Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/16/16 12:58:45
SCREENED AT THE 2016 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: There is the germ of a great idea in "Attack of the 50-Foot Woman" that could have let it be fun, effective satire wrapped up in trashy pulp if anybody involved had felt like making a good movie was worth the effort. But, as is too often the case with the sci-fi B movies of the 1950s, this one seems to have been slapped together for an audience that the producers figured didn't care about quality, and that it remains reasonably well-known today says more about the power of an evocative title than the film itself.There's potential in the idea of Nancy Fowler Archer (Allison Hayes) growing to nearly ten times her normal height and going on a rampage after an encounter with an alien craft while driving in the desert. According to some, she's already got outsize reach and a nervous disposition; she's an heiress, and local law enforcement humors her crazy story with a cursory search as a result. On the other hand, her husband Henry (William Hudson) is being none too subtle about his affair with young redhead Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers), to the point where Nancy is starting to feel like a long-term inconvenience. If the filmmakers play their cards right, it's a potent way to say that this is what may be coming when women who have treated like fools, told that their worth is in their looks and then tossed aside for younger models, and otherwise marginalized achieve the statue and power where they can neither be ignored nor slapped down.
It's a bit unfair to criticize Attack for not being that sort of movie; some folks just want the twin pleasures of a good-looking woman growing an order of magnitude too big for her clothes and a town being pulverized as by a giant monster - it doesn't need to be a feminist metaphor (or, I suppose, a cautionary tale about letting women get too much power if you're a neanderthal who identifies with Henry). But having that underpinning and really committing to it would add extra heft to the film without having to cut those visceral pleasures back, giving future audiences something to get from it when its special effects no longer impress.
Those special effects likely became unimpressive awful fast, too. Even cutting the people likely doing their level best with little money and time some slack, perhaps forgiving them for how both the photography and plotting keeps Nancy out of sight once she's begin to grow, it's never convincing when the giantess and normal people interact; one is obviously either rigid plaster or a doll, rather than them both looking like living things. More specifically, people, which is another way the film fails both Nancy and the audience; Allison Hayes seems to have been instructed to play a kaiju but not given a suit, and the way she moves slowly, doesn't speak, and seemingly acts on Nancy's desires without her personality only highlights that the filmmakers don't seem to understand that part of what makes this movie different from other giant monster movies is that the title character is a human being.
Surprisingly, for something that is so aggressively B-movie, the cast isn't really bad. Given how wooden the people in these films often are, their smooth delivery is kind of surprising; William Hudson, in particular, does a nice job of playing of his costars and bantering as Henry, and while Allison Hayes is a little more theatrical worth Nancy's hysterics than a present-day actress might be, it never really becomes scenery-chewing. There's not exactly a lot of nuance to their performances - Hudson and Yvette Vickers don't really change when considering the jump from cheats to killers - but the actors lubricate the movie, and even a 65-minute trifle can seem to take forever if they're not stroking the right tone."Attack of the 50-Foot Woman" was remade some thirty years later with some good people involved, and I must admit to being curious to see that version. The original fumbles around with a potentially potent mix of feminism, pulp, and film noir but nobody behind the camera seems able to make anything of it. It's a bad movie with a good hook, and could benefit from an upgrade.
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