Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Giant Claw

I used to think that the "best worst movie" ever was "The Tingler" from 1959. Starring Vincent Price as a doctor studying the psychological aspects of fear, what started as a rather interesting psychological thriller with some witty dialogue evolved into a bizzare monster movie; the tingler was, if I recall correctly, some sort of creation born in the spine when someone developed fear. Price's character somehow removed the tingler from someone's spine, and thus it was released to reek havoc. To its defense, "The Tingler" had some descent moments. There was the mentioned humorous dialogue, Vincent Prince, some clever and presumably expensive gimmicks (like placing electrical buzzers under the seats when the tingler escapes and planting "nurse" actresses to "faint" during some scenes). "The Giant Claw" from 1957 allows "The Tingler" to seem epically classic in retrospective comparison.

The opening of "The Giant Claw" involves some wonderful exposition from a narrator explaining to an audience about the "raed-ah" ("raed-ah" and other ridiculous jargon try to pass as authentic and authoritative science, even by 1950s monster movie standards). In the skies there is a UFO (that's "unidentified flying object," the narrator tells us, since we probably don't know). Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday play two officials (Morrow a radar expert and Corday a scientist) trying to explain to government officials the existence of some sort of flying monster from an antimatter galaxy--oh, who the hell cares?

This flying monster has the wings of a turkey, the neck of a brontosaurus, the face of the late ugliest dog on the planet, the hair of crazy Travis Bickle and the likability of Snooki. Even that description does not quite do it justice, so plenty of pictures are provided. Of course, missiles and even nuclear bombs cannot stop the monster, and it can't even be picked up on the rad-ah.

Director Fred Spears was no Ed Wood. There seems to have been no evidence of passion or dedication in the making of this movie. Spear's movie shifts from one annoyance to another. There's an actor with an accent changing from stereotypical French to stereotypical Mexican. This character is petrified, and the local sheriff explains to the two main characters that they must rush to make it to the plane, though he does have enough time to explain the legend of this creature--that the villagers believe that someone dies after seeing the monster. Of course, the French-Mexican has just seen the bird, but why should that stop story time?

A Vincent Price-like character (Edgar Barrier) is provided to throw out some jargon about antimatter. The Price character has maybe, at best, only seen some pictures and descriptions of the bird (and a feather, but "we don't know if it's a feather," he says), but he can issue some hypothesis, that the bird is extra-terrestrial, coming from a galaxy billions of lightyears from our own. "No other explanation is possible." There's other wonderful dialogue. A pilot, before he and the others are killed by the bird, jokes that he will "never call [his] mother-in-law an old crow again!" Someone else says, "I don't care if that bird came from outer space or New Jersey!" (Is there a difference? Please forgive me for such a predictable joke.)

Like in "Jaws" two decades later, there is a wait to see the monster, but the reward is almost equal, for obviously different reasons. In flight the bird is often out of focus (deliberate, you think?). When it is in focus, the breathing nostrils are clearly visible. Murrow claimed that the actors did not know what the monster would look like until they had to painfully sit through the screening and endure the snickering of the audience; he walked home drunk that night. I imagine that maybe alone in a dark studio at night; then, and only then, and just maybe, would this monster be a bit alarming. Instead, it might be one of the silliest things the movies have ever known. What inspires such a movie? Wouldn't it be great to read some long-forgotten documents about the making of this film? With all the things Obama has to deal with, maybe he'll also have to save us from a giant buzzard, and the media will criticize him for not being angry enough at the bird.

Bruce the Shark from "Jaws" recently turned up in a junk yard. Perhaps the Giant Claw will as well.


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