The day after Thanksgiving has arrived. For some, it involves braving the weather and hitting the stores in search of that amazing deal. For others, it revolves around trying to find something for those pesky relatives to do. But one thing all of us can relate to is the turkey leftover predicament. So, as you try to eat another turkey sandwich and gobble up the cranberries, it seems appropriate to indulge in a cinematic feast as well. And when it comes to turkeys, The Giant Claw (1957) is near the top of the list.
Most filmmakers start off with a good idea. They might have access to a talented actor or maybe a great script but somewhere along the way, it all starts to fall apart. In many cases, the trouble comes down to special effects. What looks great on paper doesn’t always match up with the budget and this is exactly what happened to The Giant Claw. Producer Sam Katzman, along with writers Paul Gangelin and Samuel Newman, had what looked to a typical giant monster flick of the 50s. According to Robert Osbourne of Turner Classic Movies, Katzman had hoped for the talents of Ray Harryhausen but Columbia Pictures had other plans. Unfortunately, Katzman had to resort to using a puppet maker south of the border. And this is where the project definitely went south as well.
The story behind The Giant Claw is actually good. Jeff Morrow (The Creature Walks Among Us, Kronos) stars as pilot Mitch MacAfee who is working with the Air Force at the North Pole. While on a test flight, he spots what he believes to be an unidentified flying object. He’s laughed off the base but once he and his mathematician girlfriend Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday, Tarantula) return to New York, more reports start coming in about aircraft under attack by UFOs.
However, the threat is not flying saucers but a giant buzzard-like bird as big as a battleship. As the story unfolds, it’s identified as coming from an anti-matter galaxy and is nesting. With the threat of more giant birds on the loose and the military being unable to stop it, it seems like Mitch and another scientist may be the only hope to stop the beast and save the world.
The Giant Claw definitely had some very cool and unique ideas. There was also a talented cast as Jeff Morrow was a strong leading male character. Oh sure, there were some very cheesy moments in the script but let’s be honest, that is more a product of the day rather than an indicator of bad writing. In fact, the concept of anti-matter as a plot device was cutting edge for the time. It really all comes down to the big bird. Plain and simple, it looks awful.
As Hollywood legend has it, the cast had no idea what the bird would look like as it was added after their scenes were filmed. They didn’t see it until the premiere and when it finally makes its’ debut, theater audiences quickly turned the film from a sci-fi flick to a comedy. Jeff Morrow was so embarrassed, he reportedly wanted to flee the theater and hoped nobody recognized him.
Over the years, The Giant Claw has achieved cult film status as it made the rounds on the bootleg video market until it finally saw an official release as part of the Icons of Horror Collection – Sam Katzman. It also is part of the Sci-Fi Creature Classics DVD set. Either way, the rest of the films in these sets are well worth your time but The Giant Claw is currently on YouTube if you’d rather make this a one and done viewing. Personally, it’s a guilty pleasure and one I recommend it for the sheer fun of seeing everyone act so serious about what appears to be a reject from Turkey Day.