Friday, 29 July 2011

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Year: 1954
Director: Jack Arnold
Screenplay: Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross, from a story by Maurice Zimm
Starring: Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno
Running Time: 79 minutes
Genre: Horror, science-fiction, monster movie

Summary: A geology expedition in the Amazon rainforest discover a fossilized humanoid hand with webbed fingers. The expedition leader, Doctor Carl Maia (Moreno), believes that hand represents a hitherto undiscovered link in the development of sea animals to land animals and contacts his friend, Doctor David Reed (Carlson), an icthyologist working for a marine biology institute, to join him on an expedition into the Amazon to find the remainder of the skeleton.
Reed persuades the institute's publicity hungry financial backer, Doctor Mark Williams (Denning), to fund the expedition. Travelling on a ramshackle tramp steamer called the Rita, captained by the crusty Lucas (Nestor Paiva), the expedition heads down the Amazon. In addition to Maia, Reed and Williams, the expedition consists of Reed's girlfriend Kay Lawrence (Adams) and another scientist, Doctor Thompson (Whit Bissell).
Arriving at Maia's expedition's camp, they find that the members of his team have been savagely killed. Lucas suggests that a jaguar was responsible, however the others are unsure. After an unsuccessful excavation of the site where the fossilised hand was discovered, Maia suggests that the skeleton may have been washed downriver. Lucas tells them about a secluded lagoon, known as the "Black Lagoon", which is described as a paradise on Earth, although no-one has ever returned from it.
They travel to the lagoon, where they soon discover that one of the species that the fossilised hand came from is still very much alive, an amphibious humanoid "Gill-man", which has no intention of allowing the expedition to return alive.

Opinions: This was one of the last of the classic "Universal Monsters" movies, and one of the few which was not based on a classic novel or story. In fact the origin of the film is reputed to go back to when producer and actor William Alland attended a dinner party at Orson Welles' house in 1941 while he was shooting Citizen Kane, in which Alland had an acting role, and a fellow guest told him about a legendary race of half-fish, half-human creatures dwelling in the Amazon.
The creature of the title, the "Gill-man" (who was played by Ben Chapman on land, and by Ricou Browning in the underwater scenes), has become a horror movie icon and despite being very obviously a man in a suit, the design is still striking. Unusually, the creature is largely sympathetic. It rarely attacks unless provoked and of course the humans are invading it's territory, not the other way around.
The film's production design is impressive, and the action moves at a brisk pace. The film features a sequence which has become iconic, where Julia Adams is swimming in the lagoon and below her, the Gill-man swims, mirroring her movements, in a sequence which is almost like a seduction, and is really about as suggestive as movies got in 1954. Even today, the scene has a kind of eerie sexyness.
The acting is kind of bland and the characters tend to be stock figures, also the story-line is a fairly conventional monster movie, however the pluses far outweigh the minuses and this is a classic of it's genre.
The film was originally released in 3D and was followed by two sequels: Revenge of the Creature (1955), which is only notable for featuring Clint Eastwood in his first screen role, and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).
The inevitable remake has been planned and rumoured since the early 1980s and is currently planned to swim onto our screens in 2013.

"I can tell you something about this place. The boys around here call it "The Black Lagoon"; a paradise. Only they say nobody has ever come back to prove it."
- Lucas (Nestor Paiva) in Creature from the Black Lagoon

The Gill-man surfaces in Creature from the Black Lagoon

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