Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – If I may begin this movie on a mostly-irrelevant note (and it’s my damn blog, I see no reason I can’t) I’d like to point out that everyone’s been talking about 3D like it’s a fad or a passing thing. This movie was in 3D 58 years ago. Amusingly in the DVD special features (produced maybe around 2000-2002) they talk about how young people these days have no idea what a big deal 3D was. I smirked, figuring today’s youth might have an idea or two about that. Anyway I watched this movie on old-fashioned two-dimensional Digital Versatile Disc, so that’s really the last I’m going to talk about 3D. The second film on my marathon of Universal Monster movies is Creature from the Black Lagoon (as you might have assumed). Made in 1954, it was somewhat removed from the 1930s heyday of Frankenstein and Dracula. Indeed, everyone’s man-fish was the last of classic Universal Monsters. An elegant swan song or a brand on the decline?

Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) discovers a fossilized hand in the Amazon and is blown away at how unlike anything else it is. He recruits ichthyologist David Reed (Richard Carlson) to go with him on an expedition. They set sail down the Amazon along with the Captain Lucas (Nestor Paiva), Dr. Reed’s girlfriend Kay (Julia Adams), his boss Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning), and colleague Dr. Thompson (Whit Bissell). There are also a couple of the boats crew members who exist solely to provide the film with a body count. They soon discover the titular Black Lagoon, which is home to the also-titular creature (Ben Chapman on land, Ricou Browning in the water). When the so-called Gill-Man is discovered, Dr. Reed wants to observe it in its natural habitat. Dr. Williams wants to capture it for fun and profit. Meanwhile the Gill-Man seems to have its sights set on Kay. Terror ensues.

I never really noticed before just how much Anaconda structurally stole from this movie. No matter. There’s great atmosphere to the film and a booming score (composed jointly by Herman Stein, Hans J. Salter, and Henry Mancini) that livens up the many underwater scenes. The creature doesn’t do much but loom ominously, but there’s a kind of longing in his lurking. He seems to be the only Gill-Man. I suppose any species that goes extinct has one last survivor. Can you imagine the isolation? Jack Arnold directs the movie with a degree of sympathy for our poor monster. After all the boat invaded his habitat, and Dr. Williams is a raging jackass out to capture him. He sees Kay, maybe the first humanoid female he’s ever seen? He’s getting funny feelings in his fish-man-parts and he has no context for it. The scene where Kay obliviously goes swimming whilse our creature swims below her seems charged with desire. The Universal Monsters often engendered more sympathy than the people they supposedly “terrorized.” Our tragic Gill-Man is no exception. Creature from the Black Lagoon is a classic on par with the earlier Universal Monster movies. Check it out.

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