US (dir. Jack Arnold)
Cast: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva, Whit Bissell, Bernie Gozier, Henry Escalante, Ben Chapman, Perry Lopez, Sydney Mason, Rodd Redwing, Ricou Browning
Synopsis: Members of a fossil-hunting expedition travel down a dark tributary of the mist-shrouded Amazon, where they enter the domain of a prehistoric, amphibious “Gill Man” — possibly the last of a species of fanged, clawed humanoids who may have evolved entirely underwater. Tranquilized, captured, and brought aboard, the creature still manages to revive and escape — slaughtering several members of the team — and abducts their sole female member, spiriting her off to his mist-shrouded lair. This sparks the surviving crewmen to action — particularly those who fancy carrying the girl off themselves.
Review: There are a lot of films that go out of their way to objectify women, and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” is definitely one of them. If taken at face value however, this film is just your standard Universal Monsters film complete with all the requisites: beautiful girl, horrible monster, handsome hero, less than handsome anti0-hero, and an older dude who is rife with valuable information until he is either killed off (as in this film), dismissed as slightly kooky until things get desperate (“Dracula”) or who turns eeeevil just because he wants to (“Frankenstein”). Oh, what the Universal Monsters movies have taught me!
Like “The Cave”, which would poke its ugly head above water some 50 years later, “Creature from the Black Lagoon” is a sort of underwater adventure film where a team of super-sexy scientists travel to a remote part of the world to investigate some sort of scientific phenomenon. In this film, that phenomenon under investigation is the possible presence of a fishy-looking, prehistoric humanoid – with gills! The sexy scientist team is pretty divided on how to deal with their new amphibious friend once it becomes very clear that it is still very much alive in the 20th century. Crew members feel it is best left alone, our hero wants to document it, and our slightly less sexy villain wants to shoot it with a harpoon. Our lovely leading lady is content to just shriek really loudly whenever it is near her, and it’s unclear whether even she is aware that the creature is really after her, ahem, assets.
Creepy as it is, the whole scene with the creature stalking our bathing beauty, Kay (played by the gorgeous Julie Adams) is sort of the films biggest sexual innuendo as the creature spends a great deal of time mirroring Kay’s movements underwater in a highly sexual, almost erotic way. It is some genuine cross-species loving at its finest folks! It also feels way ahead of its time, considering the next big underwater creature feature film would be Spielberg’s “Jaws” in 1975 featuring a very familiar scene with a young woman swimming whilst being stalked by an unseen predator underwater.
Although there is no escape from these sexual innuendos on dry land either, as Kay becomes a sort of prize for two competing men (one her fiancee, the other her fiancee’s rival). Maybe it’s the bathing suit that does it, but she really is stuck in a sort of love square, that eventually becomes a love triangle, for most of the film and does little to contribute to the film other than that. But damn, I do love that gorgeous bathing suit which was, allegedly, pretty revealing for the early 1950s.
Despite the sexual innuendos and the nearly constant sound of clashing male egos, there is also a lot of discussion on the science of evolution, which was surprising to me considering the scientists all but outright state that the creature from the black lagoon is an early human ancestor. The creature itself has a really wonderful costume, and I challenge all who say it looks too rubbery and fake to point out a better looking, non-rubber, amphibian, since pretty much all amphibious creatures inherently look rubber-y anyways. Plus, I loved that the gills moved in and out as the creature “breathed” on land. Such a great touch! And it made the creature look more realistic to boot!
The film’s score is also wonderful, probably the best of the Universal Monsters series I’ve heard to date. It has such an epic, adventurous feel to it and parts of it are mildly reminiscent to the score of future creature feature, you guessed it, “Jaws”.
Although it certainly does have its flaws, I really enjoyed “Creature from the Black Lagoon”. As it was the most recent of the Universal Monsters films, it seemed to have at least some mild amount of awareness of its predecessors and it did a great job at fixing some of the major problems of the older films, i.e. by creating an actual climax to the film and not letting the film just sort of fizzle out in the end. This is definitely one of the best Universal Monsters films, and I’m fairly certain you will find it as enjoyable as I did.