A couple months ago, I read The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara. Milicent Patrick was the woman who designed the Creature (or Gill-man) from Creature from the Black Lagoon (the only woman, in fact, to design a major movie monster), and she had a pretty fascinating life. After reading the book, I decided I wanted to watch the film, which I’d never seen before.
After watching the film, I thought, You know? I should watch more classic Universal monster movies. That could be fun.
And so, I’ve decided to select twelve films made between 1920 and 1959 (including Creature) and review them here as part of my MEGA REWATCH series. This is a frankly misleading name because, unlike the Mission: Impossible franchise (which I watched and reviewed last year) I’ve probably only seen a quarter of these movies–but to hell with it. I’ll be reviewing these films whenever I feel like it and paying absolutely no attention to chronological order; thus will we begin with Creature from the Black Lagoon, which premiered in 1954 and is, naturally, one of the youngest films we’ll be discussing.
With that, Happy 2020, everyone! Let this be the Year of Monsters! (The fictional kind, if you please–although ETA, it took roughly two days before that vague New Year optimistic glow wore off completely. The real monsters are already here, and I’m terrified about how many more people will die before we can vote someone else into office, if we vote someone else into office. Apologies, friends: positivity is difficult today.)
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Director: Jack Arnold
First Watch or Re-Watch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
This wasn’t bad. Occasionally slow–some of those underwater scenes feel a bit stretched out–but enjoyable enough and somehow more pro-science than I was expecting. Like at the beginning of the movie, our hero, David, talks passionately about marine biology and evolution, and IDK, I just wasn’t expecting a whole speech about the importance of scientific study for mankind’s future survival in the stars. Also, this isn’t a straight-up monster hunt; with the exception of That One Asshole, our heroes mostly just want to study shit and, you know, survive. Even when it becomes apparent that, like, Here There Be Monsters, nearly everyone’s on board with the whole “let the Creature live in its natural habitat while we GTFO” plan. Obviously, this doesn’t work, but still, I like that violence isn’t Plan A. In many ways, Creature from the Black Lagoon feels like a precursor to other idealistic SF universes, like Star Trek, which I thought was pretty cool.
Another point in its favor: Kay, the One Girl, is actually a scientist, too, not just David’s wife. I mean, don’t get me wrong: we don’t get to see her do much, and she’s still very much a damsel, but I did appreciate that she actually, like, knows stuff. One of the other scientists onboard even points out how her research has been extremely valuable, and that she doesn’t owe That One Asshole (her first boss) anything.
Also, happily, the South Americans in this movie appear to actually be portrayed by people of color, rather than white people in offensive and terrible makeup! That’s obviously not unheard of in the 1950’s, but I don’t know that I’d call it commonplace, either. I like, too, that not all the doctors are white. Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno), for instance, is actually David’s former teacher, which is pretty cool. That technically makes him a mentor figure but, shockingly, Dr. Maia doesn’t die. I’ll admit, I was getting a little concerned for a while that every person of color would die–they do make up the majority of victims, so it’s not all puppies and rainbows, folks–but thankfully, that ended up not being the case. I’m specifically delighted to see that Lucas, the ship’s captain, survives. The part where he reminds That One Asshole who’s actually in charge around here? Yeah, I’m here for it.
A few side notes:
A. If anyone ever decides to remake this movie today, Mark–AKA, That One Asshole–could definitely be played by Jorah Mormont.
B. Kay was played by actress Julie Adams, which amuses me immensely because I know a Julie Adams. We play Scrabble together online! (She kicks my ass routinely.)
C. The scene where the Creature stealth-reaches for Kay’s leg while she swims in the lagoon is genuinely creepy, assuming you can forgive the Creature’s suit, which looks pretty silly, of course, because it’s been nearly 70 years since this movie was made. (If you can’t forgive it, you probably . . . just shouldn’t watch the movie. You kinda have to embrace that shit with old sci-fi; otherwise, you won’t have nearly as much fun.)
D. I never got around to watching The Shape of Water, but I’m now reading that Creature from the Black Lagoon was an initial inspiration. Apparently, as a young boy, Guillermo del Toro thought that whole “reaching for the bare leg” scene was, uh, romantic. Our notions of what constitute romance at six are admittedly questionable, but if del Toro still views it as such . . . yeah, gotta say, that makes me a little less interested in watching the only monster fucker story the Academy has ever awarded with Best Picture.
The Current Ranking
1. Creature from the Black Lagoon