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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Cyclops

Bert I. Gordon wrote, produced, directed and handled some of the photographic effects in this mutant monster movie. In many ways, Cyclops is just another radiation-spawned monster. Like Lost World or King Dinosaur, people travel to a remote place in search of something, only to discover a valley of giant animals. This B.I.G. production follows the very familiar path and brings nothing new to the genre of photographically-created giants. It is, however, a prototype for his more famous Amazing Colossal Man later in 1957. AND, Cyclops is like a first version of the sequel to Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast in 1958.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Susan has hired three men to help her look for her fiance, lost in some remote Mexican mountains three years prior. Russ, a biologist, Marty, a uranium prospector and Lee, the pilot fly into the restricted mountains. Their small plane is forced down by downdrafts. Marty is happy because his sensor says there is uranium ore all around. While searching the area, Susan and Russ encounter some giant, but otherwise ordinary, animals. There is some friction in the group, but Susan is resolute to search for her lost Bruce. She finds a piece of Bruce's crashed plane, but is abducted by "it." The men search for her, following a trail of crashed plane parts to a cave. Inside the cave are more parts, and Susan acting all hysterical. The 25 foot tall, bald-headed mutant with one eye growls at them at the entrance. They retreat beyond arm's reach. Russ theorizes that the native radiation has allowed animals there to keep growing. Their pituitary glands don't stop them. Later, Susan talks to it, soothing it. Marty angers the giant by taking a shot at it. The giant kills Marty and takes Susan out of the cave. He sets her on a rock. While regarding her, a giant snake attacks. The three take the opportunity to escape. The giant must be radiation-mutated Bruce. They run to the plane. The engine doesn't start, so Russ tries to distract the giant away from the plane. Cornered on a cliff, Russ uses a crude spear to stab the giant in his only eye. They get in the plane and start to take off, but the blind giant stands in their way. They narrowly clear his flailing arms. Susan looks back, in pity. The giant lays down, as if to die. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The usual B.I.G. photo effects, especially of an iguana fighting with a gila monster, are so typical of this sub-genre, that it is amusing to see them yet again. The acting of Gloria Talbott is good. Lon Chaney is actually fairly entertaining in this movie. Paul Frees, famous for his deep narrator voice, provides the giant's grunts and roars. In Cyclops, we get a foretaste of giant men movies yet to come, such as The Amazing Colossal Man and War of the Colossal Beast, both also B.I.G. productions.

Cold War Angle
The only connection to the Cold War is the ubiquitous use of radiation as the Deus ex machina which turns nature into monsters.

BIG Style -- Bert I. Gordon was famous for his things-shot-big movies. To some, his signature photographic technique typifies low-budget 50s monster sci-fi. Cyclops is a lesser-known example of the sub-genre, but very clearly a member of it. Others in Gordon's things-shot-large franchise include: King Dinosaur ('55) with lizards masquerading as dinosaurs and Beginning of the End ('57) with grasshoppers cast as mutant giants.

Giant Trilogy -- Cyclops could be seen as the first of a trio of Gordon's giant man films. The first story is unrelated to the Col. Manning character of the second and third films: Amazing Colossal Man and War of the Colossal Beast, but the pattern is the same. Dean Parkin plays the bald giant in all three.

Plane Crazy: Aerial Jeep -- The light plane the characters use is the relatively rare Stinsen Voyager. 3000 of them were built during the war as a military light observation and courier plane. Production ended with the war. Many were decommissioned and converted to civilian use -- just as many jeeps were. Since production ended in 1945, the Voyager was quickly eclipsed by new civil aviation designs.

Bottom line? Cyclops is very formulaic and so not particularly entertaining. It has some interest to the 50s sci-fi fan as the prototype of the "Colossal" movies of '57 and '58. The acting of Talbott and Chaney keep the film from sinking to utter schlock.


Bob Drake said...

Another one I had forgotten about, or more precisely had mixed up with Amazing Colossal Man for obvious reasons! But that ferocious face haunted my childhood nightmares for years, much more outrageously grotesque than ACM's face. The first time he leaps up from behind the rock...

Anonymous said...

Another thing to consider. This is somewhat a telling of Ulysses' encounter with the Cyclops, with both groups of explorers getting trapped in the Cyclops' cave, and culminating with the spear in the Cyclop's eye. Saw it recently on TCM; definitely not to be missed.