One of the most beloved monsters of Universal Studios, aside from the mainstays of Frankenstein and Dracula, comes from producer William Alland who aided in unleashing the 1954 classic film Creature From the Black Lagoon. Director Jack Arnold, who the previous year made the sci-fi classic It Came from Outer Space (1953), which actually assisted by the success of The Thing from Another World (1951), giving a rebirth to monster movies, as he would go on, to direct the one of the squeals to the flick Revenge of the Creature (1955) and a campy cherished classic Tarantula (1955). One the keys of success from Arnold, was to create a true sense of doom and dread, working on the natural fear of the unknown, especially lurking in the depths of any body of water. In other words, was it just a reed or seaweed touching your leg or something much worst and deadlier? However, before Jack’s involvement, the origins of the tale came from cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, who conveyed the obscure myth of a half-fish, half-human creature living in the Amazon River to Alland during a dinner party. Alland penned a quick rough story about the conservation titling it ‘The Sea Monster’ then 10-years later in 1952, it become something much more, with the thanks to screenwriters which Harry Essex (Man Made Monster ) and Arthur Ross (Satan’s School for Girls ). One thing the writers made clear as well as the producers, leave the Creature’s fate uncertain, simply everyone knew that they had a major hit on their hands.
The popularity of this movie continues to grow, similar to that of Frankenstein, however the launch year for it also equally incredible, 1954 was a comeback for monsters, from Them (1954) to largest of Godzilla (1954), and it led to the inspiration for others, Stephen King noted ‘Creature’ the first film he recalls seeing. In fact, for countless years, many other directors planned to make a remake however it never came to fruition, among those in the mix John Carpenter, John Landis and some sources that Joe Dante, likely the closest to achieving, recalling his terrorizing underwater film Piranha (1978). Mostly recently Guillermo Del Toro, had his romance horror concepted rejected, hence created the award-winning The Shape of Water (2017).
I never assume that everyone knows the plot, therefore let’s recap, Dr. Maia (Antonio Moreno) discovers through blasting a new archeological dig-site, sticking out of stone a fossilize web claw, that appears similar to a human hand, he returns to the mainland to assemble a team of scientists to journey to the fabled Black Lagoon. Amongst the team are Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams), Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning (Twice-Told Tales ), and Dr. Edwin Thompson (Whit Bissel (Psychic Killer ). Lucas (Nestor Paiva), the captain of his ship Rita tells them the story of the aquatic monster that stalks the Black Lagoon. Dr. Maia returns to his camp he finds that some savage beast has slaughtered his assistants and the legend of the half-man half-fish monster was indeed true. The Creature comes aboard the boat, in search of the lovely Adams, once again it’s the interspecies love-story of beauty and the beast (aka King Kong ) and attacks, hence prompting everyone, but one to leave the area; definitely showing heated tensions between Dr. Williams and Dr. Reed, one seeks fame and fortune and other safety, respectively. They used a local poison to force the Gill Man (the nickname for the creature) to the surface, caging him leading a team member’s fatality, prompting everyone to leave however, an often overlooked confrontation occurs, very common in the fifties to show, a hint of racism, which oozes from the ruthless Dr. Williams who wants to stay to capture the Gill Man, and belittles Lucas. Of course, the Creature kidnapped Kay and the chase continues until she’s rescued, and the Gill Man drifts back into the blackness of the lagoon.
Allow us now to dive deeper into the Lagoon, understand some the interesting elements found hiding in the movie, first to help both the crew and the later viewers David and Mark had different scuba tanks. David wore two, while Mark always wears one, as even then safety was a slight concern, everyone knew who assigned to whom . This is a visual device used by the filmmakers to help the audience distinguish between the two characters when they are swimming under water. Meanwhile as Julie Adams goes for a swim the Creature silently swims under her, watching intently for his movement, and it slightly resembles a scene made famous by Ester Williams in the ‘The Water Ballet’ from Ziegfeld Follies (1946). If you unsure or unaware of this later scene then please watch below to compare the two scenes:
First the Creature from Black Lagoon:
and Now the scene from Ziegfeld Follies:
The Creature’s costume took the longest to create, as many rejections occurred, however Jack Kevan and Bud Westmore made the final design, (though Bud got credit, while Jack found himself in an uncredited role), These two gentlemen worked on other Universal projects before and after this flick such as their first teaming up on the hilarious Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and 4-years later with Monster on the Campus (1958). The overall cost of the costume was $12,000 (which today’s is $112k), with a squeeze bulb built, that some say looks like a coreset mid-section. After the movie and its two sequels Universal Studios, did the logical action with the costume, tossed it into the trash. Luckily a garbageman, rescue it, and used it for a Halloween outfit, and later legendary collector Forrest J. Ackerman bought it. Nevertheless, the Creature made another appearance on the television series The Munsters (1964) with episode called Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights as the character Uncle Gilbert. However, that wouldn’t become the last time he saw stardom on the big screen, a parodied version of himself in Saturday the 14th (1980), a brief appearance from The Monster Squad (1987) and a quirky version in Monsters vs Aliens (2009).
At the time of post-production the movie incorporated the talents of three composers for the score, though all uncredited; Henry Mancini (NIghtwing ) contributed 12-minutes, Herman Stein, who worked with Arnold 5-times throughout his career generated the best portions with Julie Adams’ swimming scenes and the Creature theme music accounting for another 12-minutes, and of course Universal Studios notable Hans J. Salter (The Wolf Man ) while he did 16-minutes. The rest of the composition used in the movie came from Universal’s stock music vaults. Many don’t realize that actually two Gill Man stuntmen existed, yes, Ricou Browning, handled the underwater shots, who was a professional swimmer and able to hold his breath up to 4-minutes, the importance of the costume allowed for no tanks. Meanwhile Ben Chapman handled the land activities for the Creature, how he luckily escaped a major health during a fight scene rehearsal, with actor Bernie Gozier who portrayed Zee, Ben’s costume made it difficult to move and see correctly, and he missed grabbing Bernie’s hand what held a machete and the swing caused the blade to hit him in the head thankfully the thickness of the costume protected him.
Julie Adams one of the last surviving members passed away on February 3, 2019, leaving only Ricou Browning, as the final standing cast member who at the time of this writing is 88-years old. Incidentally for those fascinated with dates, the four individuals who worked on this film died in the month of November and two died on the same day November 11, 11-years apart writers William Alland (11/11/97) and Arthur A. Ross (11/11/2008).
While it’s been 65-years since this movie frightened and entertained audiences, and yes it’s quite dated an unable to friend anyone, possibly a tad sexist with regard to Julia Adams’ character Kay appearing more as a window dressing, remember the era that the film come from, a primordial mentality. Nevertheless, a few of the techniques used in the movie still carry over in today’s horror flicks, from the ‘fear of the unknown’ and the stillness of the water with a murky depth, Jaws (1975) and Lake Placid (1999) employed these elements. Even, even today’s collector’s market the Creature from the Black Lagoon, items sell quickly, from the super expensive original posters worth over $15,000, to Target stores 2017 involvement of Monsterville featuring Universal Monsters Dracula, Mummy, Frankenstein and the quickly highly sought Creature. Most fans today have at least one item from this classic, even the exclusive comic book review found here. The movie, lasts as an iconic creation, influencing filmmakers and storytellers, and still waiting in the murky depth for all curious swimmers.
- Not since the beginning of time has the world beheld terror like this!
- Centuries of passion pent up in his savage heart!
- Terrifying monster ravages mankind!
- Amazing! Startling! Shocking!
- Clawing Monster From A Lost Age strikes from the Amazon’s forbidden depths!
- Creature from a million years ago!… every man his mortal enemy… and a woman’s beauty his prey!
- From the Amazon’s forbidden depths came the Creature from the Black Lagoon
IMDb Rating: 7.0/10
Baron’s Rating: 7.0/10