Sunday, July 25, 2010

February 24, 2010: 20 Things You May Not Have Known About The Creature From the Black Lagoon

The recent 3-D revival fad that has even found two such films nominated for Best Picture Oscars has inspired me to look back on one of the first and greatest 3-D movies. Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) is rarely screened in its original gimmicky format these days, but its iconic creature, timeless Beauty & the Beast plot, and subtle ecological themes have made Jack Arnold’s film as enduring as earlier Universal Monster hits like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man. While even those who’ve never seen the movie are well-familiar with the scaly sensation known as the Gill Man, even the most fish-frenzied fans may discover something to fascinate them among Psychobabble’s 20 Things You May Not Have Known About The Creature From the Black Lagoon!

1. Creature From the Black Lagoon was born during a party thrown by Dolores del Rio and Orson Welles while the latter was filming Citizen Kane. Cinematographer Gabriel Figeuroa entertained producer/actor William Alland (who played reporter Jerry Thompson in Kane) with stories about a mythical race of fish-men living along the Amazon River. Eleven years later, Alland hired several writers to develop treatments based on the idea, which he initially referred to as “The Sea Monster”. The project was soon re-titled The Black Lagoon.

2. According to film historian Tom Weaver, Alland envisioned Creature From the Black Lagoon as “King Kong with a water monster,” and an early treatment for the film found scientists bringing the Gill Man back to civilization where, like Kong, it goes on a rampage. Though this alternate ending was nixed from the original film, Alland put it to use the following year in the sequel Revenge of the Creature.

3. In an early treatment by Maurice Zimm, the creature was referred to as “The Pisces Man.” At one point in the treatment, The Pisces Man is subdued when the hero slaps a WWF-style sleeper hold on him.

4. Millicent Patrick, who designed the Gill Man, was a television and film actress and had been the first female animator at Disney Studios. She was also responsible for the Mutant alien in This Island Earth

5. A slicker, less detailed early design for the Gill Man was based on the Oscar statuette.

6. Before molding the Gill Man’s foam-rubber costume, Jack Kevan performed make-up work in The Wizard of Oz and created prosthetic limbs for World War II veterans.

7. Frankenstein Monster-portrayer Glenn Strange was the first actor offered the role of the Gill Man, but he turned it down because of the amount of swimming required. So the part went to two actors: Ben Chapman, who played the fish-fellow when out of water, and champion swimmer Ricou Browning.

8. Richard Denning, who played Dr. Mark Williams in Creature, was married to Evelyn Ankers, star of another great Universal Monster Movie: The Wolf Man.

9. Universal considered filming Creature From the Black Lagoon in color, but the studio backed off the idea because the combination of color and 3-D would have brought filming costs to roughly $750,000.

10. Director Jack Arnold, the sci-fi master who also filmed classics like It Came From Outer Space and The Incredible Shrinking Man, made a little-noticed blunder on his first day of shooting. Although Arnold took great pains to create an authentic-looking Amazon environment, he missed a telephone pole visible through the trees approximately 20-minutes into the film.

11. Creature From the Black Lagoon was one of the first movies to be advertised on TV. A couple of stations refused to air the ads for fear they would be too scary for young viewers.

12. The Gill Man quickly found his way into all tributaries of pop culture. The same year the film was released, Ben Chapman appeared in his fishy togs on an episode of “The Colgate Comedy Hour” to scare the trousers off Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. A year later he factored into Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch when Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe took in a showing of Creature From the Black Lagoon, inspiring Monroe to astutely observe that the Gill Man “just wanted to be loved”. In 1965 he made an appearance on “The Munsters” as “Uncle Gilbert” in the episode “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights”.

13. Rumors has it that Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman was so taken with Creature From the Black Lagoon that he viewed the film every year on his birthday.

14. Also produced by William Alland and directed by Jack Arnold, the 1955 sequel Revenge of the Creature was originally supposed to have the Gill Man hook up with a scaly but alluring Gill Woman.

15. According to imdb, Revenge of the Creature is the only sequel to a 3-D movie that was also shot in 3-D. Expect the movie to lose this distinction real, real soon.

16. When the monstrous truck crashes in Steven Spielberg’s 1971 TV movie Duel, the sound of its demise is an electronically altered sample of the Gill Man’s roar.

17. A 1977 novelization of Creature (written by the pseudonymous “Carl Dreadstone”) portrays a completely different creature: a 30-ton giant with a long tale and hermaphroditic genitalia. This creature is ultimately torpedoed by the U.S. Navy.

18. In 1982, universal planned to remake Creature in 3-D with Jack Arnold returning as director. Arnold and John Landis were to produce the film, American Werewolf in London make-up whiz Rick Baker was to handle the effects, and Quatermass-writer Nigel Kneale was to pen the script. Alas, Universal decided to shelf the project in favor of Jaws 3-D, a picture that basically rips off the monster-amok-in-a-marine-park plot of Revenge of the Creature.

19. Bob Burns, creator of famously elaborate Halloween spook shows, paid tribute to Creature From the Black Lagoon with a show in 1982. A fascinating “making of” documentary chronicling the creation of Burns’s shows can be viewed here on his official site.

20. A stage show called “Creature From the Black Lagoon: The Musical” opened at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park on July 1, 2009. The entire show can be viewed below… although if you can make it past two minutes, you got further through this garbage than me:

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