Creature from the Black Lagoon
Clawing monster from a lost age strikes from the Amazon's forbidden depths!
Year of Release: 1954
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 80 minutes (1:20)
Director: Jack Arnold
Richard Carlson ... David Reed
Julie Adams ... Kay Lawrence
Richard Denning ... Mark Williams
Antonio Moreno ... Carl Maia
Nestor Paiva ... Lucas
Whit Bissell ... Dr. Edwin Thompson
Bernie Gozier ... Zee
Henry A. Escalante ... Chico
Ricou Browning ... The Gill Man (in water) (uncredited)
Ben Chapman ... The Gill Man (on land) (uncredited)
Scientists drug and capture the creature, who becomes enamored with the head scientist's female assistant (Julie Adams). The lonely creature, "a living amphibious missing link," escapes and kidnaps the object of his affection. Chief scientist (Richard Carlson) then launches a crusade to rescue his assistant and cast the ominous creature back to the depths from where he came. Well-acted and directed, and with Bud Westmore's brilliantly designed monster, Creature From The Black Lagoon remains an enduring tribute to the imaginative genius of its Hollywood creators.
Creature from the Black Lagoon, the movie that reminds us that, while gentlemen prefer blonds, Gill-Men prefer brunettes. I think that goes to show that if nothing else, the Gill-Man has a great deal more foresight than the gentleman. You know who both loves AND hates this movie? Nerdy teenage boys in the 50s, duh. Now, I'm specifying nerdy teenage boys for a reason. Socially acceptable boys in the 50s only loved it. Can you imagine how many parents had to dance around outside the bathroom door waiting for it to clear after their sons saw this one? Back in the 50s legs were a big thing, an it doesn't hurt that Julie Adams looks like she's been shot through the back with a couple cruise missiles. So what's to hate? Well, the nerdy boys know the Creature's sting of rejection all too well. And how is he rewarded for his undying affection? She runs off with some popular guy an he gets shot mercilessly with harpoon guns an rifles. Well, maybe they only got shot with spit wads and constantly ended up on the receiving end of fierce atomic wedgies, but the point remains the same. You really feel for 'em. The Creature I mean. The nerdy guys could at least shower to increase their chances, the Creature's screwed right outta the gate. Well, this one's kind of a moldy oldie, and as such, it gives us an opportunity to look into some things that modern cinema would have you disbelieve. Movies these days, no respect for their elders. For example, modern movies would have you believe that swimming in the Amazon is dangerous. After all, how many versions of Piranha do you have to see before you start thinkin' maybe they're dangerous? Not so. Piranha are friendly guys that give you foot massages an bring you sparkly rocks. An those things that swim up your urethra with spikes on 'em that have to be yanked out? They're just cuddly little guys that wanna be as close as possible an occasionally get a little overzealous. So forget what you've been programmed to think, an hop in, the water's fine. Another fine example is something not only modern movies would have you believe, but even physicists will try to con you into believing. They'd tell you that a creature stuck in a net, under water, doesn't have the necessary leverage to rock a 25' boat back and forth while ripping the mast off it.
Clearly these nerdy scientist types think that just because they're puny weaklings, that the Creature can't manage something like this. Well I got news for those guys. He lifts, bros. You've got no idea. And to name one final example before moving on, these new movies, they might have you think that if something's 6' tall, green, and has feet like sopping wet palm fronds, that it must be easy to detect. They actually believe that just because the sound of it walking resembles a fat girl gettin' birthday spankin's, you'd hear it coming and be able to react before it got ahold of you. Sure guys, science has come a long way. Pfft. Idiots. But what struck me as most relevant to our everyday lives, which the movie illustrates very well, is how, as men, we're complete chickens when it comes to women. The Creature really is a sight to behold, he's a king among men, a tower of strength and confidence. While we sit flaccidly on our bar stools hoping the women will just come to us, he swims confidently through his lagoon, inspecting his quarry thoroughly. He considers his options carefully, and when he's decided he likes the woman, he hops on board the ship, snatches her up, an takes her home. There's none of this "oh, she'd never go for me, I have such rough skin" garbage that we use as excuses to remain slunk down in our chairs, utterly beaten and resolved to our fate. He sees what he wants and he goes for it. I think every guy needs to watch this movie and be emboldened by the Creature's self-confidence and charisma. Women like confidence, an they sure as hell don't like guys that sit alone at a table an try to avert their eyes any time the woman catches you lookin' at them. Is that who you wanna be for the rest of your life? Do you wanna sit alone until last call, when the 50-somethings who chain smoke an resemble human-sized Oompa Loompas constructed from leather, who've been around the block more times than a stalker with faulty brake pads, finally feel bad enough to come by your table on the way out an say "I guess you'll do"? Or do you wanna fuck the prom queen? Well then, I suggest you watch the movie an take notes. This review will give you some pointers, but as they say, a picture's worth a thousand words.
The movie begins with Archaeologist Colonel Sanders hammering away at a stone over in Slate Rock and Gravel Company's quarry, then discovering the fossilized arm of Shaquille O'Neal. It could be even bigger really, Shaq can palm a basketball but this thing can palm a Buick. In the background there's a similar huge hand poking up out of the river groping blindly for its lost contact lens, so we know Colonel Sanders aint gettin' off that easy. So The Colonel takes the fossil back to "the institute" where he shows all his smartie pants colleagues an they're all pretty impressed. Among them we've got Kay (the cheesecake), David (the beefcake), and Mark (the douchecake). Then after they all talk about evolution and theoretical astrophysics for a while so we know they've got credentials, Mark decides he's gonna fund their expedition back to Slate Rock and Gravel Company so they can look for more of the big green ham hocks to show their friends. But back at the quarry, the big green ham hock resurfaces from the river, and is no longer disembodied. The arm, of course, belongs to the Creature, and he's tired of these punks on the shore keepin' him up all night with their porch light so he hauls his scaly butt up on shore an pounds the tar outta 'em before they even know what's happening. You can't blame him. He's called the cops before but they never really do anything, ya know? So the next morning, the expedition arrives at the quarry, only the night watchmen are a lot more dead than they remember an while Kay hangs out on the shore line away from the men folk, the big green arm pokes outta the water an starts goin' for the goods. She moves away, however, before Big C gets a cheap thrill an the excavation in the quarry begins. 8 days pass with nothing to show for it (kinda like couples therapy at a church retreat), an by this time David an Mark are gettin' pretty bummed out. So they decide that since shit floats downstream, erosion may have caused the good stuff to break off into the river an then drift down to the Black Lagoon. They call it that cause things were still segregated back in those days an that's where all the African American Creatures had to go to cop feels on female scientists. En route, David an Kay won't stop playin' grab-ass an Mark gets all jealous an has to dick-wave his spear gun around so everyone knows how insecure he is. Then they stop to fish up some rocks so they can see if they're the same kinda rocks from back at the quarry so they know they're in the right place an David an Mark hop in the Amazon wearing nothing but their bicycle shorts.
So after they poke around on the bottom an pick up some rocks an sea weed, the Creature rolls his eyes an has a little chuckle cause they don't realize they're actually holding Creature poo and placenta. Then Kay hops in the water an it takes the creature a little while before he feels comfortable enough to swim with her cause he's afraid her torpedo tits might misfire an put his eye out, but he eventually comes around an swims below her, checking out her assets. Then he starts tickling her feet an she starts to get this look on her face like she can't remember if she locked her car back at the institute an Big C decides he's being a little too forward an swims off to plan his strategy. Kay has to get back on board the ship anyway, cause Captain Rehab won't stop yellin' at her about bein' too far from the ship an how he's outta spiced rum an stogies. Only while he's heading to his thinkin' spot, Big C gets caught in the net they'd lowered into the lake an starts jerkin' it all around tryin' to get out an pulls the mast down an nearly capsizes the sucker before he's able to get out. The crew figures they got snagged up on Divine who has been known to scuba dive in the area, but Mark finds a weird lookin' scale in the netting. So naturally, he wants to get down there an kill whatever shed the scale an David tells him he's being an asshat, so Mark has to dick-wave the spear gun some more before they dive again. This time they flush Big C outta his hidey hole an while David is able to get a picture with his 75 pound underwater camera, Mark puts a spear into Big C's kidney before he can get away. So while David and Mark debate the merits of killing the monster they don't understand and thus fear, the picture is developed and reveals nothing but a blackness that would suggest that it may just be an image of Jackie Gleason's lungs. But Big C is kinda grumpy now that he's been shot, an he doesn't like the way this Mark asshole keeps makin' him look like a chump in front of Kay. So he hops on board the ship while nobody's lookin' an jerks one of the deck hands off the ship an takes 'em down to the bottom where he makes the guy sample his collection of scratch 'n sniff stickers. So then the crew decides they've been goin' about this all wrong an figure they'll take this knock out gas the locals use on the fish to make 'em go belly up so they can get ahold of Big C an sell 'em to P.T. Barnum for big bucks. Several hundred upside down fish later, they're no closer to their prize, so they weight the under water stink bombs down this time, but that don't work either. Fuggin' natives. It's like they have no concept of how to capture an undiscovered humanoid amphibian without the help of pompous white people.
Later that evening after he's had time to run out and buy a nice scent and some flowers an candy, Big C hops on board to tell Kay how he feels about her. Well, mostly he makes noises like a hungry boar an when all the guys spot him he has to go under again an swims way out to the far bank an surfaces again. So the crew brings out the big halogens an try to blind Big C but he just bursts into a rousing chorus of Losing My Religion. Cause he's in the spot light, see. Then he dives again and is pursued by David and Mark who follow him to an under water grotto where Big C's startin' to feel the effects of the sleepy stink bomb charges an stumbles around like he's been awakened at 3am by the sounds of his dog fighting a raccoon that snuck in through the doggy door. He then makes his way outta the grotto an finds Kay near the shore where he goes for the groceries, only to be stopped by another of Captain Rehab's swabbies an has to squeeze his neck like a nasty zit. But by the time he's able to get ahold of Kay he's pretty well tuckered out an hits the ground like a Vietnam vet when you sneak up on 'em an yell "INCOMING!" Then they beat you savagely an it's not funny anymore. So with Big C down, they bring him on board an put him in the conveniently placed live well in the middle of the ship an Thompson (the hitherto unimportant scientist) comes out on deck to babysit. But then Kay comes up an after she gets Thompson good an distracted Big C busts out an puts the Kona Crusher on Thompson's head until somebody pelts him with a propane lantern an he has to dive back in to extinguish his hiney. By this point the general consensus is they need to get the fuck outta Dodge, but Mark thinks they should stay cause that's what antagonists do. In fact he demands they stay, only Captain Rehab pulls out his pig sticker an reminds Mark who's in charge of nautical matters an he turns the big clumsy barge around an heads for home. Unfortunately, they run into a well-placed pile of debris that Big C has left for them on their way out, an after multiple attempts to winch the debris outta the way, they determine that Big C is gonna have to be dealt with or he's just gonna keep sabotaging them like a bartender at an AA meeting. So they rig up some more night night gas for Big C that they're gonna shoot outta one of the air tanks should he try to get in their business while they get the winch around the debris, only Mark's still got an Ahab complex about Big C an he follows David in for the final confrontation with Big C. Will Mark get the Gill-Man taxidermied? Will David remember how to tie a sheep shank when he reaches the debris? Will Big C get to motorboat Kay? I'll never tell. Watch the movie for yourself.
Alrighty well, as I've mentioned I'm not real big on the black and white stuff, but the older movies that're considered classics are considered such for a reason. Creature is as good as they come for the time period. The monster is fantastic, and the credit goes not just to the guys that created the suit, but equally as important, to Ricou Browning, who played the monster during all the under water sequences. As you'd expect, it's Ben Chapman that got all the credit for the part, even though he only did the sequences that took place on land. And even though Browning was the one to return for the sequels to reprise the role. The guy had to hold his breath for upwards of 4 minutes at a time during the under water sequences, which seems almost super human. The world record at the time of this review is actually over 22 minutes. However, in Browning's case, he was not breathing for 4 minutes at a time while physically exerting himself, which is a huge difference. The reason he was asked to do this is that the Creature was amphibious in the story, and thus, the director didn't want any oxygen bubbles becoming visible in the shots. I don't imagine many people would even notice that detail at the time (or now for that matter), but you've got to admire his attention to detail, as well as Browning's resolve to meet those demanding expectations. In the sequels, they abandoned that angle, opting to just give him an air tank and allowing the bubbles to be visible in the shots. Additionally, the suit did not have eye holes cut into it. As you can see in the land sequences, it has rather unimpressive eyes built into it. So the guy is essentially swimming for upwards of 4 minutes at a time, without air, and without being able to see where he's going. This is something you'd probably not even be allowed to attempt these days, but you'd probably not find anyone willing to do it anyway. Safety issues an such. The movie was successful enough that the Creature is generally regarded as one of the classic Universal monsters, even though Creature from the Black Lagoon came out two decades after some of the other classics. Those being: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, and The Phantom of the Opera. The Creature is an iconic movie monster, and though serious fans of the other series may not consider Creature to be the better movie, I don't think many people will dispute that it's the best looking of the era.
So then, the details. In greater detail. The plot isn't all that spellbinding. But really, when you're discussing the importance of plot, it really only matters if the plot amounts to something that's boring, unbelievable, or downright stupid. Plots need not be overly complicated for the movie to be enjoyable, so the story here is pretty basic, and not problematic in any way. When the plot is complex, it can be a problem, as the film makers are more likely to screw something up. Not an issue here. The acting is good, although the only actor that stands out as particularly entertaining is Nestor Paiva as Captain Lucas. The relevant players and the reasoning behind that determination are as follows: Richard Carlson (Tormented, It Came from Outer Space, The Amazing Mr. X), Julie Adams (The Psychic Killer), Richard Denning (The Black Scorpion, Day the World Ended, Creature with the Atom Brain, Target Earth), Nestor Paiva (Atlantis - the Lost Continent, The Mole People, Tarantula, Revenge of the Creature, Killer Ape, Mighty Joe Young 1949), Whit Bissel (The Time Machine 1960 & 1978, Psychic Killer, Soylent Green, City Beneath the Sea, I was a Teenage Frankenstein, I was a Teenage Werewolf, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Target Earth, Lost Continent), and Ricou Browning (Revenge of the Creature, The Creature Walks Among Us). Overall, good acting. The shooting locations are nice, if obviously nowhere near South America. Everything was shot in either California or Florida, which explains the lack of things swimming into the actors' urethrae while swimming in what should be the Amazon river. That said, everything looks great. The soundtrack isn't bad, keeping in mind that a lot of music for movie soundtracks in those days was little more than brass instruments playing as loudly as possible to create shocks. I noticed some of the music that plays in the movie also appeared in This Island Earth, and probably other movies released by Universal, which was a common practice at the time. But overall, it's got some nice atmosphere enhancing tracks for the scenes involving the Creature. The special effects come down to just one thing, and that's the Creature himself. As was mentioned earlier, the suit is very well done, and still reflexive enough for Browning to work inside it, despite being rather bulky. The only real problem with it is the obvious unblinking eyes that appear in many of the land sequences. Otherwise, a triumph. In the end, Creature is a classic. But a black and white classic, which I will always find a bit slow and stuffy. As I have in the past with other older movies, I'd encourage anyone with no qualms about a film's age to add 15% to my rating to determine whether they would enjoy it or not.