Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Giant Claw (1957)

If you’ve ever watched a bad movie and wondered how talented actors could wind up in an awful flick, The Giant Claw is a cautionary tale of good intentions gone bad.  This film contains effects so horrid that star Jeff Morrow walked out of the screening, in his hometown, midway through the movie.  Then, depending on the story you want to believe, he either went home or found a bar to drown his sorrow concerning the audience’s laughter at the sight of the titular monster.
And you can’t blame the audience, as the monster looks like this….

Wait, why is everyone laughing?

Which, for some reason, reminds me of this….

"I'm bringing home a baby bumblebee...."

It didn't help the movie that Beaky Buzzard was introduced over a decade earlier, and the audience for The Giant Claw probably remembered the goofy bird from their youth.  And, as the promotional artwork hides the titular critter, one has to expect the studio heads knew the bird would lay an egg.  But it’s a shame, as this was a decent B-movie in the making. 

Morrow plays Mitch MacAlee, a pilot and electronic whiz, is testing some science thing for the Air Force.  He happens to see an Unidentified Flying Object, as big as a battleship, but radar searches and a bunch of scrambled jets find no trace of the object.  Mitch is ridiculed, for a bit, but a series of attacks on aircrafts convinces the government that he might be telling the truth. 
The threat is a giant bird from space, deciding to make Earth its nesting ground. Now Mitch and his assistant Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday) must find a way to get around the bird’s anti matter shield so the US military can blast it.

Which should give the movie ample opportunity to wow you
with effects like this!

Okay, the science is wonky, as it searches for a way to make the creature near invulnerable.  It’s a common troupe in the giant monster movies of the 50s.  The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms had radioactive blood, It Came From Beneath The Sea was only vulnerable with an short range targeting system and as for Them!,well, it’s a big colony, and flying queen ants and, whatever.  The idea is that most of the giant monsters of the era had abilities to protect them from the normal weapons of humanity, making the film more suspenseful than if we could just wipe them out with a single cannon blast.

I shouldn’t need to mention the plot is pretty stereotypical.  Mitch and Sally bicker, the Armed Forces don’t believe Mitch’s UFO report until several other disasters occur, and Mitch learns to calm his anger with a few healthy swigs of Canadian apple cider.

Yeah, it was the 50s and the solution to most of life’s problems was a stiff drink away.

The downfall to this movie isn’t the script or the acting.  The cast is quite good, delivering wacky lines about anti-matter and UFOs with convincing dedication.  And it might surprise modern audiences that Sally is a pretty good 50s heroine.  Despite falling for stereotypically loutish Mitch, she displays scientific knowledge that sets her above the typical damsel in distress common to movies of the time.  And she's a damn good shot with a rifle, an equal to Mitch.

No, the film fails with the first clear glimpse of the extraterrestrial bird.  Ray Harryhausen was slated to do the effects, but declined (for budgetary reasons).  So producer Sam Katzman went with a low-budget special effects crew to create the titular monster, and the rest is bad movie history.  Morrow has gone on record that none of the actors knew about the creature's appearance until the film hit theaters.  One can only imagine the shame they felt being involved in a project that promised top notch effects and delivered a monster that might have you singing, "I'm bringing home a baby bumblebee."  Yep, that will sink your film right away.

Come on, quit laughing.  I'm scary, SCARY...

I’m not suggesting a puppet wouldn't be effective in a giant creature flick.  Hell, I love movies like The Giant Shrews or The Green Slime, so you know my standards are rather low when it comes to the presentation of the monster.  But the design, not the execution, of the monster in The Giant Claw is so bad, so goofy, that it’s hard not to laugh, even as the beast gobbles up helpless parachutist. 

Hey, movie audience.  I’m being eaten alive!!  Why are you all laughing?

There is a big difference between a goofy looking monster (like those in The Green Slime) and a creature that is just goofy.  Sure, the audience can chuckle at it's first appearance, but if they continue to laugh as the monster tries to bring humanity to it's knees, it's time to pull a Morrow and walk out of the theater to the nearest drinking hole.  

And yes, I saw several shots lifted from other films.  But that was a common practice, along with recycling music cues, and even that doesn’t sink the film.  The Giant Claw is a rare low budget horror feature, derailed not by the acting or screenplay, but the effects alone.  Had the monster looked better, this film might have become a beloved B-Movie classic.  Instead, it’s a stark example of how the best intentions of a cast and crew can be derailed by the choices made by a producer in the creation of the titular monster.


  1. I have great fondness for this film, and great pity for the poor actors stuck in it. At a SF con, I was on a Bad Movies panel, and the Claw was one of my clips. (I don't think anyone present besides me had ever seen the film.) When The Bird came onscreen, the audience roared with laughter for well over a minute. In fact, I'm not sure that they stopped until the clip ended.

    If I owned this film, I'd do a kickstarter and raise enough money to replace the SFX with better ones (and almost anything would be better). The poor actors deserve it.

  2. If I recall correctly they use the phrase "as big as a battleship" approximately 455 times. Awesome 50s cheese!

  3. Oh, but that would ruin the charm of the film, Stephen. I love the movie as it is (and I do pity the actors involved), but I just don't think you can improve on such awesome imperfection.

  4. Yes, Anthony, the trailer did, as did the film, if I remember right. Battleships were a lot smaller back in the 50s, I guess.