Presented by the Marietta High School Class of 1954
Love is strange. Especially when the monstrosity known as the Gill-Man falls hard for Kay (Julia Adams) while she’s on a geology expedition in the Amazon! After changing the world ten times over with movies like DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, and THE WOLF MAN, Universal took inspiration from real-life prehistoric beasts for the iconic CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. And horror history was ever the same again. Confidently directed by sci-fi maestro Jack Arnold (TARANTULA) and featuring gorgeous creature designs by Milicent Patrick, it’s not surprising that Guillermo del Toro once referred to this movie as, “the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.”
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON has its roots, of all places, at a party hosted by Orson Wells. Producer William Alland was engaging in some small talk when he met a cinematographer who claimed to have seen photographic evidence of a fish-man that lived in the Amazon. Alland, looking for a new project to develop at Universal, took this story – Amazon fish-man seeks the yearly sacrifice of a beautiful young woman – and immediately knew what to do with it: he would remake KING KONG! Yes, Alland’s original vision for the movie skewed very closely to the story of KING KONG. Scientists would capture the gill-man through the use of live bait (a beautiful woman, naturally) and take it back to civilization where it would rampage before eventually being killed due to its love for a woman that it could never know. In fact, if you watch CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE back-to-back, you get the story of KING KONG in almost its entirety.
When it came time to film the movie, CREATURE was shot simultaneously on the Universal back lot (everything in the film that takes place above sea is on a stage) and in Florida for the undersea scenes. Two individuals played the Gill-Man – Ben Chapman played the creature when it was on land (his feet were weighed down with lead in order to give the creature a shuffling walk) and Ricou Browning played the creature for the underwater scenes. Browning was a cave diver who helped give Arnold a tour of Florida during location scouting. His landing of the Gill-man role was completely by chance. It led to a fruitful career in Hollywood, though. Among Browning’s later contributions to Hollywood would be creating the show FLIPPER.
One of the more interesting aspects of CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON is the fact that it cast a scientist as the film’s hero. You have to remember that in the early part of the ‘50s, scientists were more often than not cast as the villain. If a character was a scientist, he was usually insane, bent on world domination or just generally up to no good. CREATURE is remarkable in Richard Carlson’s portrayal of Dr. David Reed as an adventurous, buff and heroic scientist. Essentially this was the same role he played in IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE – meaning Carlson, Alland and Arnold are all partially to thank for the modern depiction of the hero scientist.
Any talk about CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON would be incomplete without mention of Millicent Patrick. The design of the film’s monster was – by most accounts – a collaborative process. While Bud Westmore, Universal’s head of the makeup department, would seek sole credit for the design of the Creature, people who worked on the film describe Westmore’s involvement as strictly limited. Millicent Patrick, a beautiful young woman who dabbled in such areas as design, modeling, animation and acting, is said to have been the one to truly help finalize the look of the Creature as we know him today. When Westmore felt that she was getting too much credit in the press, though, he had her blackballed and – for all intents and purposes – drove her out of the design business. While Patrick would continue to act, she never again contributed to a film’s production or costume design. Her fate is still a mystery – nobody quite knows what exactly became of her after she quit acting in the ‘60s.