Saturday, November 22, 2008

Better in Black and White, Part 3

Back with my ruminations on black and white "monster" movies. That's what we called them then, even though now some are considered Sci-Fi and some horror. Here are just a few of my favorites from the 50's and early 60's.

First, a movie that was made in the wonderful year of 1951, the year I was born. It's "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and starred Michael Rennie as a handsome, debonair yet saddened alien and Patricia Neal as the beautiful terrestrial who gently loved him. He came in peace; we answered with violence. This was a surprisingly leftist view in an era when movies consistently portrayed the scientists who begged for understanding of the unknown as misguided at best and criminally stupid at worst. (It was a long cultural way to Captain Jean Luc Picard.) It is also a really good movie, as you might be able to judge from the casting of the leads. Favorite quote: "Klaatu barada nicto."

Another film made in 1951 was more typical of the times. "The Thing" starred James Arness as a carrot-like alien found frozen in the Arctic by a US Air Force expedition. It's the scientist who wants to keep the Thing around for scientific examination, and he's meddling in things best left alone. He says, "There are no enemies in science, only phenomena to be studied." Of course, he's wrong. The carrot unthaws and goes on a killing rampage. This Thing is dealt with (later to become Marshall Dillon), but the military men fear that more murderous veggies are on their way to Earth. Famous quote: "Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!" Paranoid, much?

In 1954, the year my wonderful sister Pat was born, we were graced with the 50's take on the King Kong myth. The poor "Creature from the Black Lagoon" was perfectly happy in his murky Amazonian swamp. Then those pesky American scientists disturbed him and that dumb Julie Adams riled him up with her slinky, one-piece, white bathing suit. Gillman's hormones went wild, the scientists had the weapons, and the beast was captured to be taken back to be displayed like a curiosity. This movie looks like it cost about as much as a '54 Nash Rambler. I swear when I saw it on Syracuse TV, I could see the zipper in the back of the Gillman's costume.

Next is a movie made in the same year my fabulous sister Sheila was born. I saw it years later on the Baron Daemon show when the Baron regaled central New York late Saturday nights. Dad watched it with me, and we laughed so hard we woke Mom up who had to shush us. The Giant Claw was an extraterrestrial buzzard composed (I almost wrote "composted") of antimatter. You can see in the photo the straggly feathers that looked as thought they had been pulled from some old lady's Sunday hat. The plot was the usual mishmash of brave military battling against the rampaging beast; it was the sight of the pitiful puppet that would set me off into helpless snorting. At the very end, our Boys in Air Force blue manage to shoot the thing down over New York Harbor and that last thing you see is a giant claw (what else) sinking into the pollution. It looked for all the world like it was waving bye-bye. Typical quote: "A bird. A bird as big as a Battleship!"

Before I go off to bed to dream of giant buzzards, rampaging carrots, and handsome aliens with English accents, I'd like to list a couple of honorable mention Vincent Price movies from this time period. There was the infamous Tingler, that was sort of gross on TV - some giant cockroach that crawled out of your spine when you were afraid and couldn't scream. Supposedly it was great in the theaters when it opened; the producer William Castle had the seats wired to vibrate or something and had uniformed nurses there in case you were overcome. Then there was The Fly - the 1950s version, NOT the overwrought Jeff Goldblum remake. An entire generation of schoolchildren grew up chanting "Help Me!" in falsetto because of the man who somehow got his head stuck on a fly's body. Don't you hate when that happens? You guesssed it - another scientist who had meddled with things best left alone.

And finally, there are Ed Wood's immortal epics, "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and "Night of the Ghouls." I left them off my main list because I didn't see them until I was an adult. "Night of the Ghouls" wasn't even released until 1987, and trust me, if you enjoyed "Plan 9", "Night of the Ghouls" is even worse. My friend Eric got it on VHS and the first time I saw it, he had to stop the tape. When I heard the main character's name, Dr. Acula, I got an attack of the unstoppable giggles. I could only gasp, "That's so third grade." Dr. Acula is a fake psychic and his seances feature a couple of unique items flying through the air: a trumpet on visible wires, and the head of a black man with a flowerpot for a hat who keeps uttering, "Woaw woaw woaw." We never know why.

My next blog is going to be about the greatest black and white monster movie ever made. And I will brook no arguments on my choice. (Hint, hint.)

- Maureen


Chris said...

Love the ruminations!

SheilaShine said...

Some great choices there, Mo. I just love Michael Rennie. And I think I know which movie will be the tops on your list. hee-hee

Mo said...

My sister Pat had some trouble signing in, so she sent me her comments about her favorite 50's Monster movie:

My favorite B monster movie is the 1962 Japanese camp classic, "Mothra." Shipwreck survivors live on an island that had been used for atomic testing. Conveniently, they survive by drinking some strange brew provided by the natives. (Handy!) Of course, there are some weird things afoot in this flick by director Ishiro Honda. Scientists find foot tall twins who are kidnapped by the expedition's leader and put in a Japanese carny show. What a sleaze bag. However, the women sing a song to the giant Mothra creature worshipped by the islanders, and lure it to Tokyo. Then comes the usual Godzilla-like rampage and cheesey special effects. It's like "Lost" meets "Godzilla" with a spectacular end to Mothra. Goodbye, Mothra. You tried to do the right thing, but scientists, soldiers, and a bad Japanese guy with an American name (Clark Nelson played by Jerry Ito), all conspire to bring down the moth goddess of Beiru Island. Touching in a campy, hilarious way.
But did we see the body????????????"

Bluebird49 said...

my husband wanted the entire 20 seasons of Gunsmoke for Christmas (Arness!!) So, he's getting it....I'm going to go bats! oR WORSE!