Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman (Woolner Bros./Allied Artists, 1958)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I squeezed in a movie before we crashed: Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, a 1958 production of the Woolner Brothers (let’s see, at the top of the studio food chain we have the Warner Brothers, and at the bottom the Woolner Brothers) for release by Allied Artists, née Monogram, and a pretty sleazy 65-minute “B” in the old Monogram tradition but — oddly, given its reputation, a film just barely well-made enough that it avoids being the camp classic it’s been hailed as.

Directed by Nathan Juran (though he was so embarrassed by the result that he used his first and middle names only and took his credit as “Nathan Hertz”) from a script by Mark Hanna (I couldn’t help but joke, “Well, he had to change careers after William McKinley was assassinated”), Attack of the 50-Foot Woman has two parallel plot lines: a spacecraft — shaped like a giant metal ball rather than a saucer this time, and referred to as a “satellite” throughout (according to an “trivia” poster, this was because after seeing the photos of the first Sputnik, Hanna didn’t realize that “satellite” meant something that orbited a planet: he thought it referred to any spherically-shaped spaceship) — travels across the earth before landing in a small California town on Route 66 (which still had enough cachet the road sign with that magical numeral is prominently displayed several times in the film); and there’s also a romantic triangle between wealthy woman Nancy Fowler Archer (Allison Hayes, top-billed and dark-haired this time), her husband Harry (William Hudson), and Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers), the gold-digging floozy Harry is not only having an affair with but flaunting it by necking with her in the local restaurant/bar in full view of all the townspeople.

The gimmick is that the spaceship is inhabited by just one crew member, who looks like a normal human being except that he’s 30 feet tall (though, as a number of contributors pointed out, the interior of the spacecraft is scaled for normal-sized humans rather than giants) — and he’s played by Michael Ross, who also appears in normal human size as the bartender at the place where Harry and Honey hang out. The film makes a common mistake in 1950’s horror and sci-fi — it takes too damned long to bring the monster out; the film is 45 minutes old before we see the 30-foot alien and it takes 10 minutes after that before the alien uses his advanced technology to upscale Nancy to his own size. According to the official synopsis, he does this because he has the hots for her himself but realizes they couldn’t possibly have a sexual relationship unless they are similarly scaled — but that’s really not made clear in the film itself. For the last 10 minutes of the running time we basically see Allison Hayes calling, “HARRY! HARRY!” as she walks through the Southern California desert, trampling one balsa-wood model building after another, in her demented search for her no-good and now considerably smaller husband — the scenes depicting this are some of the worst process work ever passed off in a film for general commercial release — until she finally gets to the bar, catches Harry and Honey together, and crushes them both under the beams of the bar’s (former) roof as she rips the place apart (literally).

Attack of the 50-Foot Woman is made with a dogged earnestness that keeps it from working as camp, but it’s too dorky and too slow to make it as serious drama either — though one of the bright points in it is the performance by Yvette Vickers, who totally out-acts the two leads and turns in a reading of her character that fully dramatizes the character’s surface and the depths of her sexual hold on Harry, who’s so smitten she can tell him out-front that his only interest in her is getting his wife’s money and he still falls into her arms like a puppy dog. Incidentally, Yvette Vickers met a macabre real-life end when her body was found in her apartment by a concerned neighbor who entered and found cobwebs on the mailbox, lights and a space heater still running, and a corpse so mummified by the passage of time as to be unrecognizable — she’d been there probably for a year without anyone noticing! It’s an even more grim story twist than the ones in her movies, which were mostly cheap sci-fi and horror “B”’s like this one and her immediate followup, Attack of the Giant Leeches, though she got her start in a tiny role in the classic Sunset Boulevard — also about a long-forgotten recluse who had once been a great star.