Directed by Jack Arnold and screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur Ross from a story by Maurice Zimm and an idea from producer William Alland, Creature from the Black Lagoon is the story of a scientific expedition where scientists find and encounter a mysterious prehistoric creature only for things to go wrong when the creature breaks free. The film is a monster horror film that involves this titular creature who lurks in a lagoon in the Amazon as he goes after those who threaten him. Starring Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva, Whit Bissell, Ben Chapman, and Ricou Browning. Creature from the Black Lagoon is a thrilling and adventurous film from Jack Arnold.
Set in the Amazon River in South America, the film revolves around a group of scientists who trek through the Amazon where they would encounter a prehistoric creature that is lurking on the river and is attacking them. It’s a film with a simple premise where a geologist finds a fossil shaped like hand as he returns to a marine biology institute as he returns to his camp to find two of his assistants killed leading to this exploration through the Amazon. The film’s screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur Ross is straightforward as it revolve around these group of scientists and divers who go to the Amazon to find some fossils to get an understanding of the world they live but this big humanoid monster called Gill-man (Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning) who would attack as well as gaze upon those whom he would encounter and later attack. Even as these scientists make some chilling discoveries as well as how to go against this monster.
Jack Arnold’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of its presentation as it is shot mainly on Universal City, California with the underwater scenes that is directed by James Curtis Havens shot at Rice Creek near Palatka, Florida. There are some wide shots of the locations that include a recreation of the Amazon River with some stock footage to help create the look yet Arnold maintains this air of suspense into what these people are facing. Havens’ work in the underwater sequences have this air of beauty of life underwater but there is this dread whenever Gill-man appears as he swims and sees a couple of divers but also has interest in the lone woman in the group in Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams).
Arnold’s usage of close-ups and medium shots add to the suspense in the way characters interact with the monster as Arnold creates that sense of intrigue as well as tension between Kay’s boyfriend in ichthyologist Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson) and his boss Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning). While the film does have some creative suspense, it usually has the native assistants who aren’t white that are usually the ones killed off first as that is the one aspect of the film that is dated. The film’s climax that involves the Gill-man play into not just his home in the lagoon but also survival for Dr. Reed, Kay, and their entourage as the mixture of suspense and action come into play. Even as it forces the scientists to do some thinking in how to trap and kill the creature who has been causing them trouble. Overall, Arnold crafts a riveting and exhilarating film about a mysterious creature confronting scientists in his lagoon.
Cinematographer William E. Snyder does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography with the usage of low-key lighting for some of the scenes at night including shadows for the cave scenes where Gill-man lives in. Editor Ted J. Kent does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play up the suspense. Art directors Hilyard M. Brown and Bernard Herzbrun, with set decorators Russell A. Gausman and Ray Jeffers, do fantastic work with the look of the boat that the scientists live in as well as the look of the marine biology institute. Makeup designer Milicent Patrick does incredible work with some of the design of Gill-man as the way it looked and the design of the costume itself is a major highlight of the film.
The sound work of Leslie I. Carey and Joe Lapis do terrific work with the sound in the way the spear-gun sounds underwater as well as the sounds of the Gill-man. The film’s music by Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, and Herman Stein is wonderful for its soaring orchestral score as it help play into the suspense and adventure including themes that play into the presence of Gill-man.
The film’s superb cast feature some notable small roles from Henry Escalante and Bernie Gozier as a couple of Dr. Maia’s assistants, Whit Bissel as the scientist Dr. Edwin Thompson, and the duo of Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning as Gill-man with the former doing much of the work on land and the latter performing much of the action underwater. Nestor Paiva is fantastic as the boat captain Lucas as a man who knows the area but is also aware of the legend as he tends to be the smartest person on the boat. Antonio Moreno is excellent as Dr. Carl Maia as the man who finds the fossil and brings everyone to his findings while trying to make sense of the monster that is attacking them.
Richard Denning is brilliant as Dr. Mark Williams as the man financing the whole expedition as well as someone who wants to kill the monster but also do things that risks the lives of everyone. Julie Adams is amazing as Kay Lawrence as Dr. Reed’s girlfriend who joins in the expedition to help everyone while unknowingly becomes the center of attention for Gill-man. Finally, there’s Richard Carlson in a marvelous performance as Dr. David Reed as an ichthyologist who wants to gather samples but becomes aware of the dangers as he tries to help everyone he can in spite of the issues he has with Dr. Williams.
Creature from the Black Lagoon is an incredible film from Jack Arnold. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a simple yet effective premise, a mesmerizing music score, and an unforgettable titular character that would be a key figure in horror. It’s a monster movie that does create an air of intrigue but also knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else. In the end, Creature from the Black Lagoon is a phenomenal film from Jack Arnold.
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