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Monday, December 15, 2008

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Released as the double-bill with Corman's War of the Satellites, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (A50W) is not a particularly good B movie even by 50s standards. Yet, it lives on in American popular culture -- perhaps more for its poster than the movie itself. It typifies 50s B sci-fi, even for people unfamiliar with the genre. There are oodles of amateur "Attack of the 50 foot (whatever)" posters or images. A50W had enough of a cult following to merit being remade in 1993. The original was typically weak on special effects and sketchy on plot, but it's a camp classic nonetheless.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A TV announcer tells of people around the globe spotting a floating red ball. Nancy Archer is a wealthy but highly troubled woman. She's speeding along the desert roads at night, fleeing her problems. A glowing ball settles on the highway in front of her. A giant man reaches for her, but she runs back to town. No one believes her because of her drinking problem and having been institutionalized before. Her shifty husband is more interested in his floozy. Nonetheless, he pretends to be the good husband in hopes that Nancy will 'snap' and return to the 'booby hatch.' She convinces him to search the desert with her, looking for the "satellite". Eventually, they find it. The giant emerges. Harry flees, leaving Nancy behind. Later, Nancy is found on the roof of her pool house. She's sedated by her doctor. Harry thinks to give her a lethal injection of sedative, but when he goes up to her room, he finds she's grown into a giant. The sheriff and Nancy's butler find and explore the alien's spherical ship. Seems the giant alien needs diamonds, perhaps for fuel. The giant alien interrupts, trashes their car so they walk back. Nancy awakens and breaks free. Determined to find her wayward husband, she breaks through the roof of her house, and stomps off to town. In town, she takes the roof off the bar. A beam falls on the floozy, killing her. Nancy picks up Harry and walks way. The sheriff shoots at her to no apparent effect, but accidentally hits a power line transformer. It blows up near Nancy and kills her. Harry lies crushed in her huge hand. She got her man. The end.

Why is this movie fun?
Weak as it might be, this is one the iconic sci-fi movies of 50s. It is fun to see how much mileage they got out of the simple effects and a giant rubber hand.

Cold War Angle
This is more of cheesecake than commies -- more soap opera than soviets.

Allison Hayes -- A former beauty queen, Allison had little trouble finding acting roles, but had a hard time breaking out of the B market. She played the troubled beauty (again) in The Unearthly ('57). Giant Nancy's costume of a bandeau top and miniskirt showed off her statuesque pin-up physique very well. A50W was not her best movie, it has proven to be her most memorable.

Dual Deus Ex Machina -- In A50W we get both of the 50s favorite 'ghosts in the machine' to spark the story -- aliens and radiation. The alien is the classic deus ex machina in that he simply drops in, causes the situation and leaves, with no connection to anything. The radiation of his touch provides the necessary magic to make poor Nancy grow to 50 foot size.

Feminist Undertones? -- Some read into A50W feminist metaphors about women becoming empowered, etc. Indeed, this seems to have been the spin taken in the '93 remake. Listening to the scripted dialogue, however, and noting the action, undermine this slant. Nancy is a woman who desperately needs her husband -- no matter how big a louse he is. When she's a giant, her one thought is to reclaim her man, keeping her marriage intact. Not classic feminist ideals.

Giant Fad -- Things-made-big was a recurring feature in 50s sci-fi. Giant ants in Them!, Godzilla stomping a model Tokyo, and other assorted giant critters, were common. Giant people had a brief heyday in '57 and '58 with Bert I. Gordon's three Colossal men. Mark Hanna was a screenplay writer on Amazing Colossal Man. He wrote for A50W, creating a giant babe to balance the books.

Leftover Giant -- The giant alien's costume is quite the anachronism. Instead of silvery suits with big shoulder pads and a lightning bolt on his chest, this alien wears a studded leather vest. To complete the strangely medieval flavor, he has a coat of arms on his chest with three fleur de lis -- proof that the ancient French kings beat the Russians into space.

Fancy Fins -- Car buffs can appreciate Nancy's big '58 Imperial convertible. These were the glory days of chrome-bedecked land yachts. Even her utility car -- the '58 Plymouth station wagon -- has soaring tail fins.

Morph-mobile -- A fun bit of budget saving comes when the giant picks up Nancy's station wagon (which the sheriff was using). The big rubber hand (with hairy knuckles) "grabs" the '58 Plymouth. There's a brief glimpse of giant lifting what looks like a dealer's model of a '51 Nash Deliveryman over his head. Then cut to a rollover clip of a 1952 Chevy Styleline DeLuxe station wagon. Finally, cut back to the sheriff coming up to a damaged '58 Plymouth wagon. Do only car buffs notice such things?

Single-handed Success -- The producers got as much mileage as they could out of their one custom prop -- the eight-foot long rubber hand. They put hair on the fingers and back when it was the giant's hand (reaching for Nancy, wrecking the car). To represent the giant Nancy at home, we get the rubber hand in chains. At the bar, the hand reaches for Harry, finally getting him. No doubt that hand cost a lot for a B-movie, so they got as much use out of it as they could.

Bottom line? People easily upset by low budget productions, or people expecting a gripping story would likely be frustrated. A50W is no epic. For fans of 50s sci-fi, however, it's worth the time to experience the cultural landmark that A50W was.


robphilll said...

Who plays the Giant ?

Darci said...

wikipedia's article lists Michael Ross portrayed both Tony the Bartender and the alien giant.
Hope this helps!

thingmaker said...

It's rare for me to appreciate one of these films exclusively for camp value, but this one is it. Nathan Juran didn't want his name on it (I notice he used a pseudo on "Brain from Planet Arous" too and that's an order of magnitude better)... I really do like Allison Hayes and Yvette Vickers can do no wrong, but this movie is truly a classic for all the wrong reasons... Won't stop me watching again. And the music is part of my regular listening rota, 'cuz Ronald Stein is just a lot of fun too.