(a film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: The image of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) is imprinted on our cultural psychology perhaps only surpassed by the visages of King Kong, Frankenstein's creature, and Godzilla. The creature himself is an icon more recognizable than any number of screen monsters that have appeared in the 20th-century. The science of the script is laughably problematic, but does not seem much of a flaw. What is remembered is a short sequence with Julie Adams swimming on the surface while unknown to her the creature is swimming a symmetric dance. This is certainly one of the most fondly remembered of the science fiction films of the 1950s. It probably is not for the script, which frankly is flawed, but some the visual images work well in the film. Still the film is a classic.

Cast: Julie Adams, Richard Carlson, Richard Denning.
Dir: Jack Arnold.

A scientist doing research on the Amazon finds a fossil hand of some strange creature that is part amphibian but still very humanlike. He goes off to show other scientists what once lived in the Brazilian Amazon. Unbeknownst to him there are fresher specimens around and the real thing is extremely nasty. An expedition to recover more of the fossil at first meets with failure until the site of the search is moved to the nearby Black Lagoon. There the expedition finds itself prey to the title creature. Actually the creature does seem to stray from the lagoon, since that is where we first see him, but most of the time is lagoon seems to be where you find him and he is anxious to defend this soggy turf.

The film has two basic conflicts. Obviously there is the creature against the humans. And then there is a conflict of the success- oriented scientist against the curiosity-oriented scientist, but the script of the rivalry of the two scientists is cliched. The characters are one-dimensional and the plot reduces the title character to little more than just an angry bear besieging the expedition. There is one advantage there, the creature is of a believable strength. He is stronger than a human, but not absurdly so. The is a more believable creature than the living tank in ALIEN. The one touch that makes the creature interesting is his fascination with Kay (played by Julie Adams), the female lead actress, even though that makes little biological sense. The creature would be attracted to a gill-woman. There is the remarkable "underwater ballet" where Kay swims on the surface and the creature swims under her does have a sort of eroticism. Also making little biological sense is the crossing of an amphibian with something so human-shaped. They are really pushing convergent evolution particularly making the creature attracted to Kay. Consider how many more people know what the creature looks like and how few can picture the Martians from WAR OF THE WORLDS. Does the writer think he himself could be attracted to a female gorilla, no matter how cute?

But where the film gets its real class is in the quality of its cinematography. Unlike Jack Arnold's It Came from Outer Space, the shots are remarkably well-composed. While it is a little less true of the underwater photography over which there was less control, the majority of frames could stand by themselves as stills. It is hard to balance that sense of composition with the demands of 3D photography. The visual sense of this film is really the main reason the film is so fondly remembered. The best touch of the film is that look of the creature makes it one of the most memorable monsters of the 1950s. On the other hand pieces of the dialogue are awkward and the little science lectures that often even get the science very wrong.

Obviously this monster is one that has struck some chord in the audience that goes far beyond the film. This film gets a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
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