CAPSULE: Besides the title of the film this film delivers less than expected in most categories. This 1957 film delivers a lot in the talk department and not so much in the logic department. The plot concerns giant-8 foot, man-eating mollusks that hatched in Southern California's Salton Sea. The monster kills only a small handful of people, and most of them have done something normally considered dangerous or stupid anyway. The film is directed by Arnold Laven and written by David Duncan and Pat Fielder. The film is short on thrills. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
Movie monsters were already starting to get to be routine by the time that this one came along. THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD was based on a story by minor science fiction author David Duncan, author of such stories as "Occam's Razor." Perhaps Duncan's biggest claim to fame is as the author of the story adaptation of THE TIME MACHINE that was it self adapted to be George Pal's version of the film.
The screenplay by Pat Fielder borrows the pseudo-documentary style used in THEM! It also borrows from THEM! the idea to use a full sized mechanized monster. Here, however, it is decidedly less animated and much more obviously a clumsy mockup. The filmmakers also apparently had only one monster model and had to make it represent several. Similarly THEM! had had only one full-sized ant and the front half of a second one.
The film has the Navy noting several mysterious deaths near the Salton Sea in Southern California. An earthquake has released the eggs of prehistoric giant mollusks. They hatch out, creating a man-eating snail-like creature. Actually, only in a few scenes do we see any more of the creature than its trunk and head. Even then the head seems very un-mollusk-like. A mollusk has feelers around its mouth; this creature seems to have mandibles instead. The title comes from the fact that if it escapes to the All-American canal just a mile or so away and then to and from the Gulf of Mexico it will spread worldwide.
Tim Holt, who stars as Twillinger, in better days had played more convincing romantic leads and cowboy heroes. In this film he seems to be getting a little fat and he walks with an odd posture. He is not particularly good in the role and is out-acted by Hans Conreid, generally a comic actor, but here in a serious role.
There are not many good touches except that mollusks are a different concept for a monster. The first bad touch of the film is to have the mollusk rear out of the water in the middle of the Salton Sea. This creature is a bottom-crawler, not a swimmer. It could rear out of water only where the water is shallow enough for the creature to stand. There are certainly times that the acting is overdone to the point of inviting laughter. The sailor who first sees the mollusk gives a hammy, exaggerated face of terror. A mother bereaved over the death of her daughter gives a performance that had to be an embarrassment. The story builds to an extremely contrived climactic threat to be overcome and the script never gives much reason to believe that the Navy has killed all the monsters. There is a line where someone says the Navy got them all, but there is little reason to believe that is true.
The faces of the mollusks' victims seem to either be bad plaster or papier-mâché or look most unconvincing. Also the dry-for-wet underwater scenes are unconvincing. The mock-up of the trunk of the mollusk is elaborate when it is standing still, but does not move realistically and it looks like the poorly done monsters in Italian strong-man films.
While most of the directing is fairly uninteresting, there is a scene of a water attack that is strongly reminiscent of the first attack in JAWS, made nineteen years later. Beyond that any objective evaluation of the film must conclude that there isn't much to enjoy here.
The concept of giant prehistoric mollusks endangering the world is just different enough to give the film some real novelty, but the underwater attack, done dry for wet, with the victim apparently falling into the mollusk's clutch is horribly crude.
This film was made for the bottom halves of double bills and even there it is disappointing. I give it a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
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Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2018 Mark R. Leeper