The Giant Claw (1957)
Starring: Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Louis Merrill.
Director: Fred F. Sears.
Plot: A giant monstrous bird, immune to Earth’s most powerful weapons terrorises the United States military. Only an electrical engineer and a mathematician hold the key to stopping it.
The 1950s was the epicenter for films about invading aliens and monsters to which many, despite their primitive production, are often regarded as classics and highly influential films. Because B movies are incredibly outdated and produced with extinct technology, you might be forgiven for thinking they’re safe from criticism. Whilst contemporary cinema, particularly horror films, owe a lot to B movies, there are some that are just hilariously bad and The Giant Claw is one of them.
The film starts with sightings of UFOs made by different pilots one after the other, but the military does not initially take the reports seriously as the ‘UFOs’ were not registered on radar (the importance and advancement in radar is brought to our attention in a cheesy narration at the start of the film). Tension mounts as planes and pilots go missing before, after 20 minutes of run-time, we are introduced to the ‘UFO’, which turns out to be some sort of giant bird. The military throws all it can at the bird, only for it to do nothing, leading to scientist intervention as they try to analyse what they can about the creature. After various tests they determine it to be extra-terrestrial in nature and surrounded by an anti-matter shield. Mitch McAfee (Morrow) and Sally Caldwell (Corday) must now find a way to break down the anti-matter shield and destroy the creature before it destroys the earth.
It’s very easy to look at monster films from the early days of cinema and laugh at them in comparison to today’s standards, but I’ve always had a soft spot for stop-motion animation, animatronics and even guys in rubber suits. There’s a certain charm and sense of realism for something that’s actually physically there as opposed to the now common-place digitised image – I still think some classic Ray Harryhausen stop-motion beats a lot of modern CGI, but sadly it’s not likely we’ll ever see a return to such techniques. The Giant Claw was initially planned to be filmed using stop-motion animation and Harryhausen was even considered to design the monster, but the producers ultimately backed out to save on the budget. This led them to go for the puppet option; puppetry was common in B movies at the time and had the ability to astound audiences when done well. Unfortunately, the puppet itself was what ended up ruining the film, yet at the same time, it’s what made it. When audiences first saw the monster in cinemas, the majority ended up laughing when the intention was to terrify them. It’s difficult to believe that, even for the 50s, such a bad design for a monster could exist, or that even with budget restraints it was given the go ahead at all. Yes, for most people today there’s nothing intimidating about this sort of effect anyway, but in this film, it’s especially bad and hilarious.
The plot starts off reasonably coherently, but starts to get a bit unnecessarily over-complicated. The whole addition of ‘anti-matter’ as a way to elaborate on the monster’s nature just seems like a poor attempt to perplex the audience. The typical scientist character goes through an extensive description of the creature’s origin that involves atoms and electrons, which could have been condensed down into saying the creature has a protective shield. The elaborate descriptions are typical and seem natural in Sci-Fi B movies, but in The Giant Claw it comes across as forced and a way of fitting itself into the Sci-Fi genre. Despite the film’s Sci-Fi undertones, it barely even borders on the genre; had the monster not been classed as an alien, this really wouldn’t be a Sci-Fi film. Considering the monster is essentially a giant angry bird and doesn’t really represent anything extra-terrestrial, it further supports the idea that they decided to make it ‘alien’ at the last-minute to mould it into the more popular genre at the time.
For a bad B movie the acting isn’t so bad – not laughably bad anyway – and most of the actors actually took their acting seriously, with arguably the main reason for this being because they actually hadn’t seen the monster while in production. The face of the monster and most of the artwork was concealed, so none of the cast really new what to expect. In shots where actors would be sharing a scene with the monster, without knowing what it would look like, they were forced to use their imaginations in order to generate a better reaction. It’s safe to say, had they actually seen the monster they might not have been able to pull off genuine reactions.
The monster itself is really the main appeal of this film. To see such a poorly designed and laughable monster cause terror and destruction is simply brilliant to watch in such a way that it had to be a part of ‘So Bad It’s Good’ this week. Had the monster been created through stop-motion, or even just designed with more conviction, it might have just been your average B movie, but the monster made it into a spectacle. It’s really something you just need to see for yourself, as I can only describe it as a giant vulture with one too many bad memories of the war.