“[…]’Cause we all stand between the jungle and the stars, at a crossroads. I think we better decide what brings out the best in humankind, and what brings out the worst, because it’s the stars or the jungle.”
The Creature from the Black Lagoon series was short lived. Already at just film three we’ve reached the end. It was the only entry in the series to not be shot in 3-D, audiences having grown disenchanted of the format by 1956, and it focuses less on action. It attempts to have a grand message about what makes the Creature and what makes people who they are but never offers up any actual answers.
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) follows a group of scientists led by the obsessed and crazy Dr. William Barton (Jeff Morrow) who also happens to be an abusive jealous husband to free-willed Marcia (Leigh Snowden). He wants to capture the Gill-Man (played underwater by Ricou Browning and out of water by Don Megowan) so that he can perform experiments on him that will help man make an evolutionary jump forward for the first time in millions of years. It’s his hope that this jump will enable man to survive space. Or at least I think that’s what his goal is because his whole experiment is ridiculous, stupid, and doesn’t make a bunch of sense.
Barton’s colleague Dr. Thomas Morgan (Rex Reason) objects to the experiment, saying he only agreed to capture the Creature, who is living in the Florida Everglades, in order to research him under close observation. Morgan helps with the capture anyway, and the Gill-Man is horribly burned. The Creature is saved but only after an operation which makes him incapable of breathing underwater anymore. Barton and Morgan discuss what this adaption to land life may mean for reaching that next step in human evolution.
Well, I’ll give this movie something. Its characters are a hell of a lot more interesting than the pieces of dry wood we got in Revenge of the Creature (1955). Murrow plays a wonderful slime-ball/villain. It’s simply acts of deranged cruelty and anti-social behavioral like Dr. Barton’s obsession with success above all else and his abusive treatment of his wife that gives him a level of danger that actually made me afraid of him.
The broken and unhealthy marriage is handled with a reality and complexity I wouldn’t have thought possible for this series, especially after the simple, wholesome, and boring romance in the last movie. I’m not saying this is an underappreciated examination of a woman married to a disturbed and dangerous man. It’s not that intricate. But it has a level of reality to it that was refreshing.
The rest of the characters are pretty good, too. They’re not wonderful, but this is definitely the best overall cast we’ve had for any of these Creature movies.
Things that don’t work so well are the philosophical questions the film poses. Characters discuss whether it’s our genes or environment what we are. They ask if kindness is really responded to with more kindness or with cruelty and deception. They’re not terribly original questions but interesting ones. Unfortunately, the movie never gives its own answers, and it all feels like a bunch of pseudo-intellectualism meant to simply pad out a film that doesn’t have enough story for a 60 minute film let alone an 80 minute one.
Also, I don’t know if these questions or the whole marriage subplot really has much to do with the Gill-Man, who has shockingly little to do in his own film. Until half-way through the movie, all he does is follow our protagonists through the Everglades. After that, he attacks everyone in an admittedly good action sequence that makes more threatening and scary in his water setting than I’ve ever seen him. But then he’s mostly laying down and recovering or walking around in a big cage. He occasionally attacks someone or has a (very) small moment of pathos, but this really isn’t his story. It’s Barton and Morgan’s.
In that sense, this was a disappointing end to the Gill-Man’s film career. But while Creature Walks Among Us is rife with problems, it’s a much better sit than Revenge.
So, that concludes my month long look at Universal monster movies. I might bring the Monster Mash back next year, but I make no promises. All I have left to say is I hope this was fun, and happy Halloween!