Tag Archives: William Alland

The Deadly Mantis (1957, Nathan Juran)

The best directed parts of The Deadly Mantis are when the film is propaganda for the military. Director Juran–and editor Chester W. Schaeffer–show more enthusiasm when putting together those brief expository segments than they do anywhere else in the film. Given it’s about a giant praying mantis thawed out from the Artic who eats people, one might think the enthusiasm belongs somewhere else. But, no. Air defense, Red Scare and maybe a little paleontological awe.

Juran certainly isn’t enthusiastic about his actors. Deadly Mantis’s stock footage gets better treatment than its actors. Lead Craig Stevens is pretty lame, so there’s nothing to be done with him. He spouts exposition or hears exposition or tells love interest Alix Talton to settle down and let the men handle things. It’s unfortunate, because Talton’s arc is then going from being self-sufficient and professionally respected to being an Air Force colonel’s squeeze. I suppose it’s affably handled. Steven’s isn’t offensively lame, he just can’t hack it.

William Hopper–as Talton’s friend and the super-cool scientist who figures things out but was also in the service so he’s not a nerd, you know (he doesn’t wear glasses)–is bored but he’s kind of great. Perpetually laid back. Like his paleontologist drinks some herbal tea and it chills him out. Or maybe it’s having spent his life named Nedrick. Regardless of Hopper’s acting motivation, Deadly Mantis is far more tolerable when he’s around. When it’s him and Talton bantering about science and government secrets? It’s probably at its best. Juran doesn’t direct the scenes well, but the museum set is one of the film’s more detailed.

The set design and the special effects are another problem. There’s no enthusiasm to the special effects. The sets at least have to match the stock footage and the set decorators Oliver Emert and Russell A. Gausman work at it. Deadly Mantis might be “stock footage theatre” but it’s well-integrated stock footage theatre. Except with the special effects. Mantis has lots of conceptual problems as a giant monster movie–like the giant monster doesn’t destroy anything and it attacks single people and there’s no eating people scenes. It’s a metaphor about trusting the military to protect us against the Russians first, giant monster movie second. It’s Juran’s fault. If he were doing better work, he’d pull up the rest of the production. None of its problems are insurmountable. Not even Berkeley’s script.

Solid black and white photography from Ellis W. Carter. It’s never breathtaking or even close to it, but it’s affable. It has more personality than the direction.

Really amusing supporting performances from Donald Randolph and Florenz Ames. And Pat Conway’s nice to have around, especially during Stevens’s expository scenes.

Maybe the nicest thing I can say–other than Talton and Hopper deserved a better film–is The Deadly Mantis never disappoints. It’s got a rocky, unpromising open and it never even implies it might significantly improve.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Nathan Juran; screenplay by Martin Berkeley, based on a story by William Alland; director of photography, Ellis W. Carter; edited by Chester W. Schaeffer; produced by Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Craig Stevens (Col. Joe Parkman), William Hopper (Dr. Nedrick Jackson), Alix Talton (Marge Blaine), Donald Randolph (Maj. Gen. Mark Ford), Pat Conway (Sgt. Pete Allen) and Florenz Ames (Prof. Anton Gunther).


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The Creature Walks Among Us (1956, John Sherwood)

The Creature Walks Among Us is a surprising disappointment. It never has potential exactly, but it does have something. Arthur A. Ross’s script is rather good for this production. Right off, Ross has decent science dialogue. His character interactions are good. And then it’s clear the cast is fairly solid too. I mean, sure, they’re B-Movie, but they’re able to handle everything. Because Creature Walks Among Us is a mix of a fifties sci-fi movie (they’re turning the Creature into a man with modern science) and fifties romantic melodrama. And cheesecake. And beefcake.

Unfortunately, it’s terribly directed. It’s beautifully photographed–while Maury Gertsman does have to light a lot of mediocre projection sequences, he does get to do some great day for night. But Sherwood’s a bad director. He doesn’t get Ross’s script, but doesn’t have anything he wants to spend more time on. The film has multiple instances of long establishing shots wasting runtime just so there doesn’t have to be more character work.

And the character work is what’s so cool about Creature Walks Among Us. It’s about a privately funded group of scientists working to capture the Gillman for study. Jeff Morrow’s the rich scientist who’s also a mad scientist. Walks Among Us is just too realistic and scientifically minded to let him do anything crazy to the Gillman. Instead, Morrow descends into a jealous rage. It’s a somewhat thinly written jealous rage, but Morrow’s good at it and so are the other actors responding to him.

Leigh Snowden, the aforementioned cheesecake, is Morrow’s wife. She’s got to deal with a crappy husband, a giant monster and unwelcome advances. Again, not the best part–occasionally she just says “well, off I go to swim,” so Sherwood can linger on her in a bathing suit. I suppose objectifying Snowden is Sherwood’s one of only interests during the film. It’s too much, but it’s also a waste of time because Snowden’s good. If Ross weren’t actually so competent at filling time, she’d be the best part of the movie. She probably gives its best performance; Ross just craps on her role for the finale. Hence Walks Among Us being a disappointment. It’s a reductive end.

The best performance in the film is beefcake geneticist Rex Reason. The script moons over this character and Reason does a fantastic job delivering all the scientific and philosophic monologues. Even though Morrow’s the lead scientist, Reason gets the best expository dialogue. Science shouldn’t be crazed mad man science, but Reason’s straightedge but soulful science. Sherwood almost seems to get Reason’s importance and at least stays out of the way.

As for the Creature walking among them, the film only partially delivers. While Sherwood does better with the Creature action than anything else in the film, it’s way too late and not important enough to the picture. Once the Creature proves not to be as much of a danger to the people as themselves, the monster aspect becomes irrelevant.

The Creature Walks Among Us has a lot of great stuff about it. Sherwood doesn’t bring any of that great stuff and he actively suffocates some of it. The cast and Ross deserve a lot better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Sherwood; written by Arthur A. Ross; director of photography, Maury Gertsman; edited by Edward Curtiss; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jeff Morrow (Dr. William Barton), Rex Reason (Dr. Thomas Morgan), Leigh Snowden (Marcia Barton), Gregg Palmer (Jed Grant), Maurice Manson (Dr. Borg), James Rawley (Dr. Johnson) and David McMahon (Capt. Stanley).


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Revenge of the Creature (1955, Jack Arnold)

Revenge of the Creature has three parts. The first part involves Nestor Paiva (the only cast member from the original to return) and John Bromfield as the guy who’s going to capture the Creature, the second part involves Bromfield, John Agar and Lori Nelson all studying the Creature in captivity, the third part has Agar and Nelson hunting the escaped Creature.

Oh, wait, no. The third part has Agar and Nelson completely ignoring the escaped Creature. And it makes sense. They were visiting scientists, they had no real investment in the Creature being a tourist attraction. Revenge of the Creature is a totally fine idea terribly executed. Maybe if Agar and Nelson had any chemistry whatsoever. Instead, their scenes are more interesting for the bland 1950s sexism. Nelson’s a scientist too, but she’s got to make a choice, one Agar wouldn’t be able to make. It’s not fair.

Maybe they’d have more chemistry with better small talk. But Martin Berkeley’s script wants to be taken seriously as science-y, which is a big mistake. The middle section of the film, which has the Creature in captivity, is nothing but Agar and Nelson bothering it. The underwater sequences are technically great–and Ricou Browning does a fabulous, uncredited job as the Creature in Revenge–but they’re boring. They’re boring from the start of the movie; Arnold immediately establishes there’s not going to be much artistry in the underwater thrills. There will be monster action, but not artistic monster action.

Strangely, the film coasts through pretty steadily until the Creature’s escape. Arnold never impresses too much–Revenge seems very hurried–but he does fine. Paiva’s awesome in the opening, Agar’s sturdy enough except when he’s got to romance Nelson, who’s likable without being particularly good (or bad). The middle section of the film promises something exciting. There’s nothing exciting in the third part. It feels like a different film, actually. Agar isn’t sturdy in this part, regardless of who he’s acting with. He’s barely conscious.

Revenge of the Creature should be better. But it’s got some solid fifties monster sequences thanks to Browning, Arnold and photographer Scotty Welbourne.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Martin Berkeley, based on a story by William Alland; director of photography, Scotty Melbourne; edited by Paul Weatherwax; produced by Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Agar (Prof. Clete Ferguson), Lori Nelson (Helen Dobson), John Bromfield (Joe Hayes), Grandon Rhodes (Jackson Foster), Dave Willock (Lou Gibson) and Nestor Paiva (Lucas).


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