Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Cyclops (1957)

Writer-producer-director Bert I. Gordon is one of the legendary figures in the field of low-budget science fiction/horror film-making. The Cyclops, released in 1957, includes many of the features that B-movie fans associate with Gordon. Most notably, it features ordinary animals made to appear as being of gigantic size. Gordon’s obsession with this idea (an obsession fueled mostly by its cheapness) would reach its apogee in 1977 with the deliriously camp Empire of the Ants.

Empire of the Ants had the added bonus of Joan Collins in full-on bitch model, a feature sadly lacking in The Cyclops. But The Cyclops still manages to be good fun in a cheerfully schlocky B-movie way.

Susan Winter (Gloria Talbott) has hired an aircraft along with a pilot and a couple of scientists to search for her fiancé Bruce whose plane is believed to have crashed in a rugged mountain chain in Mexico three years later. Susan believes Bruce is still alive.

They manage to make a landing in a clearing and Marty Melville (Lon Chaney Jr), who has brought along a precision scintillator for just such a purpose, makes a discovery that gets him very excited. The scintillator is going crazy and the whole area seems to be unbelievably rich in uranium.

Susan and Russ Bradford (James Craig) soon make a discovery that is just as remarkable but rather more worrying - the canyon in which they landed seems to be home to common animals that have grown to enormous size. There are mice the size of large dogs and hawks the size of a light aircraft. And lots of enormous and evidently ferocious lizards.

They do eventually find signs of poor old Bruce as well - the wreckage of his aircraft, his flying suit, and indications that he may have survived his plane crash and lived for an indeterminate time period in a cave. When they investigate the cave they find themselves trapped by a huge one-eyed monster that seems at least half-human but is twenty feet high.

By this stage even a ten-year-old will have figured out what’s going on but in some ways that just adds to the fun. And even if it is a bit obvious the script is perfectly serviceable for the type of movie this is. If you’re the type of person who’s going to worry over the scientific implausibilities of the story then you’re not the sort of person who is going to this movie anyway.

Gordon was no great shakes as a director but he gets the job done. The short 66-minute running time helps. There’s not enough plot for a longer movie but there’s just enough for 66 minutes.

The special effects were clearly done on the cheap. The odd thing is that some of the scenes with the normal-size characters and the giant animals in the same shot look quite convincing while others look deplorably unconvincing. The one-eyed monster makeup is effective enough for a movie that was never meant to be taken too seriously.

Lon Chaney Jr is ideally cast as the treacherous and cowardly but oddly sympathetic Marty Melville. We can’t really dislike him too much - his treachery and his cowardice are too open. Chaney pretty much steals the picture. The other players are perfectly adequate if just a little on the bland side.

The Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD is totally barebones, not even a trailer, but it offers a pristine anamorphic transfer.

This is an unpretentious monster movie and it’s silly fun. If this sort of thing is your cup of tea (and it definitely is mine) then The Cyclops can be recommended fairly confidently.

1 comment:

Randall Landers said...

IIRC, the storyline of CYCLOPS owes a good bit to The Odyssey as well. Some stories really are too good not to retell...