Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Giant Claw (1957)

The Giant Claw is a 1957 Sam Katzman-produced low-budget sci-fi horror monster movie so you know it’s going to be fun. And it is.

Civilian engineer Mitch MacAfee is flying a US fighter jet on a routine radar-calibration mission for the US Air Force when he spots what he take to be a UFO. Nothing shows up on radar but Mitch is adamant that he saw something - something big. Of course nobody believes him, until aircraft start getting mysteriously knocked out of the sky.

Beautiful female mathematician and radar systems analyst Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday) believes him although that might be because she thinks he’s kind of hunky and cute.

After half a dozen aircraft have been lost the Air Force goes into full-blown panic mode and Mitch and Sally are called in by the Pentagon to try to find some answers. It’s now known that the UFO is not a UFO at all but a gigantic bird, as big as a battleship. But why does it not show up on radar? The Pentagon’s scientists think they have the answer. It’s not just a gigantic prehistoric battleship-sized killer bird, it’s an anti-matter gigantic prehistoric battleship-sized killer bird! It’s not just a monster bird, it’s a stealth monster bird!

The fact that this is an anti-matter monster might explain why cannon and machine-gun fire from Air Force fighter jets have no effect on it. While it seems that nothing can hurt the giant anti-matter bird it can certainly hurt things made from ordinary matter. It can not only knock jets from the sky - it eats the pilots when they eject from their aircraft!

If cannon and machine-gun fire can’t do any good the Air Force has a better idea - they intend to use nukes! But will even nukes achieve anything against the bird’s anti-matter shielding? It’s going to take something much cleverer to bring down this bird.

Jeff Morrow turns up in quite a few movies of this type from the 50s. He makes a good solid B-movie hero and at least he’s never earnest and dull. Mara Corday was another B-movie regular and she’s perfectly adequate. In fact Morrow and Corday make a fairly engaging hero and heroine team.

There’s some gloriously silly technobabble of the kind guaranteed to please fans of this genre. In fact this movie’s technobabble is definitely superior-grade technobabble, and there’s lots of it and it just keeps getting better and better.

The special effects are of their time but given the very low budget they’re by no means as bad as you might expect. They are bad, but they’re also insanely ambitious which makes them admirable in their combination of boldness and incompetence. Sam Katzman’s movies were cheap but were approached with a certain amount of imagination and flair. The giant bird looks quite delightfully outrageous but in its own goofy way it does look rather scary. Well, sort of scary. The miniatures work is very obvious but seeing the bird picking up toy trains and hurling them through the sky is  great fun.

There’s copious use of stock footage so don’t be surprised when a fighter jet suddenly turns into an entirely different model of fighter jet halfway through a sequence. It doesn’t really matter since all 1950s jet fighters look pretty cool.

The career of director Fred F. Sears wasn’t overly distinguished but he knew how to make entertaining B-movies and he knew enough to keep the pacing tight.

This movie is one of four included in Sony’s excellent Icons of Horror Sam Katzman Collection. The 16x9 enhanced transfer looks absolutely splendid. There are even a few extras. This DVD boxed set is superb value and an absolute must-buy for all fans of 1950s science fiction or horror movies. Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) is another terrific movie from this set.

The Giant Claw provides plenty of action and plenty of entertainment. It’s very very silly but it’s silly in an inspired way. The giant bird is just so ludicrously over-the-top, like an enraged battleship-sized turkey. There’s just so much fun in this movie. Highly recommended.

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