CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

(1954)
With Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva, Whit Bissell, and Ricou Browning and Ben Chapman as "The Gillman"
Directed by Jack Arnold
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

"You've got something on your face..."    Is this the greatest movie title ever?  Maybe not, but it is one of the most economically effective.  The three main words evoke everything movie fans need to know before deciding whether to plunk down their hard-earned cash.  Compare this title to, say, THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS, which says nothing but "chick flick", or THE PIANO TUNER OF EARTHQUAKES, which says nothing but "pretentious Oscar bait", and the beautiful precision this movie's title becomes clear.

     A classic B-movie, probably more influential than we even realize, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON combines the burgeoning sci-fi genre of the decade with the short-lived 3-D craze and the "I'm just a misunderstood monster" theme of the Universal horror films of the 1930s and '40s.  The result: a sometimes corny but entertaining little film that has enough thrills and charms to overcome the lack of quality acting evident throughout.  Though a low-budget affair, the film nevertheless features some excellent underwater photography, good editing and directing, an above-average set and fairly convincing process work.

     Above all, CREATURE has "The Gillman", a brand new monster worthy of the Universal heritage.  Although essentially a man in a rubber suit, that rubber suit is of such a memorable design that the Creature himself instantly entered into the pantheon of classic movie monsters, to be welcomed heartily by all his unholy brothers and sisters.  In his movie debut, Gill displays more intelligence and true emotion than the rest of the cast combined, and, although it probably wasn't planned this way, he is the film's tragic hero.  All he wants to do is swim around in his lagoon and eat fish, but those pesky humans are always getting in the way!

"Hang on a second, babe, I got a call..."      Those pesky humans are played by as uninspired a cast as has ever populated a 1950s movie.  If the innovation of the decade in movies was Method Acting, this bunch pioneered in the lesser field of Method Posing, standing in one position or another like statues while spouting their scientific dialogue.  The worst offender is Julie Adams, who is called upon to do no acting whatsoever, so long as she remains pretty and shows off her hot bod in a swimsuit.  (By cosmic fate, Jessica Alba shares the same initials!)  Hence, it becomes pleasurable, rather than frightful, to watch The Gillman pick them off one by one as they splash around his lagoon making nuisances of themselves.  The only memorable cast member is the pipe-smoking, fair-haired Whit Bissell, who, although no better than the rest of them here, is still always a welcome presence for b-movie fans.  He was to sci-fi of the fifties what Lionel Atwill was to the Universal monster films of the forties.

     CREATURE was originally released in 3D, but that version is apparently no longer available.  No matter.  Jack Arnold had the foresight to direct in a manner in which 3-D would just be one element of the film, not the film's entire reason to exist.  Even without the 3D effects, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON is splashingly good fun.  (Okay, sorry about that one.) 3 - JB

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