Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Monster That Challenged The World

Most nutritionists agree now that cheese is bad for you. Too many calories, too much cholesterol, yada yada. But sometimes you still crave cheese. And the other night, the cheese my wife and I chose was the 1957 film The Monster That Challenged The World (TMTCTW). We found it impossible to resist a boxcover description that talked of “giant vampire snails.” Who could?

stars Tim Holt as an army officer, stationed near the Salton Sea. You may remember Holt from the classic film Treasure of the Sierra Madre, or as one of the top Western stars of the 1940s. By 1957, he had been retired for five years, and would only sporadically act for the rest of his life. Why he chose to come back in this flick is a mystery, as the studio was unable to even find him a shirt that fit (Seriously. Those buttons look like they’re ready to pop.). I was surprised when I checked imdb and found that Holt was only 39 in 1957, as he looks to be around 50, which makes all the comments about “that young officer” kind of bewildering. The rest of the cast includes some characters actors who would become more famous in television in the 60s, like Hans Conreid.

The action starts at the Salton Sea military base. Set in the period after Korea but before Vietnam, the military is so bored they’re exploding nukes in the Salton Sea just for kicks, then dropping paratroopers into it to see what will happen. What happens is they crack the floor of the Sea, which causes some prehistoric mollusk eggs (from when mollusks were huge) lying dormant there to hatch. The radioactivity may also play a role, but that’s a little hazy. Anyway, some there are giant mollusks running amok (they look like a caterpillar standing straight up, actually) and sucking the moisture out of humans. There are some nice shots of desiccated corpses, with the skin shriveled, although the eyes are still big and bulbous. I guess giant mollusks don’t like the taste of eyeball juice. The military springs into action to take care of the problem, which seems only fair since they caused it, and mankind is finally saved.

TMTCTW came at the end of the “Giant Monsters Caused by Radiation” craze of the 50s, which was sparked by the great success of THEM! and followed with Tarantula, The Beginning of the End, etc., and the concept seems pretty tired here. Although the movie is very short, it seems padded, and most of the actors look like they wish they were doing something else. The monsters themselves seem laughable cheap, and a seen where the creature sits and watches some divers go by is unintentionally funny. There is a quaint joy in all of the movies of this type, but this one is near the bottom of the barrel.

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