Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Snow Creature (Planet Productions/United Artists, 1954)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I screened The Snow Creature, a 1954 film from director/producer W. Lee Wilder (Billy Wilder’s cousin, though mistakenly identifies him as the more famous Wilder’s brother — in fact “Wilhelm” was the original first name of both of them so they couldn’t have had the same parents) that actually had the potential to be an interesting and different film if the budget hadn’t approached strangulation level; one gets the impression Wilder and his son Myles, who wrote the script, were panhandling on Hollywood Boulevard for the money to keep shooting.

A couple of white guys, botanist Dr. Frank Parrish (Paul Langton) and Peter Wells (Leslie Denison), organize an expedition into the Himalayas for reasons Wilder Söhn never quite makes clear. But when their lead Sherpa guide, Subra (Teru Shimada), loses … well, at first it’s his sister-in-law but later it’s his wife — anyway, whoever she is and however they’re related, she’s kidnapped and carried off by a Yeti (an Abominable Snowman to you), a giant guy in a carpet sample who is part of a race of legendary beings living in the mountains, Subra and his fellow Sherpas stage a mutiny, take over the expedition and send it off in the mountains to hunt the Yeti.

After about 40 minutes’ worth of screen time walking around the mountain set (actually the familiar Bronson Canyon Western location, liberally strewn with ground-up cornflakes or whatever they were using then to simulate snow), they finally capture a Yeti — alive — and bring it back to San Francisco (where, through the magic of stock footage, they fly from Nepal via New York à la Spider Island), whereupon the film turns into a chintzy remake of King Kong without the Kong-Fay Wray love story (indeed, there are no principal female characters in the movie!). The Yeti escapes captivity, kills a few women on the streets and is ultimately hunted down and killed — and that’s the end of it.

The Snow Creature
gets a few things right — like the appearance of the Yeti, whom they keep quite effectively in shadow to make him look more sinister and keep us focused on the monster itself and not the chintziness of his makeup; and the fact that, unlike a lot of more highly regarded directors who shot mountaineering scenes, Wilder managed to make it believable that these people were in a highly cold and unforgiving climate. (The fact that we were watching this movie on a cold night and there were bits of real-life drafts in our room helped the verisimilitude, too.) But there are a lot more things that go wrong, including the fact that whenever the Yeti appears, he does so in the exact same piece of footage: a shot of the actor in shadow walking straight towards the camera. (The entry on The Snow Creature tentatively lists Lock Martin — the unusually tall stunt person who played Klaatu in the 1951 The Day the Earth Stood Still — as the Yeti, but stresses that that’s unconfirmed.)

It also doesn’t help that the language of the Sherpas sounds an awful lot like Japanese — for a reason that isn’t revealed until the credit roll at the end: they were all played by Japanese actors and therefore they were speaking Japanese! I don’t know if Mystery Science Theatre 3000 ever gave The Snow Creature the “treatment” — it would have deserved it and they could probably have done quite a number on it, but at the same time, as dull and uninspiring a movie as it is, there’s a kind of likability about it that really makes you wish it were a better film.