Monday, October 21, 2013


CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON represents the last burst of cinematic monster making that Universal studios would ever attempt. It's not that they stopped making monster movies but Creature marked the final attempt to create a monster in the fashion of the Wolf Man or the Frankenstein Monster. Unlike so many of the features to come in the later part of the decade this was no giant rampaging bug or homicidal maniac but a beast with emotions who earns the audience's sympathy. Coming almost a decade after the Golden Age cycle of classics fizzled out during the war years, the Gill Man roared onto screens to take his place among the greats. While he will always be grouped with the other classic Universal monsters his true antecedent is that misunderstood simian, King Kong. Indeed, producer William Alland fashioned his film as an aquatic remake of King Kong and there are few better templates to use. Even if it's not as critically well regarded as Kong, Alland and his collaborators created one of the best monster movies of all time, one that 50 years later is still alive and swimming.

The story is a classic- In the heart of the Amazon rain forest paleontologist Dr. Maia (Antonio Moreno) discovers a very unusual fossil. It appears to be a five fingered hand but with webbed fingers and scales. Gathering a team of scientists comprised of Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams), Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning), and Dr. Edwin Thompson (Whit Bissell), Maia travels deeper up the Amazon until the fabled Black Lagoon is reached. Here, instead of more fossils, the team amazingly finds a living example of the claw-like hand in the person of a 7-foot tall bipedal amphibian. Easily the find of the century and seemingly the only creature of his type remaining on Earth, the group disagrees sharply about what to do. Williams hopes to capture the beast and bring him to civilization for study and profit while Reed wants to leave the beast alone. Unfortunately Reed isn't in charge, so they begin trying to subdue the Gill Man using poison, nets and cages — but the Creature has his eyes on the very pretty Miss Lawrence.

A great movie from beginning to end, there is so much to praise you could start nearly anywhere... First, the Creature's design is brilliant, never looking like a monster suit and beautifully detailed both in and out of the water. Only on many repeat viewings of the film can you tell there are slight differences between the monster's design on land and underwater. This reflects the two different men playing the Gill Man — Ben Chapman dry and Ricou Browning wet. Both men do a good job making us first fear and then care for the beast and the wonderful Creature costumes look perfect from every angle. Of course, the rest of he cast is good as well, with Carlson and Denning making a strong team as well as fierce rivals for Julie Adams' attentions. Ms. Adams is certainly worth fighting over and she's a fine presence in the film as well, doing more than just serving as a damsel in distress. Director Jack Arnold (TARANTULA, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) shows his skill with storytelling and suspense while being immeasurably helped by the fantastic underwater photography work. Critics often overlook Arnold but his credits clearly mark him as one of the greats of the sci-fi/horror genre. He directed many good films after this one but I still think his visit to the Black Lagoon is his best work. If nothing else you can always count on his genre films to be tense and logical which is saying something for 1950s science fiction.

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