Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
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Yes, the alien craft is consistently referred to as a satellite, and the script seems committed to this term, even in the more general sense of any unknown object in the sky ("Everyone's seeing satellites these days!"). After checking multiple dictionaries, your FAQmeister is sorry to report that this usage is clearly incorrect: satellite means a smaller body which orbits a larger (and by extension, a subordinate or secondary entity). A craft which pauses to hover over a ship in the Barents Sea, or plops down in the middle of Route 66, isn't orbiting in any usual sense of the term, and therefore isn't a satellite.

So what's happening here? Possibly the convergence of several factors, such as:

- It's 1958. Thanks to Sputnik, the concept of artificial satellites is new and exciting. Space is what everyone's talking about, and space lingo is being thrown around everywhere - often carelessly. Perhaps it was thought that "satellite" might come to be used as a euphemism, or even a synonym, for "spacecraft". If so, that was a bad call - but hey, trend prediction is tough!

- Earth vs. The Flying Big White Balls. Certainly the term "flying saucer" would have been immediately accessible to contemporary audiences. From Roswell to War Of The Worlds to the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante (a sports car prototype), flying saucers were everywhere in the fifties. Maybe the cultural currency involved here was too broad, since everyone would also know that a flying saucer was supposed to look, well, like a saucer. Many things could be said about AOTFFW's deliciously chintzy prop: it's cheap; it's semi-transparent; it looks like a ping-pong ball hanging from wires, etc. But it clearly ain't no saucer. Stuck with a spherical prop, was the call made to go with "satellite"? The shape itself again suggests a Sputnik connection (did the filmmakers think that all satellites had to be spherical, like the Russian craft?).

And dont forget, satellites can affirm your sanity! Or as Nancy (Allison Hayes) hysterically asserts: "It's real! It's real! I'm not crazy, I did see it! It's a satellite!"

No, the forlorn alien giant is not Proctor and Gamble's iconic strongman. There's no gold earring, for one thing, plus instead of the familiar white tee-shirt our chrome-domed ET is dressed in ... uh ... well, what is that thing he's wearing, anyway? For a being whose cosmos-spanning craft vastly exceeds the primitive technology of Earth, his outfit is distinctly non-futuristic. It's something like a medieval-looking jerkin, studded with metal discs; a shield-shaped emblem on the front is decorated with fleur-de-lis, while an embroidered figure on the back depicts ... a longhorn steer? Which is supposed to suggest ... WHAT? That he is some sort of interstellar cowpoke? That he actually originates from somewhere in the constellation Taurus? That he drives a Taurus? Or is the art director/costume designer just throwing us some bull here? Numerous other models for the hair-challenged visitor have been proposed, including: Fred Mertz (!); Nikita Khrushchev (!!); President Eisenhower (!!!); and/or just about any other bald guy that pops into peoples' heads. Note that merely by donning hair (and street clothes), actor Michael Ross was additionally able to assay the role of Tony the bartender.

You're cookin' with gas he's obnoxious. He may be the most obnoxious on-air television personality since before the invention of cable news networks. This unnamed newsman for KRKR TV (played with considerable verve by Dale Tate) radiates such an irritating degree of smug authority and supercilious self-satisfaction that ... hey, he could get work today! His character seems to serve two primary functions: 1) to provide exposition, unsurprisingly enough, and: 2) to act as a gadfly, particularly in provoking Nancy Archer. In the opening scene, he's basically executing function one, and in an amusingly outlandish way: he's able to predict the arrival of the "space visitor" in southern California based on a few sketchy wire service reports. In his second scene, our intrepid anchor taunts Mrs. Archer, by name, for seeing the space giant ("Was he pink? With big ears and tusks?"). His on-air torrent of derision is so outrageous and abusive that it's like he's broadcasting from an alternate universe where libel laws don't exist.

But is there a legitimate, plot-supporting subtext to this wackiness? Consider this: at no time do we see a character other than Nancy viewing the TV report. She's alone in the living room (or is it the bar?) when the video attack takes place; both butler Jess (Ken Terrell) and husband Harry (William Hudson) rush in, but only after she's conked out the TV set by chucking a liquor bottle into the picture tube. So they see nothing ... and maybe there was nothing to see? Isn't it possible that this video viper - so focused on personally tormenting her - exists only in Nancy's mind? That he's just a persecutorial manifestation of her tragically frail and damaged id? After all, her prior nervous breakdown and commitment provide much grist for the storyline's mill ("She's off her rocker, isnt she?"). So, think about it!

Hey, we like to think of them as tips! Okay, so maybe easygoing Deputy Charlie (Frank Chase) has the occasional ethical lapse. Initially our hero accepts a small emolument to cover for Mr. Archer - this is when it looks like Harry just wants to dodge having to take his wife home. But later, when the issue is serious - Mrs. Archer can't be found, and Mr. Archer seems about to skip town, tart in tow - then he can't be bought. So he's not incorrigible! And anyway, he's the comic relief deputy, so lighten up!

There is an odd bit of business which could be interpreted that way. In the poolhouse investigation scene, Deputy Charlie rushes off to get Jess, and they "meet cute" - Charlie bumps Jess on the stairway. As Jess pirouettes around, the tray he's carrying is presented in close-up to the center-of-frame and the pair of 7-Up bottles on the tray are in-shot with their labels carefully aligned directly into the camera. Charlie even snatches a hurried swig from the nearest bottle. If this isn't on purpose, then it's an awfully convenient accident for the 7-Up Company.

A more commonplace commercialism is apparent in how automobiles are used in the movie. Here, as in many films and TV shows, it's fair to assume that prominently positioned cars are serving at least a secondary promotional purpose. In this case all of the movie's important cars are late model Chrysler products - the famously finned "forward look" Chryslers of the late fifties. Specifically: Nancy's car is a 1958 Imperial convertible; the Archer family station wagon is a 1958 Plymouth Sport Suburban (but the scale model wrecked by the giant is a different vehicle); and the police car is a 1958 Plymouth 4-door sedan (model uncertain).

Well, what could be more fun than counting them all? So here goes:

1. Close Encounters Of The Hysterical Kind. We're barely past the opening credits when we arrive at the desert highway scene: the heroine's mighty Imperial screeches to a halt as the alien "satellite" settles on the road in front of her. The big white sphere more or less blocks her way, but nothing else: it just sits there, completely static. It actually doesn't look any more threatening than a snowball, but that doesn't stop Mrs. Archer (Allison Hayes) from screaming her head off. Miss Hayes' screaming is throaty and emphatic, and nicely complements her husky voice.

2. Astounding Growth! Surprise entrant here, in the form of the busybody nurse who follows Harry into Nancy's room. When she flicks on the light, revealing the giant hand prop, she cuts loose with a series of canvas-rippers that are truly bloodcurdling. And the scene wraps with her shrieking in close-up, so you know the director realizes he's got something good. Film work may have only been a sideline for actress Eileen Stevens, but she was memorably capable as a screen screamer.

3. I Can't Shoot A Lady! In the climactic scene at Tony's, bad girl Honey (Yvette Vickers) starts screaming - understandably so, since giant-sized Nancy is trying to pull the whole joint down on top of her. And for a few seconds, the sound track clears enough for us to hear her distinctly - but for the most part, she's drowned out by the ambient noise of the building breaking up and the crowd panicking. This is too bad, but arguably unavoidable due to the nature of the scene. And it's no detraction for Miss Vickers; we know from her portfolio that she can more than hold her own in the scream department.

Sadly, the honest answer would have to be ... no. Of course, there's no scene where she gets officially "measured", or anything like that. But there's no dialog reference for the fifty foot value either; in fact, the only such reference applies to the space alien ... and he's described as a "thirty foot giant." And evaluating the as-filmed appearance of the giant-sized Nancy, in proportion to the sets, isn't promising. At most she seems just about as tall as the faade of the hotel, and likewise Tony's Bar & Grill - both two-story buildings. That would seem to reasonably put her at about 15 or 20 feet high, or maybe 25 feet at the most. Just about the right height to peer into the hotel window without stooping too much, which she does (is this homage to King Kong peeking into the bedroom of Fay Wray?). One of the entertaining non-sequiturs relating to Nancy's size is the bedroom issue. Just how big are the Archer mansion bedrooms, if she can grow to giant size in one? (Especially if we have to allow for a 50 foot size!) And by the way, where did her bedsheet bikini come from? Related logistic quandaries crop up in AOTFFW's "brother" film, The Amazing Colossal Man. Here the titular hero is confined to an Army hospital, where the rooms (and mattresses!) are similarly, and inexplicably, able to accomodate giants.

The bantering tone will be dropped for this response, since we are talking about an actual tragedy. It's certainly true that Allison Hayes died in 1977 after a long illness, just a few days shy of her 47th birthday. Officially her death was due to complications from leukemia; however, Miss Hayes herself had stated in published reports that she had been suffering for years from the effects of lead poisoning - arising from her use of a contaminated nutritional supplement. Had she lived to see the era of cult film appreciation, there seems to be little doubt that she would have been a great fan favorite on the Z-movie convention circuit. Certainly many similarly situated leading ladies have achieved that status, such as: Barbara Steele, Beverly Garland - or even Yvette Vickers, for that matter. With her sterling portfolio of memorable genre performances, Miss Hayes' cult credentials can hardly be bettered: besides AOTFFW, they include The Undead, The Unearthly, The Disembodied, Zombies of Mora Tau, and the wonderful schlockfest of The Hypnotic Eye.

Page last updated by bj_kuehl, 1 year ago
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