🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1955

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DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT! : THE YEAR IS 1954

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CREATURES, CONQUESTS AND CONQUERING MUTANTS

The Atomic Man aka Timeslip

the atomic man

They Called Him the HUMAN BOMB!

British Science Fiction/Thriller from writer/director Ken Hughes (Wicked as they Come 1956, The Trials of Oscar Wilde 1960, Cromwell 1970). From a story by Charles Eric Maine.

Stars actor/director Gene Nelson as Mike Delaney, Faith Domergue as Jill Rabowski, Peter Arne as Dr. Stephen Rayner/Jarvis, Joseph Tomelty as Detective Inspector Cleary, Donald Gray as Robert Maitland, Vic Perry as Emmanuel Vasquo, Paul Hardtmuth as Dr. Bressler, Martin Wyldek as Dr. Preston. The film is known as Timeslip in England, a mild British thriller using American stars to boost interest in the film, and was cut by almost seventeen minutes for it’s U.S. release!

The Atomic Man, poster, (aka TIMESLIP), from left: Faith Domergue, Gene Nelson, 1955. (Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)

A man (Peter Arne ) is fished out of the Thames, shot in the back, the x-rays show that he is radioactive and projects a glowing aura around his body. The man dies on the table and is clinically dead for over 7 seconds, when they perform surgery to remove the bullet. American reporter Mike Delaney (Gene Nelson) decides to interview the man who he bares a striking resemblance to Dr. Stephen Rayner is very cryptic about what happened to him. Dr. Rayner whose face is all bandaged up is however in his laboratory working on an artificial chemical element of atomic number 74, the hard steel-gray metal with a very high melting point. Delaney and photographer girlfriend Jill Rabowski (the intoxicatingley dark eyed Faith Domergue) are curious about what is going on and begin to investigate. While the strange man in the hospital continues to act mysterious Delaney’s investigation lead him to Emmanuel Vasquo (Vic Perry) who heads an organization in South America that produces Tungsten steel.

Delaney and Jilly learn that the man they found in the Thames is in fact the real Dr. Rayner, and since he was clinically dead for 7 1/2 seconds and is radioactive somehow he has fallen into a time shift where he is living that small percentage ahead of time. The reason his answers to questions are so quizzical is because he is responding 7 1/2 seconds before they are asked. Delaney with the help of the real Dr. Rayner try to stop the imposter in the lab who is a double hired by Vasquo to impersonate the scientist so they can blow up the lab and prevent any competition by Dr. Rayner to produce artificial steel and pose real competition from the South American suppliers.

The Beast with a Million Eyes

Prepare for a close encounter of the terrifying kind! An unspeakable horror… Destroying… Terrifying!

After his debut with Monster From the Ocean Floor in 1954, The Beast with 1.000.000 Eyes was a great foray into the new market of teenage drive in movie goes that Roger Corman’s production team tapped into. First through the company called American Releasing Corp. which eventually became American International Pictures a year later.

James Nicholson, who was the maestro of promotion, changed the name of the film from The Unseen to The Beast with a Million Eyes, because it just had better shock value for selling more tickets. Nicholson was famous for coming up with the title first, telling the marketing department to design an eye popping nifty poster and then actually working a script around that vision. Though there was already a working script Nicholson had a poster made up with beast with a million… well about 7 eyes tormenting a scantily clad beauty.

Directed by David Kramarsky and Corman with a script by Tom Filer. This cult B classic stars Paul Birch as Allan Kelley, Lorna Thayer as Carol Kelley, Dona Cole as Sandra Kelley, Dick Sargent as Deputy Larry Brewster, Leonard Tarver as Him/Carl, Chester Conklin the silent film comedian plays Ben and Bruce Whitmore is The metaphorically million eyed Beast. The million eyes refers to all the animals in ‘nature’ that would run amok and destroy mankind!

The beastly slave of the alien is a hand puppet created by the cheesy greatness that was Paul Blaisdell. (link to my tribute The Tacky Magnetism of Paul Blaisdell)

Interesting side note: Corman needed someone to design the alien who originally was supposed to be an invisible force marauding through the galaxy hitching rides on various life forms and taking over their consciousness, like the animals in this film. In Bill Warren’s informative book Keep Watching the Skies, Corman contacted friend collector/historian Forrest Ackerman suggesting stop animation genius Ray Harryhausen (who obviously was way out of Corman’s league and price range) Warren-“Corman recoiled in economic in shock.” Then Forrest recommended Jacques Fresco a futuristic eco-conscious architect and designer who had created the space station and rockets for Project Moon Base (1953)

But Fresco wanted too much money for his work, so Ackerman came up with another idea. There was an illustrator who drew covers and did illustrations for his magazines, named Paul Blaisdell. It wasn’t like Blaisdell had the experience building movie models but the young guy did build model kits (the Aurora kind I used to spend the days gluing and painting) and did some sculpting. Blaisdell said he would try it for $200 for the job and another $200 for materials. Still more than Corman wanted to invest, it seemed the last resort if he wanted a creature in his film. Corman sent the poster to Blaisdell as a composite and informed him that it didn’t have to do much more than show itself on screen for a few moments, then collapse. Blaisdell could then make it on a small scale, using only the upper torso since the rest would be hidden by the ship’s hatch. And so he made a hand puppet which was a dragon like creature with wings he molded from clay and placed a simple latex mold over it. Paul’s wife Jackie modeled it’s hands. The Blaisdells nicknamed him “Little Hercules”

Blaisdell made him a leather jacket, a custom made eight-starred medallion and a toy gun, and finally added manacles and chains to its arms to point out his slave-status. According to Randy Palmer’s book, Paul Blaisdell: Monster Maker he was happy with his work, and so were the crew.

Corman and American Releasing Corp must have been satisfied enough with Blaisdell’s skill and his price, he went on to become the go to monster-maker for the studio during the 1950s. Including The busty She-Creature (1956), the cucumber alien in It Conquered the World (1956), The fanged umbrella bat in Not of This Earth (1957), The alcoholic google eyed brain invaders in Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), my personal favorite Tobanga the walking tree spirit in From Hell it Came 1957 and the alien stow away in It! The Terror from Beyond Space 1957 which inspired Ridley Scott’s Alien in (1979).

He also acted inside the suits he designed, created special effects and did his own dangerous stunts in Corman’s movies. However, the 60s were not kind to Blaisdell and he decided to retire. He did co-publish a monster movie magazine with fellow collector and friend Bob Burns, but walked away from the industry entirely. Blaisdell passed away in 1983 suffering from stomach cancer at the age of 55.

Roger Corman has a singular touch all his own and it’s not just that he can create cult classics with a shoe string budget. Though filmed on the cheap, his work and so many of American International Pictures releases will always be beloved because they possess a dynamism that is pure muddled non-logical magic. Beast with a Million Eyes is no exception. It takes place in the Southwestern desert where Allan Kelley (Paul Birch), his wife Carol (Lorna Thayer) and their daughter Sandy (Dona Cole) live on a dude ranch struggling to keep the weary family together. Carol feels isolated from the world and takes out her disastistaction with her marriage on her teenage daughter Sandy and resents the presence of the mute farmhand ‘Him’ who lives in a shack reading porn magazines and stalking Sandy quietly as she takes her daily dips in the lake. Trying to live a normal wholesome life on a desolate farm isn’t easy for Carol, as she burns Sandy’s birthday cake and is unnerved by the jet flying overhead that has shattered her good china. Life in the desert certainly isn’t the good life in suburbia.

They believe it is a plane that flies over head but it turns out to be an alien ship landed in the hot sun seared desert landscape. First Sandy’s dog Duke discovers the blinking lights of the spaceship, and when he returns home, he becomes violent and attacks Carol so viciously she must shoot the poor animal.

Then black birds attack Allan, a docile old milking cow tramples their neighbor Ben (Chester Conklin) then wanders onto Allan’s ranch and must be shot before it stomps Allan to death. And yes even chickens become menacing when they assail Carol in fury of clucking madness! Some force is causing the animals to go berserk… Later birds fly into the electrical box and cut off the ranch’s source of power.

Oddly enough what ever is effecting God’s simple creatures has also taken control of Allan’s mute handyman Carl (Leonard Tarver) who was Allan’s commanding officer during WWII, wounded during the war because of a mistake he made, Allan feels responsible for what Carl/Him losing a portion of his brain. Him is what his nasty wife calls the poor mute. Carl is lured by what ever has piloted the spaceship, most likely because he is most impressionable due to his brain injury . Dick Sargent (yes! the second Darrin Stephens) who plays Sandy’s boyfriend is attacked by Carl who then lumbers off into the desert.

Larry-“That Loony of yours has gone mad!”

Later Carl kidnaps Sandy and delivers her to the craft in an effort to put her under it’s psychic control. Allan and Carol follow them to the ship and Allan tries to persuade him to let Carol go. Allan discovers that the evil alien is frightened by love, it is the creature’s weakness. The million eyed alien imparts to us earthlings in voice-over that it has no material form but inhabits the minds of other living creatures, feeding off of them and controlling them. “Hate and malice are the keys to power in my world.” When the family confronts the intruder in its spaceship for a brief moment it materializes and then dies, the spaceship takes off leaving the bodiless creature behind in the form of a rat. The cycle of normal life resumes as an eagle (the representation of American strength and democracy) swoops down and carries the rat off with it. Allan philosophizes in his lugubrious manner “Why do men have souls? If I could answer that I’d be more than human.”

Carol Kelley: out there… all that wasteland and mountains. We might as well be on another planet. Oh, Alan without Sandy I don’t know what would happen to me. It’d be just you and me and… Him

[she sees Him looking at them]

Carol Kelley: . Always watching. Why doesn’t he ever go away on his day off? Always watching us. Heaven knows thinking what thoughts.

Allan Kelley: We’ve been over this before. You must know by now, he’s harmless.

Carol Kelley: I’ve never been sure.

 

IMDb Trivia:

According to American International Pictures head Samuel Z. Arkoff, Roger Corman‘s contract called for four films at a budget of $100,000 each. By the time it came to “The Beast with a Million Eyes,” the fourth film in the series, there was only $29,000 to $30,000 left, so Arkoff signed off on shooting the picture non-union in Palm Springs.

Producer Roger Corman was unsatisfied with the way the film was progressing and took over from director David Kramarsky, without credit.

When Samuel Z. Arkoff of ARC received The Beast with a Million Eyes he was unhappy that it did not even feature “the beast” that was implicit in the title. Paul Blaisdell, responsible for the film’s special effects, was hired to create a three-foot-tall spaceship (with “beast” alien) for a meager $200. Notably, the Art Director was Albert S. Ruddy, who would later win two “Best Picture” Academy Awards for The Godfather (1972) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).

The tiny budget meant music, credited to “John Bickford”, is actually a collection of public-domain record library cues by classical composers Richard Wagner, Dimitri Shostakovich, Giuseppe Verdi, Sergei Prokofiev, and others, used to defray the cost of an original score or copyrighted cues.

Bride of the Monster

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The Screen’s Master of the WEIRD in his NEWEST and MOST DARING SHOCKER!–It’ll make your skin crawl!

Directed by the great bad Edward D. Wood Jr. Stars the legendary Bela Lugosi as Dr. Eric Vornoff, Tor Johnson as Lobo, Dolores Fuller (Jail Bait 1954) as Margie. Loretta King plays reporter Janet Lawson, Tony McCoy as police lieutenant Dick Craig and George Bagun as Professor Strowski , the newspaper seller is played by William ‘Billy’ Benedict from The Bowery Boys. And Paul Marco as Officer Kelton.

Though Ed Wood, gave Bela a chance to shine in as a tarnished anti-hero in his shoddy productions, it is important to remember that Béla Ferenc Dezsö Blaskó the great Hungarian immigrant of stage and screen once mesmerized audiences as Count Dracula in 1931, as the cheeky broken necked misanthrope Ygor in Rowland V. Lee’s Son of Frankenstein (1939) appearing with Boris Karloff in Val Lewton’s The Body Snatcher (1945) though director Robert Wise cast him in a lesser role giving the originally intended role to Henry Daniell. Once again Bela appeared with Karloff to play his most complex role as Dr. Vitus Werdegast in Edgar Ulmer’s Grand Guignol masterpiece (link to my feature here: The Black Cat (1934)

In 1949 Bela appeared for a second and last time he would portray Dracula in the highly successful Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. By 1955, Bela was an aging and impoverished film actor suffering from illness and morphine addiction. So by the time Ed Wood asked him to star in Bride of the Monster, Bela gave it his all.

A mad doctor Professor Vornoff lives in his hideaway of the swamp lands (of California teehee) in a decrepit house with his assistant, the massive brute called Lobo (Tor Johnson). “Don’t be afraid of Lobo; he’s as gentle as a kitten.” Tor Johnson also played a character named Lobo who was mad scientist John Carradine’s servant in The Unearthly (1957).

Vornoff has engineered an atomic ray machine that will help him create “Super beings of unthinkable strength and size.” Each experimental subject risks either becoming a superman or die. So far it has only killed them. Somehow there is a connection with these experiments and a monstrous rubber octopus that lives in the nearby pond. Nosy reporter Janet Lawson, investigates why people keep disappearing against the advice of her boyfriend Dick the cop. Meanwhile, Professor Strowski has been searching for Vornoff for years in hopes of taking him and his brilliant mind back to their European country. Strowski uses the term “master race”, which is a key concept of Nazism. Professor Strowski almost stumbled onto Vornoff at Loch Ness (Maybe that’s where Vornoff got the octopus and not Paramount studios’ prop department) but Vornoff throws his colleague to the ravenous octopus in the pond, and gives an eloquently campy soliloquy.

Dr. Vornoff captures Janet and declares that he will make her a Bride of the Atom! which was the original title of the picture. Of course Dick comes looking for his girl, but Lobo trounces him. But before Vornoff can throw the switch Lobo remembers how Vornoff used to beat him with a whip, and releases Janet turning the ray on the evil genius instead. Vornoff becomes an atomic powered fiend, taking out Lobo and carries Janet off to the swamp, until where Dick throws a bolder at him and he stumbles into the pond and succumbs to the octopus. A bolt of Odin like lightning strikes both and they explode into swamp particles and a mushroom cloud. The police captain played by Harvey Dunn exclaims prophetically and pathetically as all are apt to do in an Ed Wood production, “He meddled in God’s domain.”

IMDb trivia:

According to Paul Marco, Edward D. Wood Jr. thought that Bela Lugosi‘s memory might not be very good, so for Lugosi’s long speech, Wood had the prop man make cue cards. Lugosi, upset, insisted he didn’t need cue cards and he would “memorize it.” Wood still insisted on the cue cards, telling Lugosi, “We have to be safe”. Lugosi went to Marco for help. He had Marco promise not to show him the cue cards during the scene. Marco held the cards at his side the whole time and Lugosi never looked over once. After Lugosi’s performance the whole crew got up and applauded.

Contrary to popular legend, Bela Lugosi cannot be seen fighting the rubber octopus in the sump (filmed in Griffith Park). Close examination of the scene reveals a stunt double doing battle. In fact, all the shots of Vornoff carrying Janet through the brush and moving down the hill, reveal a stunt double for Lugosi. Even the real close-ups of Lugosi during these sequences appear to have been shot on a stage with black backing.

While this was the last speaking part of Bela Lugosi, it wasn’t his last film. Lugosi subsequently played a silent part in The Black Sleep (1956). Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) uses silent archive footage of Lugosi, but he died prior to its filming. The footage was from an unfinished film called “The Vampire’s Tomb”. Lock Up Your Daughters! (1969) was recycled footage from Lugosi’s earlier films, possibly mixed with some new material.

The title “Bride of the Atom”, which Vornoff uses for Janet in the bridal dress, is inexplicable unless the scientist is actually attempting to use Janet to replace his long-lost wife. One of his re-assuring lines to Janet concerning the experiment, “It hurts, just for a moment, but then you will emerge a woman . . . ” sounds as if he’s preparing her for the loss of her virginity.

Tony McCoy was cast in the male lead role, primarily because his father, Arizona entrepreneur Donald E. McCoy, was the owner of Packing Service Corp. (a meat packing concern), and a major investor in the film, and insisted that son Tony get the lead role. Since he was providing the money, Tony got the role.

The film uses both stock footage of a real octopus and a fake, rubber octopus in scenes where “the monster” interacts with actors. It is widely believed this is a prop from the film Wake of the Red Witch (1948). Contradictory accounts claim that Edward D. Wood Jr. either stole or rented the prop from Republic Pictures, which produced the earlier film.

This film is part of what Edward D. Wood Jr. aficionados refer to as “The Kelton Trilogy”, a trio of films featuring Paul Marco as “Officer Kelton”, a whining, reluctant policeman. The other two films are Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and Night of the Ghouls (1959). Kelton is the only character to appear in all three films.

Conquest of Space

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See how it will happen – in your lifetime!

Produced by George Pal ( When Worlds Collide 1951, War of the Worlds 1953, The Time Machine 1960, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao 1964, The Power 1968) who saw this as a sequel to Destination Moon (1950), but when Paramount saw the original script they objected the large budget it would require and scaled it down, which might explain why the film didn’t fare very well financially, and afterwards Paramount ended their rocky relationship with Pal. It also ended the cycle of ‘realist’ space films. Which found it’s place again when Kubrick unleashed 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968.

He had even envisioned the exploration to go to Venus, Mars and Jupiter, but it was cut to only include Mars, and an bland story line of a father-son (Brooke & Fleming) relationship was added which didn’t excite the plot at all. The paintings are the highlight of the film.

Filmed in Cinemascope and utilizing Chesley Bonestell’s paintings and matte shots. Directed by Byron Haskin. Based on the book The Mars Project by Werner von Braun and Willy Ley. With the first full script written by Barrè Lyndon, Philip Yordan and George Worthing Yates. The final script was written by James O’Hanlon after the other three writers were rejected by Paramount.

Sets by art directors Hal Pereira and Joseph MacMillan Johnson and music by Van Cleave.

Conquest of Space stars Walter Brooke as Gen. Samuel T. Merritt, Eric Fleming as Capt. Barney Merritt, Ross Martin as Andre Fodor, Benson Fong as Imoto, Vito Scotti as Sanella, Mickey Shaughnessy as Sgt. Mahoney, Phil Foster as Jackie Siegle, William Redfield as Roy Cooper, William Hopper as Dr. George Fenton, and Iphigenie Castiglioni as Mrs. Heinz Fodor.

In the near future a massive donut shaped space station orbits the Earth and a spaceship is being constructed for exploration. The ship is ordered to conduct a mission to Mars but the Captain (Walter Brooke), who begins to have a philosophical & religious crisis as to the journey of human’s reaching into space as an attempt to reach the domain of God. The aspects of religious introspection was examined in another science fiction film, that of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds, George Pal’s superior work. General Merritt suddenly thinks it sacrilegious to explore the heavens and tries to stop the ship from landing. “There are some things that man is not meant to do.” Eric Fleming plays Merritt’s son Captain Barney Merritt, who is the film’s symbolic yet bland hero.

After Conquest of Space, it was invaders from other planets, monsters and radiation fallout that took it’s place in 1950s American Science Fiction cinema.

[first lines]

Narrator: This is a story of tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, when men have built a station in space, constructed in the form of a great wheel, and set a thousand miles out from the Earth, fixed by gravity, and turning about the world every two hours, serving a double purpose: an observation post in the heavens, and a place where a spaceship can be assembled, and then launched to explore other planets, and the vast universe itself, in the last and greatest adventure of mankind, the plunge toward the…

[A rocket fires]

Narrator: conquest of space!

Creature with the Atom Brain

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Based on Scientific Facts!–A dead man walks the streets to stalk his prey! So terrifying only screams can describe it!

Creature with the Atom Brain is directed Edward L. Cahn (The She Creature 1956, Zombies of Mora Tau & Invasion of the Saucer Men 1957, It, The Terror From Beyond Space, Curse of the Faceless Man 1958, Invisible Invaders 1959) Written by Curt Siodmak (writer – Black Friday 1940, The Wolf Man 1941, I Walked with a Zombie 1943, The Climax 1944, The Beast with Five Fingers 1946, Bride of the Gorilla 1951, Donovan’s Brain 1953, Earth vs the Flying Saucers 1956) Columbia booked this across the United States as a standard double bill with It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)  

Stars Richard Denning as Dr. Chet Walker, Angela Stevens as Joyce Walker, S. John Launer as Capt. Dave Harris, Michael Granger as Frank Buchanan, Gregory Gaye as Dr. Wilhelm Steigg, Linda Bennett as Penny Walker, Tristram Coffin as District Attorney MacGraw, Harry Lauter as Reporter #1 and Charles Evans as Chief Camden.

An ex-Nazi mad scientist uses radio-controlled atomic-powered zombies in his quest to help an exiled American gangster return to power. A huge mug with super human strength (Karl ‘Killer’ Davis) and a metal dome riveted to the top of his head climbs inside the back of a gambling spot and breaks the back of the mob boss. Then he goes on a rampage destroying buildings and railways.

Dr. Chet Walker (Richard Denning) who is a doctor working for the police is called in to investigate the murder. Walker discovers that the hulk was atomic-powered. Soon he learns that an exiled mobster Frank Buchanan (Michael Granger) has returned to the states and is working with an ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Wilhelm Steigg (Gregory Gaye) to create radio-controlled atomic zombies who will carry out his plot of revenge against those responsible for betraying him . Steigg removes the tops of corpse’s skulls, removes parts of their brains and replaces it with as Bill Warren refers to it a “glittering sponge.” Once resurrected from the dead, these atomic-powered zombies exact his revenge by breaking his enemies back.

Of course Walker meddles in the evil Buchanan’s plans and figures out who the next target is hiding him away for protection. Buchanan zombifies Walker’s partner Captain Dave Harris ( S. John Launer) and uses him to break the backs of his victims. Harris is also directed to go to Walker’s house, where he shreds his little girl’s doll, which is a creepy and effective scene, as the daughter always felt great affection for her father’s partner. And Captain Harris is able to talk unlike the other zombies. Eventually the cops close in on Buchanan and Steigg’s laboratory and the mobster releases all the zombies to attack at once. The bullets flying and cutting straight through them! While the film is low budget, in the usual Edward L. Cahn style, I still adore his films for their cursory charm. Plus, the shadowy allusions to people’s backs being snapped is pretty sinister and horrifying.

Governor: [on TV broadcast] As Governor, I am declaring a state of emergency. all police facilities have been alerted to prevent any further crimes by so-called atomic creatures.

Dr. Chet Walker: It would answer the riddle, wouldn’t it? Remote-controlled creatures, their brains powered by atomic energy, roaming the streets, directed from a central point.

 

Reporter #1: Doctor, how did anybody break through those bars in there?

Dr. Chet Walker: Maybe he ate all his vitamins.

 

Frank Buchanan: Is he dead?

Dr. Wilhelm Steigg: He never was alive.

 

IMDb Trivia:

To keep the budget low, like many directors of the period, Edward L. Cahn chose to shoot the film with in as few breaks and edits as feasible, so that the characters are constantly standing, sitting, and pacing to avoid the tedium of talking-head shots. Even when characters move from room to room, there are very few cuts. The effect is both impressive and amusing, once the viewer becomes aware of it, and could inspire a Drinking Game based on spotting the edits!

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the film on DVD in October 2007 as part of the two-disc, four-film set Icons of Horror Collection: Sam Katzman, along with three other films produced by Katzman (The Werewolf, The Giant Claw and Zombies of Mora Tau).

 

Day the World Ended

Day the World Ended

The terrifying story that COULD COME TRUE!–A new high in naked shrieking terror!

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Prologiue: [Prologue] What you are about to see may never happen… but to this anxious age in which we live, it presents a fearsome warning… Our story begins with… THE END

Directed by Roger Corman it is his first foray into the science fiction genre as a director, it was shot in 9 days. Lou Rusoff wrote the script.

Day the World Ended, stars Richard Denning as Rick, Lori Nelson as Jim’s daughter Louise Maddison, Adele Jergens as Ruby, Mike Connors as gangster Tony Lamont, Paul Birch as survivalist Jim Maddison, Raymond Hatton as Pete, Paul Dubov as Radek, Jonathon Haze as Contaminated Man and wonderful monster creator Paul Blaisdell as the mutant!

The film blends melodrama as there are character conflicts within the post-Apocalyptic fall out narrative– after a nuclear bomb decimates the Earth, leaving the seven sole survivors, either fight for survival, attack each other or turn into mutants. The film is brash and nihilistic as we watch the ponderous struggles unfold in a valley that is somehow insulated from the atomic fog that surrounds it.

Day the World Ended opens with a biblical style sermon “Our story begins with… THE END.”

Following an atomic war, a few lone survivors stumble into an isolated valley where survivalist Jim Maddison (Paul Birch) has prepared for the inevitability of war for years his attitude is bleak, living with his daughter Louise (Lori Nelson) who is waiting for her fiance return. The characters come rambling in seeking shelter. Richard Denning as a geologist Rick, a criminal with a gun, Tony played by Mike Connors (who went by the name of Touch back then? who knows why!) and his girlfriend Ruby (Adele Jergens) plus prospector Pete (Raymond Hatton) and Radek (Paul Dubov) a man who has been contaminated by the radiation. Rick and Tony fight over Maddison’s daughter, and Ruby of course gets jealousy rightfully so, as Tony is a louse. Maddison who acts imperious tries to stay in charge as the leader but Tony is a mistrustful murderous thug. The old man Pete and his mule wants to just get back to his prospecting and drinking moonshine, he is clearly unaware of the seriousness of what has happened to the world. In the meantime, Radek is mutating into a monster and sneaks off into the night to kill and eat raw wild animals. Maddison used to be a Navy man, he shows Rick drawings he had made of the mutated animals after the Bikini atom bomb tests.

Outside, there is another mutated monster lurking around watching the survivors. Could this be Louise’s fiance who is still missing? The overwhelming fear is that the fate of the survivors is to eventually turn into the same kind of monsters like Radek and the other creature that is prowling the night (Jonathon Haze) as the contaminated man who as he lies dying alludes to the larger number of mutants that exist out in the radioactive clouds. The mutant can also communicate with Louise telepathically. By the end of the film most everyone is dead, Tony actually kills Ruby. and Rick at the climax fires a rifle into the mutant as it deflects the bullets like they’re nothing but gnats. What winds up helping the future of mankind is the simpleness of rain. It vanquishes the atomic clouds that have settled around the valley. Nature provides the solutions to what man has brought down upon himself. And of course as the credits roll, the titles read “The Beginning”

The mutant design is hilarious and representative of a lot of Corman/Blaisdell collaborations. It has big ears and horns with a face like a devil imp and hostile comic book eyes — all three of them! With a nose like a hawk’s beak and a pointy chin. There are also teeny weeny arms that grow out of the sides of it’s shoulders and the claws were glued to mittens.

A funny story about Paul Blaisdell and his monster suit. He had trouble in the scenes where he had to carry Lori Nelson around. In the climax when the rain water (They used sprinklers for rain) kills the mutant creature and he falls down and dies, it was such a hot day that Blasidell fell and decided to just stay down and lie back and chill out in the cold water. But the rubber suit was soaking up the water like a sponge and he was unable to get up. He was in actual danger of drowning in his own monster suit, before people noticed and came to his rescue!

 

Jim Maddison: Sometimes I have a feeling of doom.

Rick: All I know is there are two forms of life fighting for survival here in this valley, and only one of them can win. It’s got to be us!

 

Radek: I just can’t help it, I have this uncontrollable urge to eat meat. Red… raw… meat.

Jim Maddison: No human being could eat that poisonous meat and live!

 

Rick: There might be an entirely new set of laws, Jim, that we know nothing about.

 

It Came from Beneath the Sea

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Havoc! Chaos! Destruction!–Can IT Be Stopped? Out of primordial depths to destroy the world!

Directed by Robert Gordon. The first film of it’s kind produced by Charles H. Schneer. Screenplay by George Worthing Yates (The Tall Target 1951, Them! 1954, Earth vs. The Flying Saucer 1956) With incredible special effects by (link to feature) Ray Harryhausen!

This giant octopus extravaganza premiered in San Francisco where the audience’s were thrilled by the scenes of the creature clutching The Golden Gate Bridge in it’s mighty grasp!

Starring Kenneth Tobey plays atomic submarine Cmdr. Pete Mathews, Faith Domergue as Prof. Lesley Joyce, Donald Curtis as Dr. John Carter, Ian Keith as Adm. Burns.

It Came from Beneath the Sea taps into the old mythology of great and mysterious sea creatures like the Scandinavian Kraken large enough to devour large ships and their entire crew. With many science fiction cautionary tales about the effects of radiation, this imposing Cephalopoda is not a monster created by atomic blast, but is something ancient that always lurked in the depths of our unfathomable fathoms, but the giant octopus became radioactive from exposure to the atomic testing. And in this movie the great beast has the size and strength to pull down the Golden Gate Bridge and eats people. It no longer is satisfied with small fish and the like. It likes small boat loads of humans, a bumpkin sheriff (Harry Lauter) and portions of the San Francisco dock.

Kenneth Tobey is the quintessential generic good guy, Cmdr. Pete Mathews of a newly commissioned atomic submarine named after Captain Nemo’s Nautilus. A giant shape goes after his sub and temporarily seizes it in it’s grasp. He gets loose and subsequently finds a barnacle type piece of tissue attached to the sub. The tissue is brought to the labs of Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) and Professor Leslie Joyce (Faith Domergue) to examine. Domergue’s role has always impressed me because she was a strong female role model for little me growing up. A savvy woman scientist, who wasn’t afraid of the giant monster clambering around bridges and piers. And she didn’t swoon after Kenneth Tobey either, she was on a mission like he was and stuck to her mission as a Marine Research scientists who had a job to do, which frustrates Pete at every turn, but she is a ‘modern woman’ for 50s and in that decade of science fiction & horror we need every heroine we can get!

Both scientists finally identify the flesh as that of an octopus, which has been exposed to radiation from the H.Bomb tests in the region of the South Pacific.

Though there is a romance angle between Tobey and Domergue, it takes a back seat to Harryhausen’s masterful stop motion creature effects and the film has more of the neo-realist look that crime dramas of the 50s were starting to exhibit, where the narrative was focused on dealing with the principal situation and not the drama.

There are some superb creature attack scenes which make this one of the most visible and beloved science fiction/horror films of the decade for a good reason, not the least of which is Harryhausen’s wonderful special effects. A spectacular scene where a vessel is attacked, thrusting itself up on the bow of the ship and dragging it down into the ocean depths. There are a few survivors, and Professor Joyce manages to get one of them to admit what happened to the ship and it’s crew and then convinces the naval authorities to take the situation seriously and close down the water ways. Another fantastic monster scene takes place on the beach when the giant radioactive octopus attacks people at the beach. Finally it moves down the coast to San Francisco where it climbs up the Golden Gate Bridge, after Cmdr. Mathews, Dr. Carter and Prof. Joyce set off bombs  at the entrance of the harbor. Mathews and Carter must get on the bridge and drive the beast back into the water using electricity. Then it proceeds to strike the downtown part of the city, pulling down the Ferry building, searching through Market Street with it’s gigantic tentacles. The beast was created by atomic fall out, and it is finally destroyed when Kenneth Tobey sends an atomic torpedo into it’s large souless staring eye.

From Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies Vol. 1 1950-1957– “In Ray Harryhausen’s useful but not detailed Film Fantasy Scrapbook, he revealed that he was forced to cut costs in several ways. Assuming that audiences wouldn’t have to count the arms on the octopus, he simply built his two-foot creature with six arms, rather than eight. The result was that he was able to do the animation by himself with less difficulty. He also constructed a large tentacle for the illusion of greater mass and detail, and for ease in the sequences in which it quests its way through the city, seemingly with independent life as it smashes windows, and flattens crowds. A large section of the head, with a two-inch eye, was also constructed, primarily for the climax in which the torpedo is shot into the beast’s head. There are some amusing shots of divers swimming by the curious but baleful eye of the octopus.”

“To make the creature suitably expressive and lifelike, Harryhausen always kept at least one tentacle in motion, even when the octopus is lounging against the San Francisco wharf, meditating on the wisdom of trying to eat people. Furthermore, as all scenes with the model were actually shot dry-it’s very hard to animate water-the beast was coated with glycerine to give it a satisfactorily wet and icky look. Harryhausen added foam via optical printer at all points where the beast’s body or arms broke water; this was time-consuming, but it added to the realism. The motion of the tentacles under water and in the air is subtly different; Harryhausen was determined to depict the greater resistance and weight of water through the actions of the monster.”

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Cmdr. Pete Mathews: Doctor, what kind of a sea beast would be that large? And what do you call it so I can stop calling it ?

Prof. John Carter: I have no idea.

Prof. Lesleyl Joyce: Nor have I.

Prof. John Carter: Look, Pete, you don’t see many women in the Seagoing Navy.

Cmdr. Pete Mathews: Are you kidding me?

Prof. John Carter: Oh, shoreside women, sure. But there’s a whole new breed who feel they’re just as smart and just as courageous as men. And they are. They don’t like to be overprotected. They don’t like to have their initiative taken away from them.

 

Prof. Lesleyl Joyce: A – you’d want me to miss the opportunity to see this specimen, one that may never come again; B – you’d be making up my mind for me; and C – I not only don’t like being pushed around, but you underestimate my ability to help in a crisis.

Prof. John Carter: My sympathies are entirely on her side.

Cmdr. Pete Mathews: Didn’t take me very long to lose that argument, did it?

 

Cmdr. Pete Mathews: Thought we had the thing figured out. What happened?

Prof. Lesleyl Joyce: I can’t tell you. Instead of being driven off, it attacked.

Cmdr. Pete Mathews: Maybe it wants to *fight*.

Beneath the sea

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King Dinosaur

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SEE…A prehistoric world of fantastic adventure come to life!

Directed by Bert I. Gordon (Beginning of the End 1957, The Amazing Colossal Man 1957, Attack of the Puppet People 1958, War of the Colossal Beast 1958, Earth vs The Spider 1958, Village of the Giants 1965, The Food of the Gods 1976, Empire of the Ants 1977) the King of all things large and looming or small and sinister! And lest not forget the outre creepy ‘horror of personality’ Picture Mommy Dead 1965 starring his daughter Susan, and a darkly envisioned tale of devil worship starring Orson Welles and Pamela Franklin Necromancy 1972.

Starring William Bryant as Dr. Ralph Martin, Wanda Curtis as Dr. Patricia Bennett, Douglas Henderson as Dr. Richard Gordon, Patti Gallagher as Nora Pierce, Marvin Miller as the narrator.

“When a new star named ‘Nova’ settles in the Earth’s galaxy, a half-year’s rocket flight away, feverish plans are made to send an expedition of four to the new planet.”

It’s a silly movie, and I only include it as it’s part of the catalogue of films of 1955 that refer to science fiction/fantasy, and well, it was directed by Bert I. Gordon. Once they land on the planet, no uh star, whatever, they group hear strange roars at night. When two of the crew go to investigate they find stock footage of the ghost of dinosaur films past. They use an Iguana as a dinosaur which corners them in a cave, until they are rescued by the two other people in the expedition. After they escape they set off an A-Bomb, why not right. We came, we saw dinosaurs, we blew it all up.

The Quartermass Xperiment aka The Creeping Unknown

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Nothing Can Destroy It!–All Earth Stands Helpless! Spawned in the depths of outer space — a monster so horrible, so vicious, so incredible — even when you see it you won’t believe it could be! (U.S. poster for The Creeping Unknown)

Produced by Hammer Films which were responsible for Quatermass II and the similar X the Unknown (1956). The film is directed by Val Guest, with a screenplay by Richard Landau (known for British film noir- The Crooked Way 1949  Stolen Face 1952, Lost Continent 1951, Bad Blonde 1953, Blackout 1954 and The Glass Tomb 1955, Pharaoh’s Curse 1957, The Girl in Black Stockings 1957 (link to both features) Born Reckless 1958 )

Cinematography by Walter J. Harvey Art Direction by J. Elder Wills, and musical score by James Bernard (X the Unknown 1956, The Curse of Frankenstein 1957, Horror of Dracula 1958, The Hound of the Baskervilles 1959, The Stranglers of Bombay 1959, These are the Damned 1962, The Kiss of the Vampire 1963, The Gorgon 1964, She 1965, Plague of the Zombies 1966, Dracula: Prince of Darkness 1966, Torture Garden 1967, The Devil Rides Out 1968 and so on Hammer it goes, a most impressive repertoire indeed! The monster itself with it’s spiky slimy tendrils achieves it’s ick factor by Les Bowie who manipulated damp tripe for effect.

This is perhaps one of my favorite science fiction/horror hybrids of the 1950s decade with fabulously hair-raising make up by Phil Leakey who gives Wordsworth a very otherworldly sinister appearance of a man who is essentially decomposing and being subsumed by an alien organism.

Stars the wonderful Brian Donlevy as Prof. Bernard Quatermass, Jack Warner (It Always Rains on Sunday 1947, The Ladykillers 1955) as Inspector Lomax, Margia Dean as Mrs. Judith Carroon, Thora Hird as Rosemary ‘Rosie’ Elizabeth Wrigley, Gordon Jackson as BBC TV Producer, David King-Wood as Dr. Gordon Briscoe, Harold Lang as Christie, Lionel Jeffries (First Men in the Moon 1964) as Blake, Richard Wordsworth as Victor Carroon. And a very young Jane Asher as the little girl.

The Quatermass Experiment had been a popular BBC-TV serial in the late summer of 1953. It was BBC’s first Science Fiction teleplay. It contained six 40 minute installments that had British tv goers enrapt by their television sets. This mania led to 3 follow up full length films, Quatermass II (1955), Quatermass and the Pit (1959) (one of my favorites!) and The Quatermass Conclusion (1979). All written for television by the imaginative Nigel Kneale (Look Back in Anger 1959, The Entertainer 1960, The Witches 1966, The Stone Tape (tv movie) 1972, The Woman in Black (tv movie) 1989) The American version changed the title of the film to be The Creeping Unknown.

Brian Donlevy instead of playing the cultured intellectual from the British teleseries, here in this feature film he plays a steely and unwavering Professor Quatermass a scientist who is determined to explore space and even after the first disaster the film ends with him launching Q-2. One of Professor Quatermass’ rockets crashes into an open field near London, and Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) goes to investigate what has happened to the rocket that was launched a while back, and deemed lost in space. Puzzling is that once they get inside the rocket to retrieve the astronauts, only one of the crew members Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth) is found inside, with two other empty space suits left behind and no trace of the men, with no means of escape. Carroon begins to transform in strange ways while in hospital. His skin is going through odd changes and in one bizarre scene that still sort of jolts me is when he smashes his fist into a potted cactus plant causing obvious pain and then uses it like a weapon, hiding under his overcoat. Richard Wordsworth as Carroon does an effect job at being menacing, without a word spoken his anguish is conveyed on his face.

Insp. Lomax: Nobody ever wins a cold war.

There are quite a few eerie stunning and intriguing visuals in The Quatermass Xperiment which why is remains so memorable to us fans of 1950s science fiction/horror/fantasy. Like the scene where they are reviewing the images from the automatic camera taken of the astronauts responding to something obviously horrifying to them, though we cannot see what it is.

Meanwhile Quatermass and Inspector Lomax (Jack Warner) and Dr. Briscoe (David King Wood) try to find out what led up to the rocket crashing, Dr. Briscoe discovers strange organisms on the rocket, and Inspector Lomax is stunned to find that Carroon’s fingerprints are not quite human. Carroon’s wife Julia (Margia Dean) tries to break her husband out of the hospital with the help of a dubious private detective, who gets bludgeoned by the prickly hand of thorns. When they discover the dead private detective they find that all signs of living matter have been drained from the body. Carroon terrifies his wife, as he sits creepily silent next to her in the car.

Prof. Bernard Quatermass: There’s no room for personal feelings in science, Judith!

Carroon goes on the run, lurking around London, frightening a little girl who offers him a play cup of tea (Jane Asher). When whatever remnant of human behavior is left in Victor Carroon, once he realizes that the little girl is in danger of being devoured by the alien life force that is thriving inside him, he breaks her doll in order to scare her off, lumbering away like the monster he’s become. (In an interview with Richard Wordsworth he says that he truly did scare Jane Asher for real while filming that scene.) He then breaks into a pharmacy where he makes a normally lethal concoction of chemicals and drinks it. This is more fleshed out in the teleplay.

For instance, Carroon having been exposed to an alien element has synthesized the characteristics of the other two missing astronauts so, he speaks German and has the technical background like Reichenheim, and also has the knowledge of chemistry like Green. It would have been great to include this in the feature film, elucidating some finer elements to the plot. In the film Carroon cannot speak, though in the teleplay he uses fragmented language to try and warn everyone. Also in Kneale’s teleplay, the monster is not done in by electricity, but the souls and consciousness of the three men adapted into the shape are reasoned with by Quatermass (Reginald Tate) plays the recordings of what led up prior to the spacecraft crashing, playing it over a loudspeaker he tells the men to fight the influence of the fuzzy plant like tendrils that is about to spread it’s spores all over the world.

Then this grotesque looking man who’s morphing into partly organic matter goes to the zoo and kills a bunch of animals. Eventually he’s completely transmogrified into an amorphous slithery monster and winds up in Westminster Abbey, where Quartermass manages to electrocute it by hooking up cables to a network of scaffolding, and redirecting all of central London’s power, before it can reproduce itself.

CREEPING UNKNOWN

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues

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Freezing horror! Hideous atomic mutant strikes from the depths!

Directed by Dan Milner. Stars Kent Taylor as Dr. Ted Stevens / Ted Baxter, Cathy Downs as Lois King, Michael Whalen as Prof. King, Helene Stanton as Wanda.

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1956) Directed by Dan Milner Shown: Kent Taylor, Cathy Downs

Oceanographer Ted Stevens arrives at a California beach to investigate several mysterious deaths attributed to a sea monster. He meets up with Bill Grant (Rodney Bell) who works for the Department of Defense who suspects that the Phantom and the mysterious killings are related to Professor King (Michael Whalen) from the Pacific College of Oceanography. Grant goes to the professor one night who eludes him, though he does makes friends with his daughter Lois (Cathy Downs). Plot becomes pretty convoluted as both Professor King’s secretary Ethel Hall (Vivi Janiss) and his assistant Thomas (Philip Pine) are scheming. Thomas is working on the side with Wanda (Helene Stanton) who is associated with a nefarious foreign power. Thomas eventually kills Ethel with a speargun, from his awful non hiding hiding place, a bushy clump on the beach.

The phantom winds up being spiny headed sea creature, guarding uranium ore that emits a deadly atomic light. King in an aside to Grant that the phantom is the result of Professor King’s experimentation with the nuclear light source although pretty non descriptive it appears to be a Sea Serpent like any good legend and not the result of scientific meddling. King doesn’t seem to care about the killings of swimmers or occupants of the boats that get too close to the underwater light, only when a ship explodes while passing over it, does he decide to dynamite the spot. The phantom grabs King before the explosion and keeps him there til they’re both blown to bits, blocking the atomic light. “Nature has many secrets man mustn’t disturb… and this is one of them.”

Revenge of the Creature

Weird Monster Escapes! Terror Seizes City! …a woman’s beauty the lure for his dangerous desires!

Directed by Jack Arnold, and produced by William Alland with a script by Martin Berkeley, television screenwriter who “collaborated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the 1950s by naming dozens of Hollywood artists as Communists or Communist sympathizers.

Scotty Welbourne was the cinematographer on the film, also having worked on the dismal Manfish 1956 but interesting to note he was the still photographer and cameraman on The Public Enemy 1931, Doctor X 1932, Mystery of the Wax Museum 1933, Force of Evil 1948, The Sound of Fury 195o and the photographer on the underwater unit for one of my favs starring the lovely Audrey Dalton who is assailed by a giant mollusk in The Monster that Challenged the World 1957.

Revenge of the Creature shot in 3-D, stars John Agar as Prof. Clete Ferguson, Lori Nelson as Helen Dobson, John Bromfield as Joe Hayes, Nestor Paiva as Lucas, Grandon Rhodes as Jackson Foster, Dave Willock as Lou Gibson, and Ricou Browning as The Gill Man. The film also shines a tiny spotlight on a young Clint Eastwood as Jennings and Brett Halsey as Pete!

After the Prime days of Universal Monsters in the 1930s, and the popularity of the iconic figures that menaced the screen the 1950s had a few reminisces from that era, and manifested yet another sympathetic soul, this time with gills. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is perhaps one of my most beloved monsters to emerge from the mine of symbolic terrors to come out of Hollywood. And the proof of The Gill Man’s enduring capacity to hold our interest is evidenced in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017), the directors visual love poem to the iconic Universal creature.

Lucas: I hope you ain’t going to blow up my boat, Mr. Johnson. Like my wife, she’s not much but she’s all I have.

In this sequel Revenge of the Creature the studio had changed since the 1930s & 40s. The Gill Man is the last of the great collection of monsters to be featured in subsequent films. The story isn’t a creative elaboration on the original film, a second expedition is sent to the Black Lagoon, where they find the Gill Man alive, having survived the multitude of bullets sprayed at him in the first film. Joe Hayes (John Bromfield ) and George Johnson (Robert B. Williams) from Florida’s Ocean Harbor Park (which was actually Marineland) capture the Creature and bring him back to the Park with them. Now in captivity he is kept like a Sea World attraction in the care of Clete Ferguson played by 50s sci-fi regular John Agar and Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson). After spending weeks with the Gill Man, he falls for the lovely blonde Helen as does Joe and Clete. Clete and Helen also teach the Creature to understand the meaning of ‘no’.

But knowing the word no, doesn’t stop him from wanting his freedom, so he kills Joe and escapes his tank and finds his way back to the ocean, then starts to stalk Helen, watching her and Clete when they go out on their romantic excursion up the river, eventually grabbing her right out of the middle of a dance at seafood restaurant, The Lobster House. Clete in pursuit manages to stop him by shouting that wonderful word, ‘no’ long enough for him to be shout down once again.

Revenge of the Creature has it’s moments, and while it isn’t the classic perfection and poignancy of Jack Arnold’s first foray into the Black Lagoon…

As Bill Warren astutely states, “the underwater photography is crisp and clear, the night scenes are suitably eerie, and there are a couple of good shocks. The scene of Lori Nelson in an evening gown clutching the bobbing, clanging buoy where the Gill Man has temporarily place her verges on a kind of surrealism that turns up every now and then in Jack Arnold films. He seems to like these contrasts (the scene of the alien Barbara Rush on the hilltop in It Came from Outer Space.)

As Hollywood Reporter Jack Moffitt says about the film, “made to please the portion of the public that delights in seeing a man in a rubber forehead carrying a girl in crepe de Chine gown through an underlighted corridor toward an undetermined end, it has none of that superlative bogey-man craftsmanship which made Frankenstein, Dracula and The Thing… “

IMDb Trivia:

Actor/Stuntman Tom Hennesy almost drowned during filming. Playing The Creature, he grabs Helen Dobson (actually stuntwoman Ginger Stanley) on a pier and jumps with her into the water. The scene was shot at night, and when Hennesy and Stanley hit the water, they discovered it was full of jellyfish; in addition, a freak current started to pull them both down. Hennesy let go of Stanley, who swam to the surface, but Hennesy’s inflexible Gill-Man costume had become waterlogged and too heavy to fight the current. He was rescued by two local boys who happened to be watching the filming from a nearby boat, and quickly raced over and pulled him in.

Much of Revenge Of The Creature was filmed on location at the Marineland of Florida oceanarium. The actors filmed in the water during the tank scenes, were required to swim with its real-life underwater inhabitants, including sharks, eels, barracudas, and more. Despite the close proximity to ocean predators, the only incident was that of a sea turtle biting off the prosthetic foot of Ricou Browning’s Creature costume.

In the preceding film, Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), the creature suit was built to hold the air in so their were no bubble when the creature was under water. In order to save money and to provide air for the stuntman in underwater sequences, the suit design was changed to allow a hose to pump air to the actor. As a result, bubbles could be seen coming out of different parts of the suit.

Reported to be the highest-grossing film of the “Creature” trilogy.

Astute viewers may notice that the clock in the Lobster House moves forward in time by over two hours in just a matter of seconds. There is a good explanation for this continuity error. While filming the scene in the crowded restaurant, heat from the film equipment triggered the building’s sprinkler system. The actors, extras, and production equipment were soaked. It took several hours for the large number of people in the scene to dry off and find new clothes and for the equipment to dry off. The break explains why time progressed on the clock so quickly in the final cut of the scene.

In its first run engagements, it was usually supported by Cult of the Cobra (1955) on the lower half of the bill.

(link to feature) Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Revenge of the creature

Joe Hayes: (John Bromfield) “Oh, I’ll sleep fine. No imagination.”

Helen Dobson: It’s nice to get away, lie in the sun, be like other people.

Prof. Clete Ferguson: Strange talk coming from a dedicated scientist. Have you forgotten your mission in life? I’ll be leaving soon. I’m gonna miss you.

Helen Dobson: You know sometimes I wonder how I ever got started on all this. Science, fish, ichthyology, where will it all lead me? As a person I mean. Most of the kids I went to undergraduate school with are already married and have children.

Prof. Clete Ferguson: Is that what you want?

Helen Dobson: I don’t know… I just don’t know.

Prof. Clete Ferguson: But surely you must…

Helen Dobson: But what do you want?

Prof. Clete Ferguson: Well it’s different with me. I’m a man, I don’t have to make a choice.

Helen Dobson: But I do?

Prof. Clete Ferguson: It’s tough on you gals, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it’s just a fact.

Helen Dobson: Doesn’t seem right.

Prof. Clete Ferguson: But you haven’t told me what you want, what you want most have you? I’d like to know before I leave. You’ve become important to me.

Helen Dobson: Very?

Prof. Clete Ferguson: Uh-huh.

Tarantula

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Even Science was stunned!–Science’s Deadliest Accident–Bullets Can’t Stop It! Dynamite Can’t Kill It!–Giant spider strikes! Crawling terror 100 feet high!

Tarantula 1955

Another above average science-fiction/horror hybrid masterpiece by Jack Arnold, surrounding the hubris of science though altruistic initially, the giant size Tarantula breaks free from the lab and wreaks havoc in the desert. Scientific meddling manifests disaster and mayhem not to mention the horrible effects on the human body when injected into oneself for the sake of research and generating the unintentional side effect causing himself to suffer an aggressive case of acromegaly.

The story was created by Jack Arnold and Robert M. Fresco who also wrote the screenplay with Martin Berkeley. Tarantula was based on an episode of television’s Science Fiction Theatre called ‘No food for thought’ by Robert M. Fresco.

Directed by Jack Arnold and produced by William Alland. Cinematography by George Robinson (Half a Sinner 1934, The Mystery of Edwin Drood 1935, he Invisible Ray 1936, Dracula’s Daughter 1936, Son of Frankenstein 1939, The Mummy’s Tomb 1942, Captive Wild Woman 1943, Murder in the Blue Room 1944, Walk a Crooked Mile 1948, The Night Runner 1957)

The film stars John Agar as Dr. Matt Hastings, Mara Corday as Stephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton Leo G. Carroll as Prof. Gerald Deemer whose altruism unleashes a monster! Nestor Paiva as Sheriff Jack Andrews and Ross Elliot as Joe Birch.

After the success of Warner Bros’ Them! Universal-International saw the need to compete with their own giant bug movie, and Tarantula is quite a distinguishing film in the sub-genre of science fiction/horror hybrids. The story concerns the central character Professor Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll) who is trying to find an answer to world hunger and a sufficient food supply. The film opens when the deformed assistant to Professor Deemer (Eddie Parker) collapses in the desert and succumbs to exposure and what ever mysterious ailment he is suffering from. Dr. Matt Hastings (our unyielding sci-fi hero John Agar) examines the body and discovers that he had acromegaly, an illness that is normally slow in its progression. This throws off the identification of the body as it resembles Deemer’s associate it logically cannot be the same man. But in fact it is Deemer’s partner who has been working with the scientist on a secret experiment in his desert lab. Deemer’s other associate Paul Lund (also played by Eddie Parker) is likewise suffering from acromegaly.

Deemer is working with an “atomically stabilized” artificial nutrient that he is trying to develop that would feed the world’s population. The problem is, as is the case with these ‘fear of atomic energy’ science fiction cautionary tales, is that there are catastrophic side effects. The nutrient produces a side effect of gigantism in animals and acromegaly in human subjects. His lab is filled with cages harboring giant rats, guinea pigs and a tarantula. In one scene Lund, now out of his mind crashes into the lab and injects Prof. Deemer with the nutrient. And during the scuffle, the tarantula who has been injected with the same nutrient escapes and creeps and ambles into the desert to wreak havoc with the small neighboring desert town.

Now, Deemer gets a new assistant to help him in the lab. It’s “Steve” Clayton — the sexy staple of 50s science fiction fair, Mara Corday! While there is an attraction developing between Steve and Matt, the tarantula is out there growing more gigantic by the minute feeding on animals and people in its path and Professor Deemer is showing signs of acromegaly. Once Matt figures out that they’re dealing with a giant tarantula after analyzing the pools of tarantula venom, he is aided by the local sheriff (Nestor Paiva) who call in the Air Force to finally drop napalm on the beast, not before it crushes all kinds of American cars in it’s might jaws and stomps on Deemer’s house during his Shakespearean death scene.

One of the unintentionally comical scenes is when the tarantula is a voyeur peering in the window at Mara Corday as she undresses. He’s not only giant, he’s a giant perv.

My one complaint is the use of acromegaly as a tactic to elicit horror, when it is a very real disease that people suffer from. They could have developed a different side effect that wasn’t exploitative or used it to convey ‘human’ monsters.

Part of what makes Jack Arnold’s stark simplicity come across as eerie and alienating is his prefered venue of the isolating landscape of the desert. Consider some of his other similar atmospheric works that feel bleak and desolate like, It Came from Outer Space 1953, The Tattered Dress 1957, Monster on the Campus 1958.

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Tarantula Leo G. Carroll

Stephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton “Science or no science, a girl’s got to get her hair done.”

Prof. Gerald DeemerThe disease of hunger, like most diseases, well, it spreads. There are 2 billion people in the world today. In 1975 there’ll be 3 billion. In the year 2000, there’ll be 3,625,000,000. The world may not be able to produce enough food to feed all these people. Now perhaps you’ll understand what an inexpensive nutrient will mean.

Dr. Matt Hastings Well, not many of us look that far in the future, sir.

Prof. Gerald DeemerOur business is the future. No man can do it on his own, of course. You don’t pull it out of your hat like a magician’s rabbit. You – well, you build on what hundreds of others have learned before you.
Stephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton–What does it look like?

Dr. Matt Hastings Oh, like something from another life science… quiet, yet strangely evil as if it were hiding its secrets from man.

Stephanie ’Steve’ ClaytonYou make it sound so creepy.

Dr. Matt HastingsThe unknown always is.

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This Island Earth

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Two mortals trapped in outer space… challenging the unearthly furies of an outlaw planet gone mad!

Produced by William Alland –Directed by Joseph M. Newman (The Outcasts of Poker Flats 1952) based on Raymond F. Jones’ story “The Alien Machine”. Newman had purchased the rights to Jones’ novel who soon left 20th Century Fox. But when he could not succeed as an independent artist, he wound up selling the idea to Universal and he and George Callahan came along with the package as director and screenwriter. The script had been revised by Franklin Coen and it is said that it was Coen who insisted on adding the Metaluna ‘Mutant’ pants monster to the story. Jack Arnold directed the final Metalunian sequences of This Island Earth.

Faith Domergue and Joseph M. Newman on the set of This Island Earth

As we can see from this series on the science fiction films of the 1950s, benevolent visitors from space are all too rare. But luckily for us pants monsters are not!

The film is drenched in hallucinatory, atmosphere with music by composer Henry Mancini and Hans J. Salter. Cinematography by Clifford Stine (uncredited for William Castle’s noir thriller Undertow 1949 and It Came from Outer Space 1953, camera work on Sparticus 1960 and visual effects on Earthquake 1974 ). There are glowing flying saucers, meteor showers, strange tubes that change people’s metabolism, modern looking scientific gadgets that light up with multicolored whatchamacallits… the honeycombed surface of Metaluna which was 100 feet long, with wonderful miniatures.

A special acknowledgement to a very versatile and discerning designer who worked on everything from award winning dramas to the campiest of sci-fi/horror gems – Set direction by Julia Heron (The Woman in the Window 1944, Along Came Jones 1945, The Best Years of Our Lives 1946, The Diary of a Chambermaid 1946, Edge of Doom 1950, Harvey 1950, The Strange Door 1951, Revenge of the Creature 1955, All That Heaven Allows 1955, Written on the Wind 1956, Slaughter on 10th Avenue 1957, My Man Godfrey 1957, The Bishop’s Wife 1957, The Thing that Couldn’t Die 1958, Monster on Campus 1958, Imitation of Life 1959 with 49 episodes of Boris Karloff’s Thriller and 38 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery/crime anthology series, The Night Walker 1964 ) Co-designed with Russell A. Gausman.

With special effects by David Horsley, (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948, Brute Force 1947, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands 1948). Clifford Stine and Cleo E. Baker, and visual effects by Roswell A. Hoffmann (The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, The Land Unknown 1957 Earthquake 1974)  and Frank Tipper.

Interesting to note: The Mutant head is part of an unused design for the aliens in It Came from Outer Space. And once again Bud Westmore took total credit for the creature design when in fact it was once again Millicent Patrick (Creature from the Black Lagoon) and several other designers who were involved in creating the gaudy Mutant whose suit with the leisure slack look and belt buckle with an atomic symbol on it allegedly cost $20,000 — there was also Jack Kevan, Robert Hickman and Chris Mueller.

Mutants are supposedly Metalunian slaves and Exeter tells Cal and Ruth that they are just larger versions of our insect life on Earth. With their large cumbersome claws and giant brains, I haven’t seen one of those creeping around in my garden lately.

This Island Earth goes beyond being a ‘pure’ science fiction space opera of the 1950s variety, part of it’s magic allure is the art direction and set design. The dream like colors and illusionary and fantastical. In quite a similar fashion to George Pal and that of writer Irving Block’s Forbidden Planet (who incidentally did the matte art design for Invaders from Mars — another excursion into a colorful nightmare world) with its operatic grandeur. I’ll be covering George Pal’s  Forbidden Planet in the next installment of Keep Watching the Skies: The Year is 1956!

This George Pal colorful science fiction eye candy stars Jeff Morrow as Exeter, Faith Domergue (Where Danger Lives 1950, Vendetta 1950, This is My Love 1954, It Came from Beneath the Sea 1955, Cult of the Cobra 1955, The Atomic Man 1955, House of Seven Corpses 1974, How Evil, My Sister 1974) as Dr. Ruth Adams, Rex Reason as Dr. Cal Meacham, Lance Fuller as Brack, Russell Johnson as Dr. Steve Carlson, Douglas Spencer as The Monitor, Richard Deacon as the pilot, Eddie Parker and Regis Oarton as The Mutants and Orangey-the Neutron cat!

This Island Earth is considered one of the most significant films of the genre in 1955, released by Universal. Both Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason turned in good performances in their careers yet never quite made it to stardom.

The story starts out with a nuclear scientist Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) who is sent a mysterious electronics catalogue of schematics which is an instruction on how to build an ‘interociter’. Before that Meacham is saved in his jet by an inexplicable green glowing light. Once constructed the piece of equipment turns out to be a three-dimensional triangular television screen on which the image of Exeter (Jeff Morrow) appears. Exeter is an alien with a really pronounced forehead and icy white hair and brows. Cal is informed by Exeter that he has passed the intelligence test and is convinced to join the other nuclear scientists from all over the world who were given the same challenge. The ‘interociter’ is an advanced invention which peaks scientist Cal Meacham’s curiosity.

An unpiloted plane flies Cal to an unspecified location with a opulent mansion, where he meets Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) and there is instant chemistry, because they had once been an item, though Ruth pretends not to know Cal. The group begins to work on a mysterious project. All the subterfuge begin to worry, Cal, Ruth and Dr. Steve Carlson (Russell Johnson) and they decide to beat it right before the leader of Metaluna order Exeter to subject the remaining scientists who haven’t already been brainwashed.

Steven Carlson is zapped by red rays that appear out of the surreal sky, and while Cal and Ruth try to take off in the plane, it is drawn up within a green beam into a hovering flying saucer commanded by Exeter.

From what I’ve read, the second half of the film deviates from Jones’ novel. Metaluna is at war with the planet Zahgon. The Metalunians needed the atomic scientists to help them figure out a way to reinforce their safety shield that surrounds their planet, as they are being inundated with meteors hurled at them from the Zahgons, forcing them to build their towers and cities underground. Once Exeter returns to Metaluna with Cal and Ruth, it is too late and the planet’s shield has already begun to crumble. The Monitor (Douglas Spencer) still wants Exeter to brainwash the two Earth scientists. The philosophical question comes into play, though we are not privy to the conflict between the two interplanetary races, Earth’s scientists are being forced to save Metaluna, and a civilization they know nothing about.

But a meteor strike takes out the Mutant pants monster and Exeter has a change of heart letting the scientists return to Earth. When they get back in the flying saucer, they are assailed by another Mutant wearing (Hanes Casual) pants in gray polyester. Though the Mutant is injured it is strong enough to hurt Exeter before they can board, and manages to drag himself onto the ship unbeknownst to the three. After they take off, the atmospheric pressure winds up killing the Mutant but not before it terrorizes Ruth, in a Mutant–Woman in Peril ballet. In the background we see what is left of Metaluna as it lights up in a fiery glowing explosion. Exeter in his altruistic wisdom spouts a daydreamers soliloquy about the stars hopes that Metaluna’s incandescent glow will light the way for another planet to thrive.

Ruth asks Exeter where he plans to go.

Exeter – “Our universe is vast-full of wonders. I shall explore, perhaps find another Metaluna, a place inhabited by beings not unlike myself. You See, I’m more adventurous than you imagined me. “

Cal –“Exeter- you’re a liar. You’re run out of power bringing us here. Even if you had a place to go, you couldn’t make it.”

Ruth –“Come back with us. We’ll heal your wounds.”

Exeter –“I’m afraid my wounds can never be healed.”

Cal and Ruth arrive at their plane, and try to convince Exeter to come with them but he sacrifices himself as his space craft erupts in an aura of fire and plunges into the vast watery ocean below.

This Island Earth mutant_500

Dr. Cal Meacham: [to reporters] You boys like to call this the pushbutton age. It isn’t, not yet. Not until we can team up atomic energy with electronics. Then we’ll have the horses as well as the cart.

 

Dr. Cal Meacham: Where am I?

Dr. Ruth Adams: Georgia.

Dr. Cal Meacham: I kind of expected Neptune.

 

The Monitor: It is indeed typical that you Earth people refuse to believe in the superiority of any world but your own. Children looking into a magnifying glass, imagining the image you see is the image of your true size.

Dr. Cal Meacham: Our true size is the size of our God!

Dr. Ruth Adams: My mind is my own, and nobody’s going to change it! I’m not going

The Monitor: Then you know that shortly we can expect Zagon to commence and sustain an all-out attack. Our ionization layer must be maintained until our relocation is effected.

Dr. Cal Meacham: Relocation? To where?

The Monitor: To your Earth.

Exeter: A peaceful relocation. We hope to live in harmony with the citizens of your Earth.

Dr. Ruth Adams: In harmony!

The Monitor: Our knowledge and weapons would make us your superiors, naturally.

Dr. Cal Meacham: Then why haven’t your “superior” brains solved the problem of synthesizing uranium?

Joe Wilson: Cal, I – I know everybody’s seeing flying saucers and screwy lights up in the sky. Well, you can put me in the booby hatch too, because, so help me, I saw this ship turn a bright green up there.

Dr. Cal Meacham: Are you sure, Joe?

Joe Wilson: Positive.

Dr. Cal Meacham: Did you hear anything?

Joe Wilson: Yes. A high-frequency howl, very high, all the time your ship was…

Dr. Cal Meacham: Green. Did Webb see it?

Joe Wilson: Unless he’s blind.

Dr. Cal Meacham: Check him.

Joe Wilson: Right.

Dr. Cal Meacham: Oh, and Joe… until we find out what happened, all three of us were blind.

KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES FOR 1956!

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12 thoughts on “🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1955

  1. Definitely one of the best years of that decade for cool sci-fi flicks. This Island Earth is one of my all-time faves and I still recall myself and a few friends recording the film (on a cassette tape!) just to memorize lines and toss them out at the oddest times (yeah, we were weird back then!).

    I think I’ve not seen three of these, so I’ll need to get to tracking those down at some point. Keep up the amazing work, as I can’t wait to see how 1956 turns out (Forbidden Planet gets my nod for best of that year, but I’m sure my memory will be jogged by something you’re going to dig up I may not have seen or just forgot about.

    g.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I just so happened to look at some of what was released from 1956 to ’59 while researching some other stuff and yes indeed, things are going to get really fun in here (buys cap, tips it to MG for all that soon to be incredibly detailed writing work)…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I was just going to remark that this series would make a wonderful book! So many of us love the old science fiction from this time period, and your blogposts really bring it to life with so much love and excitement! You should be pitching to publishers! Pitch to the sky!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for your kind words and for stopping by The Last Drive In… Speaking of the sky, keep watching the sky for 1956 -1959 I’ll be working on the rest of the decade. Just need to warm up my Theremin… ha!!! You never know if there’s a publisher out there that would like to turn my humble little blog into a humble little book. I can dream…

    Like

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