February 15, 2009

Big Girl in a Small Town

Attach of the Fifty Foot Woman!ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (1958)
Directed by Nathan Juran (credited as Nathan Hertz)
Starring:

Allison Hayes – Nancy Fowler Archer
William Hudson – Harry Archer
Yvette Vickers – Honey Parker
Ravishing, rich girl Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes) has fallen into a downward spiral. She is married to a small-time lothario, “Handsome” Harry Archer (William Hudson) who enjoys cheating on her with the local sex kitten, Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers). Nancy lives in a rocky patch of a town, tiny and insular, in the deserts of southern California, so everybody knows her business. Not that our dry-gulch socialite helps her own cause much, being hopelessly and unhealthily obsessed with Harry and his neon-motel charm (if we are given anyone to like in this arid backwash of a world, it’s Nancy, but she does take some work with her sick attachment to worthless Harry).
The frustration and very public shame of her situation causes her to drink heavily, which turns up the glare of the small town spotlight, which leads to more cheating from Harry, which leads . . . Add to this the fact that she has inherited her father’s fortune, 50 million bucks, which is more that anyone in this cocklebur of a town has ever heard of - including her husband and his lover, who spend most of their time in the local dump necking to jazz records and scheming out ways to have her committed. Everyone treads gently around Nancy, though. See, Nancy isn’t the richest person in town; she is the only rich person to come anywhere near town. Without her name on the tax rolls, the “town” blows away like a dust devil in August.
Her drama is set against a town that has a very bad case of the sweaty shakes. Having to mollycoddle a wealthy, unstable alcoholic has given the entire town a moist, gutless claustrophobia. There’s an atmosphere of corruption, yes, but one would hardly give it the credit to call it evil. It’s more like folks just don’t know quite what to do with the little scraps of bitter honesty they have left. Cops are on the take, sure, but the stakes and payoffs are so low it doesn’t warrant the adventure of graft. Local harlot, Honey Parker, all but pulls married Harry’s zipper down while the two share about a foot of booth at the local bar, but none of the regulars even look up from their warm drafts.
But something will happen to shatter, and shatter but good, the venial complacency and somber grit of the little, nothing town on the edge of nothing. Nancy is going to be touched. No, not by an angel - not hardly. The finger of fate here comes via a radiation saturated, thirty foot tall, smiling, bald alien in prince valiant clothing; who needs our rich Nancy’s showy diamond to run his interstellar satellite.
I suppose that may take a bit of explanation:
Our story opens with a television news broadcast, which was a popular technique in atomic age movies. It was an inexpensive and quick way to set up the story, or to move the story along, without a lot of fussy acting or dialogue slowing things down, plus it had the fringe benefit of adding a certain weight to the proceedings. Our newscaster tells us of a series of UFO sightings, the orbital path of which should put the thing over our California deserts, well, lets see, “in a matter of minutes.” Our newscaster, it seems, is completely wasted working for this two-bit news station, as he has done these extremely specific and complicated calculations based on a couple of sketchy sightings, using nothing more than his finger and an elementary school world globe sitting by his news desk. Then, perhaps it’s true what the baby-boomers say – people really were smarter before calculators and computers.
Whichever the case may be, the anchorman form KRKR-TV is precisely on the money. Next scene opens with Nancy Archer whipping along at a reckless speed along a desolate stretch of highway 66 at night, when a huge, white sphere comes floating down to block the road. We get our first taste of exactly how tightly Mrs. Archer is strung as she begins screaming at top volume the moment the ball comes into sight. Now, granted, a two-story white ball floating down onto the highway would be a startling occurrence, one that would warrant, maybe, an extremely cautious egress; but the complete, instantaneous terror with which Mrs. Archer greets it seems a bit much. It appears, after all, to be only a large white balloon. It makes a distinctly satellite-like bleeping, but nothing about it seems particularly threatening (it’s worth noting that this film was released just following the Soviet launched sputnik satellite orbiting of the globe, which caused atomic age America all kinds of concerns. Later, the alien craft of this film is referred to as a “satellite,’ which it clearly isn’t).
Allison Hayes
Mrs. Archer brings the car to a skidding halt a few feet from the ball and immediately stalls then floods the engine. As she works at the gas pedal, we can see by her face that something has come out of the round craft and, unbelievably, her screeching actually intensifies (at least now she has a reason to scream). She stumbles from the car, screaming now for help, and begins backing away from a very large and hairy hand that seems to be reaching for her neck (we will learn that the alien, who we will meet later, wants only her necklace, which sports her treasured “Star of India” diamond. It is the diamond that the alien needs to power his craft). Mrs. Archer abandons her car and goes racing back down the highway, clacking along in high heels, the way she came.
From whence she came is the town’s dusty, little drinking pit, “Tony’s Bar and Grille,” where she took her leave to avoid another public row with her husband, Harry. Indeed, we cut to the bar to find Harry and Honey climbing all over each other. Harry is complaining how fed up he is with Nancy, how he would dump her in a heartbeat if only, well, without her he would be just “Harry” minus all her fortune. Honey has many coy suggestions between gropings, ranging from simply killing Nancy to having her committed (Nancy, we learn, has spent some time in a sanitarium, drying out. We also learn something in this scene that is easy to miss: that she drinks so heavily in search of relief from chronic migraine headaches).
Yvette Vickers and William Hudson
If we have a hard time giving Nancy Archer our full support as hero, we have absolutely no trepidation about hating Honey as our villain. Harry seems a slick, oily conman, but it is Honey that supplies the real devil juice. Just watch Vickers as Honey, prodding Harry along toward awful deeds, her silky voice offering murder and sex through a smile of sharp, white teeth; her body undulating against his. Honey is played by Yvette Vickers, who has pleased fans over a couple generations with her performance in this film. Indeed, she all but steals the show; and the film, which is imminently watchable throughout, gets extra-special lively every time she comes on camera.
Yvette Vickers
Vickers, one of the great B Movie bad girls, (if not the best out of some very stiff competition) clearly felt this roll down to her toes. Her career is full of fine performances in films that were not A list - my favorite - after 50 Ft. Woman - is Attack of the Giant Leeches. The wonderful thing about a Vickers performance is, no matter the budget or story, she never for a second had her tongue in her cheek, simply collecting a paycheck. Every role got her best, and her best was awful damn good.Mrs. Archer finally manages to reach the tavern, considerably the worse for wear from her efforts. She comes staggering into the tavern parking lot, hair and makeup askew, clothes dirty, shouting for Harry. She is intercepted by Deputy Charlie (Frank Chase) who happens to by coming out of the bar (our deputy spends a fair amount of time at the bar, it turns out, dancing with Honey when Harry isn’t around, or excepting Harry’s meager payoffs to keep his infidelity on the QT). The deputy corals Mrs. Archer and kindly calls for help with her at the top of his voice, thereby drawing a large crowd of townsfolk for gawking purposes. Sheriff Dubbitt (George Douglas) comes out of his office, which is conveniently located across the street from the bar, while Mrs. Archer continues to shriek for Harry. Go on home now, commands the sheriff to the crowd. There’s nothing you folks can do here; to which the crowd responds instantly by completely ignoring him and not moving an inch.
The sheriff sends his deputy into the bar to find Harry while offering Mrs. Archer some coffee over at his office. This sends the weather blown Mrs. Archer into a shouting tirade at both the crowd and the sheriff for thinking her drunk. She continues to scream at everyone, shouting now about some alien craft, snapping her head around at the crowd like a cornered cat, telling them how something came down on the highway, thirty feet tall and lighting up the sky! I tell you, I’m not drunk! I’m not! Actually, judging by the open-mouthed stars of the locals, they all imagine her a few rungs on the serious ladder above “drunk.”
The sheriff manages to get Mrs. Archer seated in the patrol car. When the deputy returns, after having accepted his standard bribe from Harry for not finding him, the sheriff tells him to grab the riot gun. Their going to go for a ride in the desert for Mrs. Archer. “Jeez, why the heavy artillery, chief?” asks Deputy Charlie. While the deputy stands there looking stupid, the sheriff is forced to explain to his simpleton deputy that Mrs. Archer has reported a flying satellite and a 30 foot giant out on route 66. His tone says it all: When Mrs. Archer reports a flying satellite and a giant alien, the sheriff’s office will provide Mrs. Archer with fifty million dollars worth of investigation.
Yvette Vickers, William Hudson, and Frank Chase
They find nothing, of course, except Mrs. Archer’s car, which leads to increased dramatics from Mrs. Archer. Statuesque and gorgeously red-headed, Actress Allison Hayes has already more than earned her slim paycheck by this point in the film. Then, she always did and more. Along with this role, which gave her immortality as well as American icon status (thanks to the famous but wildly misleading poster of the film), Hayes appeared memorably in at least two other B movie greats, The Unearthly and (my favorite)The Zombies of Mora Tau. There was something, perhaps, too strong about her presence, a bit too big shouldered, that kept her from A work. The strong set of her jaw, cheekbones and mouth were pure Appalachia (she was born in West Virginia) and she never did project the kind of plush softness audiences, then or now, prefer in their women. Whatever. By any measure an impressive screen force. The actress died, sadly, while still in her forties – but is forever remembered for this film.
The next few scenes establish what a complete slimy heel Harry is - how much he enjoys belittling his wife, and how much he openly covets her money and possessions. In one scene, giving her the old smooth talk while putting her to bed, (for rest because she’s so distraught) he takes off her opulent necklace, the Star of India, and slips it into his jacket pocket for safekeeping. Obvious also, in painful fashion, is how much Nancy needs his love and support. She threatens to cut him off unless he stops his slime ball ways, but we know, as does Harry, that she never can. “I need you harry,” she says prophetically, falling asleep after her tirade, “all to myself.”
We are given also, as soul support of Mrs. Archer, the family butler, Jess. Jess is played Ken Terrell, an actor that made a living in Hollywood for over thirty years primarily as a stunt man. Family retainer Jess certainly looks like a hard piece of leather - quite willing and able to beat the living shit out of Harry, if only Mrs. Archer would give the say so. “Anything I can do for you, Mrs. Archer?” Jess is fond of saying, glaring with open hatred at harry, his entire body poised forward. In fact, before movie’s end, our stalwart butler, who has served Mrs. Archer since she was a child, will risk his life in defense of his employer, and will, in point of fact, deliver upon Harry a very sound thrashing (until Harry cheats and ends the contest with a liquor bottle).
But for now, our story is boosted along, not surprisingly, by the kept woman, Honey. One evening in their local tavern, Honey lets him catch an earful: She is sick of Harry and his crappy little town, not to mention the lousy fleabag she’s been set up in, and the steady diet of waiting, waiting, waiting! Harry, in response, tells her of his recent brainstorm: She’s cracking up, baby, says Harry, sidling up close. She’s seeing spacemen and satellites. Harry’s plan is to call in the trusted family quack, Dr. Cushing, who will surely declare her nuts again (he was the same trusted family physician who committed her years before). Once she’s committed, the family money is mine all mine! That’s more like it, says Honey, lighting a smoke and warming a bit, “I don’t know how much more I can take of this set up.” With the timing of a born carnie, Harry slips the Star of India (the most famous diamond in the world!) from his pocket and waves it under her nose, which seems to be the very tonic for snapping Honey out of her evening doldrums. She makes a clutch for it like a cat taking a swipe at butterfly, but Harry is to quick for her. Not now, he says, holding the massive necklace just beyond her claws. Later, he promises, it could be yours, if you play your cards right. “let’s call Dr. Cushing!” says Honey, stabbing out her cigarette, completely reinvigorated and pushing Harry out of the booth.

Harry hurries back to the home front and has himself a stiff drink while Jess glares at him and Dr. Cushing (Roy Gordon) is upstairs, seeing to his charge. The avuncular doctor comes downstairs and gives the diagnosis all physicians give in a pinch: it’s a simple case of exhaustion. Bed rest is prescribed. The doc then tells Harry that he is the best medicine for her. “she seems to get a great deal of conciliation from you,” he tells Harry, providing the kind of keen insight that got Nancy committed in the first place. The doctor then turns to Jess and gives him a bottle of sedatives. Jess is to give Mrs. Archer one every four hours, and it is absolutely crucial that she have absolutely no alcohol with these (Now, I am no physician, but since this is the family doctor who knows full well that Nancy is a chronic alcoholic that drinks to relieve the pain of migraine headaches, and was in fact a bit drunk when the doctor showed up, it seems that Dr. Cushing’s prescription of a heavy sedative that must be taken all day without alcohol leans heavily to the optimistic).
You sure she’s not having a relapse? prods Harry, obviously hopeful. Well, the doctor certainly hopes not. No, dear boy, with a little patience and understanding from you, she will be fine just fine. Off course, the doctor stresses, another stay in the nut house, er, private sanitarium, will undoubtedly kill her.
The doctor takes his leave, and while Harry returns to swirling his drink, we can see the conman engine revving up to significant RPMs right behind his beady eyes and smug grin: Let’s see: Nancy can only get better with my patience and kind care – check. If she is returned to the land of padded rooms and spoon-fed meals it will kill her – check. And finally, I have at my disposal a large quantity of prescription sedatives that must under no circumstances be taken with alcohol – check, check, double-check! Talk about your silver platters! Could this deal get any sweeter? Well, normally you would say no, but don’t forget to take into account Mrs. Archer profoundly dramatic and self destructive nature.
As Harry plans things out, Mrs. Archer comes down stairs, looking anything but tired in a tight pair of toreador pants and hoop earrings. She and Harry have a bit of a tiff, in which Harry returns the Star of India diamond as if to prove his fidelity before he stomps out of the room in a huff (Nancy, oddly, doesn’t wonder what the hell he was doing with it in the first place). Once alone, Mrs. Archer goes right to the bar and begins to pound them back, dismissing Jess when his concern cramps her elbow room. She turns the TV on as a distraction, and we find the same newscaster that opened the picture, detailing in sentences dripping sarcasm, the report of her sighting of the satellite and 30 foot monster. He suggests, in cryptic fashion, that she was perhaps both drunk and crazy. This causes Mrs. Archer, already half in the bag, to act crazy and toss her liquor bottle through the TV screen. Jess and Harry come running.
I’m not crazy! I’m not! demands Mrs. Archer, sounding crazy as a scalded rat. She insists that Harry accompany her back out into the desert to look for the satellite. Sure, fat chance, suggests Harry’s expression. But don’t you see, explains Mrs. Archer, serving up Harry yet another softball, I’m certain it’s out there, waiting for me! I’m certain of it! Harry’s eyes shrink down to pinpricks, spotting the angle. “And if it isn’t?” he coaxes. “Then I am crazy and should be committed,” she says dramatically.
Allison Hayes and William Hudson
Bingo! Deal! – signed, sealed and all but delivered! Harry can barely wait for Jess to fetch the car (A very sweet 1958 Chrysler Imperial Crown Convertible!). Harry plays chauffer as he and Nancy tool around the desert for hours, long after the sun sets, and find squat, of course. Finally, Harry stops the car and all we hear are the crickets. He wants to take his time while he sticks the knife in here, so he pauses a bit, fishing a pack of cigarettes out of his vest pocket.
“Well,” he says, lighting up a cigarette, clearly enjoying the moment, “now we’ve combed all through these hills. You saw it. There’s nothing out here. Nothing but emptiness.” Harry pauses another tic, just to make his next offer sound as hopeless as possible – “Well, shall we drive on a little further?”
Harry’s words have their effect: Mrs. Archer breaks down into racking sobs, hiding her face in her hands as the last vestiges of pride are lost in the dry, desert night air. “I’m sorry, Harry. I’m sorry,” she pleads, her voice reduced to a pathetic child. If Harry has a moment in the film where he might reveal a trace of humanity, this is it. Harry only looks on her with a hint of contempt, though, puts the cigarette between his lips, and starts the car up.
Driving back home, and to her inevitable commitment, Nancy is nearly catatonic until a flash illuminates the road in front of them. It is the giant, white alien craft, bleeping and lighting up the night like a Christmas ornament, set a bit off the road.
“That’s it! That’s it!” Nancy begins shrieking, delirious with triumph. “I told you! I was right! It’s real! It’s real!” her voice is breaking into squeals. She jumps from the car and runs across the weeds and cracked earth, as Harry chases after her, barking for her to get back in the car (she is, after all, wearing the Star of India Diamond again). Nancy rushes to the huge craft and lays her hands on it in a plaintive gesture, all but hugging the thing to her. She begins slapping it with the flat of her hands. It’s real! It’s real! I’m not crazy! I told you! Tragically, it is this moment of supreme confirmation that finally proves too much for Mrs. Archer, and it becomes clear that her mind has snapped. To finally close the door for any possible chance to return to sanity, the alien giant appears (a particularity benign looking fellow, bald and smiling) and reaches for her neck. As his wife screams her way into insanity, Harry pulls the revolver that was packed along for the ride, empties it into the giant, and without a word decides it’s time to cut his loses. He turns and runs back to the car and squeals off into the night, leaving Nancy to her fate.
The plot aligns its final points in economic fashion as the movie heads quickly into the big 50 foot grand finale: Harry rips through the house, gathering up his things to split town (it is at this juncture, as Harry is fleeing the house, that noble jess decides to give Harry the beating he has been keeping in cold storage, and is doing a right fine job of it until Harry breaks a handy liquor bottle over his head). Just before they take it on the lam, Deputy Charlie, who turns out to be a mean, little prick behind his clownish façade, drags them to see the sheriff. Mrs. Archer has been found, strangely, half naked on the roof of the estate’s pool house, and all convene back at the Archer’s.
All concerned now suspect that Harry is up to something no good after Jess’s tale of Mrs. Archer’s abandonment out in the desert. While Mrs. Archer is resting upstairs after her ordeal, Harry tells the sheriff that Jess is lying and he never went with his wife into the desert at all. Honey backs up her lying lover, which leaves things in a kind of limbo. The doctor prescribes a series of sedative injections to a nurse (which Honey conveniently overhears), and everyone goes into a holding pattern until Mrs. Archer can regain consciousness and, as everyone now suspects, coaberate loyal Jess’s story.
As Harry and Honey hop into the car for the drive back to Honey’s motel room, our toxic vixen no longer minces words. Since everything is going to go to shit when Mrs. Archer regains consciousness, the obvious move is to see she never does. Honey tells about the easily-overdosed injections the doctor has prescribed, which would settle the matter nicely if only Harry has the stones for it. Well, Harry, do you? “Read the morning papers,” says Macbeth to his Lady, a newfound tone of murder in his voice.
William Hudson
Honey drives herself back to town as Harry, now invigorated with black purpose, returns to the house. He happily finds the nurse taking a nap (although an unkind observer would have to wonder how she managed to fall so deeply asleep so quickly, after so much activity). Harry finds the drugs and syringe all laid out nice and handy, fills his medical dagger full of the venom, and climbs the stairs to her room in a nicely done shot of noir shadows. Harry steps into the dark room, holding his syringe at port arms. He approaches his sleeping wife slowly, while unbenounced to him the nurse has awaked and has followed him up the stairs, primed to catch him in his moment of murder. She clicks on the lights from a wall switch and . . .
The nurse (Eileen Stevens) just starts screaming, as Harry recoils violently from the bedside. The nurse stops screaming, pausing just long enough to shout for the doctor’s help, and then continues her screaming for the rest of the scene. The doctor appears off camera muttering about the “astounding growth” (other than a glimpse of a huge, extremely fake hand, we are given only the nurse’s ever screaming face to gauge the hideousness of Mrs. Archer’s transformation. It works though, because actress Stevens has a tremendous movie scream that could etch initials in glass and a large set of eyes that lend themselves beautifully to terror). We fade out of the scene with Harry slowly backing up to stand near the nurse, never taking his horrified eyes off his now gigantic wife.
We cut to the following day when enormous amounts of supplies, including gallons upon gallons of plasma and several feet of heavy chain, are delivered to the Archer house via truck (the chain is for the construction of a winch so as to move the extremities of the comatose Mrs. Archer). Dr. Cushing has decided to do the only thing possible when the medical going gets tough in a B movie: he calls in a second doctor, a specialist with a very heavy Viennese accent and a “Von” in his name. The two doctors confer over a microscope. Dr. Cushing, smoking a pipe for the first time now that the case has taken on a distinctive international flavor, watches solemnly as Dr. Heinrich Van Loeb lifts his gaze from the scope and rubs his eyes and delivers his expert diagnosis: what the matter on the slide, whatever it may be, has revealed is that Mrs. Archer has been exposed to high levels of radiation and the portion of her brain that controls growth has gone nuts (imagine this last part with a heavy accent, pipe puffing, and a good dose of semisensical medical/scientific jargon).
Can surgery cure it? asks Dr. Cushing, blinking through the pipe smoke. Yes, says our foreign, therefore more ingenious, doctor (the prominence of Albert Einstein, combined with the memory of Sigmund Freud, gave the American scientific, psychiatric, and medical communities of Hollywood B films a real case of the wobbles throughout the 1950s. J. Robert Oppenheimer, though technically an American and a genius, always seemed odd, that is to say, European or perhaps extraterrestrial).
Harry has scuttled away to his squalid love nest with Honey, who can’t help but belittle him for his lack of balls. “I read the morning papers,” she says, jiggling around the room to some jazz, giving him a nice paper cut. I told you what happened, whines Harry, already somehow with a drink in his hand. What the hell are we going to do now! What with her being the most astound medical freak the world has ever know and all. And I’ll be damned if she can’t be cured with surgery, once they get my OK. As usual, our nubile little demon supplies the plan: “Then all you have to do is hide out and let her swell up like a balloon!”
While Harry and Honey hide out and wait for the balloon/wife to burst, the sheriff and Deputy Charlie are investigating the pool roof where Mrs. Archer made her reappearance from the desert. They find the giant’s tracks. “Wow, what is it?” says Charlie, though what they find is absolutely nothing else but the imprint of a giant, bare foot. “I don’t know,” says the sheriff, “but whatever it is, it wasn’t made by a Japanese gardener!”
The sheriff sends Charlie back to the office, deciding to take along a far better man, Jess the butler (and it’s a damn good thing he does, too, as ever-useful Jess is called upon to push the Sherriff out of a ditch as they follow the tracks into the desert– a procedure Charlie would have fowled up to a fair-thee-well for sure). The two not only find the satellite but also the missing revolver, thereby deducing, as they approach the bleeping ball, that Harry must have emptied the revolver before leaving Mrs. Archer alone, and the giant must not only be real but must have deposited Mrs. Archer on the pool house roof after their encounter (a rather gentlemanly gesture, right?).
Ken Terrell and George Douglas
There is a door open on the craft, hissing and emitting steam like a portal into a tanker’s engine room, so Jess and the sheriff, without exchanging a word, naturally walk right in, not considering for a moment any kind of backup. It is, after all, only a visitation from another planet. We’ll just wrap this up quick and get on back to town, no need for the extra paperwork. Inside they discover a sparse craft, designed for the budget-minded space traveler, made primarily out of pegboard and steam hoses. All the ship's expense seems to have gone to a row of transparent balls of varying size holding diamonds (the largest one holding the Star of India). It is Jess that puts the final piece of the puzzle together, that the diamonds are used to power the craft; that the transparent balls holding the diamonds are actually fuel cells. Just as the two are about to become Jewel thieves, the giant/monster/alien appears, slightly upset about the intruders (Michael Ross, who does double duty in this film as both the bartender at the local bar and the space giant, seems particularly unthreatening in both rolls. Despite much affected terror from both Jess and the Sheriff, neither ever seems in real danger. The giant seems more disappointed in earth manners than actually angry). After chasing the two out of his craft, and taking several shotgun blasts from the sheriff, the alien casually destroys their vehicle and saunters off back to his ship and bleeps off into space. What seems to upset the sheriff most about the entire encounter, or at least what illicitness the most vocal complaint, is that they must now walk back to town. God bless it, this happens every time I encounter an alien craft and make contact with beings from another planet!
Back at the estate, our two doctors have adjourned from their work to a contemplative moment out by the pool. Amid the cool of the evening, the offer up this fascinating piece of Atomic Age analysis of the human condition:
Family doctor Cushing, still working over his pipe for authority, fondly remembers Nancy as a young girl, always happy, full of joy; but something happened after her marriage. Says the doctor in weighty tones “Her health seemed to rise and fall with the tide of her emotions.”
Doctor Von Loeb weighs in sagely from his Austrian perspective: “Ah, another sad case. A case not infrequent in this supersonic age we live in.”
“I’m afraid I may have been unwise when I advised Nancy to take Harry back after they separated,” says Dr. Cushing, easily winning the “No Shit Sherlock” award for 1959 by a wide margin.
Oh no, comforts Heinrich, steering Cushing away from the only sound diagnosis either of them have made in the picture; “Who knows, my friend? When women reach the age of maturity, mother nature sometimes overworks their frustration to the point of irrationalism. Like a middle aged man, of our age, who finds himself looking longingly at a girl in her early twenties.”
Doctor Cushing accepts a light for his pipe from Von Loeb, well relieved. Whew, for a second there I thought I had steered my lifelong charge into the arms of a conman; thank heavens it was menopause all along. No wonder she’s acting so dodgy!
As our men of medical science enjoy a smoke, we cut to the nurse busily doing all the real work, when suddenly – from upstairs, we hear a terrible, reverberated voice echoing beyond all human proportions!
“Harry? Harry?”
Mrs. Archer is awake and very, very pissed, which means the real fun starts.
For the remainder of the film, we have the fully justified rampage of Mrs. Archer. The doctors try drugging her with an elephant syringe full of morphine and reinforcing her chains, but it won’t take. Harry is sent for, but refuses to leave Tony’s, preferring to slow dance with Honey. The now giant-ized Mrs. Archer, having attained her full 50 feet, tears the roof of her house and scares the credentials out of our two doctors as they barley escape the house’s destruction with their flabby jowls howling all the way.
“I know where my husband is!” says the towering voice, and indeed she does. Mrs. Archer takes slow, giant strides across town, making a bee-line for Tony’s bar and the seedy hotel attached to it. Naturally, she checks the hotel first. This scene is particularly human as Nancy, via her giant hand, shatters the window to the room (Mrs. Archer has known all along what was going on, right down to the room number) and destroys the very bed where her husband fell so hard from her grace, tossing the vile thing over and smashing it.
Large and in Charge: Allison Hayes
If she can’t find Harry, she’s going to destroy the town! surmises the sheriff, and all we can do is root her on! Harry, Harry! she screams, and the denizens of Tony’s begin to tremble and huddle together. Nancy grips the main timbers of the bar and begins to shake the building’s very foundations, and that’s when hysteria grips the small, human contents of Tony’s Bar. Amid the horrible shriek of wood, Nancy rips the roof off the bar, as Honey, screaming in terror, throws herself under a table for protection (duck and cover, right?). Nancy, with slow and methodical intent, rips a particularly heavy beam from the ruined debris and throws it down, crushing the table and Honey underneath. As Harry tears the debris off the crushed, dead body of his lover, Nancy reaches inside and, swatting aside the deputy, picks Harry up, crushing him, as she lifts his body through the open roof and holds his corpse over her head like a trophy (if any viewer imagines that Harry is alive when hoisted over Nancy’s head, I suggest you listen carefully to Harry as he is lifted off the floor: “Nancy! Honey, no! Your killing me, Nancy! Honey! I can’t breath! Your killing me!” until finally, just as she lifts him through the roof, we hear a wet gurgle. Any questions?).
Lifted skyward - William Hudson
The sheriff, trying to save what little of the town remains, blasts Nancy into nearby power lines with his trusty riot gun, where she is electrocuted in brilliant light and dies, falling to the ground with Harry still in her grip.
Throughout the film it as fallen on Dr. Cushing to state the obvious, always in tones as though he were revealing the wisdom of the prophets; and he has one more pronouncement to go before we wrap things up:
“She finally got Harry all to herself,” he says, and the absolutely useless Dr. “Von” Loeb shrugs his shoulders in weary sadness. Ah, what can one do with middle-aged women in this supersonic age? I can only add it is a damn shame Nancy didn’t squash both of them flat back at the ranch when she had them dead to rights.
This movie has been immensely popular over the years, never failing to please. There are a ton of good reasons for this other than the obvious psycho-sexual thrill and rampant imaginings the famous poster image has inspired in both boys and men for half a decade (I for one had a pre-teenage crush on Nancy Archer, 50 feet tall and running around town at night in her underwear, smashing an entire town! I always imagined she would find me, perhaps peering in at me through a window of the hotel, and find me intriguing. Smiling, should would carefully lift me out. For what? What I was going to do with a 50 foot woman, or even more startling, what she might do with me, was - well, the imagination runs a bit wild at that point, so I will spare you. Suffice to say it was the immensity of all that pure flesh that nearly drove me nuts).
It certainly isn’t the dazzling special effects that keeps folks coming back for more with this movie; some of which are downright mediocre if very charming. While the destruction scenes are solid and thrilling, the scenes of the giants, both alien and domestic, are a bit shabby, and sometimes actually transparent. This film, fortunately, didn’t put all of its eggs in that basket.
The main reason for its continued success is the fact that there is just so much going on, and all of it gritty fun: Adultery, a murder plot, twisted sexual obsession, small town depravity and repression, and much more! We have the magnificent performances from our two female leads, Allison Hayes and Yvette Vickers; and at least a damn good job turned in by William Hudson. His low-rent chiseler hits the mark more than once in the movie.
The movie also is capable of a surprise or two. I particularly enjoy the strange put true love between the two main heels, Harry and Honey, and count it an unexpected pleasure every time I watch this movie.
Yes, they are nothing but a couple of cheap grifters. Okay, they do nothing but lie and cheat through the entire film, even plot and nearly carry out murder. They are about as evil as this little side-road burg will ever see, but they do, after a fashion, truly love each other. Consider the moment when, near the end, Harry is holed up in Honey’s hotel room, the both of them waiting together while Nancy dies form radiation or gigantism, or both. They have been apart for a bit, Harry having to pretend for an evening to care for comatose Nancy. Harry seems a bit snappish, brooding and staring out a window, and Honey looks at him . . . what, warmly? Maybe not. Maybe just with understanding.
“What’s a matter, Harry?” she asks, “conscious bothering you?” She pours them some drinks and brings his to him. “The trouble with us,” she continues, “is we both have the same decease: Money. And all the happy ways to spend it.”
Harry takes his drink and looks at her. After a moment, they smile at one another. “I missed you,” he says with genuine warmth, and he pulls her to him. Consider also when Nancy smushes Honey under the roof beam, Harry doesn’t run as one would expect, but tries to save her. If this film wasn’t so filled with California light and radiated science, it might have made a very torrid James M. Cain style film noir with doomed, rotten lovers at the center.
This one is pure, lively entertainment from beginning to end - something very common in B films from the era, and something this film had in every single scene.
So. Watch and enjoy, and guys, for God’s sake take a lesson: never cheat on a beautiful, statuesque redhead worth 50 million dollars. - Radiation Cinema

5 comments:

  1. Great review Mykal - its nice to read considered pieces on films that would usually be dismissed by many others as nothing but trash. Embrace the trash!

    I watched this title recently and it was everything I hoped it would be. I liked how you saw shades of a torrid James M. Cain style film noir with doomed, rotten lovers at the center in this film. Interesting slant.

    Have once again enjoyed perusing through your fine site.

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  2. Back at ya, James. Where some see trash, we see forgotten greatness. Raise a glass of Merlot on me. Talk to you soon. - Mykal

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  3. Love your site. I've been a big fan of the genre for years, especialy the black and white flying saucer movies.

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  4. Bayman: Thanks for the kind words!

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  5. Mykal,
    It's too bad Nathan Juran was so embarrased by the low budget of this efficient little thriller. Instead of tinkering with the effects shots of 1977's "Star Wars" (aka Episode IV - A New Hope), George Lucas should have invested in fixing the SFX here.
    Have you seen the 1993 remake?
    Thanks!

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