Creature from the black lagoon (1954) Retro Review

 

Creature from the Black Lagoon movie poster

Starring:  Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva, and Whit Bissell.

Directed by:  Jack Arnold

Written by:  Harry Essex (screenplay) and Arthur A. Ross (screenplay), Maurice Zimm (story), William Alland idea (uncredited)

Running Time:  79 minutes

Rated:  None (Suitable for all audiences)

 

By the time the 1950’s rolled around, Universal’s extremely popular lineup of original monsters had been put out to Creature from the Black Lagoon imagepasture since Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948.   It was a new time, a new generation of film goers, and brand new technology was all the rage, 3D.   Extremely popular since The House of Wax premiered in 1953, Universal decided they would use the new gimmick in one of their films, It Came from Outer Space also in 1953 to great success.   For their sophomore 3D effort, Universal decided to use the format for their new film, Creature from the Black Lagoon.   The studio would hire Jack Arnold to direct the film based on his creativity and success with It Came from Outer Space.

A scientific expedition in the Amazon uncovers the fossilized remains of a missing link between land and sea creatures in the form of a skeletal hand that was buried in mud.   The expedition head, Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno-The Searchers) decides to visit his friend Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson-It Came from Outer Space) at a marine biology institute for help.   Reed, an ichthyologist, petitions head of the institute Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning-The Black Scorpion) to fund a new expedition back to the Amazon to search for the remainder of the skeleton.   Looking for fame and fortune, Dr. Williams agrees to fund a return expedition.

The group head back aboard an old trawler named the “Rita”, captained by Lucas (Nestor Paiva-Tarantula).  The group led by Dr. Reed includes, Dr. Maia, Dr. Williams, Reed’s girlfriend Kay Lawrence (Julia Adams-Psychic Killer), and scientist Dr. Thompson (Whit Bissell-I Was a Teenage Werewolf).   Upon returning to Dr. Maia’s camp, they find his entire expedition team has been killed.  The group believes it to be the work of a Jaguar, but they were actually killed by a “Gill-man”, a living species of the fossilized skeleton that was found.   When the excavation turns up no new remains from where the claw was discovered, one theory is part of the hillside might have fallen into the water and been washed down river many thousands of years ago.  Lucas notes this part of the river empties into a lagoon called the “Black Lagoon”, and warns that no one has ever returned from there.   The scientists all agree to go there and see what they can find, unaware that they have been watched and followed the entire time by the Gill-man.

Once in the Black Lagoon, they become trapped by the amphibious Gill-man when he blocks the path out with fallen tree limbs.   The Gill-man has been watching the stunning Kay and developed a crush on her.  The scientists must unravel the mystery of the Gill-man before he gets his claws into Kay and dooms the entire expedition to their watery deaths in the Black Lagoon.

The film’s producer William Alland had the idea for this film for over ten years prior to filming when he was at a party and heard the myth of a race of half-fish, half-human creatures that lived in the Amazon River.   He wrote down some story notes then along with his other inspiration “Beauty and the Beast”, himself and other writers came up with the script for “Black Lagoon” as it was originally called.

Creature from the Black Lagoon image 2There is also some scandalous history surrounding the production of this film.  Universal studio’s head of make-up at the time was Bud Westmore.  He took sole credit for the design and conception of the Gill-man for almost 50 years until it was discovered that an animator who worked at Disney, Millicent Patrick, had actually created the design of the Gill-man that was used in the film.

Also of interest is there were two separate stuntmen that played the Gill-man.  Ben Chapman played the creature in scenes out-of-water, in California.      Stuntman/swimmer Ricou Browning played the creature in all the underwater scenes which were filmed in Wakulla Springs, Florida.   There was always a rivalry between the two as to who really was the Gill-man.

Creature from the Black Lagoon proved very popular with audiences and spawned two sequels, Revenge of the Creature (1955), and The Creature Walks among Us (1956).

Jack Arnold directed many great films of the 50’s, It Came from Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Revenge of the Creature, Tarantula, and Monster on the Campus, but this was his true masterpiece.  He was incredibly adept at creating tension and knew how to string the audience along to the payoff at the end.

The film’s score was hugely responsible for the suspense onscreen.  Created by the now legendary Henry Mancini, and Hans J. Salter, it is a truly classic monster score.

The film’s cast was also top notch as well.  Richard Carlson gives one of his finest performances and portrays the quintessential scientist role.  Julia Adams turns in one of the best “scream queen” performances of all time, and was one of the most beautiful ever.  Richard Denning plays an excellent nemesis to Carlson’s role.   Finally, Nestor Paiva’s role as Lucas is one of his best in the understated role.

This film’s titular creature, the Gill-man was such an iconic creation; it has forever etched itself as one of the top entries in Universal’s pantheon of monsters, right alongside Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man.  In Creature from the Black Lagoon, all the elements come together perfectly to create a true masterpiece of monster movie magic.

Watch the trailer here,



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