Monday, August 5, 2013


I've never graded a film by way of its budget -- big Hollywood films don't necessarily suck and low-budget or super-low-budget films don't automatically engender raves -- but there are times, especially these summer days, when I feel I have to go after what I think is a known quantity. A couple of nights ago I watched movie-meister Roger Corman's 1957 "epic" Attack of the Crab Monsters.

I was aware going in that it was, to that point in his career, Corman's biggest box-office hit. It's easy to see why. Viewed today, understanding a little about North American film history, Attack is appreciated for what it is and tries to be -- pure unaffected movie matinee entertainment. While not without flaws, the flick is propelled to its inevitable conclusion (guess who wins), not only by director Corman, but through brisk scripting courtesy of the ever dependable Charles B. Griffith. This may be the film's real flaw although one common for feature films of slight running time; Attack is 62 minutes long. With a single-minded propulsion there is little room for anything else, story-wise. (Young people attending the matinees and drive-ins would not have cared too much. Also, I can think of a few recent films that would benefit immensely from a 62 minute "cut".)

The plot is simple: A cadre of personnel -- scientists and military men -- land on a small Pacific island to investigate the disappearance of an earlier expedition. The team, of whom Russell Johnson is a member, but not one of the scientists, studies the results of the 1946 Bikini Atoll atomic tests and in the process discovers what happened to the previous researchers. If you don't like seafood, don't ask.

(I popped out of the film just once the other night: Russell Johnson plays a couple of sequences without wearing his shirt. The actor said in an interview years ago that while auditioning for the role of the "Professor" in Gilligan's Island, he was asked by the show's producers if he would mind taking his shirt off... to see what he would look like without his shirt on. He was not too keen on the idea.)

The strongest attribute of Attack of the Crab Monsters, for me, is the film's tone: it kept me on edge from beginning to end; a sort of dramatic tinnitus. As though a surprise was always just around the corner.

The crab get-ups are not bad, actually. Physical effects and visual effects are the killer for low budget producers -- then a lot more than now -- but the filmmakers get away with a spoonful in this department. Corman tech regulars Ronald Stein (music) and Floyd Crosby (cinematography) add their rock-solid touches and, as per usual in that relationship, elevate the whole show a little above a low budget film's expected ceiling.

I'm not suggesting that Attack of the Crab Monsters is a great film, but: A friend told me a few years ago that he cares not for intellectual art... he just wants to be entertained when he goes to the movies. I'm tuned a little differently than my fast-food pal, but I could give him an answer in regards to what was in my bowl two nights ago: "Yes, I was!"


Greg Woods said...

This instantly goes to the higher echelon of your blog posts, Mr. Smight. Very well done- keep em coming

Barry Smight said...

Thank you, sir! Much appreciated. And I will try to keep 'em coming.