Saturday 27 September 2008

The Giant Claw (1957)

1957 was something of a major year in the history of cinema. Film historians talk about Hollywood's golden year of 1939 but I keep coming back to 1957: the year that could be called the world's golden year. Not only did the Americans release classics like 12 Angry Men, Sweet Smell of Success and Witness for the Prosecution, but the rest of the world was on board too: the Russians with The Cranes are Flying, the French with Elevator to the Gallows, the Swedes with The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries; the English with Night of the Demon. Even B movies with lower budgets were still of the highest quality: films like The Incredible Shrinking Man and Run of the Arrow deserve mention alongside the films listed above.

Sometimes though they had no budget at all, and there were plenty of really awful films too. The Incredible Petrified World is the worst I've seen thus far, but there are a few others hot on its tail: Attack of the Crab Monsters, Zombies of Mora Tau, The Man Who Turned Stone. There's even Roger Corman's The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, which could never live up to such a title. The Giant Claw is better than these but not by much. In fact it's just as bad except for a higher calibre of acting and dialogue early on. The story is completely ludicrous.

It focuses on Mitch MacAfee, an electrical engineer and pilot, played by poor man's Cary Grant, Jeff Morrow, a scifi veteran after This Island Earth, The Creature Walks Among Us and Kronos, Destroyer of the Universe. He's working on the top of the world at an early warning radar installation doing calibration work when he sees a UFO flash past him. The generals think he's playing a prank, because for some reason they find nothing suspicious in the unexplained loss of one of the fighters scrambled to investigate. However planes keep going missing and MacAfee stays in the picture, working out the patterns and suggesting solutions.

As you'd expect from the title, the UFO is some sort of giant bird that flies in ever increasing circles picking off anything that crosses its path. It's extraterrestrial, of course, and it emits an anti-matter shield to block itself from radar, one that it can turn on and off at will to snatch terrestrial food from the air without exploding it on touch. It looks like some sort of mutant chicken or skeletal ostrich or bizarre pustulent version of Big Bird. It's so huge that its head is bigger than the planes that chase it.

Needless to say it's so dangerous that all the governments of the world team together and ban all transportation that isn't classified by the military as essential, which highlights the sort of insane logic that the film follows. It's the sort of film that talks about the urgency in the pilot's voice when reporting a UFO sighting, but we wouldn't know because all we could hear is the narrator. It's the sort of film that has an upside down business card pinned to a control board reading, 'NO1 BUTTON HOT PRESS FOR SCRAMBLE ONLY' in handwritten capitals. The generals fly the planes, the bird picks the United Nations building to chomp on and the electrical engineer wins the day.

What we have is Jeff Morrow and a number of others who had made other scifi/monster films before this one. His girlfriend and co-worker (she's a mathematician and systems analyst) is played by Mara Corday who was the leading lady in Tarantula and The Black Scorpion. The generals are Morris Ankrum and Robert Shayne, both of whom were also in Kronos. Ankrum specialised in westerns but found his way into the scifi genre with Rocketship X-M, then progressed to Flight to Mars, Red Planet Mars and Invaders from Mars. You can see the pattern. He was the US president (Grant) in From the Earth the Moon. Shayne found his way into Corman films like War of the Satellites and Teenage Cave Man.

There should have been Ray Harryhausen too, but apparently the producers couldn't afford him, thus prompting producer Sam Katzman to hire a cheap Mexican model maker to construct the frankly hilarious puppet ostrich thing. Audiences apparently laughed every time it was seen on screen at the premiere, and given that nobody in the cast knew what it looked like and the premiere was in Jeff Morrow's own home town, he had to sneak out halfway through in embarrassment just in case anyone recognised him. The bird was also nothing like the artwork on promotional posters because the artists weren't shown it either.


jimmy geezer said...

The Giant Claw is better by itself than everything that has ever been produced by the British film industry put together over the last 121 years since the invention of the cinematograph in 1889, just think about that for a moment and then promise everyone who enjoys reading the marvellous reveiws on this site that you will never pollute it with any British made crap EVER!!!.

Hal C. F. Astell said...

Yeah, I'll be revisiting this one for a more substantial review for Cinematic Hell.

And I guess you should avoid the reviews I've just posted for The Third Man and A Clockwork Orange.