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Universal Monsters: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

By the early 1950s, the classic, earth-bound creatures that served Universal so well for 20 years had become guest stars in comedies and the studio was looking elsewhere to find its monsters. Instead of Transylvania, it came from outer space.  It was the Atomic Age and size mattered, whether it was a giant tarantula, a deadly mantis, or, going the other direction, an incredible shrinking man.


In the midst of these new sci-fi horrors came a monster and a movie that spanned both eras. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) was from this Earth; however, the movie itself is just about as Atomic Age as you can get.  It opens with nothing less than the explosive creation of our planet:

This is the planet Earth, newly born and cooling rapidly from a temperature of 6,000 degrees to a few hundred in less than five billion years. The heat rises and meets the atmosphere, the clouds form and rain pours down upon the hardening surface for countless centuries. The restless seas rise, find boundaries, are contained.  Now, in their warm depths, the miracle of life begins.  In infinite variety, living things appear and change and reach the land, leaving a record of their coming, of their struggle to survive, and of their eventual end.  The record of life is written on the land where 15 million years later, in the upper reaches of the Amazon, man is still trying to read it…

Then, twice later, the scientists investigating the discovery of a fossilized claw discuss outer space and how they can use what they learn to help man survive. There’s very little mention, if any, of evolution or the wonders that we might find in our own backyard.  That’s very forward thinking, if you ask me, and one of the things I love about the time.


Creature from the Black Lagoon is a very well made movie, saving any complete glimpse of its monster until almost a third of the way into it. Before then, it’s just its claw here and there, almost grabbing the leg of Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) before pulling away.  What a great claw it is!  Large enough to cover a man’s face, it has webbed fingers and looks like it might have nails that are razor sharp.


Well, we know they’re razor sharp. The creature is able to slice its way out of a net and makes mincemeat of two men from the expedition in their tent one night.  On the other hand, when we see it swimming, it’s very graceful.  As Kay leisurely swims on the surface, it’s doing the backstroke directly below her, almost mirroring her movements.  It also smoothly weaves its way in and out of its underwater environment.


The creature is more effectively scary in the water than it is on land, where its face has dark holes for eyes instead of translucent fish eyes. However, nice detail is paid to show it breathing, an effect that makes it appear to be more than a man in a rubber suit.  On land, we don’t really see it’s backside, but underwater, you realize his back has Godzilla-like spikes.  It’s definitely more threatening when it’s wet.


Eventually, though, the threat becomes a little tedious. I thought of my mother telling me to stay either inside or outside on a hot summer day, because the creature is in and out of the water all the time.  There are too many close calls.  Is this a deadly creature or a timid one?  This is a movie that could have benefitted from the shorter running time of the old Universal B-movies.


Nevertheless, I love it.  Creature from the Black Lagoon was directed by Jack Arnold, who made many of the great 1950s sci-fi features, and has a terrific, although uncredited, score by Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein and… Henry Mancini.  It shares several other credentials with It Came from Outer Space, which came out a year earlier.  It’s an interesting little hybrid with an enduring monster.


Written by Lester Cole & Curt Siodmak

Directed by Joe May

Starring Cedric Hardwicke, Vincent Price, Nan Grey

US Release Jan. 12, 1940

RT 81 min.

Home Video Universal Studios Home Entertainment

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