The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Liz: The Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of my favorite 1950s sci-fi/horror movies. It is a “must see” along with The War of the World, Forbidden Planet, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. When I say that it’s one of my favorites, it’s not because it’s a movie I want to watch over and over again, but because it’s unique (in my movie watching experience anyway), and memorable, particularly for someone who first saw it as a little girl. With a dangerous creature that comes back to life, a handsome hero and a lovely heroine, and the exotic setting in the Amazon, I couldn’t help but like it as a child. Even the title had a certain something to it. To this day, I think of the movie when I hear the word lagoon, and when I’m swimming, I think of Julie Adams swimming in the muddy Amazon—doing graceful backstrokes to be precise—and of course, the creature who might be lurking beneath her, its long claws reaching out for her.

When I watched the movie as an adult, I still enjoyed it and found it somewhat suspenseful. I was surprised to realize that Richard Carlson was the handsome hero. I’ve always associated with him with the quiet, absent-minded doctor in the Abbot and Costello movie Hold that Ghost.  I’ve seen him in several movies in the last few years, and I enjoyed his performances, but it still feels a little strange to see him as the bold, muscular hero instead of the mild-mannered, nearsighted, professor type.

Fun fact I found on IMDB: The creature (Gill Man) appeared in the “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights” episode of The Munsters as Uncle Gilbert. (I remember seeing this episode now. It was cute. He wore a trench coat and hat.)

There is a sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, called The Revenge of the Creature, in which the creature is captured and taken to an aquarium in Florida, but I didn’t care for it. As often happens, the first was better.

Jaz: Picture this: You’re a famed bilingual ichthyologist meandering through Brazil when you come across a human-like fossilized webbed hand sticking out of a rock. This could be a “missing link”! What do you do? Do you:

  1. Rush back to the Biological Institute and return with research equipment and a team of learned scientists
  2. Take photos, document, section off the area and report your findings to a scientific organization
  3. Yank the thing out of the rock with your bare hands and leave unarmed natives as guards in the Amazon jungle

If you guessed c, you’re right! This is correct scientific procedure, people.

Little does Dr. Maia, the famed ichthyologist, know that his discovery will lead to numerous deaths (First four are natives — natives are expendable), and also ruin a perfectly good swimsuit.

Blissfully ignorant, Dr. Maia eventually returns with his former student, Dr. David Reed, and Dr. Reed’s assistant/wannabe fiancé, Kay. Being a beautiful woman, she has no need of a degree, only a little field training and a pair of short shorts. Also, he brings the highly egotistical and mercenary lab head Mark Williams.

There’s some kind of vague love triangle insinuated here: Kay leads on Mark because she feels in his debt for her training, but really wants to marry David because they’ve been together for six whole months. Mark is possessive and David is annoyed. Kay just wants to show off her nice backstroke in her white swimsuit.

The creature is the only one who truly appreciates Kay’s backstroke and kidnaps her. This of course suggests that a female version of the creature exists, but we never see a second creature, which begs the question: is this the last of the species? Or can it reproduce asexually?

Anyway. The creature is smitten and traps them in the lagoon, creating panic on board. How are they to escape?

This film left me with a few unanswered questions as well, such as: how did the actor in the creature suit manage to swim in that thing? Why would anyone swim into creature-infested Amazonian waters in the dead of night wearing only swim trunks? And, where can I buy that white swimsuit?

The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a genuine horror classic. It’s cheesy, suspenseful and quite artistic, especially in the underwater scenes. Along with The Blob, it’s the perfect Halloween film.

And yes, I did draw that header image.

The Phantom of the Opera

Welcome to Our Mutual Friends Blog! This month we’re talking about “scary” or ghoulish classic movies or books. We’re starting with The Phantom of the Opera.

Jaz on The Phantom of the Opera

I wish Hitchcock had directed a film version of The Phantom of the Opera. As it is, I contented myself with the 1943 movie starring Claude Rains (The Phantom), Susanna Foster (Christine Dubois) and Nelson Eddy (Anatole Garron). While Claude Rains was a talented actor, this role didn’t quite mesh with his onscreen personality. I see him as the repentant accomplice in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, not a sinister, masked musical fanatic. But I did like the effect of the ominous caped shadow fleeing through dark halls.

The film is based on a novel of the same name, first published as a serial in 1909 –according to the all-knowing google – by French author Gaston Leroux. I haven’t read it, but informed sources (i.e., my sister) clearly indicate the film is to the novel like a mini marshmallow is to a 24-oz steak: light and sweet versus dark and intense.

Susanna Foster and Nelson Eddy show off their gorgeous voices, and that helps make up for the film’s lackluster attempt at horror. There’s one scene in particular that I liked: when Christine stood in diva Biancarolli’s place and sang a succession of impossibly high notes as clear as glass. What a moment of triumph!

Clear glass aside, I found it a bit difficult to empathize with Foster’s character. She seems shallow and affected. Her joyful reaction to the news that Biancarolli had been taken ill, as well as her indifference to the rival suitors, makes her appear callous.

This film was not without humor – albeit unintentional. In one scene Anatole Garron breaks a deadly fall by gripping onto a stage curtain for dear life. After hanging there for a good while, he manages to catch hold of a rope and slide down to safety. The entire time, three workers on the stage below idly glance up at his antics. And the sight of the phantom working away at the chandelier’s giant chain with a tiny hand saw was rather humorous. I kept expecting him to turn away in frustration.

I didn’t have time to view the 1925 silent film, but it looks creepy. I might watch it this weekend. Expect an update soon …

Liz on The Phantom of the Opera

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched the Andrew Lloyd Webber The Phantom of the Opera and or listened to the soundtrack. However, the plot of the movie has several major holes, like how did a gypsy boy grow up in the caverns of an opera house to become a well-educated “genius” (according to Meg’s mother) living in posh surroundings? The 1943 movie of the same name has a much better plot and some pretty good music, though of a more classical bent that Webber’s score. I haven’t read the French book on which all of these are based, so I can’t compare them to it.

The 1943 movie: Claude Rains does an excellent job as the poor, soft-spoken violinist who morphs into the cruel phantom of the opera. In love with one of the chorus girl, Rains secretly pays for her to have voice lessons until he tragically loses his job due to arthritis or some joint trouble that hinders his playing. Having spent his savings on paying for Christine’s voice lessons, he tries to sell a symphony he’s written. The arrogant music publisher refuses to talk to him. Rains hears someone playing his composition, mistakenly believes the publisher has stolen his music, and goes mad and strangles the publisher. The man and his assistant were doing acid etching when Rains arrived, and the assistant throws the tray of acid into Rains’s face, causing the phantom’s famous deformity. Rains seeks shelter under the opera house and turns his love for Christine into a passion to make her prima donna at whatever cost—a much better origin for the phantom of the opera than that given in the Webber play in my opinion.

Christine has two suitors in the movie, a tenor played by Nelson Eddy and a policeman. Both are likeable and their attempts to beat the other out and win Christine’s affection are humorous.

The end of the movie was a bit surprising, but I won’t give that away. I’ll simply recommend you watch the movie to find out what happens.

September Swashbucklers: The Princess Bride

Liz:

10 Reasons to Like The Princess Bride

  1. “As you wish” (especially when said as tumbling down hill)
  2. “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
  3. “Inconceivable.”
  4. “Rodents of unusual size? I don’t think they exist.”
  5. “He’s only mostly dead.”
  6. “True love”
  7. Swordplay left handed and then right handed.
  8. Both drinks had poison
  9. Names like Buttercup, the Dread Pirate Roberts, Miracle Max, and Prince Humperdinck
  10. A grandfather reading to his sick grandson, but skipping the kissing scenes at grandson’s request

Aside from being remarkably quotable, The Princess Bride has likeable and memorable characters (like Fezzik) and just memorable characters (like Vizzini), a great swashbuckling scene, a sweet giant, a fairy tale feel, and a touching frame story. To my surprise, it’s actually based on the 1973 fantasy novel of the same name by William Goldman, who wrote the screenplay for the movie. I have the book, though I’ve never read it. The book’s cover announces it is an abridgement (though its size belies that) of a work by S. Morgenstern. Don’t be fooled: there’s no such unabridged book or such an author. That’s just part of the fun.

What do you like about The Princess Bride? Have you read the book?

Jaz: Last month a friend confessed that she’d never seen The Princess Bride. “Inconceivable!” I thought. Hasn’t everyone watched this film?

Sadly, no. And for those who haven’t, I have this to say: you must watch this film at least once in your life. Add it to your bucket list (or whatever else you call it). For my part, I’ve seen it one too many times – and still the “game of wits” scene never fails to make me laugh. The Princess Bride has everything one could wish for in a fairy-tale swashbuckler: corny, dominating theme music, quirky loveable characters, cheesy special effects, over-the-top acting, improbable situations, and of course, plenty of swashbuckling swashbucklingness.

As I recall, the film was – overall – pretty faithful to the book. It omitted Prince Humperdinck’s former matrimonial interest, a woman obsessed with hats, and tweaked the ending to make it more palatable to American audiences (in the book the story ends with Inigo’s life in peril as they are pursued by Humperdinck’s men). Sorry, spoiler. You know me.

Another thing I like about The Princess Bride is how it revolves around a grandfather, the narrator, reading aloud to his young grandson who’s in bed with a cold. Every so often the boy interrupts when the story gets mushy: “They’re kissing again. Do we have to read the kissing parts?” and, “Is this a kissing book?”

Well, is it a kissing film? It’s a little bit of that, and so much more. But you’ll have to find out the rest for yourself.