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Monday, February 9, 2009

The Blob

As the last "A" venture of the 1950s in the sci-fi genre by a major studio, The Blob is a sort of landmark. The big studios would produce A-level sci-fi in the 60s, but by then, the mood and tenor of sci-fi films had left behind the simpler themes that marked the 50s. The Blob is pure 50s. A creature from space falls into small town America. In keeping with the trend of the later 50s, it is the spunky teens who manage to save the world. The Blob doesn't lack for production value, but does suffer from an almost adolescent identity crisis. It wavers between campy parody and a serious tale, never quite settling on either. The Blob endures as a memorable sample of 50s sci-fi culture. It was remade in the 1980s (in a more gore-centric 80s style). The B film that ran with The Blob has been nearly forgotten. I Married A Monster From Outer Space was a better movie than the title implies. It, too, was aimed at the teen audience.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Steve (McQueen) has Jane up at a lookout point on the pretense of looking for shooting stars, but kissing is what he's after. She's not that kind of girl. The awkward moment is broken by a falling meteor. They go investigate. On old man also investigates. He finds the volleyball sized meteor. He pokes it with a stick. It cracks open to reveal an orange-sized glob. He pokes this with his stick. it gloms onto his fingers. Steve and Jane find the old man in the road, writhing in pain. They take him to Doc Hallen. Doc sends them back out to find more clues. Meanwhile, the blob has grown. It eventually consumes the old man, then attacks Doc's nurse. It consumes Doc too, just as Steve returned without news. Steve glimpses Doc's demise. He tries to tell the police is not believed. From there, the blob consumes other late night townsfolk. Several scenes underscore how the adults don't believe "the kids" as they try to warn people. Eventually, the now giant blob attacks a theater full of people while all the adults are present. The blob engulfs a diner across the street, where Steve, Jane and a few others are holed up. No escape. High voltage shock does not kill the Blob, but does spark a fire in the diner. Using CO2 extinguishers, Steve notices that the blob recoils from cold. He gets word to the adults who round up all the CO2 extinguishers in town. With them, they chill and shrink the blob. Steve, Jane and the others escape. The blob is airlifted to the arctic. The End?

Why is this movie fun?
This is one of the classics of 50s sci-fi, so it has a certain mystique. The premise is pure 50s (a deadly invader from space). The "monster" as a faceless (and clawless) red mass is refreshingly different, even if it's not the first blob monster.

Cold War Angle
There is a sort of legacy connection to the Cold War, in that many of the prior invader movies were analogies for Cold War anxieties about invasion. By this time, however, invaders from space had started to become a trope unto themselves.

Power Failure -- One of the fun features of The Blob is seeing the hackneyed solution fail. In many sci-fi films, high-voltage electricity is used to kill the monster. It started with The Thing in 1951 and persisted through the 50s and into the 60s. Good ol' electricity will save the Earth. The writers play to movie tradition. Audiences expected the power line to kill the blob. It doesn't. This was a fun twist. The blob cannot be killed. It can only be chilled.

Mismatched Music? -- The opening theme music, beneath the credits, has spawned much conversation. The jazzy, rock tempo and silly lyrics suggest a comedic parody of a monster movie. Yet, the movie itself is played out very much in earnest (aside from a few light comic-relief scenes). The dissonance is difficult for many to reconcile. From a teen-aged point of view, however, it's not so contradictory. The jazzy music reflects the teen mindset, out for an evening of fun and diversion at the movies. The movie itself is like a scary campfire story -- told in serious tones, but for entertainment.

Teens Rule, Adults Drool -- Reflecting the trend of the late 50s, the protagonists in The Blob are high school teens. They are the smart ones, the responsible ones, the heroic ones who will save the world. The adults are cast as shallow fools. Only Policeman Dave and Doc Hallen get treated with any sympathy, and this only because they believe the teens. The screenplay definitely panders to its audience's ego -- teens are always right. This trend will stay in vogue awhile longer in movies, and eventually become embedded in American youth culture.

Blob, Mark II -- Paramount's 1958 blob is the better remembered blob monster, but it wasn't the first. Their blob was much like the one in X-The Unknown ('57), a UK film about a blob monster from within the earth. The '57 blob melted people with its radiation, but it 'fed' on isotopes. Like the '58 blob, it was semi-sentient in moving and seeking food. The "blood rust" of Space Master X-7 (June '58) was a blob-like fungus which did feed on human flesh, though it was less animate. It was suggested to have an intellect, but this was never evident.

Old Boy -- Steve McQueen does a good enough job of acting his role as a semi-miscreant teen, but his face isn't up to the part. He was, at the time of shooting, in his late 20s. It takes a bit of willing suspension of belief to accept his as a high school boy.

Bottom line? The Blob is one of the 50s classics, so really ought not be missed. It's not high art. It is drive-in entertainment and can be appreciated as such.


Mike Scott said...

I never really thought of THE BLOB as an "A" picture. Though picked up by a major studio, THE BLOB was a modestly (quarter mil) budgeted indy. Twice the budget of your average AIP, but far less that the multi-million dollar budgets of pictures like THE THING, WOTW and THEM.

At any rate, THE BLOB is "Grade A" entertainment and one of my all time faves!

Check out the new BLOB soundtrack CD from Monstrous Movie Music for the original title music.

Nightowl said...

Yes, I know The Blob wasn't a major studio production. Fairview Prod. was small beans. Yet, for an indy, The Blob was a major undertaking. It's the color (not cheap) and Paramount as the distributor is why I've mental pegged it as a (lower-tier) A. That, and it did get upper billing over the B slotted "I Married a Monster..."

Paramount's tactic to sell indy productions still fits the notion that the majors were getting shy about doing A sci-fi. Safer to have someone else do it, and if it looks good, distribute it.

Yes, definitely A-grade entertainment. Also one of my faves from wee-childhood.

Mike Scott said...

Quote: That, and it did get upper billing over the B slotted "I Married a Monster..."

Oddly the reverse of the usual practice of buying a "B" to pair with a studio's "A" picture.

Also wanted to plug this excellent BLOB (and Blobfest) website.