It Came from the ’50s: Creature from the Black Lagoon

This one is a classic. From 1954 comes Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s the story of a newly-discovered species of humanoid fish and man’s efforts to hunt it down and kill it.

Directed by Jack Arnold from a screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross, Creature follows a small scientific expedition that sets off up the Amazon River in search of fossils.

The exhibition began at the behest of Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno), a geologist who discovered the fossilized remains of a hybrid fish/humanlike appendage. It’s a revolutionary scientific discovery. Maia needs support, however, to search for any further remains. He finds that support in Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning) and Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), a pair of ichthyologists. Joining them on the expedition are another scientist, Dr. Edwin Thompson (Whit Bissell); Reeds’ assistant/fiancé Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams); boat skipper Captain Lucas (Nestor Paiva); and a gaggle of fodder for the monster.

Their little boat putters up the river to the dig site, but after a week of digging, no more fossils are found. The group then follows a tributary to a hidden lagoon that the locals in the area call the ‘black lagoon.’ Legend holds that it is a place of abject beauty, but those who venture in do not return. That’s a nice, little, kitschy bit of lore that fits the film nicely.

Of course, the lagoon is home to the creature, as the expedition soon discovers.

The creature is an aggressive animal, already having taken care of some of that fodder before the cast even reaches the lagoon. He’s also a little randy, as he can’t keep from going after Ms. Lawrence. Night or day, the creature’s sole purpose seems to be to kidnap Kay and take her back to its lair. Why? What motivations could this animal possibly have? Creature from the Black LagoonThat doesn’t matter. Julie Adams had two jobs in this movie. One: look gorgeous. Two: be a damsel in distress. She’s a useful object in that. This is, yet again this Horrorshow, a film of its time.

Reed is concerned with Kay’s safety, but Williams has become obsessed with the creature. He wants to capture it alive to take back to an aquarium. Williams has dreams of fame and fortune driving his actions. He may be a scientist, but as soon as he gets into the jungle he becomes more of a great white hunter.

The creature is an iconic film monster. It was the work of many people, but primary credit falls to Millicent Patrick, Jack Kevan, and Bud Westmore. The creature suit is very detailed for the time, and better by miles than the type of work featured in Creature’s contemporaries. The face can look a little silly these days, but it’s the quality of the work and the attention to detail that gives the creature its longevity as a Hollywood monster. The creature was portrayed by two actors — one for shots on land and one for underwater work. The creature on land was Ben Chapman, while the underwater work was handled by Ricou Browning.

Unlike a lot of other 1950s monster fare, this isn’t a throwaway. It has all the same tropes one familiar with the genre can expect, but it does them better. Just about everything is better than other monster flicks of the day. Acting, directing, pacing, sets, locations, costumes, etc. It’s not like this film reaches for greatness. Its aim was no loftier than making a buck. But Arnold and company kept things simple, straightforward, and entertaining.

Creature was also filmed in 3D, and if one gets the opportunity to watch it in 3D on the big screen, I recommend it. It’s the icing on the cake. Monster flick and kitschy flick fans rejoice. Creature from the Black Lagoon was made for you.

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