Creature from the Black Lagoon
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) movie review
Released in 1954, Creature from the Black Lagoon follows a group of scientists, specifically an archeological team, as they journey into the Amazon jungle in search of the origins of a fossil. However they are pitted against nature when a strange, prehistoric creature emerges from a nearby lagoon. The film was directed by Jack Arnold and written by Harry Essex and Arthur Ross, with the story by Maurice Zimm. Most notably, the film is part of the Universal Monster series, and while not directly connected to the other films, or even remade with a large or popular adaptation, the Creature features predominantly as one of Dracula’s monsters in 1987’s Monster Squad.
So as we begin to wrap up our Universal Monster series, let me just say that this one won’t be the longest of reviews. It is not based on a novel, so we can’t do a book-to-movie, and while it has sequels, it lacks remakes, to we decided to stick just with the first film for this review. A film which, to be honest, isn’t the most complex film in the world. So when it boils down to it, you’d like Creature if you are reading this. It’s a monster classic, and while it is simple, it is quite good. Other than that, I think it falls about half-way in the monster ranking for me. Dracula, Frankenstein, and Invisible Man are all better, but The Wolf Man and The Mummy are really showing their age.
Following that, Creature does feel a bit timeless as far as its story goes, and I really appreciate that. You get a man vs nature story with some interesting and subtle commentary about science and leaving the past alone, with a very typical damsel in destress motif to extenuate the situation’s tension. The themes are about as subtle as the rest of the films in the Dark Universe of monsters, but the simple plot really highlights the importance of having it. On top of that, the characters are quite good! David is a solid protagonist, offering just enough interest and motivation to be a hero you can like. ON the flip side though. We have Mark, who offers a very negative side of the themes, almost an antagonist to David’s goals. The Creature falls in the middle, sympathetic, but basic in goals. The layers of the three characters make the film incredible interesting. Sadly, as solid as the writing for Kay is, she acts as a plot motivation for the film at times. In this way, Creature shows its age more than all else.
That being said, this is a good-looking movie! The practical effects are phenomenal for the time, and they still look really good! Cinematography works really well above water, but it is below water camera work that William E. Snyder provides is absolutely fantastic, especially for the time! Actually just in general, the fact that the stunt-work looks so good underwater is one of the most impressive feats I’ve seen in a 50s monster film.
Another aspect of the film I think has aged very well is the talent presented from the performers. As good as David Reed is as a character, Richard Carlson’s performance really makes him as likable as he is. Same for Julie Adams as Kay Laurence, who delivers a performance stronger than the character writing feels, making a much more rounded character overall. And Richard Denning as Mark Williams (also known as pre-Clayton from Disney’s Tarzan) really plays the straight-forward but cruel person that he is so well that you can’t really hate him, but you never love him. And of course the performers playing The Gill Man, Ricou Browning and Ben Chapman, do a really good job with crafting the physical mannerisms different enough to set this creature apart from many others.
So while the plot is simple, and several aspects of the film feel as old as the film, the quality going in to it is often underrated. The stunt work and cinematography is really good work, and the writing that builds the characters with the strong performers bringing them to life makes it a really solid watch. The themes and production work are also something to admire for those who are watching it as a classic. For everyone else, the pacing and action are pretty solid too, offering enough entertainment for the hour-twenty that is the ever-so short runtime here. All in all, while this is not the best in the series, and often gets a bad rap for being too simple, I think it’s rather good! 7/10
So Creature from the Black Lagoon? Have you seen it? What did you think? And where do you have it placed in the Universal Monster films? Just the first in each, be fair here! But whatever your thoughts, be sure to let us know in the comments or leave a like! And if you like this review and want to read more, we have a whole album full I will link in the comments below!
-review by Ryan Prince