blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Monster from Green Hell (1957, Kenneth G. Crane)

Monster from Green Hell is impressively boring. Despite running a theoretically spry seventy minutes, the film Hell’s a slog from minute five.

The film opens with unlikely scientist Jim Davis and sidekick Robert Griffin sending rockets into space to test cosmic rays on animals. Their launch site? A very recognizable, very wanting composite still of Monument Valley. One of their test rockets goes off course and crashes in Central Africa. Despite Davis thinking they should worry about that sort of thing, no one cares; not Griffin, not the government, just blandly heroic Davis.

Now, if Hell weren’t just endless long shots of people walking, and the script was talkier, it might achieve some camp value thanks to Davis. He’s profoundly miscast but entirely straight-faced about it. Griffin at least seems like he could be a scientist sidekick. Davis deserves at least a prize for delivering some of the science exposition; incredibly, he’s able to clomp through it, always with his Midwest cowboy drawl.

Unfortunately, Hell isn’t about the talking; it’s about the walking.

The on-location Africa footage is recycled from 1939’s Stanley and Livingstone, which dramatizes events from 1871. In other words, Hell isn’t just colonial; it’s disturbingly colonial. For example, when Davis and Griffin are trekking across Africa, Arab guide Eduardo Ciannelli carries a whip to keep the porters in line. It’s a lot. Especially since the movie’s already established its token credited Black guy, Joel Fluellen, and he’s more modernly presented.

The movie’s first half is Davis and Griffin’s trip across Africa to Fluellen’s village. The audience already knows they’ve run into a monster from the rocket crash; it hangs out in Green Hell and is stampeding the animals, causing turmoil all over the continent. The new apex predator has arrived, and it’s a giant wasp. Or at least it’s head and pincers because they couldn’t afford much more. They certainly couldn’t afford for it to fly.

The special effects on the giant wasp are not great. They’re gross, which helps in effectiveness, I suppose, but Monster’s wasp is a lousy giant fifties sci-fi monster, as it turns out. Primarily because of budget, partially because of writing, nothing is interesting about it. Could a good director have made it work? Probably. Director Crane has a grand total of one decent shot in the entire picture.

Also in Fluellen’s village are Christian missionary doctor Vladimir Sokoloff and his daughter, Barbara Turner. Turner looks miserable the entire time like she agreed to do the movie but didn’t think it’d ever get made. Sokoloff’s terrible and not in a fun way. When they’re around, Monster slogs even more than usual.

The only thing the film’s got going for it is Ray Flin’s surprisingly good black and white photography. In addition, there’s some stop motion animation, which is more creative than the composites the film usually uses for the menacing Monster. But it’s not, you know, good stop motion.

Monster from Green Hell is a bewildering, boring B. However, it’s strange enough you can imagine the behind-the-scenes story is a far better one than the finished product.

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