The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) Jack Arnold

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By 1957, “B” film director Jack Arnold had already made some of the finest sci-fi films of the decade; “It Came from Outer Space,” “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” and “Tarantula,” but the best was yet to come, 1957′s “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”  Ignore the silly title this is one of the greatest existential science fiction films ever made. The 1950′s would turn out to be Arnold’s best decade. With the dawn of the 1960′s most of his career sadly, would be in television with only an occasional foray back into film.

We meet Scott Carey (Grant Williams) and his wife Louise (Randy Stuart), sunbathing on their small boat. It’s a beautiful day and the couple are playfully content soaking in the tranquility of the time spent together. When Louise goes down below to get a bottle of beer, Scott suddenly finds himself coming face to face with a bizarre, threatening cloudy haze that quickly falls upon him and then disappears just as quickly into the distance. After Louise returns she notices shiny specks have landed on his chest. They think nothing of it and soon it is forgotten. A short time later he is also accidently sprayed by some insecticide. Continue reading

Short Takes: Elvis on Tour (1972) & No Name on the Bullet (1959)

Elvis on Tour (Malcolm Leo and Andrew Salt)*** By the time this film came out the fat Elvis was still in its incubation stage, here he is not fat but there is a puffiness in his face and a bit of a double chin that reveals to us a sign of what’s soon to come. In the concert footage what has disappeared is any sign of the youthful rockin’ rebel who changed the music world. By this time his shows were fully staged with the King dressed in his Liberace sequined outfits and on his way to becoming a Las Vegas icon. Any signs of youthful rebellion have been drained from his body as surely as Dracula sucked the blood out of his victims. Yet the fans and audience remain faithful, screaming, fighting for a tossed scarf or the thrill of wiping some sweat from his brow. As for the music he sings most sincere when he does anything but the rock and roll tunes that made him famous. They are rushed through like unimportant throwaways, even his latest single at the time “Burning Love” he has to read the lyrics from a piece of paper.  Yet there are glimpse  of what once was, a montage sequence of old clips from the Ed Sullivan shows among others show the young Elvis and his impact.

It is not a bad film, in fact it won a Golden Globe for Best Documentary (tied with another film). What I found sad is the direction that he took in his career becoming almost a joke of what he once was and what he could have been. FYI – Martin Scorsese  was the montage supervisor on the film.

No Name on the Bullet (Jack Arnold)***1/2 By the late 1950′s and early 1960′s Audie Murphy’s film career mainly consisted of low budget westerns destined to be the bottom half of a double feature. Most of them were ordinary films that served their purpose without standing out from the crowd. “No Name on the Bullet” was made and released in the same pattern as all the others. Reviewers at the time noticed nothing special and the film came and went without a ripple.

Examining this film a little more closely one finds an intelligent story of good and evil. Here we have a town full of “good” folks many who  seem to have something to hide. When John Gant (Murphy) a well known gunfighter comes to town everyone knows someone is going to die. Half the town seems to fear they are his intended victim.

Audie Murphy is the most decorated soldier from World War 2 and yet to look at him you would think that is impossible. Small in stature with delicate features he does not appear to be the gunfighter type. I personally kept seeing Clint Eastwood in this role (shades of High Plains Drifter). That said, Murphy does bring a quiet intensity to the part. Directed by Jack Arnold best known for some of the 1950′s best science fiction films (Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man) Arnold directs the impressive script with an unobtrusive style letting the characters  tell the story. Unlike most of Murphy’s westerns, this film is a psychological study of a outwardly peaceful town  filled with decent people but as the film moves along we discover many have dark secrets that they fear will be revealed. Arguably this is Murphy’s most impressive film.

Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) Jack Arnold

When I think of movie monsters who fall for a beautiful human the first one to always come to mind is “King Kong” the over sized gorilla we first met back in 1933. Poor Kong, fell like a ton of bricks for Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), right off the Empire State Building. Okay, he was shot, but still he climbed to the top of the Empire State Building for the girl of his dreams. Oh yeah, the things you do for love.

 Of course, there is also the fabled tale of “Beauty and the Beast”, the most celebrated film version being the 1946 Jean Cocteau version, but for it was always Kong who had the look, the style, the panache when it came to bestial love for a human.    

In 1954, Universal was just one of the studios fighting back at television with Vistavision, Cinemascope and 3-D, along with other gimmicks in an attempt to get people back into the theatres.  Universal’s first 3-D film, “It Came From Outer Space” came out in 1953 and was a smash. The following year, Universal released its second 3-D film, a story about an amphibious creature who falls hard for a beautiful woman in “The Creature From the Black Lagoon.”

During an expedition in the Amazon Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) discovers the remains an oversized webbed hand. He goes to see his former student, now an ichthyologist, David Reed (Richard Carlson) who along with Mark Williams (Richard Denning) is enthusiastic enough about the discovery to finance an expedition. Along with Kay (Julie Adams) David’s girlfriend and assistant, another scientist, Dr. Thompson (Whit Bissell) and the Captain of the boat (Nestor Paiva) they take off in search of the fossil remains that they hope will connect to the recently discovered webbed hand. Prior to their arrival at the expedition site, we see one of Dr. Maia’s assistant’s who stayed behind when Maia went to get help attacked and killed by a mysterious  creature. Actually all we see are only a webbed hand and shadows on a tent wall.  When the expedition finally arrives they find the hideous corpse of the doctor’s assistant. 

After eight days of finding no other remains, the group is ready to return home when David suggest that  part of the area where the hand was discovered may have fallen into the water taking with it the remains the creature. The Captain talks about the water emptying into a beautiful black lagoon only, he jokes, no one has ever returned to talk about it. They agree to forge ahead into the Lagoon. Once in beautiful eerie lagoon David and Mark go diving searching for evidence that can be analyzed and compared to the previously found remain.  Unbeknown to the men swimming, the creature has spotted them and follows the duo but never attacks. When they safely surface, the ship suddenly begins shake violently. The creature has gotten caught in a large net the crew had dropped earlier. Managing to escape the creatures leaves something behind caught in the net… a claw.

Kay, apparently with nothing else to do figures just because there is some strange unknown creature in the waters below, see that as no reason not to go for a swim and does just that. These scenes shot from deep in the sea, looking up, we see Kay swimming languidly, some of the shots are in silhouette, graceful motions without a care. At the bottom of the screen the creature come into view swimming beneath her, following her from below. Apparently, the creatures has never seen such beauty as he follows her, observing her ballet like moves before she retreats back to the boat.  David and Mark decide to go back in after the creature, David, only to shoot some photos to prove its existence and Mark to shoot it dead with a harpoon. For the rest of the film the creature seems to be winning the battle, killing off two crew members, severely injuring Dr. Thompson, killing Mark and eventually kidnapping Kay off the boat taking her to his private cave, where he is eventually tracked down and shot full of lead. In one of the last scenes we watch as the creature stumbles his way back to the lagoon apparently to die. But of course, two sequels were to follow and somehow the creature recovered and lived to terrorized again.    

Based on a story by Maurice Zimm (the original idea came from producer William Alland) with a screenplay by Arthur Ross and Harry Essex, “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” has built up a legacy that far outreaches the low budget origin of the film.  Even in Billy Wilder’s 1956 comedy “The Seven Year Itch”, Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe are viewed coming out of a theater showing “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” and Marilyn, sympathetic to the creature, says it only wanted to be loved. Yes, love hurts.  Future films like “Alien” have been obviously influenced by this gill like creature and filmmakers like Steven Spielberg whose film “Jaws”, whether intentionally or not, show influences. The early scenes in “Jaws” where we see the young girl swimming naked in the water in silhouette shot from underneath the camera pointing up are reminiscent of shots of Kay taking her swim in the lagoon. Also, when Dr. Maia’s assistant was attacked we only the creature’s hand and  shadow, in fact the creature’s hand or shadow  are all we see for the first 24 minutes of the film, similar to Spielberg’s not unveiling the shark until well into the movie. 

The underwater sequences, filmed in Wakulla Springs, Florida, are numerous and are excellently shot by James C. Havens.  The best action in the film takes place in these underwater sequences including the overtly sexual attraction of the creature to Kay. As Kay swims on the water’s surface, right underneath her, swimming on his back is the creature. He watches, as we the audience do too, Kay gracefully moving along, occasionally diving doing an acrobatic twist or turn in the water, the creature and us, seeing it all from below. At one point, he seems to either caress or playfully tickle her foot. Kay unsure what it was swims along and eventually back to the boat with the creature following her.  In the end, the creature like Kong kidnaps his true love taking her to a cave-like hiding place where David will eventually find her lying on a large rock sprawled out on her back. 

Contributing to the atmosphere is the excellent music score which had three composers (Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter and Herman Stein) as well as some nice eerie camerawork by William E. Snyder. Note the pounding music every time the creature appears another characteristic similar to “Jaws.”  One of Universal’s top low budget directors, Jack Arnold directed. Arnold had already made,” It Came From Outer Space” and would go on to direct the first sequel, “Revenge of the Creature.” He also made, “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, “High School Confidential”, “Tarantula” and a fine little known noir “The Tattered Dress”, with Jeff Chandler. Arnold would spend most of the 1960′s and the rest of his career mostly in episodic television with shows like “Gilligan’s Island”, “It Takes a Thief” and “The Love Boat” among others.  

Overall, the film still holds your interest. Yes, the creature looks like a man in a rubber suit but let’s put it in perspective. BTW, there was actually two actors who portrayed the creature. The swimming creature was Ricou Browning and the land creature was Ben Chapman. As I was saying, the film still holds your interest. nicely paced, sexy, and still packs some good thrills, a minor masterwork of its genre.

***1/2