Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Creature Chronicles: The Black Lagoon Trilogy, a review

The Creature Chronicles – Exploring The Black Lagoon Trilogy - By Tom Weaver, David Schecter and Steve Kronenberg. (McFarland, 2018) McFarland's website is here. Order line: 800-253-2187. (Amazon link is here.)

Review by Steve D. Stones
Any die hard fan of The Creature From The Black Lagoon and its two sequels will find The Creature Chronicles, by Tom Weaver, David Schecter and Steve Kronenberg, to be a book of exhaustive reference and research to all things related to the trilogy of films. Lots of photographs, interviews, and biographies of actors and production crew fill the 394-page book. Everything you could ever what to know about the Gill Man can be found in this treasure trove of a book. The information contained in this book is absolutely overwhelming and detailed.

A wonderful introduction to the book was written by actress Julie Adams, who plays the shapely Kay Lawrence in the film. Adams mentions her love of classic horror films as a child, such as the time she saw Frankenstein (1931) in her home state of Arkansas. Adams saw her role in The Creature From The Black Lagoon as just another paying acting job and didn't think the film would go on to be regarded as a great classic some sixty-plus years later. Many of Adams' experiences of starring in The Creature From The Black Lagoon are documented in this book and her autobiography – The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections From The Black Lagoon (2009).

Producer William Alland attended a party at Orson Welles' home in 1940, where he revealed his idea for “The Sea Monster,” which was an early treatment for The Creature From The Black Lagoon. The story was obviously borrowed from King Kong (1933) and the silent classic – The Lost World (1925).

Creature Chronicles shows the many treatments the story and script went through before it was filmed and delivered to the screen. While producer Alland and director Jack Arnold were making It Came From Outer Space (1953), the script for The Creature From The Black Lagoon was being adapted and refined. In the first treatment by Maurice Zimm, the creature is referred to as “Pisces Man.” By the time the film was made, the creature is referred to as “Gill Man.”

Several writers wrote their own treatment of the story, as the book points out. Harry Essex was one of the writers who contributed a treatment. Both he and Arthur Ross contributed to the final script that made its way to the screen. Director Jack Arnold tried to take a lot of credit for the script, but Ross and Essex claim he contributed nothing to the final draft used in the film.

Plans to shoot The Creature From The Black Lagoon in color were being considered, but never came to fruition. Producer William Alland admitted many years later that The Creature From The Black Lagoon, along with other Jack Arnold-directed films such as Tarantula (1955), would have looked better in color. I happen to disagree with this analysis. The black and white treatment of Arnold's films, particularly The Creature From The Black Lagoon, give a look and feel that is unique for the time in which they were filmed in the 1950s.

It's interesting to note that the book points out that buxom brunette beauty Allison Hayes did a test screening for the role of Helen Dobson in the sequel - Revenge of The Creature (1955). The role was given to blonde actress Lori Nelson, who was barely out of her teens at the time she took the role.

Being a big fan of Hayes, I would have liked to see her in the Helen role, although I'm not sure the chemistry between her and actor John Agar as Professor Clete Ferguson, the animal trainer, would be very convincing. In my opinion, Hayes is a much better actress than Nelson. Although I have to admit that I do like Nelson in Hot Rod Girl (1956).

A critic of Agar once said: “I have to confess that John Agar was never one of my favorites. He always seemed . . . well, a little goofy. The awkward, stiff smile looked forced.” Revenge of The Creature was Agar's first science-fiction film. Agar also appeared in many other 1950s cult classics, such as Tarantula (1955), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) and Invisible Invaders (1959).

I've always considered the third film, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), to be the weakest of the three entries. This is usually the case in any trilogy of films. I've always found it a bit silly and bizarre that the creature at one point in the film walks around in what appears to be prison clothes or pajamas. It just doesn't seem to work. The design of the gill man in this film greatly deviates from the original design by sculptor Millicent Patrick used in the first film. The earliest design of the gill man was jokingly referred to as “The Pollywag,” and was later rejected for the Patrick design that we see on screen.

If you're a fan of The Creature From The Black Lagoon and its sequels, I highly recommend the book Creature Chronicles – Exploring The Black Lagoon Trilogy. The photographs in this book alone are worth the price of the book. Happy Reading.

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