Monday 20 June 2011

The Cyclops (1957)

Director: Bert I Gordon
Stars: James Craig, Gloria Talbott, Lon Chaney and Tom Drake

Back in the fifties, if you wanted giants you watched movies by Bert I Gordon, whose initials were tellingly BIG. He started off big with prehistoric monsters in 1955's King Dinosaur, then followed up with giant grasshoppers in Beginning of the End in 1957. The Cyclops was when he first used a giant human being, the title character who is 25 feet tall, but it really underlined his career, as his second of six films in two years, which also included The Amazing Colossal Man and War of the Colossal Beast. He'd return to giants often in his films, whether human or not, with pictures like Earth vs The Spider, Village of the Giants and The Food of the Gods. Only occasionally would he go the other way, shrinking characters in Attack of the Puppet People, but rarest of all were attempts to leave everybody the size they should be. It's almost like Mr BIG, as Forrest Ackerman called him, just didn't want to see anyone normal sized.

The Cyclops is fun even during the opening credits, as each page is hammered onto the screen with its own crescendo. When the music dies down, we find ourselves in the Mexican town of Guayjorm, where an American lady, Susan Winter, is still looking for her fiancé, Bruce Barton, after his plane crashed three years earlier. She's played by Gloria Talbott, who initially looks a little unfortunately like Roddy McDowall playing a nun. Later she's more reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn, which is never a bad comparison to make for an actress. Her trip is hindered by the governor, who doesn't want adventurers exploring the local mountains, and that's who he sees in her party of four. None of the rest believe that Barton could still be alive, even his friend Russ Bradford, a toxicologist played by James Craig. He got top billing, though he's trying a little too hard to be a cheap Clark Gable in Clark Kent glasses. He likes Susan too, big time.

The others in the party are Lee Brand, the pilot, and Marty Melville, who's exploring for uranium deposits. Tom Drake is solid as Brand, who seems good at his job, though he's a little fond of the bottle and he apparently can't get a job anywhere else, having already failed in the oil business in Texas. After all this was 1957: four decades or so later and he could have become president. Melville's the real live wire, in the form of Lon Chaney Jr, appearing again without the Jr. He's a selfish and arrogant man, quick with his fists but a coward at heart. He's dumb enough to knock the pilot out during their flight, so down they go, conveniently in a location where Melville finds his uranium, but unfortunately in an area populated by giant creatures whose cells divide every 22 seconds thus stimulating constant growth. You won't be surprised to find that, having been stuck here for three years, Bruce Barton has become the 25 foot tall cyclops.
At least the first monsters we see are composited well, a giant lizard crawling behind a rock and a giant hawk catching a giant rat. That won't last. When our newcomers discover the inevitable monster battle, the combatants, a giant iguana and a giant gila monster, are half transparent, utterly ridiculous. While the cyclops may look a little ridiculous, not a real cyclops but a giant with a deformed face that has left only one eye visible, he's added into the frame well. However by this point we're at the caves in Bronson Canyon, a popular spot to shoot Hollywood films since the silent days, but one that bad movie fans can't help but recognise as Ro-Man's HQ in Robot Monster. However many movies use that very same cave entrance, which in 1957 alone also included Attack of the Crab Monsters and The Brain from Planet Arous, I never fail to see Ro-Man's bubble machine and that doesn't help the credibility of the picture I'm watching.

Duncan Parkin gets a thankless job as Barton, the Cyclops of the title. It's not the mask he has to wear, as cheap as it is, because it's actually quite memorable. It's the fact that he's stuck playing the character like a retarded kid without the power of speech, mumbling unintelligibly, no better than Tor Johnson in The Beast of Yucca Flats. He's a walking, talking monster, except the walking and talking are problematic. He does get to wrestle a giant snake at one point, but as we can see the tape wrapped round its mouth to make it less dangerous, the suspense is utterly lost. Parkin only ever worked for Gordon, starting out as a stagehand in Beginning of the End, progressing to the monster role in both The Cyclops and War of the Colossal Beast, the latter under the name Dean Parkin. I wonder if he ever wanted a part where he could talk and actually interact with the characters outside of the magic of special effects. We may never know.

Fortunately his fiancée from his normal sized life, Susan Winter, is a sassy lead, one who mounts this expedition to find him and runs it capably. Sure, she gets a few scream scenes but she's far from the usual born victim that women tended to be in films like this. Gloria Talbott wasn't used to horror and science fiction, but she proved willing and able to return to them, first for Daughter of Dr Jekyll, which ran with The Cyclops as a double bill, and then for I Married a Monster from Outer Space a year later. While James Craig gets the manly lead role and the top credit, he isn't really in charge at any point. He always defers to the lady, which is somewhat refreshing to see in what was often a sexist genre, even back in the fifties, where women showed up only to be either victims, eye candy or both. Seeing this soon after The Black Scorpion assured me that it wasn't always the case. Sometime women could be strong and capable, but still scream.


Nathanael Hood said...

Great review!

Speaking of 50s monster movies....

Hello! My name is Nathanael Hood from Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear. I'm holding a 50s monster movie blogathon over at my site. I would be thrilled if you would participate!

Last week we finished a Roger Corman blogathon. It was a massive success. But we're trying to make this one even better! Take a look at my site:

Please leave me a comment if you're interested!

Nathanael Hood said...

Thank you very much for responding! I would prefer if you did an original review that can be released during the official blogathon. During the last blogathon that I hosted, we had a participant use an article that he had previously written didn't turn out so well....

You can still do "The Cyclops" if you want! We do things on a first-come, first-serve basis.

And again, thank you for being interested! We'd love to have you participate!

Damon Foster said...

This review of THE CYCLOPS makes me wish I'd seen it when it played at The Paisly Violin (Phoenix, AZ) a few weeks ago! I never saw THE CYCLOPS.

Next week, they're showing IT CONQUERED THE WORLD on Tuesday night.

Sincerely, Damon Foster

JEANNINE said...

As the daughter of the Cyclops (Duncan "Dean" Parkin) at the age of three I remember watching the movie and crying thinking that my dad was dead and would never return home. Teenage years never told a soul who my dad played out of being embarrassed. Now being a grandmother of some horror movie fanatics I had to share what their great grandpa did. I then found myself going in search for his movies. Not only was I shocked to find them so easy but that he actually had a fan base. Over the past few years many have written and asked questions about him and his film rolls, I decided to create a page that all his friends and family can go to lean more about his life in and out of makeup. I hope to have it up and running soon. If anyone has any questions they would like to ask please feel free to post on my facebook and I will get right back to you. Jeannine Parkin