Sunday, July 28, 2013
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) review
ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN 1958
Allison Hayes (Nancy Archer), William Hudson (Harry Archer), Yvette Vickers (Honey Parker)
Directed by Nathan Juran
The Short Version: One of the best loved, and influential camp SciFi movies of the 1950s comes from the same director that brought you such classics as THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957). The seriousness of the script is lost in a sea of bad special effects -- yet this ATTACK is 50 FEET of fun all wrapped snug within Allison Hayes' enormous assets. She is Woman and you definitely hear her roar during the climactic trampling of her philandering husband and his devious paramour. Despite technical shortcomings, its goofy charm, insidious characters and low-key comedic touches show a movie clearly in on its own joke.
Having been driven to alcoholism and a short stay in a mental institution by her philandering husband, the financially stable Nancy Archer has a run-in with a giant, humanoid alien -- the sole inhabitant of a spherical spacecraft that lands on Earth. Exposure to this intergalactic traveler causes her to grow to 50ft in height; but not before her duplicitous husband and his greedy lover plot to kill her. Overcome with anger, the now gigantic Nancy storms the town for revenge.
The old adage that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned is an apt description for this 1958 cult favorite. Juran's movie is an iconic presentation in the Science Fiction film canon due to a multitude of reasons -- one of which is its stunning poster artwork. Depending on your point of view, the word 'stunning' can't be applied to its special effects. The effects are glaringly poor to the point where it lends the picture a certain amount of appeal that balances out against everything genuinely good about it. Unlike THE GIANT CLAW (1957), the effects sequences aren't almost always front and center, nor is the entirety taken as a deadly serious affair -- one of the things that made that movie so endearingly awful.
Nathan Juran (billed here as Nathan Hertz) was reportedly upset that the independent company financing this picture refused to give him additional funds to properly execute the special effects scenes in the movie. Considering what the former Art Director had done helming high profile genre product such as 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957), THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), and (to a slightly lesser degree) THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957), JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962) and FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964), it's easy to see why Juran would be more than a bit furious. Juran was also famous for another kitsch classic, THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957).
The shots of the giant, bald alien and giant Nancy are poorly transposed onto the film. In nearly all the shots featuring them, they appear transparent -- like ghosts -- onscreen. At other times, a clumsily constructed, gloriously unrealistic giant arm is utilized for both characters. For the scenes with the male alien, tufts of hair have been haphazardly glued to the appliance. In addition, the scale of the 50 foot woman are poorly realized from one scene to the next. These include the scenes in her home -- once she's grown to gigantic proportions, she still fits within her room. Talk about a floor plan! The same applies for a few wide shots of her walking through the town during the finale. But again, the impoverished nature of these effects sequences imbue a campy flavor it otherwise wouldn't have had.
This campiness extends to the live action effects. For example, during the conclusion, Nancy, now the non-jolly giant, literally raises the roof of a local grill to get her hands on Harry and Honey. Once she's got her husband in her grasp, you can clearly see it's a baby doll crudely standing in for a man; not to mention it's dressed up in clothes far too big for it.
On the opposite end of the SciFi spectrum, Mark Hanna's script treats the drama very seriously and the performances by Allison Hayes, William Hudson and Yvette Vickers are all top notch for this sort of thing. Hanna's penmanship manages a sympathetic, pitiable leading lady versus two absolutely despicable characters drawn out unusually well to fit within the relatively brief 66 minute running time.
The script is also notable for featuring an uncharacteristically multi-layered female character in that she's not portrayed as the standard 'Suzie Homemaker' type. Most movies of this era were populated by women that were merely there to be rescued by the hero, or were secondary scientist types. The character of Nancy is a wealthy, successful woman who has resorted to alcoholism and ended up in a hospital at some point due to complications within her marriage. She genuinely wants a stable, affectionate relationship with her husband -- as self-absorbed as he is. Harry's only interest is in getting his hands on Nancy's money by any means necessary.
Enter into this love triangle the scheming female type that conspires with the callous beau to eliminate the opposition. When obtaining Nancy's wealth by driving her crazy fails, the next step is to simply kill her off; and a few opportunities present themselves before the literal 'Big' finale.
Allison Hayes excels as Nancy Archer. She covers all the emotional bases of a fractured human being whose financial stability hasn't eroded her inability to shake off rejection and a lack of love from her significant other. Even though she knows he's spending time with another woman, Nancy wants to salvage her marriage. She likewise shows strength (and possibly a bit of desperation to prove she isn't crazy) when she drags her husband out into the desert at night to find the UFO she ran across at the outset of the movie.
The sultry Yvette Vickers plays the sexy, seductive siren, Honey Parker. She plays the part so well, she recreated a similar portrayal in the even lower budgeted ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES the following year in 1959. She had a mesmerizing look about her, and one hell of a taut, toned figure that contrasted beautifully with Allison Hayes' more voluptuous frame. Both women look incredibly sensuous in the picture.
Which brings us to another commendable aspect of Hanna's script -- its level of sexuality exuded throughout. Much of this stems from Vickers portrayal boiling over with heated body language. The way she curls her lips, the way her eyes set, her movements and the tight, form-fitting clothes she wears complement her acting to a great degree. This gives her an arena all her own to joust against Hayes' bustier, curvier frame.
To throw some useless trivia your way, and courtesy of the commentary track, Mike Ross, the actor playing the bartender at Tony's Bar and Grill (kneeling down in above pic) also took the role of the giant bald alien (see insert). You see him in the bar a handful of times, but with hair. Incidentally, whoever designed the aliens wardrobe made the questionable choice of making him look like a cross between an Arthurian knight and a Roman gladiator.
Of minor interest, the idea of having an actor save the production money by playing both the town barkeep and the alien that sets everything in motion reminded this reviewer of the season two TWILIGHT ZONE episode 'Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?' It, too, had a bartender who was an alien, but there, it was intentional. In 50 FOOT WOMAN, it's simply a budget saving measure. To reminisce of a great TZ episode was a nice, inadvertent gesture on the part of Juran's movie.
Going back to Tom Weaver's commentary (along with Yvette Vickers), the finale was to have had more destruction of the town, but the aforementioned amazing, colossally dwindling budget wouldn't allow it.
While it's an easy summation to place ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN amongst the 'so bad it's good' school of camp moviemaking, there's a clear indication that this was intended to be presented as something a bit more ambitious in scope. Whatever 'camp' you place it, there's no denying the films popularity since its release. Bert I. Gordon's THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) hit the year before, and Mark Hanna wrote that script, too. Juran's movie -- which never got a sequel of its own like Gordon's film did -- has surpassed the legacy of Gordon's giant male movie.
Interestingly enough, artist Reynold Brown designed the posters for both COLOSSAL MAN and 50 FOOT WOMAN (among many others). Both pieces of artwork are incredible creations, yet the one for WOMAN has went on to be a pop culture icon.
The exceptional score by Ronald Stein is worthy of mention as well. It's far better than you'd expect; accentuating what little suspense is derived, and making some of the fantastical sequences more interesting than they'd be with a lesser soundtrack accompanying them.
As part of its legacy, the film was remade in 1993 as a Made For Cable movie with Darryl Hannah in the starring role, and again in 1995 with a far more sexual slant as ATTACK OF THE 60FT CENTERFOLD. Most recently, Roger Corman did something of a remake, or a refurbishment of the tale with his Made For Cable ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT CHEERLEADER (2012). It originally aired in 3D upon its premiere, than in 2D thereafter.
Often regarded as a bad movie, there's no denying its high camp value in spite of the serious approach intended by director Nathan Juran. It's unfortunate he wasn't able to formulate the sort of picture he wanted, but as is, ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (1958) stands tall over other similar 'Big' movies. It's not the same style of classic as say THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), but it benefits from a good, if standard SciFi script peppered with performances much better than this sort of 'B' picture was often afforded. There's an earnestness that sits comfortably alongside the kitsch allowing both to get along quite well -- unlike the lead characters seen in the film. And unlike the famous closing line in KING KONG (1933), for ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (1958), it most definitely was the beast that killed the beauty.
This review is representative of the WB 3 disc set containing additional DVDs for THE GIANT BEHEMOTH and QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE.