Tuesday, September 25, 2012
The Giant Gila Monster (1959)
Who's in it?: Don Sullivan (Teenage Zombies); Fred Graham (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon)
What's it about?: A giant lizard attacks people around a rural town.
How is it?: Groovy, Dad. It's way low budget, but director Ray Kellogg knew how to use his limited resources. He doesn't even try to put people and monster in the same shots together, but the editing is effective and creates the illusion that everyone's inhabiting the same space. The models that the monster appears with aren't half bad either.
Sullivan is really likable as teenager Chase Winstead. The character's perfection borders on ridiculous at times (he keeps his gang of friends under control while also holding down a job to support his widowed mother and buy leg braces for his crippled sister), but Sullivan is so affable that it's impossible to hate his character. And the more time the story spends with Chase, the more it reveals that he isn't actually perfect after all. He's a responsible kid, so he has the trust of Sheriff Jeff (Graham), but he doesn't always use that trust very well. He never outright betrays the lawman, but Chase is a kid and he makes mistakes like a kid. Just as the sheriff makes a mistake by relying so heavily on a teenager. It's a realistic depiction of a the relationship without letting either character devolve into stereotypes. It's refreshing and cool.
There's some drama about the wealthy businessman who controls the town and is upset enough when his son goes missing that he threatens the sheriff's job. That's not overdone though and otherwise, the little town looks as pleasant to live in as Mayberry. Except for the giant lizard, of course. (And props to the film for coming up with something besides "atomic accident" to explain the creature's mutation.)