(originally published on September 20, 2010)
Unquestionably one of the best science fiction films of all time and the introduction of one of the most memorable movie monsters to boot. The Gill-Man (the Creature’s actual name) came into this world in a rather bizarre fashion.
While attending a dinner at Orson Welles’ Hollywood home in the early 1940’s, William Alland had a conversation with a Mexican cinematographer named Gabriel Figueroa. Gabriel recounted a tale that he swore was true, of a village along the Amazon river that offered virgin maidens to a half-fish/ half-man that rose from the river once a year. The story stuck with Alland, who decided to build a feature around it. He eventually developed a script called The Sea Monster which would lay dormant for nearly a decade.
Time passed and Alland (then a producer for Universal Pictures) became paired with director Jack Arnold who was having a good deal of success with movies like It Came From Outer Space.
The two decided to tackle The Sea Monster and what came out of the collaboration was one of the best movies of its kind, and the start of a whole genre of fish-man films.
Jack Arnold In His Later Years
One of the most memorable marks the movie left behind wasn’t just the Gill-Man, but the man inside the Gill-Man suit. Ricou Browning was a college student living in Florida. A friend of his managed a wetland area known as Wakulla Springs. As a favor, Ricou agreed to show a group of Hollywood scouts around the springs while they searched out locations for a movie. One of them asked Ricou if he would swim in the spring to give them an idea of how the plant and animal life looked in comparison to a human body. Ricou was happy to do it. He continued to show them around after than and bid them farewell soon after.
A few weeks later, he received a call from Jack Arnold. They were looking for a local diver to wear the Gill-Man suit for the swimming scenes they intended to shoot at Wakulla Springs and he wanted to know if Ricou would like the job. Ricou accepted and the rest is history. He became interested in film, and began working behind the lens, specializing in shooting and later directing under water sequences.
He was involved in films and numerous television shows, and he even created Flipper!
That’s right, they call him Flipper but they’d probably be more accurate in calling him Son of the Creature because without the Gill-Man, it’s unlikely that he would ever have been born.
(I think I should note) that Ricou wasn't the only actor to play the creature. He preformed the swimming scene out in Florida while a second actor played the Gill-Man's land scene in Los Angeles. (But who is this other creature actor? We'll get into that as time goes on.)
The plot of the film is as follows, a group of scientists traveling the Amazon river in a search for fossils come across the Gill-Man, an evolutionary missing link between land mammals and marine life. They attempt to capture the creature, but the Gill-Man has other things on his mind, namely Kay Lawrence played by the lovely Ms. Julie Addams (more on her in the coming days).
The Creature attempts to abduct her, but when she is taken beyond his reach aboard the scientists boat, the Gill-Man blocks the only waterway leading in or out of the lagoon, trapping the researchers in his home waters. The movie is tightly written, tense to a fault, and well acted. The human characters do border a hair bit on the cliché, but that’s not entirely out of the ordinary for the time it was made and everything else works so well you’d barely notice, if at all.
In fact, the scenario of the movie itself seems to recall elements of Howard Hawk’s science fiction masterpiece The Thing From Another World.
Both films depict small groups of people with conflicting motives forced to rely on each other while trapped in an isolated area by a monster. The primary difference between the The Thing and The Creature is that Howard Hawk’s alien really is a vicious killer while the Gill-Man is a misunderstood beast with no true malice. He’s acting on his natural impulses and survival instincts. There’s a certain human quality to him that makes him an object of pity rather than fear … though honestly he is good at instilling it when he wants to.
The film would be followed by two direct sequels that we’ll talk more about in the coming days.