🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1954

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Find previous editions of Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s here: 1950, 1951, 1952,1953

A GILL MAN , A DEVIL GIRL , ROCKET MEN , KILLERS FROM SPACE and JULES VERNE…!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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A visual masterpiece directed by Richard Fleischer (Soylent Green 1971) and a screenplay by Earl Felton, who chose to weed out the extremely detailed and descriptive novel by Jules Verne and create a fast paced visual fantasy that became this fabulous adventure. The film is scored by Paul J. Smith (The Parent Trap 1961) whose splendid music creates a world of majesty surrounding the sets with wonderfully colorful and inventive art direction by John Meehan, (The Strange Love of Martha Ivers 1946, The Heiress 1949, Sunset Blvd 1950, Studio 57 1955-58, M Squad 1957 -58 Boris Karloff’s THRILLER-ep.A Wig for Miss Devore 1962), production design & un-credited art direction by Harper Goff (Fantastic Voyage 1966, Willy Wonker & The Chocolate Factory 1971 also un-credited set design on A Midsummer’s Night Dream 1935,The Life of Emile Zola 1937, Sergeant York 1941, Casablanca 1942) and set direction by Emile Kuri (It’s a Wonderful Life 1946, The Paradine Case 1947, Rope 1948, The Heiress 1949, Dark City 1950, A Place in the Sun 1951, Detective Story 1951, War of the Worlds 1953, The Actress 1953, Shane 1953) brought the enigmatic ship to life as almost creature-like, flaunting interiors that are lavish with gadgets that flirt with scientific-industrious designs of the future!

The film stars Kirk Douglas as Ned Land and James Mason as Captain Nemo. Co-stars Paul Lukas as Prof. Pierre Aronnax, Peter Lorre as Conseil, Robert J. Wilke as first Mate of the Nautilus, Ted de Corsia as Capt. Farragut, Carlton Young as John Howard, J.M Kerrigan as Old Billy, and Percy Helton as the coach driver. 20,000 Leagues helped Peter Lorre step out of his sinister-mystery roles and add great comedic versatility as a character actor to his full career.

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"20000 Leagues Under the Sea" Kirk Douglas 1954 Walt Disney Productions ** I.V.
“20000 Leagues Under the Sea”
Kirk Douglas
1954 Walt Disney Productions

Nautilus

Walt Disney began to depart from the expensive endeavor of producing animated features, and started to experiment with live action films. Disney became aware of George Pal’s desire to persuade Paramount to allow him to produce Verne’s beloved novel initially utilizing a screenplay by Kurt Neumann. Disney got George Pal to relinquish the rights and took over the project, hiring Richard Fleischer (Follow Me Quietly 1949, The Narrow Margin 1952, Compulsion 1959, Fantastic Voyage 1966, The Boston Strangler 1968, Tora! Tora! Tora! 1970, 10 Rillington Place 1971, See No Evil 1971, The New Centurions 1972, Soylent Green 1973), to direct, and Neumann’s script was out.  It’s no wonder Fleischer was tapped to do more fantasy science fiction films, though his psychological thrillers/documentary style crime films are outstanding contributions.

Adapted from Jules Verne’s fabulous adventure the action takes place in the 19th century – where sailors told tall tales of giant sea creatures that wrecked and devoured sailing ships and the oceans held deep unknowing secrets as unfathomable as the heavens above. The legend of a strange horned sea monster has been wreaking havoc with sailing vessels in the South Pacific. Professor Pierre Arronax (Paul Lukas) and his side kick Conseil (Peter Lorre) join an American expedition that includes crooning whale hunter Ned Land (Kirk Douglas) in search of this calamitous sea creature. The trio are confronted by the beast and are swept overboard then taken prisoner by the mysterious Captain Nemo (James Mason) whose drill ornamented submarine ‘the Nautilus’ turns out to be the sea monster of legend.

Nemo turns out to be a fanatic who’s dark mission is total destruction of all the warships responsible for the evils of mankind. There’s a memorable underwater hand to tentacle fight with a giant squid!

Capt. Nemo: Think of it. On the surface there is hunger and fear. Men still exercise unjust laws. They fight, tear one another to pieces. A mere few feet beneath the waves their reign ceases, their evil drowns. Here on the ocean floor is the only independence. Here I am free! Imagine what would happen if they controlled machines such as this submarine boat. Far better that they think there’s a monster and hunt me with harpoons.

Captain Nemo: “The natives over there are cannibals. They eat liars with the same enthusiasm as they eat honest men.”

Ned Land: There’s one thing you ought to know, Professor: Nemo’s cracked. I’ve yet to see the day you can make a deal with a mad dog. So while you’re feeding him sugar, I’ll be figuring a plan to muzzle him.

IMDb Trivia: Actors portraying the cannibals chasing Ned Land painted humorous messages on their foreheads (not legible on-screen). In particular, one actor wrote “Eat at Joe’s” while another actor behind him wrote “I ate Joe”.

The climactic squid battle on the Nautilus was originally shot with a serene sunset and a calm sea. Director Richard Fleischer was troubled by the look of it because the cams and gears that operated the squid could easily be seen, making it look obviously fake. Walt Disney visited the set one day and Fleischer told him about the problem. Disney came up with the idea of having the squid battle take place during a fierce storm (another story is that it was actually screenwriter Earl Felton who came up with the idea). The scene was reshot that way and is considered by many to be the highlight of the film.

One of the models of the Nautilus created by Harper Goff was a “squeezed” version which could be filmed with a standard lens and still look normal when projected in Cinemascope.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

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Clawing Monster From A Lost Age strikes from the Amazon’s forbidden depths!–Creature from a million years ago!… every man his mortal enemy… and a woman’s beauty his prey!–From the Amazon’s forbidden depths came the Creature from the Black Lagoon

Julia and the Gill Man

Creature From the Black Lagoon showcases Universal’s iconic Gill Man directed by science fiction & noir icon Jack Arnold. (The Glass Web 1953, It Came from Outer Space 1953, Tarantula 1955, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, Man in the Shadow 1957, The Tattered Dress 1957) Stars Richard Carlson as Dr. David Reed, Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence, Richard Denning as Mark Williams, Antonio Moreno as Carl Maia, Nestor Paiva as Lucas, Whit Bissell as Dr. Edwin Thompson.

The Creature or Gill Man is one of the most famous monsters that has endured, and perhaps one of the most emblematic figures of 1950s science fiction. His suit designed by Bud Westmore and team of uncredited designers. As Tom Weaver points out the creature suit “is so logical in design that designers of other underwater monsters have to be very careful not too obviously to imitate the monster they are imitating”  Visionary Master Guillermo del Toro’s team of designers and special effects artists did an outrageous job of paying homage to the Gil Man while still maintaining an original, and arresting modern edge to the Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water (2017) The Gill Man still remains the most iconic monster of the 1950s

Creature From The Black Lagoon was also adapted to be shown in 3D! It was after Universal had a hit with Jack Arnold’s It Came From Outer Space 1953 that they saw the potential for box office success with a science fiction film especially one they could easily adapt to 3D format.

Producer William Alland –(according to writer/historian Tom Weaver)– had heard of a legendary half -man half-fish creature who lived in the upper regions of the Amazon. The Creature suit was extremely form fitting, too tight to be worn over aquatic breathing equipment. The swimmer would have to hold his breath for extended periods of time. Ben Chapman played the part out of the water wearing ‘the land suit’ modeled with paint (a dark silvery green and red highlights) by Millicent Patrick– Chapman not being a good enough swimmer.Ricou Browning wore the underwater suit which was lighter is color in order to make it stand out in the darker underwater scenes. Because he was able to hold his breath for five minutes, Browning was responsible for the stunning underwater scenes.

“Jack Arnold, started adding fins and gills to a sketch of the Motion Picture Academy’s Oscar statuette, and arrived at the basic look of the new monster. Arnold and Alland did play their originating the design , but actress and artist Millicent Patrick was chiefly responsible for the look of the Gill-Man. At the make up shop, Chris Mueller developed a bust of the Creature using one of Ann Sheridan as the basis. Also contributing to the design were Jack Kevan and Westmore himself, head of the make up division.”

Both Browning and Chapman had full body molds made, so that suit would fit their bodies perfectly. “The result is a remarkably convincing monster, which looks like a suit almost solely because it has to be a suit (…) a tendency fir the suits to look a little rubbery around the joints, The Gill Man is life-like, enough so as to engender a happy suspension of disbelief by most viewers, as the film proved enormously popular.”

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Lucas:-There are many strange legends in the Amazon. Even I, Lucas, have heard the legend of a man-fish.”

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We can sympathize with monsters, like Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s undead creation, & The Gill Man from Creature From the Black Lagoon. We can find our involvement (at least I can), as one viewed with empathy toward the monster’s predicament. Embedded in the narrative is a simultaneous pathos, that permits these monsters to express human desires, and then make sure that those desires are thwarted, frustrated and ultimately destroyed.

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Richard Carlson Julie Adams Richard Denning and Whit Bissell as Dr. Edward Thompson study the fossil of an amphibian man found near the Amazon.
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The crew catches something in their net… and whatever it was… has ripped a giant Gill Man size hole in it leaving behind a claw!

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Mr. ‘It’s mine all mine” and Kay and Mr. “But think of the contribution to science!” looking at the poor trapped Gill Man-a lonely prisoner of scientific hubris and egocentric men.
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The creature trapped in a bamboo cage… floats, quietly thinking deep thoughts–while the three look on pondering what to do with him..

‘The Outsider Narrative” of 1950s science fiction can be seen so clearly in Jack Arnold’s horror/sci-fi hybrid Creature From The Black Lagoon. Film monsters like The Gill Man form vivid memories for us, as they become icons laying the groundwork for the classic experience of good horror, sci-fi and fantasy with memorable story telling and anti-heroes that we ‘outliers’ grew to identify with and feel a fondness for.

As David Skal points out in The Monster Show, he poses that films like Creature From the Black Lagoon …are the “most vivid formative memories of a large section of the {American} population…{…} and that for so many of these narratives they seem to function as “mass cultural rituals.”

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Continue reading “🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1954”

The Hollow Watcher [Essay on Thriller with Boris Karloff] “It’s because it isn’t quite dead”

The Hollow Watcher aired Feb 12 1962

“For the sightless eyes of the Hollow Watcher see more than you might imagine” –Boris Karloff

American Gothic by artist Grant Wood

The Hollow Watcher was written by Jay Simms, the man responsible for bringing us the screenplay of The Killer Shrews 1959. This is American Gothic. The mood is perfectly inhospitable and eerie with a poignant score that creates an atmosphere of queasy desolation.

Directed by William F. Claxton. The episode stars Audrey Dalton as Meg O’Danagh Wheeler, Warren Oates as Wheeler, Sean McClory as Sean O’Danagh and assorted members from the Andy Griffith Show. Sandy Kenyon, Denver Pyle as Ortho Wheeler,Norman Leavitt, Mary Grace Canfield as Ally Rose and then great character actor Walter Burke as Croxton.

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A Backwoods hollow, rife with superstition, folklore and omens. Abuse, murder, greed and rural righteous retribution for sins delivered by a legendary wielder of the law The Hollow Watcher. Black Hollow’s name for the bogeyman. A very homespun scarecrow. A straw man. A stitched guy on a stick, who watches over the simple people of Black Hollow from up on a hill. If any of the town folk should transgress they would surely be at the mercy of either ‘claws, feet or teeth’ of The Hollow Watcher. Do stuffed men have teeth I wonder?

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The town of Black Hollow is filled with characters that are nosy gossips who seem almost gleeful with the idea that someone might fall out of grace within the old fashioned laws watched over by this bucolic straw avenger. There’s a pervading fear anyone might become the next victim of their rustic beastie which lurks in the fields by night. The towns people are also ethnocentric bigots who are suspicious of all outsiders or foreigners. The locals refer to Meg as ‘that fancy woman’ putting her in way that separates and admonishes her for her difference

The abusive father, the general store’s proprietor Ortho Wheeler is perfectly cast, by Denver Pyle (Briscoe Darling on The Andy Griffith Show )

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Denver Pyle as jug playing Briscoe Darling the quintessential hillbilly patriarch on The Andy Griffith Show

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the townsfolk are reading a letter addressed to Meg…

Ortho doesn’t approve of his son Hugo’s new wife. To Ortho, she’s “mail order baggage” The perfect hypocrisy of this self righteous and sexually repressed small town brutality is illustrated when Ortho in a rage, savagely rips Meg’s dress then proceeds to tell her “Your nakedness is an abomination before the lord.” Typical of a patriarchal figure to damn the female subject of his gaze and project his own inner conflict onto them. This kind of religious fanaticism breeds an inverted frenzy that comes across like moral zealotry.

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“Your nakedness is an abomination against the lord”
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“I buy you a newspaper and what do you do the first thing You send off for this mail order baggage here
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“Any man who allows himself to be beaten by another will remain husband to me in name only”

Hugo Wheeler thinks he has married a virgin mail bride from Ireland. An innocent lass whom he can dominate sexually, although Audrey Dalton who plays Meg successfully holds him at bay throughout the episode which adds to the tension. Hugo remains husband in name only. Warren Oates  plays Hugo who enacts his carnal frustrations with such a subtle volatility that we wish mercifully that Meg would at least grant him entry to a mere kiss.

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Ortho says, “Do you want your wife to see this?” – getting his lickin’

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Hugo has been emasculated by his brutish father, and so he seeks out Meg’s physical attentions to help boost his nerve to fend off his daddy’s assaults and to bridge the gap between weak young farm boy and his rightful claim of manhood. After Ortho tells Hugo, “come to the barn and get your lickin’ Hugo asks Meg, “If I stand up to daddy, things will be different?” His identity seems to hinge on this. Ortho thrashes his son into a bloody swollen heap who passes out from the beating, in the meantime Meg cracks Ortho in the back of the head with a very large farm implement and kills him.

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“Me I whooped daddy?” “Aye and so sound that he went hootin’ over the hill vowing he’d never return again”
Hugo-“I’ll be moving my clothes into your room tonight”
Meg- “Hugo Wheeler you’re a shameless man with evil thoughts”
Hugo-“I have a feeling I’ll be welcome on a dark night. We raised a hand against our elders. Hollow Watcher gonna peering in on us”
Meg-“Oh… go on with your spook”

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“I wonder how many of you have had the urge to eliminate one of your in-laws oh come now chances are it has occurred to you at least once, but after a moments thought you decided against becoming a murderer. Of course I wouldn’t presume to ask if you made the right decision. But I would however be interested in your reason for refraining. Was it respect for human life?Fear of the law?… or terror of the unknown?… The wrath of a demon such as the Hollow Watcher. For the sightless eyes of the Hollow Watcher see more than you might imagine. Even now they can perceive the leading players in tonights story”
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“Well I certainly don’t need the Hollow Watcher to tell me that you’re skeptical, but as sure as my name is Boris Karloff… the people who live in Black Hollow believe in him…The beliefs of simple country folk can create forces that’ll certainly surprise you… perhaps even frighten you… to death”

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Sean O’Danagh (Meg’s real husband) arrives and tries some of the local hooch from Mason who runs the general store for Otho when he’s away… and he’ll be away for a long time

What Hugo doesn’t know is that Meg already has a husband Sean who has killed a woman in back Ireland for her money and has now come to America to reunite with his bride who plans on doing the same to Hugo.

She has stuffed his daddy body into the scarecrow that sits atop the hill, hoping the locals will find the body and blame him. No one goes there but field mice and copper headed serpents.Even the carrion birds, seem to sense the evil deed what’s been done and stay far away from that straw man in the field. Meg says, “It’s because it isn’t quite dead” The Black Hollow bumpkins suspect that either Hugo and his curious foreign witch like bride have offed Ortho or that The Hollow Watcher has plucked him out because he was “mean enough”

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Sean tells Hugo and Meg about his poor wife’s untimely demise under the wheels of a wagon back in Ireland
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Hugo offers Meg’s ‘brother’ Sean a place to sleep in his barn while he helps out with the chores around the place

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The pathologically fragile Meg who clings to her rag doll as if it were the child she’s never had, is in actuality awaiting her real husband, the dapper Sean who eventually arrives and begins to masquerade as her brother in order to swindle her woefully boorish and crude husband Hugo Wheeler out of his inheritance. Unfortunately, she has no idea where Ortho’s fortune is hidden.

Meg eventually starts to descend into subtle madness because she finally believes in Hugo’s “spook” and that The Hollow Watcher is a thing that sneaks around in the shadows getting closer and closer, casting judgment upon her and waiting in the darkness to exact his revenge. As Boris says in the beginning she’s afraid of “The wrath of a demon such as The Hollow Watcher”

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“Oh Sean something awful is happening here and dreadful horrors are upon us…
And when it was done I stuffed his body into the old scarecrow, thinking the scavenger birds would find it and Hugo would be blamed. The place was too obvious for even these bumpkins to find” 
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Sean says, “Too obvious what do you mean?”
“Well it stands in a field that’s laid fallow now for two years, no one goes there except for field mice and copper headed serpents
Why do you suppose the carrion birds ignore it?
Because… because it isn’t quite dead…
But it is there Sean it is… It gets closer and closer… I can see it there up on the hill at twilight”

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Although, the ending of this episode is slightly anti climatic because we eventually see the scarecrow confront the weary Meg and it’s simplistic presence could be considered laughable, coming closer and closer it’s burlap painted face peeking through the window pane. It clumsily follows her up the stairs, {my Grandma Milly could have out run it!} Still, The Hollow Watcher has a wonderfully creepy American Gothic quality to it. And really, how could you make a simple straw man terrifying in the 60s. The effect at the end exposing Ortho Wheeler’s skeleton is pretty striking…

The sweetly sad melody written by Sidney Fine and William Lava sounds much like American composer Aaron Copeland and really adds a very moving dimension to this bleak and eerie story.

I love the cameo appearances from the Andy Griffith Show regulars, which adds to the home grown rustic feel of the episode. Makes me sort of want to break into a rousing section of “Sourwood Mountain Old Man Old Man I want your daughter- hey, ho, diddle-um day.” Mary Grace Canfield has a brief appearance as Ally Rose a homely plain town girl, (although It always bothered me that she was often cast as the ugly girl. I thought she was adorable and I wonder how it must of made her feel when ever they would send out a casting call for a homely girl and her agent would say Mary Grace there’s a role for you. Isn’t that awful really. It truly pains me.

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Ally Rose says to Sean- “You sure are pretty”

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“You know seldom has such loveliness covered such silver a tongue”

Sourwood Mountain
Chickens a-crowin’ on Sourwood Mountain,
Hey, ho, diddle-um day.
So many pretty girls I can’t count ’em,
Hey ho, diddle-um day.
Old Man Old Man I want your daughter
Hey ho diddle um day
Bake me bread and tote me water
Hey ho diddle um day
My true love’s a blue-eyed daisy,
She won’t come and I’m too lazy.
Big dog bark and little one bite you,
Big girl court and little one spite you.
My true love’s a blue-eyed daisy,
If I don’t get her, I’ll go crazy.
My true love lives at the head of the holler,
She won’t come and I won’t foller.
My true love lives over the river,
A few more jumps and I’ll be with her.
Ducks in the pond, geese in the ocean,
Devil’s in the women if they take a notion.
RG

Nathaniel Hawthornes short story Feathertop is about a scarecrow created and brought to life in seventeenth century Salem, Massachusettsby a witch in league with the devil. He is intended to be used for sinister purposes and at first believes himself to be human, but develops human feelings and deliberately cuts his own life short when he realizes what he really is. In the Japanese mythology compiled in Kojiki in 712, a scarecrow appears as a deity, Kuebiko, who cannot walk, but knows everything of the world.

The Scarecrow is one of the most familiar figures of the rural landscape not only in the United Kingdom but throughout Europe and many other countries of the world. His ragged figure has been recorded in rural history for centuries. His image has proved irresistible to writers from William Shakespeare to Walter de la Mare as well as to film makers since the dawn of the silent movie. Yet, despite all his fame, the origins and the development of the scarecrow have remained obscured in mystery.

Earliest known written fact about scarecrow’s written in 1592.Definition of a scarecrow – That which frightens or is intended to frighten without doing physical harm.Literally that which – scares away crows, hence the name scarecrow.

 

MonsterGirl bids you howdy!