As anyone who knows me can tell you, Lisa Marie does not do water.
Seriously, I have a very intense fear of drowning and, while I might enjoy laying out by the pool during the summer, you’re never going to catch me actually going anywhere near the deep end. I’m the epitome of the girl who loves the beach but hates the ocean. As a result, I have a hard time with movies the feature swimmers thrashing about in the water or ancient monsters coming up to the surface in search of swimsuit-clad victims.
For lack of a better term, these films freak me out.
Sometimes, however, it’s fun to be freaked out. Perhaps that’s why I so love the 1954 monster classic, The Creature From The Black Lagoon.
Like all good B-movies from the 1950s, The Creature From The Black Lagoon starts off with a lot of stock footage and a stuffy narrator telling us about how the Earth was created and how mankind originally evolved from a creature that crawled out of the sea. The narrator manages to cover all the bases by including a few Biblical quotes with his explanation of how evolution works.
From the beginning of mankind, we fast forward to the 1950s. A fossilized claw has been discovered in the Amazon and a group of scientists think that it could be evidence of the missing link in human evolution. Mark (Richard Denning), who is kind of a jerk, funds an expedition to the Amazon to search for more evidence. Accompanying Mark is hunky young scientist David (Richard Carlson) and David’s girlfriend, Kay (Julie Adams). Traveling on a boat captained by the rather gruff Lucas (Nestor Paiva), they go to the camp where the fossil was originally discovered. However, once they arrive, they discover that everyone in the camp has been killed. Lucas suggests that the camp was attacked by a jaguar.
Lucas, needless to say, is totally incorrect. The film isn’t called The Jaguar From The Black Lagoon. It’s called The Creature From The Black Lagoon and the creature, also known as the Gill-Man (played by Ben Chapman when on land and by Ricou Browning whenever he’s underwater), is none too happy about these strangers invading his home. Soon, the Gill-Man is stalking the expedition as they move up and down the Amazon River.
The Creature From The Black Lagoon is probably best known for the dream-like sequence in which Kay, wearing a white bathing suit that is simply to die for, swims in the Amazon River without realizing that the Creature is following just a few feet below her. This scene (which does little to help with my aquaphobia) is one of the most iconic in the history of monster cinema. Expertly framed by director Jack Arnold, this scene is distinguished by the graceful movement of both Julie Adams and Ricou Browning. It’s as close as a monster movie has ever gotten to duplicating ballet.
Ultimately, like all good monster films, the Creature from the Black Lagoon is on the side of the monster. The members of the expedition are, for the most part, interchangeable and, when the Gill-Man attacks, he’s acting more out of self-defense than out of hostility. The expedition, after all, has invaded his home. Like many 50s B-movies, the theme for The Creature From The Black Lagoon is not that people should be careful while investigating mysteries but that most mysteries are best left unsolved.
When you combine one of the genre’s most iconic monsters with Jack Arnold’s atmospheric direction, the end result is one of the best B-movies ever made.