****(out of 4 stars)
For years I've deliberated on what universal monster film was my favorite. I'm a big fan of Frankenstein and I adore The Wolf Man. However, I never really knew which one was my favorite. That question kind of bothered me for some unknown reason. I'm not sure why, but it did.
Some years ago, in the fall of 2003, I attended a horror convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. It was called Monster Mania and it's still alive and well to this day. At that years Monster Mania, I had the great opportunity of meeting the lovely Julie Adams, along with the Gill-Man himself, Ben Chapman. Not only was it an honor to meet these two individuals, but it also inspired me to check out Creature from the Black Lagoon. So, later that same day I bought the film from one of the vendors.
The film's title has always tantalized me a bit. Creature from the Black Lagoon does catch the eye and it did with me right away. This was not the original title though. Through many of the phases of writing it donned different titles. The original treatment for the story was penned by Maurice Zimm and was called The Sea Monster. After some rewrites, screenwriters, Harry Essex and Arthur Ross finally completed a shooting script. This time with the title simply called, Black Lagoon. Soon thereafter, director, Jack Arnold took on the project and thus you have the birth of one of the best creature flicks of all times. Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The inception of this film all came from a dinner party at the home of Orson Welles. There, a South American cinematographer named, Gabriel Figueroa told stories about myths that half fish, half men races inhabited the Amazon River. From that point on, Creature from the Black Lagoon would turn into a continuing labor of interest for a few screenwriters and a competent director.
The film is about a group of scientist that load up on a boat called, The Rita. Among the group are a young scientist named, Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson) and his lovely fiance, Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams). They're in search of a creature from the Devonian age. Fossils were found and they believe that the creature must exist somewhere in the Amazon. The fossils resemble that of a sea-like creature with webbed hands. With them, is Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning) who is funding the expedition. Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) and yet another scientist, Dr. Thompson (Whit Bissell). The boat's captain is the eccentric Lucas (Nestor Paiva) who seems to know the most about the Amazon.
The crew lands on a camp and discover that an entire research team has been killed. This is just the first of many deaths at the hands of The Creature.
The films ending is typical Hollywood fare for that period. Although it's open for possibly a sequel, which two did emerge later. Our young and beautiful Kay is abducted and taken to an underwater lair. She's rescued by her man when the creature is shot repeatedly. The creature disappears below the surface, assumed to be dead, but we know better.
If you don't already know, Julia Adams steals the show for me. Her beauty and competent acting wins me over. She's compassionate; and adoring. Yet, she's a bit adventurous as well. At one point in the film she decides to take a swim in the river. From underwater we see the creature stalking her. These are some of the best underwater sequences I've seen. I wonder if Mr. Spielberg watched this before he made Jaws. There's quite the resemblance with the way Jaws stalks that very first victim taking a night swim in the opening scene of the film.
The rest of the cast equally play a major role. However, I feel that there are just too many to keep track off. This is a big cast to say the least. Dr. Mark Williams is more interested in killing the creature as opposed to Dr. David Reed, who holds the opinion that keeping it alive will better the chances of them learning about it. Throughout the film, both men engage in somewhat of an ego clash.
The film was originally in 3-D. This ploy was in hopes of regaining that standard of film-going experience. Indeed, Hollywood had garnished some success with other films in the 3-D format. So, why not try it out for this type of film?
Two men played the Gill-Man. Ben Chapman wore the suit in the land scenes and was said to have over heated in it a few times. Ricou Browning worked the underwater shots. There are stories that the two men had some animosity as to who should have been credited more. One story suggests that Ricou actually signed a photo that Ben Chapman had been in while wearing the creature suit. Chapman supposidly was mad as hell! Nonetheless, both men did their jobs adequately.
The Creature's design was more of a collaborative effort. Disney animator, Millicent Patrick come up with the conception even though Bud Westmore has often been credited as coming up with the design. Jack Kevan created the body suit and Chris Mueller Jr. sculpted the head.
This film is genius. I've been watching it non-stop for the past week. Each time the viewing is better and better. The experience is unmatched. There has been exhaustive discussion on a remake. For some reason that's never came to be... yet. I won't comment more about the remake until concrete news becomes evident. I will admit though, that I'm not particularly excited about it. Yes, I enjoyed what they did with the Wolf Man in 2010, but can they go back to back? If it's not plagued with CGI,then I'll remain slightly hopeful. If they do remake it, which they probably will, I want to see practical effects. You know, like another rubber suit. The art of special make up fx needs to stay alive.
Starring: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams
Written by: Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross
Directed by: Jack Arnold