Review: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
You don’t have to be overly optimistic to say there’s a nugget of a good movie somewhere deep inside Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Artist Reynold Brown certainly created a great poster out of it. I’m too superficial, though, to look past the poor execution to find it. I understand low budgets, but is it really less expensive to build a giant papier-mâché hand than it is to film a real hand in the foreground, then lay it on top of a regular shot? The filmmakers seem to do it when they show a giant walking across the countryside.
Yeah, well, I guess those shots aren’t so great, either. Both the giant, who lands his satellite on a stretch of Route 66 in California, and Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes), who is exposed to his radioactivity, appear transparent in scenes that demonstrate their size. I buy it for the alien; I mean, we don’t know what kind of strange and wonderful creature he is. But I don’t buy it when the car the alien picks up turns transparent or when you can see the hills and trees through Nancy’s body. (They also move so slowly. If someone were really that big, wouldn’t he/she cover more ground faster?)
In the blink-or-you’ll-miss-it “attack” near the end of the movie, Nancy appears solid, tearing the sign off a miniature building. It’s not terribly realistic, but it’s much better than the non-special effects up to that point. The fake hand looks a little better as it reaches inside Tony’s Bar & Grill to grab her cheating husband, but the overstuffed doll that she pulls through the roof does not. There’s no ingenuity behind the camera to make these shots look better and the movie as a whole isn’t comedic enough to support intentionally awful cinematography.
Enough criticism; I don’t actually hate Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. I’m familiar with several movies where a woman tries to knock off her husband to inherit a fortune, but here the roles are reversed. Harry Archer (William Hudson) would be rid of his wife if not for the fact that she’s a rich heiress (whose “Star of India” diamond plays a key part in the plot). But he’s not secretive about his feelings; he smooches on Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers) at Tony’s and his rocky relationship with his wife is fodder for afternoon newscasts. The whole town knows Nancy’s history with mental illness and alcoholism.
This makes it hard for them to believe her wacky story about encountering a satellite and its giant pilot and provides an opportunity for Harry and Honey to strike. Every time they get close, though, their plans are foiled. When Nancy drags Harry into the desert to prove she’s not insane, the emotional car ride turns from weeping, “Nothing… just sand and space” to cheering, “It’s real! I’m not crazy!” They both encounter the satellite and the giant, which sends Harry running, as if we hadn’t already seen his true colors in his attitude toward Nancy.
Left for dead, Nancy is instead discovered on top of the pool house the next morning, a set of giant footprints leading away from the house. Sheriff Dubbit (George Douglas) states, “Whatever that is, it wasn’t made by a Japanese gardener!” Scratches on her throat concern Dr. Cushing (Roy Gordon), as does “evidence of some kind of radiation.” Soon, meat hooks, chains, plasma, and elephant syringes are delivered and Cushing hopes to find answers when he operates on Nancy, about whom a very perceptive townsperson later so obviously states, “She’s grown into a giant!”
When Nancy awakes from her coma, the house starts shaking. “She’s loose!” She emerges from the roof of the collapsing house and heads to town. This scene isn’t bad. An audience’s imagination can accept miniatures, as is also the case when she grabs an electrical tower with one fist. Once in town, though, the proportions keep shifting. Nancy looks only a little over twice the height of a car, yet she can reach down inside the building. The often unintentionally comic dialogue works for once here in an exchange between the sheriff and Deputy Charlie (Frank Chase):
She'll tear up the whole town until she finds Harry!
Yeah, then she'll tear up Harry!
The final line of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman does not work as well. As giant Nancy lies electrocuted on the ground with the Harry doll in her hand, the sheriff says, “She finally got Harry all to herself.” It’s hardly “It was beauty killed the beast.” In a way, though, it represents all you need to know about the movie. It’s perhaps well-intentioned, but horribly executed. It has hints of serious domestic drama, but it’s the camp fantasy that sticks with you. Is it fun? For me, barely. Instead, it’s the perfect movie to make fun of, rather than to have fun watching.