The Alligator People (1959)



(director: Roy Del Ruth; screenwriters: Orville H. Hampton/story by Mr. Hampton & Charles O’Neal; cinematographer: Karl Struss; editor: Harry W. Gerstad; music: Irving Gertz; cast: Beverly Garland (Joyce Hatton Webster/Jane Marvin), Frieda Inescort (Lavinia Hawthorne), Richard Crane (Paul Webster), George Macready (Dr Mark Sinclair), Lon Chaney Jr (Manon), Bruce Bennett (Dr Eric Lorimer), Douglas Kennedy (Dr Wayne MacGregor); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Leewood; 20th Century Fox; 1959)

“A sci-fi/horror film that refuses to be anything but unbelievable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A sci-fi/horror film that refuses to be anything but unbelievable. It’s based on a story by Orville Hampton & Charles O’Neal, and is directed by Roy Del Ruth (the last film he helmed). It’s set in Louisiana’s oppressive bayou, and grabs on to the fetid swamp-like atmosphere as if it were a matter of life or death. In its twisted logic, it lays down a belief by the film’s two psychologists that repression is cool because it covers up memories that will be haunting and without that psychological problem there would not be a sense of normalcy. I don’t know if that is more shocking than seeing people being turned into alligators.

Jane Marvin is a well-adjusted and pretty nurse at the Webley Sanitarium, working for a psychiatric research doctor named Wayne MacGregor (Douglas Kennedy)–whose practice is in neuropathology. Jane is a volunteer subject in hypnotic experiments conducted by the good doctor, and in all her sessions she tells a weird tale where she reveals that her real name is Joyce Webster. The story is so strange that Wayne sets up another experimental hypnosis session and calls in his research colleague Dr. Eric Lorimer (Bruce Bennett) for a second opinion. Injecting her with a truth serum, she again says her name is Joyce Webster. Her tale begins on a honeymoon train ride with her new ex-army husband Paul Webster (Richard Crane), whom she met in the service when she was a nurse. Their wedding was delayed because Paul was in a plane crash where he broke every bone in his body and was completely burned. But he now appears without a scratch and the two lovebirds spend time on the train reading congratulatory telegrams from their friends. But one telegram has Paul turn pale and panicky, and he insists on getting off alone at an unauthorized mail stop to make a phone call but never gets back on the train.

Paul vanishes until the desperate Joyce tracks him down through his college records to a plantation deep in the bayou called The Cypresses. She receives a cold welcome from the house owner Mrs Lavinia Hawthorne, who tells her there is no such a person as Paul Webster living there. But Joyce stays there overnight as an unwelcome guest, and despite being locked in her room uncovers a lot of strange noises and things about the plantation that neither the black servants or the house owner are willing to explain. Through Joyce’s relentless questioning she discovers how Mrs. Hawthorne is related to Paul and that the swamp doctor, Mark Sinclair (George Macready), is a well-intentioned scientist who has an endowment from the plantation owner to run a clinical lab where he experiments in helping those with severed limbs grow them back by injecting them with a revolutionary alligator serum. The experiments at first worked but have now gone awry and Paul and the others have been slowly turning into alligator people.

While Joyce is trying her best to save the hubby she really loves, a drunken alligator hunter, the plantation’s screwy handyman, Manon (Lon Chaney Jr.), is trying to kill every gator he sees and when not doing that tries to rape Joyce and then wrecks the lab where the last hope experiment Paul has from being turned into an alligator is being conducted–a radical radiation treatment of cobalt rays devised by Sinclair. Manon’s hatred for the gators is so great because they ate one of his hands leaving him with a hooked-hand.

The film never appeared greater than the cheap B-film it was and looked tacky in its Southern Gothic scenario. Lon Chaney Jr. was a one-dimensional villain, while the others were stuck saying lines from an unconvincing script that made them look as if they all were suffering from an anxiety neurosis. Though if you are looking for some reason for seeing this baseless film, I think it should be because of Beverly Garland’s earnest performance where she shows why she’s the unofficial queen of the 1950s sci-fi genre film.


REVIEWED ON 10/14/2004 GRADE: C+