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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Creature Concerns

Despite being genitalia challenged, the Creature may well be the most visually arresting monster in Universal’s distinguished gallery. Certain gender issues remain cloudy, however. Naïve fifties assumptions that he(?) was male are put to rout by the fact we have no concrete evidence to that effect. Like some accursed precursor to the "Ken" doll, he/she is forever consigned to an Amazonian Twilight Zone, where his/her sexual identity must be forever in doubt. The male impulse would seem to manifest itself by way of the Creature’s expressed interest in Julia Adams, Lori Nelson, and Leigh Snowden, but in our own age of enlightenment, couldn’t there be, shall we say, another explanation for that? It would, after all, be no more alarming to find the Creature in ongoing romantic pursuit of Mssrs. Richard Denning, John Agar, and Rex Reason, and after all, who are we to judge? Surely director Jack Arnold addressed these gender ambiguities with cast and crew --- wonder what those guys inside the suit had to say about it. And by the way, just who did wear that Creature outfit? I’ve read it was Ricou Browning in the water, Ben Chapman on land, and Don Megowan for pensive and longing expressions directed toward the ocean --- but something tells me there were more of those Creature enactors. In fact, I’ll bet you could sit in a pancake house out in North Hollywood today, and it wouldn’t be ten minutes before you’d encounter some robust septuagenarian who’d once played the Gill Man.

I’ve recently re-watched the Creature trilogy, not having seen the last two since the sixties, and before you say Get A Life, let me assure you there are points of interest in all three. You must first, however, accustom yourself to the nerve-wracking repetition of that principal theme --- a kind of bombastic musical stinger that accompanies every shot of the titular character. Once you’re beyond that, and the yards of exposition that precedes the Creature’s initial appearance in each film, you’re okay. Be forewarned that a rigid formula applies here --- first they talk about him, then they catch him, then he escapes (usually with the girl), and finally they "kill" him. Well, they don’t really kill him, since he's reliably back for sequels, but I always wondered why they couldn’t just let him stay dead and allow an offspring or perhaps a sibling to pinch-hit. Oh, and before anyone corrects me, I do know they never actually capture the Creature in the first pic, but they do force him into a number of ignominious retreats, thus complying with sci-fi
narrative rules.

Remember Clint Eastwood’s rib-tickling screen launch as a lab technician in Revenge Of The Creature? That was 1955, and eager neophyte Clint wrings every comedic possibility out of that one scene he shares with star John Agar, but I couldn’t help wondering as I watched, what was he really thinking? Was this eager, hungry Universal-International contract player secretly coveting John Agar’s higher profile? Was Clint privately dreaming of the day when he might play the lead in a Creature sequel? Just food for thought. If one of you out there knows Clint, ask next time you run into him. He’s a square guy, and get back to us, okay? Another thing about Revenge Of The Creature is that Marineland location stuff, where the Creature gets loose and all that… well, doesn’t it look just like the Universal tour down there? --- even if it was shot in Florida? That’s sure what the entrance area reminded me of, and while we’re on the subject of Revenge Of The Creature, do you suppose Shirley Temple ever watched one of John Agar’s sci-fi movies? He made all of them after they divorced, although that whole thing was so bitter I understand he never even got to see his daughter with Shirley, even when she was married years later. So, my question is, has Shirley checked out Tarantula? --- or Zontar, Thing From Venus? Was John ever reunited with his daughter? I’d like to think so, because he was a good actor, and by all accounts, a nice guy.

The Creature Walks Among Us was the last one. I’d heard rumors of a fourth that was supposedly bandied about Universal boardrooms around 1964, but nothing came of it. A shame too, because the idea had possibilities. C.W.A.U. was the one where they took out his gills, or fitted him with lungs, or exchanged his gills for lungs, or some such thing. All I know is, they kept talking about corpuscles. I haven’t heard so many references to corpuscles since eighth grade science, and those aren’t memories I particularly cherish. Also, they put clothes on the Creature. Not very stylish clothes, but functional. Problem is the Creature doesn’t look as good wearing clothes. We prefer him near naked if possible. He’s like Joan Blondell
in that respect. The movie itself is all balled up with romantic triangles as well. I think they must have been watching Written On The Wind before they wrote this, as much of it seems a homage to Ross Hunter and Doug Sirk. Since the Code wouldn’t allow murderers to go unpunished, the Creature had to "die" at the end of all three movies. The last one’s at least a little ambiguous on that score. The Creature walks toward the ocean, but doesn’t actually submerge (you see, with his/her new lungs, he/she would drown). Anyway, that’s how they could have had their sequel. Instead of being a chump and drowning, the Creature could have come back in 1964 (or even today!), having found a place in civilized society and perhaps raise a family, thereby inspiring any number of rollicking domestic comedies where he/she could be played by Tim Allen, Jennifer Anniston, or any number of our glittering present-day luminaries. Imagine the possibilities!


Blogger C. Phillips said...

Great pics and nice write up about the Creature! :) In fact I love your whole blog. Keep up the great work man! ;)

5:10 PM  

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