Tuesday, March 12, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 17 - The Giant Claw

"The Giant Claw" is a 1957 giant monster movie, best known for having one of the silliest-looking monsters of all time.  That I believe is rather unfair.  Honestly, "The Giant Claw" is a pretty good giant monster movie, admittedly featuring a giant buzzard.  The movie is ridiculous, obviously, its about a giant bird, and indeed a giant vulture.  In fact, its not merely a giant vulture, its a giant alien vulture that shoots out an antimatter shield, making it impervious to both radar and physical attacks.  Yeah, the effects are cheesy and awful, but that's really part of the charm, since the script is corny to all Hell too.

I should note, "The Giant Claw", is not an American rip-off of "Rodan", which came out in Japan in 1956, as "Rodan" would still not arrive in US until a bit later, and I rather doubt that Columbia Pictures was that interested in kaiju films just yet.  This movie was directed by Fred F. Sears, who previously worked with one, Ray Harryhausen on "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers".  "The Giant Claw" was originally intended to feature Ray Harryhausen's work but unfortunately there was no budget.  So instead of classic stop-motion, Columbia decided instead on hiring a Mexican puppeteer company, and really, the effects speak for themselves.  "The Giant Claw" has, without a doubt, the worst miniatures ever used in a movie, with everything from exploding planes to the little army men in parachutes to crumbling skyscrapers looking hysterically awful.  The monster itself doesn't look that bad, to me, its a silly concept but its executed rather well, but everything else is a true crapfest.  Our stars are Jeff Morrow, a Columbia actor-slave and the wonderfully hot Mara Corday, who we last saw running from a giant arachnid in "Tarantula".

The plot of "The Giant Claw" is pure step-by-step Fifties SciFi formula, again mainly featuring scientists and generals in a gray laboratory discussing how to defeat the creature.  Mara Corday is the token female, supposedly a scientist herself but never once comes up with any particularly brilliant ideas, that's all Jeff Morrow's work.  The vulture shows up a few times, attacks a few dudes, and then flies away, until finally the scientists figure out how to beat him:  with particle physics.  But before that conclusion, "The Giant Claw" offers a speedy plot with plenty of ridiculous lines, lots of fun terrible special effects, and one of the more original giant monsters of the period.

For some reason, "The Giant Claw" features several rather perplexing scenes in which an Omniscient Narrator pops out of nowhere and narrates what over appear to be normal scenes.  Instead of seeing the actors play out the events, the narrator talks them out, while the actors silently move through their motions.  This is a pretty common technique of bad educational short movies, and I'm pretty sure the Narrator only exists because something went wrong with the sound recording of those scenes.  This movie, obviously, doesn't need a narrator at all, but for whatever reason Fifties SciFi loves its Purple Prose, often adding melodramatic narrations to the beginnings of Japanese films.  And in this movie, its pretty jarring.  Though not quite as jarring as the other problems, but we'll get to that soon.

Our hero, Jeff Morrow, is test-flying a fighter plane someplace over Canada one day when suddenly he sees the titular Giant Claw overhead.  To this movie's credit, we don't see the monster until roughly thirty minutes in, though its difficult to keep up much suspense when the screenwriters appear to know only a single metaphor for their creature.  Every character in this movie describes it as a "flying battleship", when it looks nothing like that.  This would be a way-cooler movie if it features a giant invading space battleship full of aliens, but instead its a sizable scavenger.  Jeff Morrow calls in his discover, though there is no radar evidence, and a scrambling of jet fighters finds nothing.  The general, Bushkirk (more like Buzzkill), refuses to listen to anything our hero has to say, and seems to want to beat Jeff Morrow over the head with a frying pan the entire movie.

While flying back, Morrow and Mara Corday's plane is attacked by the Giant Claw.  Thanks to Morrow's crack piloting skills, he manages to save the plane as it humorously plunges out of the sky.  Before the plane hits the ground, its nose pops up and it slows down as the Mexican puppeteer pulls his string upward to save the prop.  Even so, it looks like they landed at seven-hundred miles per hour, and they all should be dead.  Furthermore, when they get out of the plane, the plane explodes behind them.  Morrow and Corday both hit the deck, and some of the prop debris falls really close to the actors, close enough to make me wonder if Jeff Morrow pummeled the sloppy Stagehand that almost killed him.  Its weird watching a movie where you cease being afraid for the characters and become concerned for the living actors who are playing them.  Still, in Canada we meet the best character of the movie, the crazy French Canadian lumberjack who saves the leading couple, named Pierre.  Pierre just moments later runs into the Giant Claw, and decides that its "La Carcagne", a witch with the hdead of a wolf and wings*.  La Carcagne apparently is a harbinger of death, and what do you know, Pierre gets eaten later.

Finally Morrow and Corday fly back to America.  On the flight home we get the lone scene of romance between our leads, which mainly consists of a very confusing running baseball metaphor.  They're taking a public flight, and hilariously, one of the other passengers actually complains to our leads while they're doing some science discussion.  Morrow thinks he's found proof, since though all the bird attacks are unconnected by any obvious pattern, if he draws a spiral, he can connect all of the dots.  Mara Corday keeps being sarcastic, obviously as a mathematician not having the heart to tell her boyfriend that you can connect any random sequence of dots if you crudely draw a spiral over a map.  Meanwhile, another plane is attacked by the Giant Claw.  And while all the passengers try to escape via parachute, the monster swoops down and catches all of them in its beak.

This is when you can finally see the creature:

Okay, let me talk about La Carcagne.  A lot of people online give this monster a lot of shit, for looking really bad.  And its true, its a silly effect.  However, I rather like the Giant Claw as a monster, its actually a pretty impressive puppet.  It flaps its wings, it can move like its actually flying, and its face has a lot of articulation and a lot of movement.  It can flare its nostrils and move its eyeballs.  Yeah, it looks like Killer from "Looney Tunes" and its preposterous, but its a good special effect.  Plus, they do a good job of using rear projection to have the Giant Claw swoop in and grab the falling parachuting men.  Unfortunately, the plane and parachuting and later fighter puppet work is all truly horrendously awful.  Most of it looks like models bought at a store being blown up with a bottle rocket.  There's none of the expertise being created at Toho across the Pacific.  And unfortunately, there's no awesome dogfight scene in this movie unlike "Rodan".  Still, the effect was silly enough that poor Jeff Morrow, who first saw the monster at the premiere, decided to sink into his chair with embarrassment, left early, and got massively drunk out of shame.

Seriously, look how bad the models are in this movie.  This is fighter jet that the Giant Claw just spit out:

This effect is so bad they use it three times.

As it turns out, missiles have no effect on the Giant Claw because its actually from another galaxy.  (The poster is lying to you.)  Its comes from an antimatter galaxy, which to "The Giant Claw"'s defense, might actually be thing, modern science still has yet to disprove the existence of antimatter planets, stars, and perhaps - if you want to be really farfetched - even life.  Though to "The Giant Claw"'s detriment, their theory is ridiculous since an antimatter creature would explode immediately upon coming into connect with the regular matter of our atmosphere.  They explain it away saying that the the creature is made of regular matter but projects an antimatter shield, which somehow blocks radar and protects it from attacks.  Though that shield would annihilate as well when it hit the air, so I dunno.  Later the scientists decide that the best way to beat La Carcagne is to use Mu Mesons.

Okay, I'm going to give "The Giant Claw" a lot of credit here for actually using a cutting-edge scientific concept in the 1950s, and even better, one that history has proven to actually exist.  I'm not a particular physicist myself, I'm just curious about all things, so I know enough to say this movie's science isn't awful.  "Mu Mesons" today are called "Muons" and are basically an alternate to the Electron, a negatively-charged particle that can be used to create atoms.  The scientists here are going to create Muonic Hydrogen (which mind-you, has actually been done in labs) and shoot it at the monster's shield.  The idea being that Muonic Hydrogen has a smaller atomic radius and would pass right the shield and let it be open to attacks.  I'm not sure how the muon thing would neutralize the shield, it would make more sense if it Muon Beam itself killed the Giant Claw, but so far I'm drooling at excitement for a movie that's able to make more sense out of particle physics then simply saying "if we fire an isotope** at the creature it will die".

Here's a shot of the Claw carrying away a toy train like some sausage links:

Later, its discovered that the Giant Claw came to Earth to lay eggs.  Yes, this entire movie is the result of an intergalactic SciFi migratory pattern.  So our heroes do the heroic thing and kills the monster's babies before they hatch.  Fucking humans, man.  Uch, our species is disgusting.  The monster gets its revenge though, first it eats Pierre, and then it chooses the final battle to take place in New York City!  First it eats the Empire State Building, then it punches a hole in the United Nations.

Admit it, this is actually a really cool shot.

However, immediately afterwards the monster is killed by some muons and rockets, so the humans win... again.  Our baby-slaughtering species of deformed hairless apes has triumphed again, woo hoo.  Mara Corday, perhaps the one person who could convince me of the worth of humans, decides not to triumph with a naked celebratory dance, and barely gives Jeff Morrow a final kiss.  And then the movie ends.

So yeah, "The Giant Claw" obviously is not perfect by any definition.  And its effects are pretty bad.  But luckily they're bad in a way that's constantly silly.  You never get bored watching this movie, it keeps surprising you with new terrible effects.  The pace is excellent, there's never more than five minutes without a cameo of the Claw, often accompanied by some stock footage stolen from other monster movies.  Generally, I'd say this is a fun ride, if you're going for a cheesy little movie to laugh at, "The Giant Claw" is pretty perfect.  Its got everything you'd expect out of a Fifties SciFi movie:  misogyny, main characters who know more about particle physics than actual scientists, a big buzzard squawking around as it devours superstitious French Canadians, these are all things "The Giant Claw" supplies.  And any movie that talks about muons gets points in my book.

On the next episode of All-Out Giant Monster Attack! - a kaiju television miniseries cut to pieces by American distributors and turned into a movie, "Varan the Unbelievable".


 * I have no idea where they got this concept of "La Carcagne" from, or even where they came up with the name, since there appears to be no such French Canadian superstition of such a creature.  A winged-woman with a wolf head is pretty cool legendary imagery, and its somewhat disappointed when the Giant Claw winds up looking nothing like that.

** Sorry, this really bugs me.  Which isotope??  Of what element?  There are millions of isotopes!  Every atom is an isotope, all it refers to are the variations in atomic mass that they might have.  Your whole body is made of isotopes!  Just saying the word "isotope" isn't some magic spell that will make tarantulas grow giant!

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