“All the same I feel sorry for the creature.”

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I’m pretty sure Jack Arnold’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON was the first movie I saw in 3D… unless the TV screening of the turgid FORT TI came first. Certainly CREATURE was the first I saw projected, at my school film society. Man, we didn’t appreciate how lucky we were to have that Film Soc.

The Universal logo at the film’s start may be the most successful bit of photography in the movie: the cloudless globe twirling behind the studio banner has a pleasing heft and roundness. Elsewhere, as is usually the case, the 3D figures resembles paper cut-outs in a toy theatre, flat shapes positioned at different distances from the observer. Perhaps owing to the speed of production, or to inherent limitations in Jack Arnold’s visual sense, the action doesn’t do much to dramatize the interpersonal relationships via framing, something which 3D could conceivably have played a part in. The compositions are generally a cut above the washing-line approach, but not by much.

The explosions that shower rocks on us during the opening VO went down well with the schoolkids, and watching it again 25 years later with Fiona, I enjoyed them anew with our anaglyph copy of the film and our tinted specs. The fossislized creature claw is also enjoyable, and the shot taken through a fish tank is amusing. But by ignoring the human drama, the filmmaker reduces these effects to a few isolated high points.

The cast isn’t bad. Richard Carlson is a lot more effective in IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, where he’s given an actual character to work with. Richard Dennings fares better: the poor man’s Kirk Douglas, he’s effective whenever he gets to exploit his neurotic overcompensating asshole schtick. The movie is really about the conflict between the two Richards, except Dennings loses too soon and too easy, and then the gill-man gets him.

Julie Adams is there to be squabbled over by the Richards and the gill-man, and to look fairly awesome in a ’50s bathing suit, conical breasts like torpedoes aimed into the heart of the audience. She doesn’t convince much as a scientist (the script doesn’t allow her to know anything, and hints she’s only along because Dennings fancies her) and she’s required to do the all-time fakiest monster-fall. You know how the girl is supposed to trip and twist her ankle fleeing the monster? Poot Julie doesn’t even manage to take a single step, she just falls on her perfect ass and assumes an ideal position to be scooped up by the hulking amphib.

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Good monster — his lust for a person not only of a different species, genus and family (as with Kong), but of a different order and class, is unexplained, and he doesn’t otherwise display any personality, but he does have a good classic look. It can’t be that easy to design a fish-man, let alone one that can swim gracefully. The water ballet scene is a justly acclaimed highlight, exploiting the 3D, the monster design, Ricou Browning’s swimming and Julie Adams’ figure, with the strange teasing movements of the creature’s webbed claws towards Adams’ ankles creating suspense and an odd kind of humour.

I’m not altogether surprised that Universal have struggled to come up with a serviceable approach to a remake: there’s so little really going on here. Fiona pointed out that Carlson plucking a plant from the lagoon bed is like a quote from Beauty and the Beast — the stolen rose — and the creature’s depredations and romantic yearnings both follow on from this. Adams dropping her cigarette in the crystalline waters, where it drifts past the gaping monster hints at an ecological angle. But nothing is really done with this stuff. When the beast sinks lifelessly into the waters (to return for a couple of plodding sequels) one wonders what the point was — the monster gone, the movie can only fade out as quickly as possible.

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Buy here (flat) if you’re in the UK —

The Mummy / Creature From The Black Lagoon [DVD]

20 Responses to ““All the same I feel sorry for the creature.””

  1. As a boy in the early mid-Sixties I owned, at least twice over, the plastic model kits of all the Universal Monsters produced by the Aurora model company (except The Bride of Frankenstein, for some reason it seemed never available ANYWHERE). Now they’re highly collectible, but back then they could be had for a dollar apiece (except King Kong and Godzilla, they were a dollar fifty each as befits their oversized stature). I bring this up because you’re right about The Creature, he did and does indeed have a good classic look. I also think you’ve done a good job of explaining why it is that I’ve never found the film entirely satisfying as a viewing experience. But I’d still welcome the opportunity to see it in 3-D (by the way, re. your clip, “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by NBC Universal”).

  2. Reproductions of the creature’s hand are currently the leading seller among high end movie collectibles. It’s always interested me that monster films, sci fi, fantasy and horror completely dominate that market. These days, they dominate all movie markets. As an Authors Agent once remarked, “Among the masses, no one really cared about, or even knew who John Updike was until he wrote THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK.” Julie Adams was never more radiant than in this film. Can someone out there write about the score? Universal seemed to have a corner on the leitmotif market.

  3. It’s a great little theme, or at any rate three-note stab, isn’t it? James Bernard picked up the baton at the end of the fifties with his Dra-cu-la motif.

    For the hell of it, I’ve disputed Universal’s copyright claim on the Creature clip, claiming “fair use” and that this is a serious academic discussion in which a clip from the film will play a part. So if the clip gets re-enabled I’ll let you know. If my entire account gets deleted, I’ll open another one (which I’ve just done, thanks to the copyright holder of Bluebeard’s Castle, the stupid jerk).

  4. Julie Adams best work is in Dennis Hopper’s marvelously batshitcrazy The Last Movie

  5. I agree The Last Movie is Hopper’s strongest work, far more interesting than Easy Rider. And a part of me feels the premise is so strong it could also make a great narrative film, a bit more conventional than Hopper’s. What I mean is, I’d like to see Sam Fuller’s version…

  6. The Last Movie and The State of Things would make a great double feature.

  7. Oh, absolutely! Maybe even throw in Mika Kaurismaki’s Tigrero: A Film that was Never Made, in which Jim Jarmusch talks to Fuller about his unfilmed tiger-hunting project.

  8. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, Davids, THE LAST MOVIE is underrated and contains Julie’s best performance.

    30 years ago, I watched a retrospective of 50s horror films one day at the Toronto Film festival and that decade was dismal in comparison to others. As we watched a flat version of CREATURE and dozed through most of it, the audience suddenly awoke and cheered when the creature stopped Julie’s hysterical 50s stereotypical screaming by grabbing her and plunging into the lagoon!

  9. There’s definitely some good 50s sci-fi. Obviously lots of bad stuff too. But the horror of that decade is indeed weak. I have a fondness for Hammer, but probably the one really great 50s horror is Night of the Hunter Demon. And maybe there’s some Japanese stuff?

    Of course, as a sci-fi, Incredible Shrinking Man is pretty scary, and it’s a wee masterpiece.

  10. Christopher Says:

    Marylin Monroe felt sorry for the Creature also…
    ..Ever wonder what the Creature would actually do with a girl once he got somewhere quiet he could put her down?..He never gets past the carrying stage..

  11. David, are you sure you don’t mean Tourneur’s NIGHT OF THE DEMON? Part of me wants to include Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY in that decade, but it’s on the cusp, released in 1960.

  12. Love The Last Movie, wish I could see it again…it aired once on the now defunct Trio Channel and hasn’t been seen again since.

    Julie Adams was the first woman to stir feelings of, er, manhood in me when I was a wee lad. What a woman!

  13. Guy, you’re right of course. Although maybe Hunter could qualify too.

    John, I might be able to get you a copy of Last Movie if you’re interested.

    King Kong had the same trouble as the Creature, all these interruptions. Hard to see what either of them could accomplish if they did get a chance, though.

  14. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER’s more of a suspense thriller than horror film, perhaps, with a poetic flavor, although the scene with Shelley’s corpse underwater in the car with her hair flowing around her head like seaweed is very horrific, wonderfully so. Tough to call.

  15. Yeah, it’s a film which draws in many genres and traditions but ultimately defies categorization, which is one of the many wonderful things about it.

    Night of the Demon, on the other hand, is my all-time favourite Halloween movie. Although this year maybe I’ll be watching Something Wicked This Way Comes.

  16. Thanks for the offer, David. I just re-checked the archives, however, and I DID record that Trio broadcast of The Last Movie…but it has commercial interruptions and no naughty language! If you have access to an uncut copy in decent condition, let me know…

  17. I think I can get one, and it’s something I should revisit and keep handy… I can get it widescreen and uncut, the only unknown factor will be the image definition.

  18. […] C. Jerry Kutner – Welcome to the Modern World: Program Notes for a Michelangelo Antonioni-Jack Arnold Film Festival C. Jerry Kutner – 3-D Noir: Thank You, Mickey Spillane! David Cairns – “All the Same I Feel Sorry for the Creature” (Creature From the Black Lagoon) […]

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