Monochrome Monsters

“After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon this Earth… Grant Williams and Lola Albright.”

For each film in my Tomorrowsday season I’ll be doing some follow-on viewing. In the case of THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN I figured it was weird that I had no memory of seeing star Grant Williams in anything else. Of course, maybe he was too small for the naked eye, or just hiding behind a barstool or something. I resolved to seek him out.

(I had forgotten about his brief turn in WRITTEN ON THE WIND, which I saw in Bologna last year in a Technicolor print — thanks to David E. for the reminder.)

THE MONOLITH MONSTERS was his follow-on film from TISM, and in terms of his role it’s a bit of a come-down. He plays a staunch geologist with a nice schoolteacher girlfriend (Albright), working in a small California desert community. Although his expertise is called on, and he gets to show a bit of bravery I guess, the film doesn’t supply the kind of destructive testing of character you get in his iconic earlier role. So he just plays it nice in the relaxed scenes and intense in the tense ones. You’d never know what a good actor he can be.   

TISM director Jack Arnold has a story credit on this, but for reasons I don’t know, it’s directed by John Sherwood, a former assistant director who also helmed the Arnold-derived THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US. (I nearly typed “AROUND US” which would make for a less confrontational movie I guess. It’s late.) Sherwood does a perfectly creditable job, especially with his “monsters.” Actually, the best thing about the movie is the unusual nature of the threat — it’s a Ballardian abstract menace, not monsters at all, but exponentially expanding crystals that can petrify human beings. Sherwood gives the meteor crater where the crystals originate its own signature shot — a menacing slow zoom, not used elsewhere. And the giant crystals are always shot in slomo, like Godzilla or Lou Ferrigno. They mimic icebergs in their constant crumbling, constant regeneration.

Crystals ARE kind of weird things, the way they grow like organic lifeforms. You can see why primitive societies of exotic dancers regard them with awe. These ones definitely don’t have any healing properties, which makes them just like the terrestrial kind. They differ in their Tribble-like propensity for massive population growth, which soon threatens the whole town.

Williams and Albright get able support from Les Tremayne as the town newspaperman — newsies help evacuate the town, proving their vital importance to civilisation. Bu the best acting scene is from B-movie supporting specialist William Schallert. You might say he phones in his performance, since his whole role is to play a weatherman consulted by telephone to find out how long the current rain will last and when it may rain again (the monoliths get nasty when wet — it’s all quite GREMLINSesque, and indeed Schallert would become a regular Joe Dante supporting player). And yet, what a masterclass! Schallert looks out the window to try to make his mind up about the precipitation, and his dithering is so entertaining that the movie doesn’t leave when he hangs up, but stays to watch, awestruck, as he takes a couple of antacid pills — or possibly sedatives. (His performance is so specific we can safely narrow it down to those two options.)

In the end, salt water proves to be the Kryptonite heel of these meteoric menaces, and Grant dynamites a dam in order to flood them with salt water. He has to get the governor’s permission, but the governor can’t be located. Leading to the best line — apart from “Look at the dog – he’s as hard as a piece of granite,” that is. Williams blows the dam and, looking out upon the destruction, muses, “I hope the governor makes the right decision.” I laughed like crazy at this, in genuine admiration at its nerve, but Williams betrays no irony. It’s the fifties. He really does hope the governor makes the right decision.

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5 Responses to “Monochrome Monsters”

  1. Grant Skene Says:

    “primitive societies of exotic dancers”. I think you meant “or” there. Or, I think we just found the protagonists for THE CREATURE WALKS AROUND US.

  2. Here’s a “primitive society of exotic dancers” on a show featuring William Schallert

  3. Fiona swore that joke wouldn’t work, and she was right!

  4. I love Tremayne in this. He spends the entire film grousing through what can only be interpreted as a fairly severe case of male menopause, whining about how he has made a terrible career choice while the rest of the town is being turned into statuary.

  5. Good for him! I empathise!

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