Richard Carlson - Dr. David Reed
Julia Adams - Kay Lawrence
Richard Denning - Dr. Mark Williams
Whit Bissell - Edwin Thompson
Ben Chapman - Gill-Man
Jack Arnold - Director
William Alland - Producer
Harry Essex - Screenwriter
William E. Snyder - Cinematographer
Hans J. Salter - Film Score
In 1954, Universal studios brought the movie going public Creature from the Black Lagoon. The film was a sensation and put the Gill-Man alongside Dracula, the Frankenstein monster, and the Mummy in the pantheon of classic Universal Monsters. The Creature is the greatest monster of a decade filled with monsters. He outshines his irradiated and overgrown brethren because there was the slightest bit of humanity in him. He lusts, he is cunning, and he feels pain. He is an animal on the brink of becoming something more. The Gillmanís story is one of the finest fantasy films ever made. Creature from the Black Lagoon is a true motion picture masterpiece of the 1950s.
Something lurks under the waters of the Black Lagoon Ė a prehistoric monster, a creature that existed before the dawn of man. This "missing link", a cross between the land-living and the sea-living is the target of an expedition bent on capturing it and bringing it back to civilization for study. The scientists drug and capture the creature, who becomes enamored with the expeditionís female scientist (Julia Adams). The lonely creatures escapes, and kidnaps the object of his affection. A rescue mission is mounted and the small group sets out to rescue the kidnapped woman and send the creature back to the murky depths from which it emerged....
The Creature From The Black Lagoon was shown originally in 3-D. 3-D pictures were becoming popular in Hollywood in the middle 1950's and Creature was filmed to fit this format. A special underwater 3-D camera was developed exclusivlely for use in this production. Viewers would remark on how they felt like they were underwater with the monster. It was a very unique experience. However showing a film in 3-D was a difficult process. If the two cameras needed to produce the effect were not aligned properly the image would turn blurry and the 3-D effect would be ruined. This forced later releases of the film to abandon 3-D for a more conventional showing.
The Creature would return for two more films, each of declining quality. Revenge of the Creature (1955) is a fun atomic age romp with John Agar battling the Gillman who escaped from a Floridian aquarium. The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) has two scientists who attempt to turn the Creature into a more human-like monstrosity. Of the two sequels, Revenge of the Creature is most definitely the strongest due in large part to the craftsmanship of returning director Jack Arnold.
Creature from the Black Lagoon is a 50s monster film, yet it also has many qualities that link it to the horror films of earlier decades. As in movies like Dracula and King Kong, the Creature has a strange attraction to the heroine. When the Creature silently stalks Julie Adams as she swims, it is a scene of monochromatic beauty that would seem more at home in a Universal film of the 30s or a Val Lewton film of the 40s.
Producer William Alland had heard an obscure South American legend about a swamp monster that was often described as an amalgamation of a turtle fish, alligator, and a human. Alland told Bud Westmore, Universal International's head of make up, that he would deliver a script once the aquatic monster was constructed. The basic design of the monster had its origins in an unlikely place. Jack Arnold was nominated for an Academy Award (1950s Best Documentary, With These Hands) and received a certificate with an Oscar on it. He envisioned what the award would look like with gills, claws, and scales. Westmore, Jack Kevan, Bob Hickman, and Chris Nueller went to work on making the the monster a reality.
The Creature's facial features were based on a frog's, complete with pulsating jowl. The monster was given a pair of crustacean-like claws and a large mechanical tail, but these features were deleted because they would have seriously interfered with the underwater scenes. When the make up team had finished, they had produced one of the finest looking monsters in cinematic history. Excellence doesn't come cheap. The total cost of the Creature was $12,000.
The actors that brought the Creature to life were Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning. Glenn Strange was originally considered because he was the only recognizable horror actor that could play part. He declined because of the intense underwater scenes. Ben Chapman was a tall ex-marine who donned the Gillman suit for the scenes of the Creature above water. Ricou Browning was a professional diver who was to portray the Creature in the underwater scenes. A special underwater suit was made for Browning that was much lighter in coloration than the land suit.
The "human" cast of Creature from the Black Lagoon is top notch as well. Richard Carlson (who also worked with Arnold in It Came From Outer Space) gives the screen one of the best portrayals of a 50ís sci-fi hero. Richard Denning (hero of the big bug classic The Black Scorpion) is the highlight of the cast as the greedy and misguided Dr. Williams. The scenes between Carlson and Denning bring even more tension to a film that is dripping with it. Julie Adams was one of the sexiest "damsels in distress" of the genre. You can see why Dr. Reed, Dr. Williams, and the Creature were all fighting over her. Nestor Paiva (Lucas) was one of the greatest B-movie supporting actors in history. He gave memorable performances in such films as Tarantula (1955), The Mole People (1956), and the infamous They Saved Hitlerís Brain (1963).
The Gillman from Jack Arnoldís masterpiece Creature from the Black Lagoon represents an organism stuck between one form of life and an other. He is mostly a creature of the deep, yet he can freely move on land with two legs. The Creature also represents a being that is trapped between two sub-genres, the classic horror film and the prehistoric monster movie. It could even be argued that the amphibious monstrosity could represent the times that he was born out of, a time when America was in a transitional state between one period of its history and the next. We had left the primordial ooze of global conflict and entered a world that was frightening and alien to us. Like the crew of the Rita we sailed into troubled territory and did not know what would be lurking in the blackness.
--DONALD F. GLUT, from Classic Movie Monsters, 1973
A selection of Black Lagoon related films.
Find The Creature on eBay.com
A selection of The Creature in books.
A History of Horror
THE ATOMIC AGE
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