Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Directed by
Jack Arnold
Screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross ; story by Maurice Zimm, from an idea from William Alland*
Starring Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Ricou Browning, Ben Chapman, Whit Bissell
IMDB Entry

The most recent of the classic Universal movie monsters, the Creature has gotten short shrift.  Unlike the big four – Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Mummy – the Creature hasn’t had endless sequels and variations, and, though he is know, and even something of a catchphrase, the movies that gave him life rarely show up any more.  The Creature is not forgotten, of course, though it’s as a phrase, but the movie that spawned him is rarely seen or talked about.

The Creature (often referred to as “the Gill Man”) was one of the many creations of film great Jack Arnold.**  It is far more science fiction based than most monsters, and gives the Creature some depth to make him interesting.

The story begins with the discovery of a mysterious fossil hand with webbed fingers in the depths of the Amazon.***  He shows it to Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), a marine biologist, who persuades Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning) to bankroll an expedition to look into it.  And, of course. Reed takes his girlfriend Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) along.  The creature, of course, does not want to be disturbed, and attacks anyone who comes near – except for Kay, who he develops a Kong-like crush on.

The movie is effective because of the look of the gill man (played by Ricou Browning in the water and Ben Chapman on land).   But as a movie, it works because of the Beauty and the Beast angle.  The Creature is fascinated by Kay, and one of the most cited sequences is when he swims beneath her, watching her in the water.  It’s sinister, but also a bit sexual (and may have influenced Jaws). 

The Creature and the woman

The movie was shot in 3D, in time to cash in on the first 3D boomlet. 
Like Arnold’s It Came from Outer Space, the effects are not overdone, with enough to make it clear that 3D is involved, but not shouting at you “Hey!  This is Threeeee-Deeeeee!”

It was successful enough to spawn two sequels:  Revenge of the Creature (directed by Arnold) and The Creature Walks Among Us. The Creature took his place as an iconic monster and it influenced all sorts of movies that used sea creatures as monsters.

But there was no revival (though new versions were planned and fell through) and the monster to most people is just a name from the past, more funny that frightening.  The movie, however, is a fine specimen of 50s science fiction horror, a genre that faded out too soon and is dead these days.

* Alland heard the legend when he was working on Citizen Kane.

**See my entries on Tarantula  and It Came From Outer Space.

*** After discovering the fossil, the leader of the expedition snaps it right off to bring it to the US.

1 comment:

Carson Lee said...

When I think about "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" I remember it mainly as a reference in the Marilyn Monroe movie, "The Seven-Year Itch" -- the Tom Ewell character -- I don't know -- worries that he is becoming somewhat LIKE the creature from the Black Lagoon....(?) nice post