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Today, "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" is considered a classic. The film itself has become a cliche for the "man-in-a-rubber-suit" monster movie, and the "gillman" is now included in the pantheon of classic movie monsters -along with Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman.
I was a teenager when I first saw this Sci-Fi/Horror gem on television in 1965--the film was already ten years old by then--and I loved it. Surprisingly--even after a decade of watching technically sophisticated, state-of-the-art, unbelievably realistic prosthetic, animatronic, and computer-generated movie monsters--today's teenagers still love the old "rubber" prototype of all swamp monsters -"The Creature From the Black Lagoon". This is especially true of teenage boys. Why? Perhaps every adolescent male can relate to the film's star: the Creature is horny, inarticulate, moody, misunderstood, not pleasant to look at, and is unbelievably awkward with girls -the ultimate teenage "geek". We all remember this classic scene in the movie: the film's beautiful heroine (Julie Adams) decides to take a dip, unaware that the Creature is swimming below her. The image is archetypal : the powerful "masculine", and the overtly seductive "feminine", beautifully juxtaposed in a stylized sexual union. Then, from the murky bottom of his lagoon, the Creature leeringly watches Adams as she performs an erotic underwater ballet, and he knows that, for the moment, he can only look, not touch. (Is the "scaly one" shy and insecure? Or does he simply have a Catholic upbringing?) Indeed, much of the film's imagery lends itself to Freudian interpretation.
OK, so it's not exactly "Beauty and the Beast" -the Creature's passion is purely primal and elemental. But still, the fact that he restrains himself, satisfying his carnal curiosity with a simple caressing of Julie's ankles, and then retreats back to the gloomy bottom of his underwater sanctum to secretly watch her react in bewilderment, suggests he may be more human than he appears. But, alas, as any good Freudian will tell you, repression often leads to disfunction. And later in the film, in a brief, but beautifully filmed underwater scene, the Creature savagely drags the tantalizing "Playboy centerfold" down into the Freudian depths to his subterranean grotto -perhaps to hide her under his bed...where his mom can't find her. (I apologize for the metaphor. It's getting stale, I know.)
"The Creature From the Black Lagoon" was directed by Jack Arnold ("The Incredible Shrinking Man"), who (from 1952 to 1960) directed a series of fantasy/horror films for Universal Studios, including "Revenge of the Creature" -this film's sequel. Arnold would certainly object to us reading too much symbolism in his gillman, but the Creature may not have achieved such enduring status in monster-mythology if not for the fears and anxieties of the movie-going audience of the '50s. Arnold's dramatic use of the Creature succeeds, of course, by exploiting the human fear of the unseen threat lurking below -a very primal, deeply embedded in the human subconscious, and one that's been ruthlessly exploited by filmmakers in countless horror films. But Arnold's beast may also represent a more intellectualized fear. In the 1950s (and beyond), the threat of nuclear annihilation was very real, and like the creature in Shelly's "Frankenstein", Arnold's lagoon creature represents an elemental force of nature that, once discovered and awakened by science (even well-intentioned science), cannot be controlled -perhaps like the newly tapped, but untamed, power of the atom. Or (and this may sound like apostasy in one of John's pretentious, sophistical, over-intellectualized movie reviews, in which I've constantly and digressively wandered into the Freudian morass) perhaps the Creature is not a mataphor for teenage angst, forbidden knowledge, or cold-war anxiety. Perhaps the Creature is nothing more than a guy in a scary rubber suit chasing a pretty girl around a movie soundstage. But where's the fun in that?
"The Creature From the Black Lagoon" is still fun to watch. Actors Richard Carlson (the sophmoric, but noble-minded paleozoologist) and Richard Denning (the ambitious financier) play off each other well. And Julie Adams is simply gorgeous in her custom-made swimsuit. Also, the beautiful (albeit black & white) underwater photography by James C. Haven is appropriately surreal: as the men begin their search and descend into the black depths of the lagoon, they intermittently twirl and hover amidst penetrating shafts of sunlight from above; and as the camera pans the peaceful bottom-landscape of the lagoon, the gillman suddenly springs from clouds of disturbed sediment, thrashing through curtains of shimmering air bubbles and drifting weeds, determined and unstoppable in his persuit of the human intruders. But one of the best things about the movie is the music. Some of the themes--written by Henry Mancini and Herman Stein--are quite beautiful; for example, as the expedition slowly makes its way up the dark Amazon, an ensemble of gentle woodwinds can be heard -a soft, subliminal prelude that lets us know we are entering another world, a primeval world. And who can forget the Creature's signature theme--the brassy, bombastic, three-note progression of DA DA DAAAAA!--whenever "Creech" appeared on the screen?
Of course, the best thing in the film is...the Creature. Jack Arnold suggested that the design of the gillman suit be based on the graceful form of the Motion Picture Academy's "Oscar" statuette. (Really!) The suit was designed and brilliantly crafted by make-up artist Bud Westmore, and there were two versions -one suit for filming on land, and another for filming underwater. On land, the gillman was played by Ben Chapman. Olympic swimmer Ricou Browning wore the gillman suit in the underwater scenes. The "dry suit" that Chapman wore was beautifully colored with iridescent greens and blues, and mottled with many other marine hues. The "wet suit" worn by Browning was a bright yellow -the marine hues chosen for the "dry suit" photographed too dark when filming underwater.
Yeah, I really love this movie. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's just one geek relating to another. You see, in the final reel, neither of us got the girl.
"Creature from the Black Lagoon" is a movie I saw on a Saturday afternoon TV show called "Monster Movies". I loved it from the start. I now own the DVD collection and I find all the movies entertaining. The first of the series was, of course, "Creature from the Black Lagoon". Richard Carlson, Whit Bissell, Richard Denning, Nestor Paiva and Julia Adams are awesome in their roles. A fossil is discovered of a prehistoric "gill-man" by a Dr. Maia. He enlists his scientist friend(Carlson) and the research team he works for that is headed by Denning. They travel up a river that ends into an area known as "The Black Lagoon". Looking for more fossils, they discover the "Gill-Man" is alive! The Creature is captured and then escapes but is shot and severely wounded at the end. He sinks toward the bottom of the lagoon but don't worry; he made it back for two more sequels. The team of Jack Arnold(director), William Alland(producer) and Joseph Gershenson(music director, with help from young composer Henry Mancini) help make this film unique. The photography and locales are beautiful. The acting is superb and there is enough action and suspense to keep you at the edge of you seat. This is required viewing for 1950s sci-fi/horror movie fans.
One of few truly great "creature" films, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK
LAGOON is a surprisingly effective horror film concerning a scientific
expedition up the Amazon to investigate an unusual fossil find--but
instead of fossils the crew members encounter an underwater creature of
considerable intelligence that is bent on their destruction.
The script is a bit dated by modern standards, but the cast (particularly Julie Adams) is effective, and the creature is easily one of Universal Studio's most memorable creations. And seen today in standard black and white, the film is quite enjoyable. But it doesn't hold a candle to the original 3-D format, which I was fortunate to see not once but twice during the 1970s and 1980s. Simply stated, BLACK LAGOON's cinematography was probably the best of all 3-D movies to date. As with most 3-D films, there is plenty of "coming at you" cinematography, and many viewers will be able to pick out such moments when seeing the film in standard black and white--but in addition to these, the film used 3-D in a remarkably subtle way; virtually every scene in the film is designed for 3-D, and the effect is exceptionally memorable in the underwater sequences.
I remain disappointed that the 3-D version of BLACK LAGOON--not to mention such other 3-D films as HOUSE OF WAX, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, and DIAL "M" FOR MURDER--has never been released in 3-D format on video or disk; instead, we must make do with such bottom-budget 3-D flicks as THE MASK, CAT WOMEN ON THE MOON, and the like. Admittedly, the impact of the format is lessened by the small screen and demands some careful color adjusting, and the effect requires the use of 3-D glasses--but it is a shame that we must settle for ghosts of the originals when we could easily have the originals instead. In 3-D format, BLACK LAGOON would easily be a ten-star film.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
As many times as this movie has been copied, filmmakers still can't seem to
get it right. Considering that this film is considered a trend-setter, it's
amazing how many rules this film BREAKS by today's standards. It breaks the
notion that full shots of the creature and lots of blood and violence are
needed to create a scare. In this film, all you need is a shot of the
creature's hand and that piercing three-note musical motive played by brass
instruments, and let the imagination fill in the blanks. It shatters the
notion that monsters MUST be computer-generated--a guy in a suit CAN be
scary. And it proves that black-and-white photography can be just as rich
as color photography. The underwater sequences especially are both
beautiful (almost surreal) and eerie at the same time.
And then there is the Gill Man himself. It's as if the writers took the best qualities of his predecessors and combined them into the last and best (IMHO) of the Universal monsters. Like The Mummy, he has lived long after he technically should have died; like Frankenstein's monster, he appears to be savage, yet shows intelligence and appreciates beauty; like Dracula, he is seductive. Just check out the scene where he swims with Julie Adams (unbeknownst to her, of course). I believe this is why he has achieved the status of a genuine icon, and deservedly so. Here's hoping he swims the waters for a long time.
Unlike other sci-fi flicks from the 1950s, "Creature From The Black
Lagoon" is not a film to laugh at. It's better made. Just by the title
we know there's a monster lurking about. Yet, for the film's first 24
minutes we don't actually see it, only one of its claws. And that
holding back of the monster's appearance fosters suspense and mystery.
In addition, the film's B&W cinematography is good, for its time, with
lots of credible underwater shots. And while the dialogue does contain
lots of exposition, the film at least tries to educate viewers.
There's nothing complex about the story. A scientific crew heads for the Amazon to do an archaeological dig, after a large fossil is found. The crew ends up at the Black Lagoon, a place of serenity, with its still waters, surrounded by palm trees and the sounds of monkeys and exotic birds. Through much of the film the peaceful setting together with soothing background music actually makes for a rather relaxing movie. Even when we see the monster, it seems lonely and hardly threatening as it glides gracefully through its watery home.
I suspect that the film's popularity when it was first released relates to the creature's distinctive appearance, with those moving gills and those bulging dark eyes. And of course, back in those days, the film was made for 3-D viewing, a novelty then that made the monster seem more real. Today, the film has an ever-so-slight environmental theme, given that at least one of the scientists prefers that the monster not be harmed, and given that humans obviously are encroaching into its habitat.
Because so much of the plot takes place underwater and therefore lacks dialogue, and given a runtime of only about 78 minutes, there really isn't that much to this movie. But what there is of it is interesting for its historical significance as a precursor to later sci-fi films, and for a monster that's not only photogenic but also alone and arguably lonely in a world that has passed it by, after eons of time.
(There are Spoilers) Finding embedded in a rock, along the Amazon River
in Brazil, what looks like a over-sized catchers mitt Prof. Carl Maia,
Antono Morero, feels that he made the rock-hard discovery or the
century: the remains of an aquatic human-like creature, dating back to
the Devonian Era. This discovery can be the the very first link to what
turned out to become the human race.
Getting an expiation together and going into the uncharted, and undiscovered, Amazon Basin Prof.Maia together with a crew of scientists lead by Dr. Mark Williams, Richard Dennings,get to his campsite. There they find that his two Indian guides were butchered by some strange monster from the deep. It turns out that this creature has been living in the lagoon for millions of years without any contact with the outside world. Now that his domain had been invaded and disturbed he's out for blood and won't stop until all those who trespassed into his kingdom, the Black Lagoon, are eliminated.
The "Gillman" at first is a bit confused of what's happening and just goes out in the water to observe what the humans are doing. When it becomes obvious that their out to get him,dead or alive, and bring him back to civilization, as the scientific find of the century, he goes bananas and sets out to attack and kill everyone on board the science ship Rtia. The Gillman has just one weakness, he gets distracted by the beautiful assistant of Dr. Williams Kay (Julie Adams)whom the Gillman, or creature, wants to keep alive all for himself as a playmate as well as a mate.
Even though Dr.Williams wants to go as far as killing the creature the sensitive second-in-command of the expiation Dr. David Reed, Richard Carlson, is dead set against it. Dr. Reed wants to leave the creature alone and just bring back photographic proof that he exists. This causes great friction between the two explorers.
The creature meanwhile barricades the Rita into the Black Lagoon by blocking the exit route ,with logs and tree branches. Setting up the movie's finale conflict between man and beast or creature. The creature goes on the attack killing a number of Rita crewmen and almost rips Dr. Thompson's (Whit Bissell), another member of the expiation, face off Later the creature is put to sleep with the underwater knock-out drug Rotenone that Dr. Reed sprays in his face in a tense and deadly underwater encounter.
Put in an underwater cage, on the Rita, the creature easily breaks out, after the effects of the drug wears off. Goes back into attack mode the creature has it out in an underwater battle royal with both Dr. Reed and Dr. Williams who he ends up killing. By dragging him down to the bottom of the lagoon and cutting off his air supply.
The creature finally gets what he's been after all along, Julie, by boarding the Rita and snatching her up, while everyone else on board is looking the other way. In the end the effects of the Rotenone and a number of spear-gun wounds have taken the wind out of "The Gillman", or creature. After taking Julie to his secret hideout or "pad", an underground cave, the creature just about had it staggering along the shore, like a drunk, and plopping into the river with David and the crew of the Rita letting him get away.
Eye-popping underwater photography makes the movie "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" one of the best horror films released in the 1950's. The Gillman does return in two more sequels, " Revenge of the Creature" in 1955 and "The Creature Walks Among Us" in 1956, until he was finally put out to pasture, or sea, by the Universal Pictures Studios.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
...and perhaps the best 10 years in horror history so far. I think the creature movies from the 30's and 40's were absolutely great, but the 50's have something extra in my humble opinion. The most lovable monster movies were made during this decade and Creature from the Black Lagoon belongs to the absolute top ! My father keeps asking me why I show so much interest in movies that were made before even HE was born. Well...how could you not be in love with this era ??? Every single monster movie from this period gives me the shivers. They're just great. Creature from the Black Lagoon is part of the great Universal collection. It's almost half a century old, but it still hasn't lost a single bit of magic and the impression that it makes on people is still amazing. Like I said...one of the best. Dr. Carl Maia is on a scientific expedition somewhere deep in the jungle, near the Amazone river. He and his team find a fossil of something that appears to be a man-fish. The thing is a hand with gills. To find the rest of this extraordinary body he seeks help and finds it by other respected scientists: Dr.David Reed, Dr. Mark Williams and Kay Lawrence. Together the travel to the place where Dr. Maia found the fossil. It seems that his crew got killed and it looks like they're about to find much more than just a fossil ! There still is a living fish-creature living in the legendary Black Lagoon. Soon the scientific expedition changes into a battle to come out alive of the Black Lagoon The location of the Black Lagoon really is one of the most breath-taking settings I've ever seen. The images of the wild, unknown jungle and the horrible noises of the animals makes you feel like your in the jungle yourself. The acting performances are outstanding and there's even a little room for comedy in this film. The character of Lucas ( captain of the ship "Rita") breaks the tension from time to time by saying very funny things. The actress who plays Kay is one of the most beautiful woman who ever came on the black and white screen...heck, even the creature seems to think so ! Her name is Julie Adams and she played in a lot of good old-fashioned westerns like "The man from the Alamo" I recommend you check her out...you won't regret it. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was directed by Jack Arnold. This guy certainly knows what he's doing. He's also the one who gave us "Tarantula", another great 50's monster film worth checking out. This film received 2 sequels. I haven't seen the second one ( the Creature walks among us ) but I can surely recommend the first sequel, which was also directed by Arnold. "Revenge of the Creature" only came out one year after the original and lives up to it. The only think that got lost was the tense atmosphere.
I was thrilled by this movie as a kid, and still love it
today. For a small budget Science Fiction/Horror movie
the fifties, this is a great show. It's well paced, well
acted, has great music to accompany the action, and Bud
Westmore's Gill Man is a marvel to enjoy. Originally this
was a 3-D movie, and thankfully, it looks so much better
regular flat screen. I never really did catch the 3-D
This is a terrific adventure of Man out of his element fighting a Monster in his element. The Gill Man is a thinking being, but, still a monster, who remembers the injuries done him by man and seeks retribution. If the scientists had left him alone, he'd have left them alone. They were the invaders.
And, thank goodness that they didn't have a scene of the kidnapped Julia making friends with the now "peaceful" Gill Man (to show his human side), only to have the heroes show up and kill him. She was taken as "bait" to lure the humans into the Gill Man's lair.
It spawned two sequels (yes, there were sequels even back then), and both are good in their own right, they just didn't achieve what the original did all the way around. Enjoy.
Out of Universal Pictures, Creature from the Black Lagoon is directed
by Jack Arnold, and stars Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard
Denning, Antonio Moreno, and Whit Bissell. The eponymous creature was
played by Ben Chapman on land and Ricou Browning for the underwater
scenes. The cinematography is by William E. Snyder and the score is
composed by a trio of men, Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter & Herman
Stein. The story sees a scientific expedition at the top end of the
Amazon encounter a Devonian Period amphibious creature. As the creature
starts to defend its turf by attacking members of the expedition, in
fighting begins to take a hold as the men argue about the best course
of action to take. Should it be killed, or should it be captured for
scientific research? Either way they need to act fast as the creature
has taken a fancy to Kay, the sole female member of the expedition
One of the better creature features that surfaced in the 1950s, Creature from the Black Lagoon was one of the film's made as part of the 3D craze that filtered out of Hollywood in 53 & 54. However, unlike many of those film's that were made in the format over those two years, this one has rightly managed to break away from its gimmicky beginnings to become regarded as a genre classic. There are many reasons why it is still well regarded and taken in appreciatively by newcomers.
The story of course is nothing new, the old "beauty & the beast" theme can be traced back to the daddy himself, King Kong. But much like Kong, Arnold's movie thrives within the endearing story by getting the audience to sympathise with the titular creature. He is after all only defending his territory, he was happy wallowing down in the depths, remaining undiscovered for many a moon. That he is fascinated by the considerable beauty of Kay Lawrence (Adams sexy and gorgeous), is no crime either. The amount of sympathy garnered for "Gill-Man" is helped enormously by the illogical actions of the humans; who in turn go diving and swimming where legend has it men get eaten! This coupled with their bickering about pro science or trophy hunting makes it easy to side with the amphibious one.
It also helps that the film is pretty brisk and only runs for 80 minutes, there's no sags or pointless filler. Too many similar film's of its ilk labour until the monster shows up and all hell then breaks loose. But under Arnold's (It Came From Outer Space/The Incredible Shrinking Man) astute direction, atmosphere and unease is built up by ominous talk and sightings of the Black Lagoon-and only initial glimpses of the creature's scaly webbed claw; accompanied by the attention grabbing theme music. And when the creature finally reveals itself it doesn't disappoint for its an impressive creation. A half-man/half-fish creature covered in scales, resplendent with gills and with cold, dark featureless eyes. It also has great characteristics with a distinctive swimming style in the water, and a lumbering Frankenstein thing going on when on the land. A definitive monster that would be merchandised for ever after.
There's also technical accomplishments away from the creature itself, notably with the memorable underwater photography by Snyder, who uses a portable camera to flow with the swimming sequences, while his shadow and light work down in the depths is memorably mood enhancing. The three tiered score is also one of the best to feature in a B movie schlocker, three different composers, three different emotional strands; nice. Then there's of course the definitive sequence, the sexy underwater flirting as "Gill-Man" swims below the shapely form of Kay, beguiled by her, it's love at first sight. He's not the only one beguiled, we all are, as was Steven Spileberg, who would homage the more dramatic part of the sequence in his opening for Jaws 21 years later. Whilst last but not least it should be mentioned that there are little asides to ecological issues in the piece, something Arnold was want to do. Two sequels would follow, Arnold would return for Revenge Of The Creature in 1955 and then the John Sherwood directed The Creature Walks Among Us would round off the trilogy in 1956.
It's the original that still holds up today. 8/10
After finding a claw-like hand, scientists make a return trip to a lagoon off of the Amazon to search for relics. The major discovery is a 'gill' man with an eye for the female form. Julie Adams is most certainly an eye opener. Very interesting underwater and location shots. Run of the mill acting from Richard Carlson, Richard Denning and Whit Bissell. This was scarier seen through the eyes of a very young boy on the third row; but still holds your attention. Is this a classic or what?
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