'Creature From the Black Lagoon' (1954) Film Review
A geology expedition in the Amazon leads to the discovery of fossilized evidence, a hand with webbed fingers, pointing to the link between sea life and humans, the theory of evolution. Dr. Carl Maia and Dr. David Reed lead an expedition consisting of a handful of explorers and scientists.Once the group reaches the lagoon, they quickly find themselves face to face with the creature himself and even must save David's girlfriend and colleague Kay Lawrence. A battle of the species ensues and even feels like a water-based version of cat and mouse.
My First Impressions
From a young age, I had always wanted to see this movie. I had a toy that resembled the creature and that's when my grandmother told me what movie the monster was from. She showed it to me when it was on television one day and, given the fact that I was young, I hardly remembered it.
I decided to watch the movie again a few years ago after coming across a special edition of it at the store. On a nostalgic whim, I picked it up and hurried home to watch it. I hadn't expected anything that I saw and the movie, for lack of a better term, surprised me.
The plot is pretty average for a monster movie reminiscent of King Kong. Scientists go to seek out some ancient creature, creature finds the female scientist and takes a romantic interest in her, from there a battle between the creature and the scientists begins to not only save their lady friend but to also take down the creature. While the plot is simplistic, this also means it is very easy to follow putting more focus on the beauty of the lagoon itself, the creature design and the emotions the actors must portray. But this doesn't mean the story is forgotten all-together; the adventure that the scientists embark on is extravagant and perilous. When our protagonists do eventually reach our creature, we can't help but feel a little sorry for the poor guy, it's apparent he's just a lonely fish man who has got a crush on a pretty girl-- granted he shouldn't have kidnapped her in the first place.
That's the other thing I'd like to mention here is that, despite kidnapping the female scientist and nearly killing another, we see that the creature is painted in a more respectable light compared to many other monsters of the time. These scientists decided to go and look for something that was better left alone, kidnap the creature, then try to kill it after it escapes, and they essentially got their karma. A classic tale of "curiosity killed the cat". In the same regard, however, the creature should have just left them alone after he escaped the first time.
The story is simplistic and effective and is carried well throughout the film. With the simplicity, it makes the story a highly memorable one and is one of the many reasons it is such a classic that belongs to the same ranks as Frankenstein or The Mummy.
The cinematography was brilliant, the cameraman knew what angles could catch the light on the creature the best, I dare to say that this movie would be amazing in color, but the black and white make for an effective tone, making it a personality trait of this film rather than a technological limitation.
Lighting aside, the underwater shots were beautiful and very innovative for its time. I'm even willing to say that the underwater shots are better than films from the present day, and I say this because the underwater shots are perfectly clear, bubbles shimmer in the sunlight, the texture of algae is clear, and the lights dancing across the creature itself is mesmerizing.
A fun fact I'd like to point out is that this movie was initially shot in 3D. That would have been really cool to see. Honestly, I had no idea, because the movie doesn't seem to have a lot of deliberate 3D shots and if it does so happen to stumble on one of these notorious incidents, it is justified; whether it's the creature's hand reaching through a window or the scientists firing a spear gun intending to hit the creature.
A lot of this film's mysticism comes from its refined and somber cinematography. It's executed masterfully and wraps the viewer around its finger with ease.
The actors are some of the most talented of their time and truly give life to the characters they are portraying.
The two major roles are supported by two powerful talents. Richard Carlson, the actor portraying David Reed, had always had a knack for giving life to his roles in creature features and science fiction films like It Came From Outer Space. Creature From the Black Lagoon is one of my favorite performances. Julie Adams, the actor portraying Kay Lawrence (AKA the damsel in distress) was the master of her craft for a long time, in my opinion. Though Julie was mainly known for her involvement in western films, her talent really shines when she is kidnapped by the lonely, spiteful Creature.
The biggest credit I can give is to the numerous actors who played the Creature himself. The actors on land brought true emotion and terror to the Gill-man and the actors underwater had achieved amazing physical feats with not only holding their breath for long takes, but being able to do so and swim all while suited up in the heavy looking Creature outfit. The movements and actions of the Creature all seem to flow so naturally, as though it isn't really a man in a suit, but an amphibious sea creature terrorizing an unmerry band of scientists.
Creature From the Black Lagoon has some of the most intimidating and memorable music scores in the Universal monster movies.
Each track is so good and making the viewer feel a sudden feeling of adventure, yet fear in the face of a seemingly impossible foe. The music also has parts where, say, the Creature suffers an apparently fatal blow, that it kind of forces you to feel sorry for our beloved Gill-man, further driving home the idea that the Creature is more of a victim than the scientists.
All in all, the soundtrack is perfect for this movie. Not much more I can say about that.
I went into this movie expecting to see a cheap, horribly dated B-movie type monster flick but came out astounded by the sheer level of love and care that went into this film, making it a timeless classic in my eyes.
With the fantastic acting, cinematography and design, Creature From the Black Lagoon is a masterpiece and has become my favorite Universal monster and even one of my favorite films of all time.
To this day, I still can't get enough of the scene where the Creature reaches through the window of the boat and attempts to kill one of the wounded scientists within. The reaction from the scientist is priceless in my eyes.
If you are a fan of King Kong, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Goonies or, more modernly, The Shape of Water, Creature From the Black Lagoon is a must for any film collection. If you're a fan of horror, adventure or Sci-Fi this is also a must-see.
Basically, if you have not seen this movie yet and are wondering whether or not you should, my answer is a solid yes. You have to see this film! It's a masterly crafted classic.