Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gill-Man Sequence (Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, The Creature Walks Among Us) (Universal-International, 1954-56)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

This morning I ran The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the Creature consecutively. I’m not sure why Jack Arnold has acquired something of a cult following among horror film fans — the two movies are well-directed enough (he did not direct the third in the series; John Sherwood did) but are done pretty much on autopilot, and Ricou Browning’s performance in the title role (unbilled!) is, likewise, a pretty straightforward piece of moving (one can’t really call it “acting”) in a story that is highly derivative of both Frankenstein and King Kong. In those movies, one felt a real sympathy for the monsters — in Frankenstein due to James Whale’s sensitive direction and Boris Karloff’s magnificently subtle performance, both of which rose above a pretty threadbare script — I still like to fantasize a Frankenstein movie in which Karloff could have played the Monster the way Mary Shelley wrote him, using that great voice to deliver Mary Shelley’s beautifully written speeches for her fully articulate version of the Monster:

“I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces and triumph. Remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me? You would not call it murder if you could precipitate me into one of those ice-rifts and destroy my own frame, the work of your own hands. Shall I respect man when he condemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness; and, instead of injury, I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance.

“But that cannot be. The human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union. Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries. If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care. I will work at your destruction, not finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth.”

— and in King Kong the sympathy was created by Willis O’Brien’s unique talent in giving Kong himself a characterization similar to the one Karloff had acted. In Creature, the “Gill-Man” never managed to cross over from monster to sympathetic being, at least partially because the writers (in Creature, Harry Essex and Arthur Ross, from a story by Maurice Zimm; in Revenge, Martin Berkeley) didn’t give the Gill-Man any scenes that might have humanized his character. (No wonder Ricou Browning, whose chief talent seemed to be aquatic rather than thespian, didn’t get billing — though the part was so underwritten even Karloff in his prime couldn’t have made the character come alive as a sympathetic figure!) About the only thing they gave the Gill-Man to indicate his links to humanity was a sexual itch for the leading ladies of both films (Julia Adams in Creature, Lori Nelson in Revenge — Nestor Païva, as the captain of the Amazon boat, was the only actor who played in both) — and, while the actors playing human beings in Creature were at least competent (and Richard Carlson in a bathing suit was quite attractive, with nice chest hair and great nipples), the ones in Revenge were considerably less than that, leads Nelson and John Agar (Golden Turkey Awards nominee for Worst Actor of All Time) delivering their lines in the kind of monotone that bad actors lapse into when they don’t have a clue about how to modulate their voices to create a character. — 11/6/94


On one of my recent orders from the Columbia House DVD Club I had got the boxed set of Universal’s three Gill-Man movies from the mid-1950’s — Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954 — and note the actual title credit does not include the definite article!), Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). I had the idea of screening the three movies on the remaining three days of October as our Hallowe’en treat for the year (Charles and I previously did that with the Universal boxed sets of the Frankenstein, Wolf-Man and Mummy series), and Creature from the Black Lagoon came off this time around pretty much as it always has — a quite competent if not especially inspired horror thriller, obviously inspired by King Kong and its man-woman-monster love triangle — with the caveat that the last time Charles and I had seen it together, it had been on the big screen at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts in the original 3-D. Seen in 3-D, aspects of Jack Arnold’s direction that had always puzzled me — bits and pieces of how he’d staged the action scenes — became clear, and the 3-D effects he threw into the movie, notably Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning) aiming the harpoon gun and firing it straight at the camera (apparently it was supposed to be a Gill-Man’s point-of-view shot), seemed powerful instead of merely pointless.

Without the 3-D, Creature is “flat” in more ways than one, a fun movie, good to look at (whatever your gender or orientation, the sight of Richard Carlson, Richard Denning and Julia Adams in the scantiest swimsuits Universal-International could dare with the Production Code still in effect has an aesthetic thrill that would make Creature watchable even if it were a far worse film than it is), well staged — at least the filmmakers don’t leave us in any serious doubt that the monster exists (Val Lewton could get away with toying with audience expectations and playing the is-it-or-isn’t-it-real game until the final reel, but you’d have to be a filmmaker of his extraordinary taste and skill for indirection and suspense to pull it off), cueing it with a shot of its hand and a thundering three-note motif that shocks you to attention even if you’ve been nodding off — and, given the limits of the genre, well acted. It’s just that the genuine pathos with which the similar situation was staged in King Kong doesn’t happen here (though there’s the marvelous scene in the film The Seven-Year Itch in which Marilyn Monroe’s character is declaiming about how sorry she felt for the Gill-Man right after she and Tom Ewell have seen the film together, and it’s at that moment that the rush of air from a subway train below her blows through a grate and blows her dress above the waist) and I’m not sure why not.

It may have to do with the expressionlessness of the Gill-Man’s face — the head was a helmet mask that (unlike the one used in the two later films in the series) does not allow the actors playing the Gill-Man to see. And there were two of them, as I learned to my surprise when obituaries for stuntman Ben Chapman credited him with the role — I had always thought Ricou Browning had played it, and later I found out they both had: Chapman on land and Browning (a champion swimmer who could hold his breath for up to four minutes at a time — director Arnold didn’t want him visibly exhaling under water because the creature was supposed to breathe through gills, like a fish, and a life form that got its oxygen from water instead of air wouldn’t have exhaled air bubbles; alas, in the later two films this was ignored and the Gill-Man did breathe out air bubbles) in the water. There are some quite nice touches in the script — notably that the Gill-Man isn’t just another stupid monster: he’s got enough smarts to build the underwater barricade that keeps the boat the (human) principals are on inside the Black Lagoon until Carlson’s character does a dangerous dive to dislodge it — but on the whole this is a competent, well-made but not masterly thriller rather than a horror classic on the level of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Werewolf of London, Son of Dracula and the other truly great horror films Universal had made in the first 15 years or so of the talkies. — 10/30/11


About the only thing they gave the Gill-Man to indicate his links to humanity was a sexual itch for the leading ladies of both films (Julia Adams in Creature, Lori Nelson in Revenge — Nestor Païva, as the captain of the Amazon boat, was the only actor who played a human in both) — and, while the actors playing human beings in Creature were at least competent (and Richard Carlson in a bathing suit was quite attractive, with nice chest hair and great nipples), the ones in Revenge were considerably less than that, leads Nelson and John Agar (Golden Turkey Awards nominee for Worst Actor of All Time) delivering their lines in the kind of monotone that bad actors lapse into when they don’t have a clue about how to modulate their voices to create a character. Ironically, the first 20 minutes of Revenge (before the Gill-Man is captured and moved from the Amazon to Florida) were considerably better directed than Creature, with Arnold maintaining a tighter pace and creating superior suspense effects, but the remaining hour of the film slowed to a crawl, with large amounts of dull dialogue between Nelson, Agar and John Bromfield (who both out-acted and out-hunked Agar, but — alas — got drowned by the Gill-Man halfway through) before a final scene where the monster shows up at a party (with an R&B band playing — what else, in a Universal movie — “I’ll Remember April”) and creates absolutely no reaction at all until Lori Nelson shows up and he kidnaps her.

Another annoyance of both movies is the political incorrectness — the racism in Creature (nobody cares about the mounting death toll until one of the scientists, played by Whit Bissell, gets attacked and nearly killed by the Gill-Man, and Adams laments the “loss of all that experience” if he dies — apparently the four Brazilian bit-players who’d been killed earlier were considered expendable) and the sexism in Revenge (there’s a long scene between Agar and Nelson in which Nelson totally accepts the need for her to abandon her scientific career in order to get married — even though the man who’s romancing her is in the same field). It’s ironic that the blurb on the video box, seeing a 1955 movie through 1993 eyes, says, “The tormented Creature begins to emerge as a hauntingly beautiful alien, and a female researcher (Lori Nelson) forms an uneasy emotional link with him, as her own doubts about career vs. motherhood parallel the Creature’s feelings of alienation and confinement. Soon they are both driven to break free of their respective ‘prisons,’ with exciting results.” Had the makers of Revenge actually made the movie the video blurb-writer describes (a sort of cross between The Day the Earth Stood Still and Rebel Without a Cause), it would have “held up” as a considerably more interesting work than the one we actually have. Still, Revenge is historically interesting for its early depiction of a pre-Disneyland theme park (Marineland in Florida) and as the first film of Clint Eastwood (he plays a lunk-headed research assistant who loses a lab rat — and would have been virtually unrecognizable if the blurb hadn’t helpfully identified him and his mini-bit part). — 11/6/94


I decided to screen the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 version of the 1955 film Revenge of the Creature, Universal’s first of two sequelae to The Creature from the Black Lagoon — virtually no one realizes that the monster in that film is actually called the “Gill-Man” because he’s humanoid but has gills and therefore breathes water instead of air — and, at least according to a “trivia” post on imdb.com, the only sequel to a 3-D movie that was itself in 3-D. One reason I wanted to see this just now was that after having just seen Clint Eastwood’s first credited screen role in the 1956 film The First Traveling Saleslady (with Ginger Rogers and Carol Channing — which makes it count as at least a sort of “doubles” movie, since Channing created the role of Dolly Levi in the stage musical Hello, Dolly! and Rogers was one of her mid-run replacements) I was curious to re-see Eastwood’s first movie role ever. He plays a dorky lab technician who loses one of the four white rats entrusted to his care, worries that a cat ate it and then realizes he had it in his pocket all along. “He’ll never amount to anything in movies,” the MST3K crew couldn’t resist joking after Eastwood’s brief scene came on.

Revenge of the Creature begins in the Amazon, where the first Creature from the Black Lagoon was set — Nestor Païva, the boat captain, was the only actor who carried over from the cast of the original Creature movie to this one (unless you count Ricou Browning, the champion swimmer who played the Gill-Man in his underwater scenes — when I saw the obituary for stunt man Ben Chapman I was startled to find him credited with playing the Gill-Man in Creature from the Black Lagoon since I’d always thought Browning had played him, and it turned out they both did: Chapman played him on land and Browning played him underwater — and in Revenge Browning repeated his phase of the Gill-Man role but stunt man Tom Hennesy replaced Chapman for the land-based scenes) — and it shows the Gill-Man getting captured and brought back to the U.S. for exhibition at Florida’s Marineland, the first aquatic theme park (which did a good business — enough so that it spawned a West Coast version, Marineland of the Pacific — until it was eclipsed by Sea World), though they call it something else in the film. The people in charge of nursing the Gill-Man back to health after all the bullets that got fired at it both in the first film and this one are oceanographers Prof. Clete Ferguson (John Agar) and Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson), who being that they’re first- and second-billed and of different genders naturally fall in love with each other, albeit quite diffidently (and the MST3K crew couldn’t help but kid the virtual torpor of their love scenes).

The Gill-Man naturally gets tired of being put on display as a freak — though he seems almost as put out by the monotony of his diet (just those fresh fish that get handed to dolphins at aquatic theme parks as rewards for successfully completing a trick) — and of course he escapes, pulling out the chains that are supposed to be holding him in place in the grand manner of amorous movie monsters from Frankenstein’s creation to King Kong, and he ambles around Florida more or less stalking Lori Nelson and also crashing parties (there’s a neat scene in which a rather limp jazz band featuring tenor sax and trombone plays “I’ll Remember April,” a song that had already featured prominently in at least two better Universal movies: the 1942 Abbott and Costello vehicle Ride ’Em, Cowboy, in which it was introduced; and the 1944 film  noir Phantom Lady) and various joints until he’s finally plugged, more or less for good, though there was a third Gill-Man movie, The Creature Walks Among Us — in which the scientists in that one give the Gill-Man a trachaeotomy that saves his life but converts him from a water-breather to an air-breather; at the end of that one the Gill-Man, acting on instinct, walks down a beach and back into the water — either we were supposed to think that, no longer being able to breathe underwater, he would drown and that would be the end of him; or the screenwriters just screwed up.

Revenge of the Creature isn’t a bad movie — though it’s not especially good, either; John Agar and Lori Nelson don’t have any charisma at all, either jointly or severally — they’re hardly in the same league, either as actors or as personalities, as Richard Carlson and Julia Adams from the first film in the series — and the Gill-Man’s antics, including his sort-of crush on Nelson’s character (anemically reprised from the first film, which itself was an anemic reprise of King Kong in that department), have the sort of been-there, done-that air about them that infects all too many movie sequels. Still, it’s better than the sort of fare MST3K usually ridiculed — good enough that we can watch it as entertainment but not so good that we’d resent seeing it made fun of — though the other Universal-International movies they gave the “treatment” to, including The Mole People, The Deadly Mantis and especially The Leech Woman, were more appropriate targets (both for them and for the San Diego-area early-1980’s precursor, Schlock Theatre, in which the snarky comments on the film were run under the action as subtitles rather than spoken over the dialogue). The best line from the MST3K group in Revenge of the Creature: when the Gill-Man emerges from the Universal-International studio tank one of the crew said, “Man, Esther Williams aged really badly!” — 4/26/10


Our film was Revenge of the Creature, the second in the three-film “Gill-Man” sequence that started with the 1954 classic Creature from the Black Lagoon (note the absence of a definite article in that title) and ended in 1956 with The Creature Walks Among Us, the only one not directed by Jack Arnold (John Sherwood replaced him) and the only one not originally shot in 3-D. Revenge of the Creature is the middle movie in the sequence and this time around, much to my surprise, I liked it better than its predecessor even though (unlike with the first Creature) I haven’t had the advantage of having seen it in 3-D, in which some of Arnold’s perplexing directorial decisions became a good deal more comprehensible. It’s true Revenge doesn’t have as good a cast as the original — from Richard Carlson, Richard Denning and Julia Adams (all professionally competent if not especially great actors) we head down to John Agar, John Bromfield (though the spectacularly good-looking swimmer of Esther Williams’ vehicle Easy to Love is certainly a hot piece of eye candy and adds to the aesthetic appeal of this film!) and Lori Nelson — but frankly it’s got a more interesting plot, mainly because it moves the Gill-Man from his Amazonian environment (according to imdb.com, the Black Lagoon itself was actually “played” by Big Bear Lake!) into the modern-day urban world of Miami Beach, Florida — just as King Kong, as good as the first three-fourths of it is, gets even better once the monster reaches New York City and interacts with modern-day urban civilization and its people. Revenge of the Creature begins with another expedition into the upper tributaries of the Amazon to capture the Gill-Man and see if he’s still alive — and if he is, to take him to a marine theme park in Florida and put him on exhibit. (This plot line became unexpectedly timely with the recent announcement by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, that they are suing Sea World for holding killer whales and dolphins as slaves in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment; one could readily imagine a modern-day moviemaker taking that one on and inserting a subplot in which an attorney argues that a humanoid monster like the Gill-Man or Frankenstein’s creation is a “person” within the Constitutional definition and therefore can’t be exhibited or summarily executed.)

They sail there in a boat called the Rita II — presumably the original Rita, the one sailed by the principals in the original Creature from the Black Lagoon, was damaged beyond repair by the events of that film, though Nestor Païva is still the captain (and he and Ricou Browning, who played the underwater incarnation of the Creature, are the only on-screen performers who carried over from the first film to this one; Tom Hennessy replaced Ben Chapman as the on-land Gill-Man and also doubled as one of the Marineland divers who tried to handle him) — and there are arguments between Joe Hayes (John Bromfield) and some of the crew members on just how far to risk their lives for whatever it is the rich person behind the expedition is paying them. Eventually they do entrap the Gill-Man and bring him to the theme park (the sequences were shot at the real-life Marineland, which pioneered the concept of a theme park featuring marine mammals but was eventually put out of business by the bigger, splashier Sea World), where they put him on display (the entrance features a life-size cut-out of him that seemingly anticipates the Universal Studios tour as well as the 1993 movie Jurassic Park, also about an eccentric multimillionaire’s scheme to exhibit prehistoric creatures to the public that goes hideously wrong) with a steel chain fastening him to the floor of the aquarium so he can’t get away. Scientist Clete Ferguson (John Agar, looking as uncomfortable as he always did playing a man of learning — he was a close friend of John Wayne, got cast in a lot of the Duke’s movies, and tried to copy Wayne’s mannerisms whether they made sense for the part he was playing or not) comes to Marineland, or whatever they’re calling it, to research the Gill-Man, and he’s saddled with a science-student assistant, Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson), whom he hates at first sight and, by the hoariest of classic movie conventions, ultimately falls in love with — and, of course, the Gill-Man falls in love with her too.

There are a lot of intriguing scenes in which the two are trying to condition the Gill-Man to obey commands by sticking him with a cattle prod when he doesn’t do what they tell him to do, as well as others in which either or both of our ichthyologist lovebirds stroll the hallways of the public viewing area at night, during one of which Lori Nelson’s character expresses sorrow for the Gill-Man’s loneliness (the one scene in either of the first two Gill-Man movies that even tries for the pathos of the James Whale Frankensteins) — and in the end, not surprisingly given how closely the screenwriters for this one (William Alland, the producer, wrote the story and Martin Berkeley wrote the script) were following the classic templates not only from the original Creature (scripted by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross from a story by Maurice Zimm based on an “idea” by Alland, who according to imdb.com heard a story of a supposedly haunted lagoon in Mexico from cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa when they were both working on Orson Welles’ ill-fated project It’s All True) but from King Kong and quite a few other monster movies as well, it’s the Gill-Man’s case of the hots for Helen that gives him the adrenaline rush needed to tear the chain loose from its mooring and escape. (Anyone who had seen King Kong would have known that would happen.)

In the middle of all this, the plot comes to a dead stop so we can see the Marineland “educated porpoise,” Flippy (not Flipper, Flippy!), do his act. Once the Gill-Man escapes he gets his titular “revenge,” and like some later movie monsters he seems to do a lot of hanging out at lovers’ lanes and parties — and the good guys keep letting the Gill-Man kidnap Helen again and again; he seems to zero in on her no matter how often she’s rescued. There are some neatly chilling scenes showcasing the monster’s indifference to the lives around him — in one, finding a line of parked cars blocking his access to the beach, he simply turns one of them over; in another, two young men who previously have been arguing over whether or not they should stay in college see Helen’s form sprawled out on the side of the coast road, make the mistake of getting out to help her, and end up the latest victims of the insanely jealous Gill-Man. Ultimately the monster is cornered on the beach and pumped full of bullets — though as with the first Creature movie, he somehow manages to survive that treatment long enough to set up a sequel.

Though not as strongly cast as the first, and with far fewer shots of cast members of either gender in scanty (or as scanty as a 1955 movie could get away with) swimwear, Revenge of the Creature seems to me to be an advance on the first film and hardly worthy of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 “treatment,” which it got in the show’s latter stages once they’d got the approval of Universal to take on a few of their 1950’s less-than-classics (movies like The Mole People, The Deadly Mantis — featuring William Hopper, the guy who played Paul Drake on Perry Mason, as an entomologist figuring out ways to combat a giant-sized praying mantis — and the awesomely awful The Leech Woman were far more appropriate MST3K “targets” from the Universal-International archives). It’s also worth noting that Revenge of the Creature features the very first film appearance by Clint Eastwood — in one scene, playing a comic-relief doofus lab assistant who thinks a cat has eaten one of the four lab rats he was supposed to be taking care of, only it turns out the rat was in his lab-coat pocket all along — one of the most embarrassing debuts ever by someone who went on to a major career, though it’s interesting to note that this film’s producer and story writer, William Alland, who played the reporter Thompson in Citizen Kane, is the one degree of separation between two of the industry most legendary actor-directors, Orson Welles and Clint Eastwood! — 10/31/11


Charles and I got together at about 6:45 last night and we joined John P. in a screening of one of the videos I just bought, The Creature Walks Among Us. This is the third and last of Universal’s “Gill-Man” movies of the 1950’s, with a completely different cast from either of the first two, and considerably better than the second in the series (Revenge of the Creature) in its plot (story and screenplay by Arthur Ross) and acting (reuniting Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason from the science-fiction film This Island Earth the year before, and also featuring Gregg Palmer and the obligatory blonde bombshell, played by Leigh Snowden in an Esther Williams-like performance, especially when she does a nice water ballet while supposedly suffering from “rapture of the deep” 200 feet under in the Florida Everglades). Unfortunately, Jack Arnold yielded the directorship to John Sherwood this time out, and the film doesn’t have the same kind of atmosphere and suspense Arnold brought to the two previous entries in the series. The Creature Walks Among Us is one of those frustrating films that could have been a lot better than it was. Its premise — that, in order to save the Gill-Man’s life after its gills are damaged in a fire (after it pours gasoline on itself, apparently thinking it’s water), a trachaeotomy is performed on it and it therefore acquires the capacity to breathe air directly, while losing its natural ability to breathe through water — is easily the strongest of any of the films in the series, and with sufficiently sensitive direction and acting in the role, the movie could have been a classic tale of the “outsider,” a creature earning sympathy for being out of place on land or water (much the way director James Whale and star Boris Karloff evoked so marvelously sympathetic a portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster in the 1931 classic Frankenstein).

But whoever is in the Gill-Man’s suit this time (the reference books say it’s Ricou Browning in all three films, but the Gill-Man looks considerably heavier-set and clunkier once it’s converted into a land creature — indeed, I’d hazard the guess that it was Tor Johnson in the suit post-op) is no Boris Karloff, and Sherwood is no James Whale, either. With the Gill-Man having little to do in the latter stages of this film but hole up in an electrified pen on the estate of mad-doctor Morrow — and cast long, lingering glances at Morrow’s private lagoon, the closest he could come to his ancestral oceans — the film’s focus shifts to its human characters (a mistake) and the sordid romantic intrigue between Morrow, Snowden (his wife), Palmer (who tries to rape her twice — ironically, she’s saved by the Gill-Man both times) and Reason (who ends up with her at the end, after Morrow and Palmer conveniently die). The ending is moving, though: the Gill-Man walks across a ridge and stares at the sea, about to walk in and head “home,” not knowing what we know: that he no longer can breathe water, and therefore he will drown … Charles joked later that the Gill-Man was actually a Lesbian Gill-Woman (“Did you see a dick on her?” he asked — “Maybe it retracted, like a dog’s,” I replied, to which he said, “No dog — or any other animal — retracts its balls”), homosexually attracted to human women. — 4/23/95


Charles and I closed out our Hallowe’en celebration by watching the third and last film in the Gill-Man sequence, The Creature Walks Among Us, which on balance is probably the weakest of the three entries but is also of odd interest as a genre-bender. Directed by John Sherwood (replacing Jack Arnold, who helmed the first two; Sherwood was mostly a second-unit director, and his only other directorial credits were Raw Edge and The Monolith Monsters, the latter being a quite trippy sci-fi/horror movie in which the monsters were animate rocks) from a script by Arthur A. Ross, The Creature Walks Among Us is essentially the Gill-Man character grafted onto the plot of the contemporaneous Universal-International masterpiece Written on the Wind (both films were released in December 1956). Jeff Morrow plays Dr. William Barton, essentially the Robert Stack character from Wind, a ferociously possessive husband and also a fantastically rich scientist who conceives of the idea of going to the Everglades, recovering the Gill-Man and, if he is alive, using him as a guinea pig in his experiments on jump-starting human evolution. Leigh Snowden, essentially a Marilyn Monroe wanna-be (complete with eye-searing blonde hair and a breathy voice, though she doesn’t play as dumb as Marilyn often did and her breastworks are quite a bit less impressive) plays his long-suffering wife Marcia (essentially the Lauren Bacall character from Wind), while Rex Reason (reunited with Morrow from the cast of This Island Earth the year before) is the hot, hairy-chested (itself something of a novelty in the movies of the 1950’s because previously actors hadn’t been allowed to show chest hair; either they had none naturally or they shaved it), Hudsonesque hunk Dr. Thomas Morgan, who attracts Marcia’s affections and her husband’s jealousies.

Given that the title of one recent best-seller was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this mash-up of a romantic melodrama and a sci-fi/horror film doesn’t seem quite so weird now as it did in 1956, when this movie confused audiences and wrote finis to the Gill-Man cycle. It’s got some good atmospheric scenes of the creature being hunted down in the Florida swamps — the little-regarded Sherwood seems the equal of the legendary Arnold in building suspense and chiaroscuro atmosphere — as the ill-assorted crew Dr. Barton has accumulated sets sail in his yacht (at first I was puzzled that a boat operating in Florida would have San Francisco listed on its stern as its homeport, but later it turns out that the boat is an oceangoing yacht and the principals take it and the Gill-Man to Sausalito, in Marin County just north of San Francisco, where Dr. Barton has his palatial home — which might actually be the same set as the Hadley family’s residence in Written on the Wind) and uses a sophisticated sonar device to trace the Gill-Man, only when they actually find him, he overpowers them and smashes their electric lantern, so they light gasoline-filled torches and end up setting the Gill-Man on fire.

When next we see him he’s swathed in bandages aboard Dr. Barton’s yacht and they’re trying to figure out how to get him to breathe, since his gills were so badly damaged in the fire that they’re irreparable — and Dr. Barton hits on the bright idea of converting him into an air-breather, since he discovers (rather contrary to the premise of the first two films) that he has lungs as well as gills, he’s just never used the lungs before. So they give the monster a tracheotomy and Dr. Barton announces that he’s successfully jump-started evolution and turned a freshwater creature into a land-based animal. The rest of the movie shows the Gill-Man — no longer so appropriately named — considerably more heavy-set than we’ve seen him before (for some reason, though Ricou Browning played the aquatic version of the Gill-Man in all three films, the actors playing him on land changed — Ben Chapman in Creature from the Black Lagoon, Tom Hennessy in Revenge of the Creature and Don Megowan here) and dressed in clothes (making him considerably less scary), and the movie jumps around from the monster sequences to the soap-opera bits which, quite frankly, seem more interesting.

Eventually it all builds to the expected climax: the Creature runs wild on the grounds of Dr. Barton’s Sausalito manse and dispatches the not-so-good doctor so the nice Dr. Morgan and the nice Mrs. Barton can get together — and there’s a haunting final scene in which the monster stands on the Sausalito beach, gazing longingly at the water as the film fades out. The ending is powerfully ambiguous enough that it deserves a better movie — does the monster intend to walk in the water? Has it forgotten it no longer can breathe under water? Does it remember it can no longer breathe under water and does it realize it’s now no longer at home in either the land or water worlds? It’s an interesting ending to a cycle which, though hardly in the same league with the classic Universal series horrors from the 1930’s and 1940’s, has its points of interest and is certainly worth seeing, especially if the first two Creature movies once again become available in 3-D. — 11/1/11