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Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

What can I say? I love this movie. It has to be one of my top three all-time favorites, right up there with THEM! and The Thing (the original, not the Kurt Russel verison, although I like it as well).

1954 was a great year for science fiction/horror movies. In addition to Creature there was Devil Girl from Mars, Gojira (Godzilla), Killers from Space and more.

Like so many black and white films this movie is strong on atmosphere (It was originally shot in 3-D). The main setting is deep in the Amazon jungle, specifically in the Black Lagoon (what a great name), and the shadows and textures add a dimension of eerie-ness you just don't get with color.

As a kid this movie struck me for several reasons, not least of which was the beautiful Julia (Julie) Adams as the heroine. This ivory skinned, dark haired beauty drove me wild in her short shorts and one-piece bathing suit. I was in love! It was easy to see why the gill man fell so hard for her.

What makes this film stand out though is the underwater action, especially the scene where the heroine, the very picture of innocence and purity, swims in the lagoon while below her, hidden in the depths of the shadows, the creature mimics her every stroke, shadowing her, observing her. There's something creepy about swimming in open water in that you truly have no idea what lies beneath you. Jaws played on this fear in much the same way as Creature, but with far bloodier consequences. It's that feeling you get when something brushes against your leg or foot and you have no idea what's down there. It can scare the crap out you, let me tell ya.

Two men played the creature - Ricou Browning did the underwater work while Ben Chapman played the gill man above the water. There was no room in the gill-man costume for air tanks so Browning did all of his scenes while holding his breath. Clever editing aside, try holding your breath during some of those scenes and see how long you last. Browning had to hold his breath for up to five minutes at a time while trying to act menacing and keep himself from drowning.

Richard Carlson plays the hero, one of the best leading men from the '50s Bs. Richard Denning and Whit Bissell are two other well known B-grade names in this film. Denning played leading roles in several films, but this was the first movie I ever saw him in and I never quite trusted him after that - I just knew he was bad news after the way he treated the gill-man.

The theme of this film, at least what I see is the theme, is lust. Lust for power and glory on the part of the ambitious scientist, Dr. Mark Williams, and pure, unadulterated sexual lust from the creature and it is their lust that brings their downfall, a typical, if not overdone, theme of 1950s films. Remember, this was a time in America when conformity was something to be desired. People were expected to live by the rules, to follow society's norms and in the movies of the early 50s those who deviated from the norm, those who broke the unwritten laws always got it in the end. And so the poor creature was doomed the moment he laid his eyes on our heroine, and Dr. Mark Williams was doomed the moment he laid eyes on the creature.

This movie is now available in a box set with its sequels - Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). Of the three, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is far and above the best, but the box set is definitely worth having if you love the gill man.

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