team of scientists at the Department of Agriculture are sent to investigate instead, further confusing the local authorities. What the government scientists discover in New Mexico is… well I’m not going to tell you. It’s a 50’s monster movie so, yes, it’s some kind of gigantic freaking bug. Also, the area where the movie is set happens to be very near the site of the first nuclear bomb explosion – hint, hint.
I was actually pretty impressed with this movie. The moviemakers very wisely hide the bad creature from the audience until about a third of the way through the picture. The characters spend that time slowly putting the clues together and adding to the suspense. Sure the special effects are a little primitive and goofy to our eyes, but I imagine they were pretty damn good for the time. It is said to be one of the signature giant monster movies. Ultimately it’s entertaining and worth watching.
Available on Amazon Instant View
Entertaining – 4, Serious movie – 4, Camp/Silly/Goofy – 2
I wanted to watch some 1950’s monster movies. You know the type – Giant Worms conquer Chicago; stuff like that. I remember watching some as a kid on UHF stations on the weekends. When I was a kid, our house did not have cable, which I hated then but appreciate now that I’m the one paying the cable bill. This spurred me to find out what was available on the UHF stations that I could pick up with our rabbit ear antenna. In DFW, these were often channels 21, 27, 33, 39 and also channel 11 which, at the time, was not a network affiliate. UHF stations had mostly old movies and TV shows, so I watched a lot of them.
Anyway, I went on Netflix and Amazon to try and find three more or less random 50′s monster movies. I ended up, by accident and chance, watching three of the biggest and “most important” ones that were made. Anyway, those three movies are the next three reviews.