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CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON(director: Jack Arnold; screenwriters: Harry Essex/Arthur A. Ross/from a story by Maurice Zimm; cinematographer: William Snyder; editor: Ted J. Kent; music: Joseph Gershenson; cast: Richard Carlson (David Reed), Julie Adams (Kay Lawrence), Richard Denning (Mark Williams), Antonio Moreno (Carl Maia), Nestor Paiva (Lucas), Whit Bissell (Edwin Thompson), Ricou Browming (Creature in the water), Ben Chapman (Creature on land), Bernie Gozier (Zee, crewman), Henry Escalante (Chico, crewman), Sydney Mason (Dr. Matos), Rodd Redwing (Louis); Runtime: 79; Universal International; 1954)
“Its solitary aim was to exploit the viewer’s fear of the unknown.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A 3-D special effect monster film that had a bland story and nondescript actors, but can be fun at times because its nonsensical story is meant as a spoof of the horror genre. Its solitary aim was to exploit the viewer’s fear of the unknown. To help accomplish that, there are a multitude of shots of the prehistoric giant’s webbed hand coming out of the water. Scientist David Reed (Richard Carlson) goes to the black lagoon in the Amazon and discovers a web-footed amphibious gill man. This routine tale is enhanced by its sympathetic portrayal of the creature and its excellent underwater photography, though the film appears to be dated and its chills are muted by today’s standards.

The gill-man costume didn’t have any room for scuba apparatus stuntman Ricou Browning, as the creature had to hold his breath underwater for up to four minutes at a time. Since Browning was too small to play the creature on land, the six feet five inches Ben Chapman becomes the land creature.

On a scientific expedition in Brazil’s Amazon, scientist Carl Maia (Moreno) discovers the fossil of a gigantic hand. He leaves his worker Louis on the site and heads to the mainland science institute for help. There he confronts his former student Reed and his scientist girlfriend Kay (Julie Adams), and their publicity hungry, fund raising maven of a boss at the research institute, Mark Williams (Denning). They hire Captain Lucas’ battered barge, which is named Rita, to go up the Amazon and explore the discovery. Reed is interested in what the research will do to advance science and its evolution theory by bringing the creature back alive, while Williams has a Big Game hunter mentality who thinks that by bringing back this creature either dead or alive is proof that his institute should get more money and him more fame.

At the jungle site Louis is found slaughtered, and the party decides to go to the nearby black lagoon and see if they can gather fossils to determine what the creature is they found and if they can locate its skeleton.

At the lagoon a few boat crewmen get killed by one of the alive creatures, a scientist gets severely maimed, Kay takes an unnatural love interest in the creature, Mark is jealous of David for taking the girl he wants and acts bossy around him, and David resents Mark’s callous disregard for scientific research and that he’s only interested in what rewards the discovery will bring him.

The finale has the expedition battling the creature who traps them in the lagoon and kidnaps the foxy Kay.

Unlike most other 3-D pictures of the time, this one has few shots of “throwing stuff at the audience.” It is a much imitated film, even Steven Spielberg used its underwater creature swimming sequence in the opening of Jaws. Watching it at this late date, the movie is filled with clichés; but, it is only fair to point out that when the movie came out they were not clichés.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”