By Steve D. Stones
Here we have another entertaining giant insect movie of the 1950s - released in 1957. The Deadly Mantis is certainly not the best of the giant bug movies, but it's still a fun, delightful science-fiction film, despite its many flaws.
Producer William Alland wrote The Deadly Mantis. Alland is best remembered as a reporter who investigates the meaning of "rosebud" in Orson Welles' 1941 film - Citizen Kane. Alland also produced a number of other 50s science-fiction cult classics, including - This Island Earth (1955), Tarantula (1955), The Mole People (1956) and The Colossus of New York (1958).
The opening of The Deadly Mantis treats us to a boring classroom-like lecture about the three radar stations in Canada - the Pinetree radar line, mid-Canada radar fence and the Dew line. Much like the opening of Alland's - The Mole People (1956) which opens with a boring lecture about the layers of the earth, this opening sequence seems a bit unnecessary, as if to pad out the length of the movie.
A volcano erupts in the South Seas, causing the polar ice caps to shift. A giant praying mantis, frozen in the ice for millions of years, breaks free from a melting iceberg at the North Pole. The giant mantis eventually makes his way to Washington D. C. and New York City by the end of the film.
A weather shack outpost on the dew line in Canada spots a blip on the radar detection. Something large attacks the shack, leaving no trace of the two men inside. Colonel Joe Parkman, played by Craig Stevens, investigates the attack, finding large skid marks leading up to the shack - as if something giant crashed into the shack.
Parkman is later called to look at a crashed C-47 jet plane near the site of the wrecked weather shack. A large green colored wedge shaped object is found lodged in the plane. Parkman takes the giant wedge back to the Pentagon in Washington D. C. to be examined.
The Pentagon calls in Paleontologist Ned Jackson, played by William Hopper, to examine the wedge object. Jackson concludes that the object could not have come from an animal, but is most likely the giant spur from an insect leg. This conclusion is later verified when a giant praying mantis attacks a military barracks in the Arctic. The rest of the film is an attempt by the military to track down and destroy the giant mantis.
What puzzles me about The Deadly Mantis is why the producers of the film decided to have the giant mantis make a loud roaring sound like King Kong (1933) when it attacks its victims. This sound effect is very laughable. The Deadly Mantis also makes a loud, mechanical vibrating sound when it flies. These sound effects are not effective, to say the least, and could have been made much better.
Most close up shots show a rigid, slow-moving mantis, with little movement from its legs and body. Perhaps the most effective shot of the mantis is in a sequence in which a real mantis is used to climb up a miniature model of the Washington Monument at the National Mall in Washington D. C.
In 2008, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released The Deadly Mantis on DVD as part of a two volume box set of Universal films from the 1950s. This is a great set to have for any fan of 1950s science-fiction. The set contains The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) , The Leech Woman (1960), The Land Unknown (1957), Cult of The Cobra (1955), and six other titles. A must have for any serious fan of science-fiction cinema. Watch the trailer here. Happy viewing.