Wednesday, October 01, 2008

THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957)

It's October, which means another month of horror and sci-fi reviews around these parts. I'll start with one of the better late 50's atom-age monster movies, though the title is misleading; the beast is actually the Monster that Challenged the Southern California Canal System. At a navy research base on the Salton Sea, a salt-water lake southeast of Los Angeles, a small earthquake registers but no one thinks much about it until a Navy flyer on a parachute-testing run vanishes in the lake. The two sailors sent to retrieve the pilot also vanish. New hard-ass commander Tim Holt, assigned to investigate, finds a sticky white goo sprayed all over the boat and two corpses, one dead of a stroke (diagnosed as being caused by fright) and one bug-eyed and horribly desiccated. Navy scientist Hans Conried orders the beaches closed (shades of JAWS), but one night, a young woman and her sailor boyfriend take a moonlight dip and wind up dragged under the waves by something (again, shades of JAWS, this time with a direct visual that may have influenced that film's opening). Divers find a huge gelatinous egg, which they take back to Conried's lab for study, and a gigantic sea monster which they keep referring to as related to the Kraken, a mythical sea beast which the movie's writers seem to believe actually existed, though it's also referred to as an oversized mollusk creature. Conried's theory is that the earthquake may have disturbed some prehistoric eggs which hatched and grew into these ravenous beasts--there is also radioactivity associated with them but that tie to the atomic threat is at best half-heartedly pursued.

Holt and his men hunt down these monsters, concerned that if even one manages to cross land and infiltrate the canal system, it could multiply rapidly and leave us humans in a world of hurt. A romantic subplot has Navy widow Audrey Dalton falling for Holt, who is eventually softened up by Dalton and her 10-year-old daughter (Mimi Gibson). The little girl is the catalyst for the climax when, after all the monsters seem to be killed, the one left gestating in the lab is actually "born." There are a few too many scenes of police racing from lock to lock, but the black and white film has a clean, better-than-B-movie look. The monsters' faces, with their pinching, slobbery jaws, are effective, but when they're actually moving around on land attacking people, they're not really all that. Holt is puffy-faced and wooden, and the romance plot is equally wooden. The only supporting character of interest is a slightly daffy archivist named Lewis Clark Dobbs, possibly as an in-joke reference to the Bogart character in TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, in which Tim Holt co-starred. Joel McCrea’s son Jody (who looks just like his dad) has a small role as one of the first sailors to bite the dust. [TCM]

1 comment:

Johnny B said...

Ah, a Channel 5 Nashville "Big Show" 1960's afternoon movie favorite.

I liked Conried in this one, actually- I don't recall him playing scientists all that often, and I remember him playing the role with a dry sort of humor.