1957 Movie Review: THE MONOLITH MONSTERS, 1957


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Movie Reviews

Director: John Sherwood

Starring: Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Trevor Bardette
Review by Kevin Johnson 


A meteorite piece grows endlessly when contacted with water, which solidifies everyone it comes in contact with; two geologists must figure out how to stop it.



The Monolith Monsters has one of the riskiest and outlandish premises that you will ever see, even in B-movie standards. The title is rather misleading; it would probably be more accurate to call it “The Monolith Threat” or, to keep the alliteration intact, “The Monolith Menace”. The term “monsters” implies something organic, creepy and/or crawly – some kind of being or creature that stalks its victims in some manner. But really, the threat are rocks.

Grant, the rocks grow immediately when they come in contact with water. The rate they grow is exponential, and they have the power to remove silicates from the skin – ie, “turn you into stone”. But, ostentatiously, we’re dealing with deadly rocks. It’s hard to really feel any kind of tension from this scenario, and to be so invested in this threat, even at a campy level, asks a lot of the audience’s willingness to suspend disbelief. Also, there’s a ton of question: couldn’t a couple of missiles filled with “the solution” solve this problem? How come water vapor doesn’t effect it? And why is everyone running from ROCKS?

Specifically, the plot is thus: a meteor crash lands on Earth, shattering into a ton of pieces. When a couple of local geologists inspect said pieces, especially when found in conjunction with a stone-cold-dead person, they have to work to discover how to reverse the stone-transformation process, as well as disrupt the rocky enlargement before it “grows” out of hand.

I should comment on the pseudo-science more when it comes to these B-movies, mainly because it’s rather disconcerting how much these films emphasize them. Blockbuster sci-fi films tend to gloss over the explanations, or utilize metaphors to “explain” phenomena, or just straight-up ignore them; these low budget works spend an awful amount of time postulating, detailing, speculating, hypothesizing, and theorizing. But why? These over-explanations tend to bring up more questions than answers; opening that scientific door, while informative, pretty much invites the nerdiest among us to pinpoint the flaws in such arguments. It’s clearly just a way to pad for time, although it’s weird that researching mumbo-jumbo is preferred over even the most cliched of character developments. Dead father? Coming of age? Pining for a loved one? There’s plenty to choose from.

Still, there are some rather interesting effects. I was somewhat impressed with the smooth growth of the rock monoliths. I’m not exactly sure how they achieved it; it looks to be some sort of crude mechanic mixed with a clever camera angle. What ever it was, it didn’t look too cheesy, and was rather cool as it towered over miniature mountain ranges.

The female role was pleasantly handled as well. While it started off precociously glaring, with a young girl outing the relationship between Albright’s character and Williams’s character in that “why are kids paying attention to this!?” sort of way. But there are only a few scenes that harp on the romantic elements, and it seems natural to the beats, instead of random or throwaway.

But even with the solid elements the film purports, The Monolith Monsters has a hard-to-swallow premise that never quiet pushes its way out of Unbelievable Town. But the attempt is there, and the flow and style works, so you can’t fault its B-movie shortcomings in its execution. The idea of killer rocks may be lame, but at least it application was not wholly unbearable.



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Movie Reviews

Director: Jack Arnold

Starring: Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, April Kent, Helene Marshall
Review by Kevin Johnson


A man is exposed to a freak radiation cloud while on vacation, causing him to gradually shrink.


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I was actually rather surprised by The Incredible Shrinking Man, which began typically like the average B-film but dovetailed into a dark yet intrinsic inspirational tale without the classic Hollywood revisioning. It is a film that espouses more novel or short story-like elements than cinematic ones.

Since this is based on Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name, and since he also penned the screenplay, it’s to be expected. But the lack of specific changes to make the film more engaging to audiences, such as happier ending and a satisfying explanation of the shrinking, is rather audacious, especially taking in account the time period. This gives the film a deeper resonance now, but I can’t imagine audiences being too receptive to it back in 1957.

When a happily-married couple is vacationing on a boat by themselves, the husband (a overly-dashing Grant Williams) is exposed to a random radiation cloud, causing him to shrink daily. He and his wife hold out hope that a cure will be found in time, but Williams soon becomes a celebrity freak show, and then, a miniscule prisoner in his own basement.

Williams’s size changes are accomplished by a judicious use of large props, camera angles, and efficient editing. I was rather impressed by the accuracy and details of the oversized household goods, and crafty camera work is a long dead art, replaced by CGI and green-screens. Which is why I was disappointed with the use of projections in some scenes; but, to be fair, they were used for the more complex scenes, such as when Williams battles the spider.

The sets rival that of some modern-day films, most notably Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Both movies exercise a swath of campy elements, but Honey, I Shrunk the Kids mixed its miniscule fear with a childlike wonder; The Incredible Shrinking Man strove for a more overly-serious, overly-dramatic venture into the undersized unknown. It does get rather ridiculous, with Williams narration over his predicament delving into bad epic poetry, and one can’t help but notice how grim he gets within five minutes of his situation. Considering man can go a few weeks without food, did he REALLY need to go through hell-and-high-water to reach a cake? And, really, was the spider THAT much of a threat?

Prior to this, reaching his three-foot stature made him an object of the media, a spectacle for prying eyes and curious voyeurs. His inability to handle such attention is remedied, at least for a while, when he meets the most beautiful midget in the whole world! No, it’s a generic Hollywood pretty face clambering over the same oversized props at our protagonist. Needless to say, it is somewhat uncomfortable watching such an obvious misrepresentation of the life (and physicality) of a small person, but the 50s didn’t care too much in the way of political correctness – except for the Hayes code, which seemed to discourage a budding romantic relationship between Grant and the “midget.” After all, we wouldn’t want to showcase something as evil as sympathetic adultery, now would we?

Shrinking Man works its strongest points as a polemic, at the points where the narrator and leading man discuss the emotional and spiritual toll the incident is taking on him. And, again, it pushes way too much into the over-dramatic, but in a way, it works, especially when he comes to the realization that his shrinking will not stop. After losing his wife, livelihood, and even his identity, he avoids certain madness with a casual, cool, and serene acceptance of his fate, of acknowledging God’s role in all this, in his gradual decent into the atomic, which, in some metaphysical circles, reflect the very nature of the elliptical universe itself. By becoming small, he becomes large. By dwindling into nothing, he becomes part of everything. (The speech at the end spouts it better than I do.)

The Incredible Shrinking Man certainly over-dramatize its story and over-sexualizes its characters; from the swimsuit-clad wife at the beginning, to the attractive circus midget in the middle, and to the Amazonian garb Williams somehow sports when stalking his basement-jungle, the movie does little to present any problems with showcasing perfect bodies. But the technological aspects of the film are well done, and its novelistic readings are impressive. While the latter may be better served in book format, it was still brave to fit such deep, dark overtones in the film. That’s something on which The Incredible Shrinking Man should be commended.



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