Big Girls Don’t Cry

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman turned a beast into a beauty. Although The Amazing Colossal Man and its sequel War of the Colossal Beast have been mostly forgotten, the gender swapped Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a well known cult classic. I dare call it my personal favorite 1950’s B movie. I’d been wanting to see it for years. The idea of a 50 foot scantily clad woman going on a rampage was much more appealing to me. Hence why Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is so bad that it’s good.

It’s far more silly compared to other size changing movies. Since most women in 50’s movies never had any serious problems to deal with. Nancy Archer is wealthy, but dealing with mental distress and a drinking problem. Made worse by her sleazy husband Harry cheating on her with a floozy named Honey. They plot to take Nancy out of the picture, but a giant alien in a UFO does that for them. More time is spent on either Harry’s scheme or the police investigating Nancy’s claim.

Nancy finally becoming a giantess doesn’t disappoint. She’s definitely one of the sexiest monsters of all time, thanks to busty model Allison Hayes playing the part. A laughable paper mache hand is used for close up shots and some truly terrible compositing effects are used when she walks around. The only convincing shots are in miniature sets. Nancy’s only goal is to take out her cheating husband “Harry!” He very noticeably becomes a doll when she finds him. Neither survive, but I wasn’t expecting them to. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman speaks for itself.

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Nancy Archer disrupts a power line

This Man, this Monster

War of the Colossal Beast continues the tragic tale of “The Amazing Colossal Man.” It’s a fitting title since former Lt. Colonel Glenn Manning is now more beast than man. Manning grunts like a monster and has a freakish half skull disfigurement as a result of his fall from the Boulder Dam. Eternal growth is no longer an issue since the giant syringe kept him at 60 feet. The makeup is disturbing even for a 1950’s B movie, but it was likely done to hide the fact that he was a different actor.

None of the original cast returns for War of the Colossal Beast. You’d swear it wasn’t a sequel if they didn’t reuse a large chunk of the first movie in an extended flashback. Despite claiming to have no family, Manning’s sister Joyce replaces his fiancée Carol as the most personally concerned party. A mysterious accident in Mexico slowly reveals Manning’s monstrous presence. The military tries to reach the man within, but Manning has completely lost his mind at this point.

The Colossal Beast rampages through Los Angeles and very nearly destroys a bus full of kids. The miniature sets and special effects are just as iffy as before. His sister reaches his humanity, but Manning’s fate is sealed by a nearby power line. Although entirely black & white, color is briefly used for the electrocution. War of the Colossal Beast is more tragic fun that gave Mystery Science Theater 3000 even more to mock.

War of the Colossal Beast

Glenn Manning electrocutes himself

Preceded by: The Amazing Colossal Man

I Don’t Want to Grow Anymore!

The Amazing Colossal Man really grows on you. This 1950’s B movie takes us through the tragedy of eternal growth. The extreme opposite of eternal shrinking. The Amazing Colossal Man was released the same year as The Incredible Shrinking Man as an obvious cash in. So obvious, that The Amazing Colossal Man had the honor of being mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000. A normal sized Lt. Colonel Glenn Manning has his life changed forever when his body is belted by plutonium on a military testing range.

All of his dead tissue grows back, but his head remains bald. Much like the incredible shrinking man before him, the growing process is a slow one. Manning grows approximately 8-10 feet a day. The military keeps him under control and doctors try to treat him, but it’s no use. His caring fiancée Carol is all he’s got in the world. Even with the standard monster movie premise, Manning’s personal torment is unfortunate. He doesn’t want to grow anymore!

As his mind starts to go, the newly dubbed “Amazing Colossal Man” wanders into Las Vegas. The miniature sets and special effects used to enlarge Manning actually look pretty good. At least they do when he’s about 16 feet tall. His 60 foot rampage through Vegas hasn’t aged well. Especially when Manning picks up Carol. Manning’s heart will give out unless he stops growing, but a giant syringe can only do so much. The Amazing Colossal Man is big fun with a tragic end.

The Amazing Colossal Man

Glenn Manning sits with Carol

Followed by: War of the Colossal Beast

Ants as Big as a House

Them! put giant killer bugs on the map. Ants were very fascinating to me when I was kid. I dealt with them a lot and frequently learned many interesting facts about their colony. So a movie about rampant 9 ft ants from the 50’s was always on my radar. My parents were big fans who watched the movie frequently when they were younger. Although I saw clips, I didn’t see all of Them! until way later. Them! is the very first monster attack creature feature starring giant bugs.

Ants are mutated as a result of atomic radiation. Ironically, Them! was released the same year as Godzilla. You’d think Them! would end up cheesy with a premise like that, but it’s surprisingly terrifying even now. The high pitched bird call they make is creepy and so is the idea of ants crushing you in their mandibles. Them! slowly builds up to their reveal with local New Mexico police officers investigating mysterious deaths and the disappearance of sugar. Their only clue is a traumatized little girl who famously screams the title.

It starts with the FBI and a few scientists examining the area, then grows into a far worse problem that requires the military. Thanks to a couple of escaped queens, the world could soon be overrun with giant ants. It gets to the point where even information from the local drunk is helpful. The ants are dangerous due to their acidic stingers and ability to tunnel deep underground. Flamethrowers do the trick after several tragic losses accompanied by early Wilhelm screams. Highly capable actors, deep questions, a simple premise, and 50’s flare help make Them! a well executed trend-setter.

Them

Giant ants attack

The Great Chariot Race

Ben-Hur is one of the last great Biblical epics from classic Hollywood. Since there was a silent version of the 1880 novel released in 1925, that technically makes it a remake. One of the greatest remakes of all time. Since Ben-Hur was such a magnet for records, milestones, and cinematic firsts upon its release. In fact, Ben-Hur is one of my mom’s top favorite movies she’s ever seen. It was released in her birth year, 1959 (hence why I’m reviewing it on her birthday). I always knew I needed to see Ben-Hur, but the 3 hour & 44 minute runtime was daunting.

My lifetime knowledge of the Bible and seeing the silent film helped me to familiarize myself with the story. So I barely felt the extended runtime. Granted the length does include an overture and intermission. Ben-Hur was by far the biggest movie made at the time. Sets were the biggest ever built, props & wardrobe were in the hundreds, actors & animals were in the thousands, and all were established a year in advance. That’s not even factoring in the three month shooting of the great chariot race. I wish Christian epics like Ben-Hur still had this level of dedication. It’s a miracle everything came together so well…

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur rides his chariot

Ben-Hur is the same story told in the novel and silent film, but changes were made in places. Most were done to increase the length and dramatic weight. Now characters are more complex with better character development. When you wanted a great Bible epic, you called Charlton Heston. It already worked so well in The Ten Commandments. It’s mostly the reason why Heston is one of my mom’s favorite actors. Since he appeared in so many of her childhood films. I value him too, so it increased my appreciation of Judah Ben-Hur. His life as a wealthy Jewish prince in Jerusalem is given more attention. Along with his close friendship with childhood friend turned Roman tribune Messala. You can really see the anguish between them, as they know they can’t be friends anymore. The ways of the Romans turn Messala towards evil. While Ben-Hur remains faithful to his Jewish people. His relationship with freed slave Esther is given more weight as well.

Ben-Hur is betrayed by Messala after an accident and separated from his mother Miriam & sister Tirzah. He fights back a bit more, but that’s not enough to save him from enslavement aboard a galley. The large scale rowing is just as grand as the battle that follows. Miniatures were used in that scene and I couldn’t tell the difference. Heston’s Ben-Hur is a bit more vengeful in his quest to return home. He’s adopted by the Roman Consul after he saves his life and a promising chariot racing career follows. Hugh Griffith received just as much admiration for his role as Judah’s spirited chariot sponsor. It’s only after thinking his mother & sister are dead that he pursues his vengeance against Messala. When in reality, Esther is the only one who knows they have leprosy. The most isolating disease anyone could get at the time.

The chariot race is one of the most epic climaxes ever filmed. The grandeur was so big that an ultra wide screen was needed. The race is fast paced excitement with very real danger. Racers flipped off their chariots, horses run into each other, and Messala popularized the bladed wheel method. He also cheats when he starts whipping Ben-Hur. The race may be won, but his family is still missing. What makes Ben-Hur truly important is the parallel between Judah and Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I of course recognize every important moment. From the Nativity to the Sermon on the Mount to the Crucifixion. Every scene filled me with emotion without ever seeing my savior’s face. My favorite scene will always be Jesus giving a thirsty Ben-Hur water. The Roman’s awestruck reaction is a nice touch too. The encounter drives Judah, but he does struggle with faith at first.

Esther listens to the Sermon, so she’s the one who encourages her husband’s step towards Christianity. They take his mother & sister to the heartbreaking Crucifixion where Judah returns the favor of water. My mom cries every time a miraculous rain storm cures them of their leprosy. Ben-Hur is truly a wonder to behold years later. So much detail was put into the multitude of sets. It may have been a massive film to complete, but William Wyler pulled it off. It helps that he was a Jew that understood the importance of the material. Despite its enormous budget, Ben-Hur became the second highest grossing film of all time. Encouraging it to win a record 11 Academy Awards. Best Picture, Director William Wyler, Actor Charlton Heston, Supporting Actor Hugh Griffith, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Special Effects, Film Editing, Music, and Sound Recording. The only Oscar it didn’t win was for Screenplay. Ben-Hur remains one of the grandest cinematic achievements of all time.

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur rows the galley

Remake of: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

The Rancher and the Outlaw

3:10 to Yuma brings us only the best from the old west. Appropriately beginning and ending with a folksy tune to set the mood. 3:10 to Yuma is a classic tale of a rancher and an outlaw. The rancher is Dan Evans played by Van Heflin. A struggling family man with a wife and two boys dealing with a devastating drought. The outlaw is Ben Wade played by Glen Ford. A charismatic criminal with a romantic streak who rides with his posse of outlaws.

Their paths cross when Wade shoots two stagecoach men and swipe Dan’s horses. When found out and arrested, Dan reluctantly agrees to transport Wade to the 3:10 to Yuma for a ranch saving price along with a small band of men. Dan and Wade are complete opposites at constant odds with one another, but they do form a bit of a mutual respect while hiding out in a hotel. Especially since Wade isn’t such a bad guy. Dan knows how to handle a gun, so he’s perfect to make the dangerous trip while avoiding Wade’s men.

Everything leads to the titular train and it’s worth the nail biting climax. I don’t watch westerns often, but I always appreciate a simple story like this. Understandable considering it was based on a short story from a pulp magazine. Although color was slowly taking over in the late 50’s, 3:10 to Yuma is more effective in black & white. With plenty of great dramatic shots of a smokey Arizona. 3:10 to Yuma uses its time wisely.

3:10 to Yuma

Dan Evans (left) moves Ben Wade (right) along

I Coulda Been a Contender

On the Waterfront is one of the best contenders to win Best Picture. Really it was thanks to one of the greatest performances from celebrated actor Marlon Brando. A performance that earned Brando his first Academy Award for Best Actor. Thanks to his popularizing method acting in mainstream Hollywood. I’ll admit I didn’t know much about On the Waterfront outside of its iconic quote. Context makes all the difference, because On the Waterfront is so much more than that. It’s a multilayered character study set in the harsh Jersey docks on the waterfront. Nothing but mob controlled corruption and deaf & dumb longshoremen who don’t ask too many questions.

All that changes when well-liked dockworker Joey Doyle is killed. Setting off a chain reaction with simple pigeon loving former boxer Terry Malloy at the center of it. Sure he coulda had class, he coulda been a contender, he coulda been somebody, instead of a bum (which is what he is), but he sticks to his role. Staying out of ruthless union mob boss Johnny Friendly’s way. Which is difficult when his brother Charley is his right-hand. Terry’s mind starts to change when Joey’s sister Edie starts asking questions and they fall for eachother.

Eva Marie Saint made her acting debut and she’s so good that she earned an Oscar too. Edie brings humanity into the harsh setting along with tough priest Father Barry. When Terry pours his heart out, he makes the right decision to literally and metaphorically stand up for his fellow dockworkers. Testifying against the mob even if it means his life. I’m not an expert on unions or McCarthyism, but I could still feel the weight of every action. Additional wins went to Director Elia Kazan, Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Film Editing. On the Waterfront took a risk and came out on top.

On the Waterfront

“I coulda been a contender”

What Have I Done?

The Bridge on the River Kwai is an epic war film best remembered for 2 reasons. One is for featuring one of the riskiest practical effects in movie history. The other is for featuring the famous war march whistle. A whistle people would sooner think originated from The Breakfast Club. I hadn’t seen many Best Picture winners from the 50’s, but I knew I needed to see it for these reasons alone. The film is based on a book of a similar name, which in turn was loosely based on actual events.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is set in World War II. British POWs are tasked by the Japanese to build a bridge over the Kwai river. After decades of only knowing Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan, I finally saw his Best Actor winning performance as Colonel Nicholson. A stubborn and duty bound British officer who refuses to allow his officers to work. It puts him at odds with the Japanese Colonel Saito. Although it was the only Oscar they didn’t win, Sessue Hayakawa is just as engrossing in a way that makes you see things from both sides.

When an agreement is made, Nicholson seems to lose sight of which side he’s on. Taking pride in the bridge his men built. Meanwhile, William Holden’s Major Shears is the only serviceman to escape. Except he’s brought back on a mission he doesn’t believe in, to blow up the bridge. With the help of local women, charges are set, and the once in a lifetime blast goes off. The tension is great and the explosion is well worth nearly 3 hours. With so many grey areas, The Bridge on the River Kwai makes it clear that war is simply madness.

Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins in Bridge on the River Kwai (1)

The bridge on the river Kwai

Plant Man From Outer Space

The Thing from Another World is a lot more talk heavy than I expected, but that’s okay since it’s all about the atmosphere. Like most 50’s alien invasion features, The Thing from Another World is more of an allegory for communist paranoia. My parents always talked about the original 50’s classic, but its often overshadowed by the remake. My only knowledge of it was from John Carpenter’s Halloween.

I only now realize the novella it’s based on, Who Goes There?, was only a loose interpretation. The only thing that remains is the Arctic setting and an alien stalking a team of professionals. Most of the time is spent on a crew of Air Force pilots, scientists, and journalists at the North Pole. With a lot of time spent on a romance. They discover a flying saucer that contains a space man frozen in ice. When accidentally thawed, the team find themselves isolated with nowhere to run.

Since a shapeshifter was likely too complex for 1951, the thing is a plant based humanoid. Obscured by shadows and building tension by popping up when you least suspect. The thing is also impervious to bullets, feeds on blood, and can regrow its body. It’s actually one of the two female crew members that suggests burning the creature. A decision that divides the team. Since one scientist would rather study the alien. So the main lesson at the end is to “Keep watching the skies.” The Thing from Another World deserves just as much admiration as its more memorable remake.

thing-from-another-world-century-main

The Thing emerges

Once Upon a Dream

Sleeping Beauty is the last great fairy tale made in Walt Disney’s lifetime. As the animation studio wouldn’t return to their winning Disney princess formula for well over 30 years. The reason being that it performed surprisingly low at the time of its release. Sleeping Beauty was the sixthteenth animated Disney movie and the most expensive one made at the time. That coupled with audiences that thought it was too similar to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, are why it underperformed. Well like most movies made in the Silver Age, it received a far warmer reevaluation.

Sleeping Beauty is based on the 1800’s French fairy tale of the same name. Which was retitled Little Briar Rose in the Brothers Grimm version. All interpretations feature a princess awakened by true love’s kiss, but names vary between writers. Just as unspecific is the villain who is simply described as a Wicked Fairy Godmother. Needless to say, Disney made the story their own. Sleeping Beauty was made in response to the success of previous princess movie Cinderella. So it was shot in widescreen just like Lady and the Tramp, featured more improved sound, and more unique animated backgrounds…

26. Sleeping Beauty

Prince Phillip awakens Princess Aurora

Sleeping Beauty is my personal favorite Disney princess movie of the original three made by Walt Disney. As a child I watched it several times on VHS, because I felt it was the most balanced. There was plenty of romance to appeal to the female demographic. As well as plenty of action to appeal to the male demographic. Not that I didn’t love both equally. The opening of the book starts it all. Once upon a time a King and Queen welcome a daughter into their lives. “They named her after the dawn, for she filled their lives with sunshine.” Princess Aurora is a Disney princess who’s a bit difficult to describe. Not for her hair of sunshine gold and lips red as the rose, but because she only appears for 18 minutes with a mere 18 lines of dialogue. When we do see Aurora, her personality can sort of be described as longing. That’s why the particularly strong supporting characters have to shine through.

At the christening of their daughter, King Stefan and Queen Leah (Disney’s only living parents at the time) welcome the three good fairies into their kingdom. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are really the stars of the movie, because they do all the work. Flora is the leader dressed in red, Fauna is the compassionate one dressed in green, and Merryweather is the headstrong one dressed in blue. They’re funny, magical, and take an active role in the action. During the christening, Flora blesses Aurora with beauty, Fauna with song, Merryweather with… Just then the greatest Disney villain of all time arrives. As well as the best animated female villain.

Maleficent is an evil fairy who curses baby Aurora, simply because she didn’t receive an invitation. It doesn’t get more evil than that. I mean her name literally means “to cause harm.” I don’t often mention voice actors from classic Disney, but Eleanor Audley deserves all the credit. She gave Maleficent a commanding cackling charisma. While dressed in a sinister black gown complete with horns and magic staff. Her curse specifies that before the sun sets on Aurora’s 16th birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. To counter the spell, Merriweather blesses her instead with ageless sleep that can be broken by true love’s kiss. As an added precaution, the three good fairies raise her while in disguise as a simple peasant girl named Briar Rose.

16 years later, Rose dreams of a prince she met once upon a dream. With her animal friends by her side, they help make her dream come true. Until the real prince cuts in. Prince Phillip is the first Disney prince to have a name, a personality, and to actually participate in the action. Even though Philip also stops talking right after a word with his father King Hubert. Who randomly shares wine with King Stefan and a drunken mandolin player. Unbeknownst to them that they’re the betrothed prince and princess, Aurora and Phillip fall in love after a memorable dance in the forest. Meanwhile a hilarious chain of events where the fairies cook a cake and sew a dress leads to Maleficent’s crow discovering them. In a haunting sequence, a hypnotized Aurora pricks her finger on a magically appearing spinning wheel.

With Aurora becoming a sleeping beauty, the fairies put the rest of the kingdom to sleep as well. But not before realizing Prince Philip is the true love needed to break the curse. So the fairies free him from Maleficent’s forbidden mountain. What follows is easily one of the most exciting action sequences in all of Disney’s history. In grand medieval fashion, Philip rides his noble steed equipped with the shield of virtue and sword of truth. Maleficent only becomes more evil when unleashing all the powers of Hell. She transforms into a purple green flame throwing dragon for him to slay.

When slayed, Philip is finally able to kiss Aurora, breaking the curse. And no I don’t have a problem with the fairy tale moment. They share another memorable dance in the clouds where Aurora’s trademark dress turns pink & blue and live happily ever after. Sleeping Beauty has many unique distinctions that set it apart from most magical Disney adventures. The background animation has a far more art deco renaissance feel complete with square trees. To match that look, most of the characters are given a sharper design. Despite being a musical, the songs don’t really stand out as much as the instrumentals. The best song is easily Aurora’s romantic dreamer song “Once Upon a Dream.” Sleeping Beauty is in fact a dream come true.

27. Sleeping Beauty

Prince Philip fights Maleficent