Hi and welcome to The Green Castle 🙂
My interest in the topic of “classic monster characters” in the spec-fic range has been increasing in the last year or two and there are certain particular monsters that have a way of catching the attention, no matter how brief a glance I take at ‘monster magazines’ in a newsagency. This turned out to be true for me, once again, a little less than a week ago, when I saw the March/April 2013 issue (#266) of Famous Monsters of FilmLand magazine in a city newsagency. I decided to buy a copy as an addition to holiday reading over Easter Long Weekend. By the time I’d finished the second article on Good Friday morning, I realised that making a few comments about the articles could make a good topic for a blog post. 🙂 I’ll get to the matter of the magazine itself in a later post.
Issue #266 of the Famous Monsters of FilmLand magazine dedicates the great majority of feature space to two series of articles: one each about ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ and the ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ as played by Margaret Hamilton in the original ‘The Wizard of Oz’ movie. I’ll comment on the Witch articles in a different post.
The lavishly illustrated articles (pp.12-36) on The Creature cover a fair variety of aspects of its life as a very unusual original film-industry creation that actually became iconic well beyond the silver screen. During the Cold War, the trilogy of Creature films – ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’, ‘Revenge of the Creature’ and ‘The Creature Walks Among Us’ – contributed to the 1950s craze for 3D movies. There was the original compelling artwork and costume design, dedicated work by various stuntmen whose own very high level of fitness and stature when doing the land and water scenes made the Creature seem fittingly powerful and menacing, the sheer profit-making power of the trilogy that then influenced many other monster films for decades afterwards, plus directing and producing matters. Throw in some unpleasant credit-stealing and other studio politics, but that was largely lost on the audiences and only ‘came to light’ in later decades. There was also the strangely powerful grip the Creature had and has on the Public Imagination (which in itself can be pretty monstrous).
From what I could gather in the articles, some of the reasons for the Creature (also known as ‘Gill-Man’) being unusual for the movies of 1950s America, included: an exceptional level of skill and resources applied to the artwork, sets and costume production in an era when Monster Films were already ‘on the way out’ in Hollywood; the fact the title-role character wasn’t created as a post-war nuclear mutant or Mad Scientist’s experiment but as an actual made-for-Hollywood (using, apparently, some ideas from actual Amazon River legends that had been mentioned at an A-list party in 1940s) character within Hollywood and that the first two films became significant in the fuelling of the 3D movie craze. The final film, in the early ’60s, was screened after the 3D craze had faded. Add some powerfully lurid graphic art for the movie posters, some inspired (or sometimes just plain lucky) casting decisions for key characters that helped “bring the story alive” on screen, the great stunt work mentioned above and one stand-out factor in that by the third movie the audiences were actually more often on the Creature’s side than not! All the three films were meant to be horror flicks in which human characters were meant to be consistently and ultimately preferred by the paying audiences and this was in an era of regular atomic testing, electric shock therapy in asylums and liberal use of lab rats, etc. By the last parts of the third Creature movie it has been prodded, shot at innumerable times, repeatedly operated on in some very ruthless and sickening experimental surgical processes and imprisoned in various ways. It also kidnapped various sultry swimsuit-clad heroines who had, of course, also been the “object of affection” for the films’ various leading and supporting male characters. 🙂 The Creature’s kidnappings were vividly featured in a fair range of the movie posters as well as in scenes in the movies. However, according to the magazine’s contributing writers, cinema audiences eventually saw that for all the Creature had wreaked a lot of havoc, it had a basic common trait with the already-heroic Hunch-back of Notre Dame: the Creature had a poignant and powerful hope, however doomed, that was to be able to simply live on its own terms and even “find love” instead of being reviled and hunted. Now, this is too late for the Creature itself to feel any better, but I think some justice of a sort has been awarded to The Creature by it achieving story-telling immortality and icon status beyond the likely intent of its various creators. 🙂
In addition to the commentaries on the movies and the Creature character itself, plus the influences on Horror films and Hollywood productions, later articles in this same series go into the matters of movie-related pop culture, both at the time of original studio releases and in later decades. I was very interested to find that Creature-related collectibles not only still exert a hold on many collectors and fans of the movies, but also consistently command a higher price than for items relating to other monsters and ‘monster movies’ of the same era. The magazine’s editor admits to doing some ‘field research’ of his own…and loving it. 🙂