Saturday, October 31, 2020

Stubs - Revenge of the Creature

Revenge of the Creature (1955) Starring: John Agar, Lori Nelson, John Bromfield Directed by Jack Arnold Screenplay by Martin Berkeley, William Alland. Produced by William Alland. Black and White Run time: 82 minutes USA Horror, Science Fiction, 3-D

As with any successful film, Hollywood is only too happy to make a sequel. Given that The Creature from the Black Lagoon made a whopping $1.3 million at the box office, Universal was willing to make another two, as it turns out. (Given the times, the genre and the original budget $1.3 million was a lot of money.)

First of the two is Revenge of the Creature, which went into production during the summer of 1954, only a few months after the original was released. It should be noted that this was not only shot in 3-D, but also has the distinction of being the last 3-D film shot in the 1950s, an indication of how quickly that trend went in and out of fashion. Filming took place at Marineland of Florida, which also became the film's Ocean Harbor Oceanarium. The St. Johns River was substituted for the Amazon, wherein the film the Creature lives in the Black Lagoon.

One more notable thing about the film before we get started. Revenge of the Creature marks the film acting debut of Clint Eastwood, who is not only still acting, but also directing films to this day. As they say, from small things big things one day grow.

The film opens in the upper Amazon, two employees of Jacksonville, Florida’s Ocean Harbor marine center, Joe Hayes (John Bromfield) and George Johnson (Robert B. Williams), have been sent to capture the notorious Gill Man, a dangerous half-fish, half-man creature that had been reported the previous year.

Joe Hayes (John Bromfield) (m) and George Johnson (Robert B. Williams)
eat with the captain, Lucas (Nestor Paiva).

The captain of the expedition, Lucas (Nestor Paiva), who was part of the team that spotted the Gill Man, warns the men that the creature will bring only harm to mankind. George explains that, since the Gill Man is a prehistoric creature, it may be the missing link between marine and terrestrial life and is thus invaluable to science. Lucas counters that he believes the Gill Man is a demon. George considers turning back, but Joe is confident that he can handle any fish and so they go on.

The next day, the team reaches the Black Lagoon and they set a large net at the lagoon’s mouth. Joe dives into the water to secure the net but within moments, the creature attacks. The group do all they can to rescue Joe, whose diving suit has been shredded, and barely succeed.

The use of dynamite to stun the Gill Man.

George has the idea to set dynamite above the surface of the water and, when they detonate it, it stuns the Gill Man. He eventually floats to the surface but, as news reports state it, he is left in a coma.

The arrival of the Creature is treated like a big event.

The arrival of the Gill Man at Ocean Harbor is treated like a major event, with plenty of tourists and the press represented. To try and revive the creature, Joe walks him around a shallow tank. One of the reporters gloms onto Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson), who is working on her Master’s thesis in ichthyology. She explains to him that this is the same way that sharks are resuscitated.

It takes several hours, but the Gill Man finally stirs and, within minutes, jumps over the side of the tank, pulling technicians into the water. As the tourists scatter in panic, the team captures the Gill Man with a net and then shackles him to the bottom of the tank.

 Jennings (Clint Eastwood) in Revenge of the Creature. Eastwood's film debut.

Meanwhile, animal psychologist Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar) is shown the story in the paper about the Gill Man. After a short conversation with a lab technician named Jennings (Clint Eastwood), who accuses a test subject cat of eating a lab rat, only to find the rat in his lab coat pocket, Clete goes to ask for a leave of absence so he can investigate the Gill Man’s behavior and the link to humankind.

Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar), Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson) and Joe Hayes.

There is an instant attraction between Helen and Clete and he is happy to include her in his research team. One night, Helen accepts Clete’s invitation to dinner, just before Joe, who considers himself to be a ladies’ man. Joe is envious, but he accepts his defeat with grace, even turning down Helen’s invitation to join them.

Clete and Helen about to enter the tank.

Later, Clete’s first experiment aims to condition the Gill Man to respond to commands, and to this end, he and Helen enter the tank, attract the Gill Man with food, then shock him with a cattle prod after Helen tells him to stop. Their work is successful, but the Gill Man grows fascinated with Helen, especially when she stops at the window outside his tank each night to watch him.

Further studies, including one in which the Gill Man’s brain waves are studied, reveal that the creature is anatomically very similar to humans.

One day, Clete and Helen take a break on the beach, where Helen muses about her future plans, realizing that she must eventually choose between a career and a family. Clete reveals that he has a personal interest in her decision and kisses her, stopping only when her dog, Chris, bounds onto their towel.

Clete talks to Helen while the Creature (Ricou Browning) observes.

Again, that night, Helen visits the Gill Man’s tank, sympathetic to his unmistakable sadness. Clete finds her and informs her that he now believes that it is too risky for her to join him in the creature’s tank, but she scoffs at his concern and he relents.

Now free, the Creature (Tom Hennesy)
sends the tourists running for their lives.

The next day, they are in the tank when suddenly the Gill Man attacks Clete, backing off only after Helen commands him to stop. Clete escapes, but then the creature manages to break his chain. Free, he leaps out of the tank, causing the Ocean Harbor guests to, once again, flee in terror. Trying heroically to stop the creature, Joe ends up being killed by the Gill Man.

In the ensuing chaos, the creature escapes into the sea. Four days later, conflicting reports place the Gill Man anywhere from North Carolina down to the Amazon, but, in reality, he is still in Florida. He somehow manages to find the hotel Helen and Clete are staying at. We next see him wandering outside Helen’s hotel room.

That night, while Helen showers, Chris hears the creature outside and howls, attracting Clete’s attention. He goes to Helen’s room and the two of them search the grounds, but they cannot find Chris, even though his dead body is nearby.

To distract Helen, Clete arranges for a cruise for them the next day. Although Clete must soon return to his university for three months, the couple plans to marry as soon as he returns.

While they are on the cruise, Clete and Helen swim all day, not realizing that the creature swims just below them. That night, while they dance at a nightclub by the docks, the Gill Man reaches up for Helen’s foot, but they dance away just in time.

The Creature grabs Helen...
…and carries her away.

Soon after, the Gill Man follows them into the club and grabs Helen, pulling her into the water with him. Clete joins the Coast Guard in a hunt, but they have no leads until two students spot Helen’s unconscious body on a deserted beach and, upon investigating, are attacked by the Gill Man.

Police swarm the beach and fire on the Creature.

The Coast Guard swarms to the beach, where a team soon spies Helen’s body at a different location. The creature, which cannot leave the water for long, tries to protect his love, but she soon revives and Clete rescues her. As soon as she is safely in Clete’s arms, he shouts at the creature to stop. After the creature obeys, the police open fire on the Gill Man, who crawls back into the water and, wounded, sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

Is the Creature really dead?

But is he really dead? The film would be enough of a financial success, earning $1.1 million at the box office, that there would be a third and final film, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). And let’s not forget that the Creature From the Black Lagoon and its sequels would be the basis for Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017).

If the story in Revenge of the Creature sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Not only does it have a lot in common with its predecessors, but it seems to continue a tradition in which monsters are always attracted to the prettiest girl in the cast. You see it repeated as Frankenstein’s monster goes after Mae Clark or King Kong kidnaps Fay Wray, so it should come as no surprise that the Gill Man would be after Lori Nelson.

Nelson, a former model, was signed to a seven-year contract at Universal after a studio scout spotted her in a little theater production. She made her first appearance on screen in Bend of the River (1952). She would appear in a couple of Ma and Pa Kettle films for the studio as well as in the low-budget sci-fi film Day the World Ended (1955), directed by Roger Corman.

While her character is more than eye candy, it seems a little hard to believe news reporters would be able to pick out a grad student out of a crowd. It might have made more sense if she was a PhD and had published a book or something, rather than only a college graduate. But that probably says more about how women were viewed at the time than anything else.

John Agar got his start in acting because of his relationship and marriage to Shirley Temple, the child actress who was making the transition to adult star. Following their marriage, David O. Selznick, Temple’s boss, hired him for $150 a week, including acting lessons. Agar first appeared on screen opposite Temple in Fort Apache (1948), a John Ford western for RKO starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda.

In 1954, he signed a seven-year contract with Universal, with Revenge of the Creature as the first film under that contract. Agar was never going to win any awards for his acting, but he seems right for this type of film made when it was. He emits just enough charm to distinguish his character but he does not overshadow the main attraction, which is the Gill Man, played underwater by Ricou Browning and on land by Tom Hennesy.

Sometimes with sequels, there is a case of diminishing returns, not just at the box-office but also with the viewers’ experience. That is sort of the case here as well. Revenge doesn’t really break any new ground and, in fact, tells what is a familiar story, perhaps now too familiar. Even when it was released, the film was considered by the critic for The New York Times to be an “entirely routine little offering”. The passing of time has not changed that opinion.

No comments:

Post a Comment