10/27/12

The Bigger and Badder Halloween Top 13: #5: Attack of the 50ft. Woman (1958)

For the second time on this list, I will be talking about an exclusively humanoid giant, but unlike the teens in Village of the Giants, this time it isn't played so much for laughs. In the eyes of a conservative nation, which America has steadily grown out of over the years, the rise of the Women’s Christian Temperance Organization in the 1870s-80s was nothing less than monstrous. While their purpose was to ban alcohol, something that few people would rally around now, one of their main reasons was to improve the home life of women who were abused, beaten, and neglected thanks to the rampant alcoholism which had spread like wildfire among the nation’s male population. To many, the members of that group, as well as the women’s suffragettes, were nothing less than monstrous. However, these two movements were the seed of what would grow to be the modern feminist movement, which came into its own nearly a hundred years later in the 1960’s. Despite winning the vote in the 1920s and powering the country through World War II, when the men came home, they still expected to find meek partners who bent to their husband’s will, but by the late 1950s the strain between the sexes was beginning to show even in idyllic middle America. So it comes as no surprise that a movie came along and exploited the fear of the powerful woman whose cause was just, if not her methods. Granted she was still dressed in an awfully titillating style, but Attack of the 50 Foot Woman offered up a giant woman in the place of a giant movement just waiting in the wings.

For any of the magic of Attack of the 50ft  Woman to happen, you just have to go along with the fact that some aliens come down to Earth, wearing a medieval tabard, and make some women enormous. That’s all there really is to that. When Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes) was speeding through the desert, she had no plans to come into contact with a crashed alien vessel. She was just your average independently wealthy, previously institutionalized heiress with a philandering husband, Harry (William Hudson), who was out to get her money. So when she comes to town with a wild story about a giant spaceman, no one will believe her, especially Harry, who would rather be making time with his girlfriend Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers). She finally convinces him to drive out to the desert, and they find the craft. Harry tries to shoot it because, let’s go ahead and face it, Harry is a total douche bag. Naturally, his next move is to ditch Nancy there. The next morning she is found unconscious on the roof of her pool house. When she is taken to the hospital, a strange thing happens. She begins to grow, and she is righteously pissed. 

When I set out to make the first drafts of the movies that are appearing on The Bigger and Badder Halloween Top 13, one of the first I listed was this title. Not only because it has a great underlying subtext, but also because it’s a fun, campy little slice of classic science fiction nonsense. I suppose I'm not the only one that thinks that it’s a great one. In fact, I have the endorsement of The Smartest Man in the World. Every year when I send out requests for lists, I also send emails to a few strange celebrities that I enjoy and, I assume a) they will never see the e-mail, b) wouldn’t have time  or want to respond, c) would think I was a madman, d) all of the above. So imagine my surprise when I got a response, albeit a protracted one, from one of my personal idols. I’m talking about the stand up master, the improv kind, all around raconteur, and sublime sartorialist, Greg Proops. If you don’t know Greg from anywhere else, you may recall him from Whose Line is It Anyway, but know him from other places like his aforementioned Smartest Man podcast. So long story short (too late), here is the entirety of the response I got from Mr. Proops when I asked him this question: 

Bugg: Every year for Halloween, I count down 13 of my favorite films, and this year the theme is giant monsters, creatures, insects, critters, etc. Naturally I wouldn't impose on you to list a number of films, but I was wondering if you could share with my readers your favorite Giant menace film?   

Greg: Giant Menace eh? Like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman? I will check out your site.

I’ll admit I left that last bit in there because it will be there in perpetuity (or should I say Proopetuity) to remind me there is a slim chance that Greg Proops has seen the Lair. Anyhow, to answer Greg’s query. Yes, exactly like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, and now I am actually going to get on with it. 

Sure, Nancy Archer wasn’t the perfect backdrop for female empowerment. Her money was inherited. She may or may not have been sound of mind. (We are taking Harry’s word on this, and I've already tipped how I feel about him.) However, we're talking about a woman who is literally empowered to act out her revenge. Her size was representative of the years of pent of anger from being marginalized and mistreated. When it emerged, there was only one way it could have ended. A woman scorned is more than a clever saying. If you don't believe me, scorn one.  There are only two drawbacks to the 50 ft Nancy’s revenge; both were out of her control. The effects used to overlay her image are sometimes less than opaque, and I wish her climactic rampage through the town wasn't so short. I could have used seeing her toss some more people around and maybe stomp on a few for good measure. What we do get is satisfying in its own way, and if you don't smile when giant Nancy drops a heavy beam on Honey Parker, then there is a good chance you are dead inside. At only 65 minutes, things have to happen fast for the 50ft Woman and, sadly, many avenues I would have liked to seen explored or refined are left to the imagination. 

Allison Hayes is a woman whose own story mirrors issues of women’s health and well being. A beautiful woman, who made a real impression on audiences in the 1954 mini-epic Sign of the Pagan opposite Jack Palance, Hayes’ career never reached beyond a string of minor roles and B-movies before descending into episodic television work. Though in our minds now she has cult status from, if nothing else, her iconic image on the poster which is recognizable even to folks who haven't seen the film; at the time the notoriety garnered her no more fame or work than she had before. Coupled with her faltering career, she began experiencing health problems, and while reading an article about lead poisoning in factory workers, she recognized the symptoms. She soon discovered that the calcium supplement she had been taking for years was chock full of lead. She spearheaded an effort to have the supplement banned by the FDA, but her own health had already gone too far. She succumbed to complications with a blood transfusion while suffering from leukemia in 1977 at age 48, only nineteen years after her role as the ultimate giantess. 

All the actors in Attack of the 50ft  Woman have the same kind of alternately wooden and over the top style that is almost the stereotype of 50s sci-fi cinema, but that’s not to say that they aren't enjoyable. Even in the film’s short running time, the main three characters set up everything you need to know about them in shorthand. Allison Hayes plays Nancy like a frazzled, wild eyed mess, but when she becomes a giant, the steely determination she puts forth is palpable. William Hudson, who had played a very different kind of role the year before in The Amazing Colossal Man, was so easy to despise as Harry that you can’t wait for Nancy to get a hold of him. When she does, I always wish that H.G. Lewis could take over from that point and pick him apart. Yvette Vickers has little to do as Honey, but all she has to do is make her a despicable tramp, which she does in spades. 

Director Nathan Jura began his career with westerns and two fisted tales of action, really began making a name for himself in science fiction films with 1957’s 20 Million Miles to Earth, a tale of a space exploration vessel and the giant lizard it encounters. It is a title which has popped up several time already on the lists that have been submitted to me. After Attack of the 50ft Woman, he would go on direct more giant features working with Ray Harryhausen on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, the TV show World of Giants, and the 1962 feature Jack the Giant Killer. While Juran stumbled a bit on quality in 50ft Woman (ultimately pulling his name off the film), the tale itself holds its own with its pedigree from writer Mark Hanna, whose other major work, Not of This Earth, is also a sci-fi classic. Hanna had also penned The Amazing Colossal Man, and there is no way of really knowing if he meant to include the film’s subtext while he was spinning a new yarn off the moderate success of a previous project or is time and history had shaped the opinions around this film. 

So far on this Bigger and Badder Halloween Top 13 countdown, Attack of the 50 ft woman has a distinction higher than just being the tallest woman to appear on this list. She has also garnered the most words of any of my selections so far, but there’s still four more days to go, and who knows what will happen with those films. I have some big plans that I think you all will enjoy. Before this review grows to a much more monstrous size, I think I will sign off. I hope you all take some time and scroll down to check out a giant monsters list from my good pal, Jeff Waltrowski, director of Project: Valkyrie and It Came From Yesterday!

Bugg Rating 

Today’s list is the first of the really detailed submissions I got in this year. It’s from Jeff Waltrowski, who, as I mentioned and will mention again, director of  Project: Valkyrie and It Came From Yesterday! When I started The LBL, there were films I loved that I wanted to get the word out about, just out of my desire for people to see the flick. Project: Valkyrie was one of those films. After my initial review of the film, Jeff got in contact with me, and ever since, he’s been a huge supporter of The Bugg. He’s also a guy who loves movies and knows his monsters. So I shall delay no more, take it away Jeff!

The Best Giant Monster Films to Watch Leading Up to Halloween (or any day of a Calendar Year)
By Jeff Waltrowski

*NOTE TO READER:  One may find this list slightly top-heavy in the Godzilla dept., but when I think of the best Giant Monster Flicks (and I often do), my brain begins to rattle them of to no end.  I have flavored the following with some non-Godzilla seasoning to give the viewer a break from total awesomeness to almost total awesomeness.

10. All Monsters Attack (aka Godzilla’s Revenge) (1969)
This is the only live action film ever made that you should watch in its English Dubbed version.  Trust me.  What is essentially a highlight reel of the best Godzilla fights of the 60’s, is made even better by Minya’s English language dub.  

9. Gamera Vs. Giuron (1969) 
Two alien chicks kidnap two little kids, take them to their planet, shave their heads, and tempt them with donuts.  You’re Netflixing this TONIGHT!
       
8. Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)
Godzilla’s epic battle with MechaGodzilla during the Millennium Series was too big for one film and needed to be concluded here.  Mothra steps in to turn up the awesome meter.

7. Gamera the Brave (2006)
Gamera spends a huge chunk of this movie as a little baby turtle, which also happens to make this the cutest, most adorable movie of all time.   This film also proves that the genre can be touching and poignant.  An overlooked, must-see film for any fan of the genre.

6. 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
A film list is not a film list without a Ray Harryhausen film on it.  Here, Ray shows us his version of King Kong.  This time, a creature from Venus, The Ymir, gets bigger and bigger the more he eats until he’s atop the Coliseum dodging bullets.  You can guess what happens next.

5. Gojira (1954)
For many fans, this would be on the top of their list.  What’s not to love?  This allegory for nuclear war started this genre and Ishiro Honda made every frame of this masterpiece gorgeous.  This is genre filmmaking at its finest, from any era.  

4. Invasion of the Astro Monster (1965)
Aliens from Planet X borrow Godzilla and Rodan to fight off King Ghidorah.  I won’t spoil anything, but never trust aliens from Planet X.  This film originated the Godzilla victory dance and mankind was made 16% better for it.

3. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
This movie has animated sequences, musical numbers, Japanese hippies, an environmental message, and Godzilla using his breathe to fly.  

2. Destroy all Monsters (1968)
All the Toho monsters got together to throw a party and you’re invited.  And it’s in the future (well 1999, anyway).

1. Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
This is a movie that truly has everything:  motorcycle chases, a flying submarine, soldiers with mutant powers, aliens, a bad-ass villain, and just about every monster to come out of Toho in the past 50 years (even King Caesar). Versus director, RyĆ»hei Kitamura, made what is, not only the perfect giant monster flick, but a perfect genre film.  The first time I saw this, I watched it twice in a row.  

Ok no wrapping up. If you’ve made it this far today, you get a gold medal in Lair-ing! I commend thee! Also, if you want to see Greg Proops and tell him you're my close personal friend, check him out on these upcoming dates.

10/25 Comedy Works | Denver, CO
11/7 Bar Lubitsch | West Hollywood, CA
11/8 NerdMelt Showroom | Los Angeles, CA
11/14 Bar Lubitsch | West Hollywood, CA
12/2 Soho Theatre | London , UK
12/9 Comedy Attic | Bloomington, IN
12/30 Punch Line | San Francisco, CA

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