The 1920s and 1930s are when Universal Pictures gave birth to the first of their monster films. In the 1940s, we were given a plethora of sequels, ending with most of them meeting up with Abbott and Costello in 1948 to end the original era of Universal Monsters. But in the 1950s, after Universal Pictures merged with International Pictures, there was one more monster franchise to be unleashed. In 1954, Creature from the Black Lagoon gave us the last of the iconic monsters. It was amplified by being the second Universal film released in 3D, following the success of It Came from Outer Space in 1953. Our movie begins with the discovery of a fossilized hand in a rock base in the Amazon. Dating from the Devonian era, it could be a new link between creatures of the sea and land. Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno, The Searchers) reaches out to his friend Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson, It Came From Outer Space and The Valley of Gwangi) and his girlfriend, Kay Lawrence (Julia/Julie Adams, lots of TV appearances through the 1980s including The Big Valley and Mannix). Rounding out our intrepid crew is the moneyman Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning, Target Earth and Creature with the Atom Brain), Dr. Edwin Thompson (the ever-present Whit Bissell, I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Invasion of the Body Snatchers amongst countless other appearances) and the captain of the steamboat Rita, Lucas (Nestor Paiva, Dark Streets of Cairo and Revenge of the Creature). We also have a few crewmen who might as well have worn red shirts based on the life expectancy. Once our team makes their way into the Black Lagoon, they’ve entered the playground of the Creature and, like any good slasher flick, they are picked off one by one. Jack Arnold directed and followed his pattern of excellent black-and-white cinematography and better-than-average scripts in some of his other films, such as The Incredible Shrinking Man and It Came from Outer Space.
The real story behind this movie is the great atmosphere in the location and the absolute wonderful design of the Creature. Two primary locations were used in the filming. All underwater scenes were done in Wakulla Springs, FL while the lagoon was a standing lot at Universal Studios in California. The lagoon is still there, looking a little different than it did back in 1954 but still a legendary location in film history. Two actors would play the Creature. Ricou Browning did all of the underwater scenes while Ben Chapman performed the above ground sequences. Ricou returned for the two sequels that followed, Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) while Tom Hennesy and Don Megowan assumed the landside gill-man roles respectively. In Revenge of the Creature, the Creature is captured by John Agar and brought back to the mainland, where the Creature becomes as fascinated with Lori Nelson as he did with Julia Adams the year before. It also has the rare distinction of being the only 3D sequel. We also get the theatrical debut of Clint Eastwood as a lab technician and the return of Nestor Paiva as Captain Lucas. In The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason are the two doctors who capture the gill-man and Leigh Snowden is the resident damsel-in-distress/love interest. Neither of the two sequels captured the fun of the original. While the Creature seemed almost as deadly in Revenge, he just seemed out-of-place. By the third film, it appears that he is suffering the same fate on Frankenstein’s monster did in his later films.
I have been lucky enough to see Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D on the big screen back in the early 80s and Revenge of the Creature in 3D on TV in the mid-80s. Creature from the Black Lagoon was also the first horror VHS I purchased back in 1987 (the Goodtime home video version at Camelot Music). Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of my personal favorites, as evidenced by a poster on my movie room wall and the latest Diamond Select figure displayed next to it. The gill-man has often been depicted in varying forms through countless marketing campaigns and also holds the honor of being introduced on television through a cameo appearance with Abbott and Costello (although he never got his own movie with the comedy duo like his counterparts). The novelization by John Russell Fearn (writing as Vargo Statten) is a fun addendum to the trilogy if you still need a gill-man fix. The Blu-ray release gives us an amazing picture in anamorphic widescreen. This is a personal favorite of mine and something that should be on your shelf for annual viewings.