Today’s movie is Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). The Creature, AKA the Gill Man was part of the second generation of Universal Studios classic movie monsters. This movie was filmed at the height of the cold war and the creature faced the same issue with alienation that would continue to grow in the aftermath of the Cold War.
As a monster the Gill Man was a little more complex than others. He didn’t seem to be evil and fought after he was attacked. This movie was directed by Universal’s Jack Arnold who made among other films It Came from Outer Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), the sequel Revenge of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Monster on the Campus (1958), The Space Children (1958), and the comedy The Mouse That Roared (1959).
You know I love “The Musters” television show and at one point the Gill Man, as ‘Uncle Gilbert’, appeared in an episode.
This movie was originally shot in 3d and required gray-tinted glasses. The 3d fad was ending by the time the film was released and it was mostly seen in 2d.
So on to the cast….
The lovely Julie Adams played basically the only female in the movie. Adams plays Kay Lawrence was a brilliant scientist the script occasionally turned into a helpless female and someone prone to make poor decisions.
Adams grew up in Arkansas and moved to California to pursue acting. She worked part-time and spent the other time studying and looking for acting work. Her first movie was Red, Hot and Blue (1949), followed by a lead in The Dalton Gang (1949). Over a five-week she appeared in six more quickie Westerns. She continued to make westerns such as one of my favorites, The Man from the Alamo (1953) and The Mississippi Gambler (1953). She starred with the mule Francis in Francis Joins the WACS (1954). Of course that same year she was in The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Julie clad in her one-piece swimming suit swimming synchro with the gill man is one of the most memorable scenes in the film. She continued to make movies but moved heavily into television. She has done voice work in films up to 2011 and is still alive.
Richard Denning played the role of overbearing and publicity-obsessed boss of the marine institute Mark Williams. Denning was born in Poughkeepsie but the family relocated to LA. Denning eventually went to business school and received a master’s in business administration. During World War II, he joined the Navy and served on a submarine. Bored with accounting Denning acting in a small theater group. He won a radio contest and was given a screen test by Warner Brothers who passed on the actor. He was later signed by Paramount. He had a great movie career through the late 1950s. Some of his films include The Buccaneer (1938), King of Alcatraz (1938), Some Like It Hot (1939), The Farmer’s Daughter (1940), Black Beauty (1946), Okinawa (1952), Mr. & Mrs. North (1952), Target Hong Kong (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), and An Affair to Remember (1957).
After moving into television for a few years he retired to Hawaii. But he picked up a recurring role as the governor on “Hawaii Five-O” 1968-1980. He was married to actress Evelyn Ankers of The Wolf Man (1941) fame. Denning died in 1998 at the age of 84.
Antonio Moreno played the role of the scientist Carl Maia, who found the fossilized gill man hand. He was born in Spain in 1887. In the 1920s, Moreno was a rival to Rudolph Valentino playing the role of the ‘Latin Lover.’ Moreno worked with the Gish sisters, Garbo, Gloria Swanson, and Mary Pickford.
Moreno also worked extensively in series and was known for cliffhangers. Sound movies put a damper on his acting because of his heavy Spanish accent. He transitioned into character parts and worked in Hollywood until the late 1950s. Moreno died in 1967 at the age of 79.
Richard Carlson played the role of Dr. David Reed, the love interest of Kay and the scientist trying to stop institute boss Dr. Williams from exploiting the creature. Carlson came from an affluent family and received a Master’s Degree in English. However, he quickly lost interest in academia and began acting. He bought his own theater in Minneapolis and made himself the star. By the age of 23, he was working on Broadway with actors such as Ethel Barrymore, Jimmy Durante, and Ethel Merman. He was offered a contract by David O. Selznick.
Following The Young in Heart (1938), Carlson Richard moved to California. Many of his roles were stinkers like Beyond Tomorrow (1940) or No, No, Nanette (1940). One of his best performances was in William Wyler’s The Little Foxes (1941). He made a couple of more movies, White Cargo (1942) and Highways by Night (1942) before taking a break to attend World War II. John Wayne stayed home.
Following the war, he was in King Solomon’s Mines (1950). For some reason, he was shifted to sci-fi for films like It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Magnetic Monster (1953) and the aquatic Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
Carlson then moved into directing where he made the stinker Riders to the Stars (1954). Later he did better with movies such as Four Guns to the Border (1954) and Kid Rodelo (1966).
During the height of McCarthyism Carlson took a television role, “I Led 3 Lives” 1953-1956, about a man that infiltrated the Communist Party for the FBI. He had another series, “Mackenzie’s Raiders” 1958-1959. He spent the rest of his career working on the popular television shows. Carlson died in 1977 in California.
The boat Captain Lucas was portrayed by Nestor Paiva. Paiva was born in California and graduated from the UC Berkley. He like, like Michael Marks, had the ability to play multiple ethnic roles. From 1938-1967 Paiva played generic South Americans, Spaniards, Greeks, Russians and Portuguese to Italians, Indians, and Arabs. He even played an African-Americans on the radio.
Whit Bissell from Episode 31 – Warlock (1959) and many others played a fourth person from the institute – Dr. Edwin Thompson
There were two Gill Men, one for land and one for underwater. The harder of the two was performed by Ricou Browning. Browning was born in Florida in 1930. Early on he started diving in local water shows. In his 20s he be began directing underwater shows at Weeki Wachee Springs. Browning has to hold his breath up to 4 minutes for underwater shots as the suit did not have a scuba tank. After playing the Gill Men in three films, Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), Browning started working in films related to water. At Tors’ Florida studios he worked on Sea Hunt (1958), The Aquanauts (1960), and Flipper (1963). He directed, did stunt work, and worked as a stunt coordinator.
Ben Chapman played the Gill Man on land. Chapman was born in California to Tahitian parents. Raised in Tahiti, he returned to the US in 1940. His work a dancer got him his first film role in Pagan Love Song (1950). Except for the Korean War period he worked steadily as an extra in films.
The movie begins with the creation story from the Bible. It quick switches to the Amazon jungle where geologist Dr Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) has discovered a fossilized claw sticking out of a mud bank. He explains to his two native assistants that he has to go to the institute of marine biology to get help. Unseen by the men is a similar claw reaching up from the water and then slides back underwater.
At the institute, Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) drives Dr. Maia out to the diving platform where ichthyologist Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson) is diving. Maia asks the pair why they are not married yet. Maia says the skeleton is from the Devonian age roughly 420 million years ago that was also known as the age of fish.
On the boat ride back Dr. Reed throws a barb at his boss Dr. Williams (Richard Denning) saying that he is a publicity hound. Kay defends him with the “no bucks no Buck Rogers” argument.
Kay, who they never say has a Ph.D. Dr. Reed, Dr. Williams, and Dr. Maia decide they will make an expedition up the Amazon to look more fossils. You know what I’m going to give `Kay a Ph.D. From now own, she will be referred to as Dr. Kay.
Dr. Thompson (Whit Bissell) is added to the expedition at some point.
Back at Dr. Maia’s jungle campsite the two native assistants are attached by the creature and killed. At this point, you only see the hand of the creature.
Some time later the group heads up the river in the Rita. Now, this boat if not built by the same people that built The African Queen them at least used the same maintenance company. It was POC to put it nicely. The Rita was commanded by Captain Lucas (Nestor Paiva) a no-nonsense river man that knew how to get things done and understood the dangers of the river and the jungle. Dr. Williams is being a pompous ass.
When they get to the camp they find the two native assistants ripped to shreds. They chalk it up to a jaguar or something, clean the mess, and move into the tents. Nope, wouldn’t do it. The expedition is over once someone is murdered. While the others are looking at the murders, Dr. Kay hangs out by the water and gets spotted by the Gillman.
They work for 8 days trying to find a fossil to no avail. Reed gets the idea that the fossil may have washed downstream to a lagoon: The Black Lagoon. That sounds nice. Captain Lucas explains that a lot of people go to The Black Lagoon but nobody ever comes back. On that note, Dr. Williams decides to push on.
During the trip to the lagoon Drs Reed and Kay talk of their future together. As soon as they kiss Dr. Williams comes out looking all butt hurt and demonstrates his pneumatic spear gun. The Rita is squeezed into the narrow opening of the lagoon.
When they get there, they put out the boat net to get a fish sample and Drs Reed and Williams suits up with aqua-lungs to get a rock sample from the bottom for Dr. Maia. Dr. Williams is starting to get a little crushy on Dr. Kay. The two divers get their rocks but miss the fact that they are being stalked by the creature.
Back on the boat Dr Williams gets jealous of Drs. Reed and Kay. Dr Kay defends Dr Williams and you wonder about their past relationship. To get away from all of the testosterone on the Rita Dr Kay goes for a swim in her stunning one-piece white bathing suit.
The creature is really interested and he swims along below her. They do some great synchronized swimming together. When the creature touches her foot she dives down to investigate. Captain Lucas calls her back to the boat.
The creature follows Dr. Kay back to the boat and gets caught in the net. They try to pull the net up but it almost breaks the boom. Finally, the creature tears through the net leaving behind a claw. Dr. Kay gets the idea that might have been what touched her foot. The men go on a photographic/spear hunting dive to look for the live creature. Dr. Reed tries to take pictures while Dr. Williams shoots the creature with a spear. However, the creature escapes.
When they get back on the boat Captain Lucas tells them that he knows of a legend of a gill man that lives underwater. Wait. You knew this all read and didn’t mention it.
None of the pictures of the creature show the beast. While the main group is below deck the Gill Man comes on board and kills one of the deck hand.
Reed builds a super strong bamboo cage tied together with rope. Captain Lucas says he has some fish poison that will stun aquatic animals. Drs Reed and Williams go out in the rowboat and spread the poison while the creature watches from below. A lot of fish float up but no Gill Man.
They reconfigure the poison to sink deeper into the water and try again. That night the Gill Man, who is slightly stunned, climbs onto the Rita but is stunned by the light of a lantern. They see his wake coming to the surface as the creature retreats to his lair. They hit him with a spotlight at which point he stands up and growls before dropping back into the water.
Drs Reed and Williams entered the water in an attempt to catch the creature. The two find a dry cave where the creature has retreated. The Gill Man is staggering around like he’s on a bender. The creature comes out the back of the cave where he finds Dr. Kay sitting by the water. The second deck hand tries to protect her and meets his end. Dr. Kay takes one step and she trips. The monster picks her up but quickly passes out.
They lock the Gill Man in the bamboo cage in the water at the back of the boat. Drs Reed and Williams go back to document the cave and leave Dr. Thompson with only one job. Just one job. Watch the creature. One job. He relaxes in a chair smoking his pipe with his back to the creature that is staring wide-eyed from the water below.
Drs Thompson and Kay get into a big debate about how much she owes Dr Williams and would it be okay if she married Dr Reed. The Gill Man breaks out and attacks Dr Thompson. Thompson smashes a gas lantern on the creature who, now on fire, dives into the water. Thompson survives but just barely. Dr Reed wants to leave and Dr Williams turns into Captain Ahab. When Dr Williams try’s to prevent the Captain from taking the boat out, Captain Lucas puts a knife to his throat.
When they try to leave the entrance to the lagoon is blocked by logs that the creature placed in the way. Dr Reed attaches the wench cable to the logs but they can’t pull it up as the Gill Man breaks the cable. Dr Reed says he is going back down with the Aqua-Lung. Dr Williams wants to continue to hunt the creature. They get into a fight and Dr Williams is left below deck. While working on the cable Dr Reed is attacked and Dr Williams shows up and shoots the creature with the speargun. Dr Williams loses sight of the Gill Man who grabs him from behind and drags him down fatally wounding him. Dr Reed comes to the rescue a little too late and shots at the creature.
Back on the boat, they mix up the last of the poison to spray out of an applicator. While they are doing that the creature reaches through a porthole above the wounded Dr. Thompson. They chase him off.
Dr. Reed goes into the water and after a couple of tries, he doses the creature. They manage to get the snag cleared. As they head out they don’t see the creature come on board the Rita. He grabs Dr. Kay jumps in the water, and takes her back to his pad. You got to give that boy credit for single-minded determination.
Dr. Reed follows with a resupply of spears. When he gets to the cave a giant bat flies by and for a second it seems that this is a leftover prop from a Dracula movie. The creature attacks Dr. Reed. About the time Dr. Maia and Captain Lucas come in on the other side of the cave and shot the creature several times. The creature stumbles back into the water but Dr. Reed wants to let the men finish him off. The creature sinks in the water possibly dead, at least until the sequel.
Make-up department head Bud Westmore took credit for the design of the creature but most of the work was done by Millicent Patrick. The look of the creature was based on the Oscar award and the head came from the 17th century sea monk carvings.
This movie is a love story. The lonely fellow, probably the last of his kind, felt the same way about Julie Adams in her white bathing suit as we all did. For this, he got speared, poisoned, and burned.
World-Famous Short Summary – Country boy falls for big city girl, things turn out bad for the boy
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Beware the moors