Archive for the ‘1950s’ Tag

The Giant Claw (1957)   2 comments


Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow), pilot, electrical engineer, and bon vivant, pilots a radar research plane full of radar researchers. During the flight, Mitch reports seeing a UFO.

What the…?

The Air Force scrambles its fighters, but no one else sees anything unusual and radar comes up empty. Everyone makes fun of Mitch and calls him names and plays keep away with his hat until planes begin to go missing. Now even the authorities begin to take notice.

Did you see something?

Finally everyone from General Considine (Morris Ankrum) to weather mathematician (?) Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday) believes Mitch and needs his help desperately. Instead of telling them all to pound sand, Mitch agrees to investigate. On a flight to return to the scene of the bird, Mitch and Sally discover a pattern and each other. After some sexual innuendo disguised as baseball metaphors, Mitch draws his spiral on Sally’s map and they’re engaged…or something.

gc spiral
Grand slam!

At this point we meet the required novelty character, Pierre. Pierre has an outrageous ‘Savoir Faire is everywhere’ accent and makes apple jack in his quaint cabin. He sees La Cocoña, a mythical Canadian creature with the face of a wolf, the body of a woman, and wings, and promptly goes into shock. Pierre kindly invited them into his home and sheltered them so after he sees the French Canadian Bigfoot, Mitch and Sally desert him because they’re sweet. Anyway, the creature described as big as a battleship…a lot, continues its ‘fantastic orgy of destruction’ (thanks, movie) destroying planes and eating the passengers dramatically with cool crunching sounds.

“B-7.” “Ahhhhhhhhh!”

We get to see Battleship Bird plucking victims from a Miami swimming pool and a London street. He’s a quick flier. We even see the goofy bird crushing the UN building in New York and hanging out atop the Washington Monument.

Where’s Angelina?

The Deadly Mantis, released the same year, visited the monument as well. I wonder if they got some kind of group rate. So the Army shoots at the bird and the Air Force strafes it to no avail until they get a scientist. Dr. Norman (Edgar Barrier) looks like a guy Ed Wood would know and says things like “You’re both right and wrong.” He explains that the big bird consists of matter/anti-matter and Scotty mentions dilithium crystals and before you know it, Spock has a goatee and a sash. I digress. The scientists devise a plan, but one of them can’t make it so they have to bring Sally which is a drag because she’s a girl and all. They rig up an anti-large bird thingee and get on a plane and things are tense because they forgot a part and Radio Shack doesn’t exist yet and since there was no Giant Claw II: The Molting, you can probably guess what happens.

Trust me, honey. Just close the window.

I like this movie because a giant malicious muppet dangling from a very obvious wire threatens the entire world and a guy who combs his hair with a pork chop comes to the rescue. Mara Corday is lovely and she and Morrow have some nice chemistry going. Morris Ankrum does his general thing admirably and the squawking sounds of the bird make me giggle. Director Fred Sears (Earth vs the Flying Saucers, Crash Landing) tries for a Cat People effect by showing only the bird’s shadow for the first part of the film. All bets are off, however when he shows the whole googly-eyed bird and the challenge…and the fun is to believe this ungainly behemoth could really accomplish all the destruction in the film. As with most mutant creature films of the 1950s, the science is less factual and more two boys chatting in a sandbox about dinosaurs. Also the fact that Mitch, as a free-lance pilot, has the ear of the joint chiefs strained credulity. The Giant Claw makes up for all that with its patented drinking game. If you take a swig every time a character says ‘big as a battleship’, you’ll forget all your doubts and possibly your first name. So stock up on mixers and watch a big puppet eat planes. You’ll be glad you did.

Best line in the film: “I’m the chief cook and bottle washer in a one man bird watcher society.”
-Mitch MacAfee (wordsmith)

How the hell are ya?!

The Screaming Skull (1958)   3 comments


Eric and Jenni Whitlock, fresh from their wedding, arrive at the home of Eric’s late wife to start a new life together. Doesn’t that sound nice? The home, completely empty save a gigantic portrait of the dead woman, sits on a large piece of land inhabited by creepy child-man caretaker Mickey (director, Alex Nichol) and some peacocks. Cozy.

I like your feet.

Moments later, the minister and his wife arrive. After all, what honeymoon is complete without a visit from the parson? During the visit, Eric tells the minister that Jenni, of a delicate nature, has been under great mental strain since she witnessed the deaths of her parents and he hopes that leaving her alone in his dead wife’s house with a nutty gardener and some screaming birds will help. OK, he doesn’t actually say that but come on! Soon Jenni starts seeing skulls all over the place and Eric tells the minister of his concern.

Hiya, Dollface!

Eric’s a heck of a guy after all and tells his friends he’ll stand by his wife (and her money) even if she relapses and has to go back to the asylum. Sweet. Oh wait. It gets better. Eric’s wife, Marion died after tripping, hitting her head on a stone pond on the estate, and drowning…by accident and Jenni believes Marion still haunts the grounds. After a few more skull sightings and nightmares, Jenni believes she’s losing her grip and goes along with her husband’s idea to rid herself of Marion’s spirit. Jenni’s nightmares will cease if she burns Marion’s giant portrait. Well sure. So they burn the portrait and Eric, like the boy scout he is, rakes the coals so as not to offend Smokey-the-Bear. What does Jenni see in the ashes? A skull, natch. Eric sees no skull and that revelation sends Jenni off the rails. There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil it.

guy with skull
Skull? What skull?

Peggy Webber, of the Dragnet TV series stock company plays Jenni and Russ Conway, Reverend Snow. John Hudson and Tony Johnson round out the cast as Eric and Mrs. Snow. It looks like the entire film was shot at dusk and apparently in 3D as well. MST3K sent it up though I haven’t seen that version. Another film ripe for a live tweet. Watch it if you dare!! No, go ahead. It’s not that scary.


Asphalt Jungle (1950)   2 comments


Heist films intrigue me. Each element; the gathering of a team, the planning, the execution, and the aftermath work together to create a complex story. The Asphalt Jungle has it all. A criminal mastermind plans a diamond heist which should set up the gang for life. Almost immediately things go awry. Crooked cops, stoolies, dance hall dames, and a jaded lawyer make John Huston’s tale of a left-handed form of human endeavor so fun to watch. Sterling Hayden plays the low-key muscle who’s really a stand-up guy and Jean Hagen does a wonderful job as a b-girl carrying a torch for him. Look for Brad Dexter as, wait for it, a badass, and Marilyn Monroe in one of her first real roles.


The Deadly Mantis (1957)   6 comments

mantis postermantissss

mantis tunnel

Following the pattern laid down 3 years earlier in Them!, The Deadly Mantis starts with a series of bizarre disappearances in a remote area.  In this case, the Arctic and a military outpost stand in for the desert.  When Colonel Joe Parkman (Craig Stevens) discovers a large spur-like object at the scene of a wrecked out-building, he calls in the big guns to help identify it.  Dr. Nedrick Jackson (William Hopper), a paleontologist at the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. decides the spur comes from an insect and since crickets and grasshoppers seldom eat the military, he blames the carnage on the meanest, most viciously Machiavellian insect in all of insectdom, the praying mantis.  Cue Da dum music.   Since they asked Jackson to identify the culprit, and he did, naturally they’d want him to come up to the Arctic and, um…well I don’t know.  Using the same principle that has CSI operatives in movies carrying guns and arresting bad guys, The Deadly Mantis has the military flying Dr. Jackson up to the Arctic and bringing his pal, photographer Marge Blaine (Alix Talton) with him.  Now we have the plucky and attractive career gal to complete our tableau.  Marge and Colonel Parkman fall in love instantly or to paraphrase Woody Allen; Parkman falls in love.  Marge just stands there.  The mantis kills more guys in pretty horrific ways.  The close-ups of his bearing down on each victim look really scary and the effects work well.  Then our devout green friend does something incredibly cool.  He flies.  The mantis’ wings do a kind of hummingbird/helicopter thing and he sits upright as if he were riding dressage style.  I tip my hat to my friend, Kent for suggesting the dressage idea.
flying mantis
Dr. Jackson figures the mantis will fly due south and wind up in South America so I was confused when the film showed headlines sighting the creature in Maine, then New Orleans, and then Minnesota.  Either the sightings involved a different gigantic flying insect or the mantis wanted to drop in on Garrison Keillor.  Anyway, our gang of intrepid mantis-hunters heads to Washington and since they had such a good thing going up north, the bug decides to follow them.  There are some cool scenes of destruction and mayhem in our nation’s capital and a particularly fun Washington Monument shot.  Eventually our bug-eyed friend winds up in a tunnel in New Jersey (note the Them! parallels) and since there’s no Deadly Mantis 2: Saying Grace in Trenton, you can kind of figure what happens.    I enjoyed The Deadly Mantis.  While not as good as Tarantula or Them!, it boasts a good cast of capable character actors (Peter Gunn AND Paul Drake!) and solid direction by Nathan Juran (The Brain from Planet Arous, Lost In Space and The Time Tunnel TV episodes) which took advantage of some fun special effects and blended real and stock footage well.  Fred Knoth did the special effects on this film and The Incredible Shrinking Man.  Creature from the Black Lagoon writer William Alland added his polish too making The Deadly Mantis a great way to spend 79 minutes.


I went a little crazy with the posters again but, come on!  It’s a giant praying mantis attacking a city!  I think we need to see as many pictures of that as is humanly possible.  You’re welcome.

mantis hi

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