Beware the Blob!

This is a reposting of a piece that originally appeared on http://streamline.filmstruck.com

The credits are Saul Bass lite. Different red shapes, blobby outlines, move forward on the screen while one of the great movie theme songs plays behind them. The song, “Beware the Blob,” performed by The Five Blobs (lead singer Bernie Knee) and written by Burt Bacharach and Mack David, is instantly singable upon one hearing. Finally, the title of the movie, in black surrounded by a glowing red outline, appears. And so begins the 1958 classic, The Blob, starring Steve McQueen in his first major film role (often credited as his debut when in fact he had done both movies and plenty of TV before). The Blob is often pigeonholed into the same category as any other low-budget sci-fi film from the 1950s that most people would now call “cult classics” but it’s actually a lot more than that and deserves better. Better treatment and better direction. It’s a frustrating mixture of all the right ingredients producing a less than optimal outcome but still showing enough promise that it’s a fascinating journey.

The opening scene of The Blob is damned peculiar. Steve, played by Steve McQueen (very convenient), is kissing Jane, played by my childhood crush from The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968), Helen Crump, aka Aneta Corsaut. The camera swings from the right to the left and Jane pulls back. What follows is an oddly quiet and reflective conversation as Jane feels she has been lured here and Steve assures her she hasn’t. She seems genuinely distraught and their lines feel almost unrehearsed. It’s a quiet, tender moment followed by a meteor streaking across the sky and Steve determined to find out where it landed. As they rush to find it, an old man wanders out of his cabin to find a small, round meteorite, complete with its own set of tiny impact craters, making it look like an old moon model someone did for a science project. He cracks it open and a small gelatinous center leaps to his hand and begins consuming it. He runs to the road where Steve and Jane almost hit him and they take him to a doctor.

 

Eventually, the blobby mass consumes the old man, the doctor and his nurse before going on a rampage across the town. Well, a slow, gradual rampage. As the title song suggests, it creeps and glides and slides its way around the town, killing off innocent citizens who, once consumed, allow the blob to grow larger. Finally, it invades a movie theater and engulfs a diner before they figure out what stops it, air conditioning. Or just plain old cold. Which actually makes sense, believe it or not. Traveling through the cold vacuum of space, it remains dormant and solidified. Once the meteor heats up upon atmospheric entry, it comes to life. It avoids the cold to avoid slipping back into dormancy.

The Blob looks great, both the movie and the title character. The movie is shot in widescreen Deluxe color and looks absolutely lush, the opposite of what one expects from a low budget sci-fi movie from the 1950s. The creature itself, made from silicone and red dye, has a genuineness to it that many movie monsters lack. The very fact that it is so completely alien, and thus so completely unable to communicate with us, gives it all the character menace it needs. Even when it pours out of the movie theater near the end, and a large thumb print is clearly visible at its center, the magic isn’t lost. Hey, who knows, maybe the blob has fingerprints.

There are, of course, the usual elements of sci-fi at the time, a genre not taken very seriously in the 1950s, with very few getting the kind of treatment MGM gave Forbidden Planet (1956). There’s the less than stellar dialogue, the not-so-convincing emoting, the teenagers who look old enough to be playing the parents and there’s lackluster direction from Irvin Yeaworth who lets scenes just kind of sit there. When he should be coaching the actors to blaze through their lines, he seems content to sit back and let them slowly fumble through their lines until minutes of screen time have gone by to no avail. This movie, this very same movie, directed by someone like Howard Hawks, could have been amazing.

Still, it’s pretty damn good as it is. The score by Ralph Carmichael is impressive, the special effects work well and Steve McQueen does a pretty decent job playing someone ten years younger than himself. The Blobcould be better, yes, and served by a better director, it could have been great. But for sheer fun, and brightly colored menace from beyond the stars, few 1950s sci-fi movies give me more satisfaction than The Blob. Let’s just say, it grows on you.

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