In my latest of ‘cult film’ reviews, I review 1950’s sci-fic horror flick The Blob. This is a film I have been excited to re-watch and review, having first seen it on a tiny 7” Black and White TV, when I was young. How does it stack up to my now, (I hate to admit it) more mature brain?
Inspired by discovery of ‘Star Jelly’ in Pennsylvania (a mysterious translucent inert jelly that is reported to appear after a meteor strike), writer Irvine H. Millgate came up with the idea for a story titled ‘The Molten Meteor’, a meteorite crash lands to earth containing a jelly that then goes on the attack. With Jack Harris on board and the screenplay tweaked by Theodore Simonson and Kay Linaker the simple story of a translucent jelly is given more substance, as it is turned into a Sci Fi horror as the Jelly attacks the small rural American town of Arborville, Nebraska and the local population fight back. The ‘Molten Meteor name didn’t stick around long as producers overheard screenwriter Kay Linaker refer to the film’s monster as “The Blob “and the shorter title stuck.
A meteor is seen hurtling to earth by an elderly man living in a rural part of town and a couple of kids on a date in a country lane -Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and Jane Martin (Aneta Corseau). The old man seeks out the meteor landing spot to find the space rock and when he prods it with a stick the meteor suddenly breaks open to reveal a clear jelly sitting in the crater. This substance suddenly moves and attaches itself to the old man’s walking stick, it then defies gravity and moves up the stick and attaches to his arm causing the old man to stumble around in pain. The two kids on a date see the crash and decide to go and investigate and come across the old man. Seeing the jelly on his arm and the pain in his face they drive him at speed to the town doctor. On the way they hurtle past a group of other lads who see Steve driving fast and attempt to race him. The doctor, who was just closing up, agrees to examine the Old Man. The doctor sends Steve and Jane back to look for clues of what might have happened and while they are away, that we see that this gelatinous creature is growing at an alarming rate. The doc fumbles through books and calls his nurse back to work in as it’s an emergency. A bad move, as the creature devours the old man and then goes all Hannibal on the nurse. The doc does what any good doctor would do in the situation, grabs a gun, and shoots The Blob, who by this time is sporting a nice crimson look. The gun shot is absorbed and as that did not work, he throws acid at it (as every doctor has a beaker full of acid hanging around!) and that doesn’t work either. It’s clear the creature’s intent is to eat and grow and cannot be killed . Meanwhile Steve is having his own troubles as the lads he raced earlier are hanging around wanting a rematch. This causes Steve to have a spot of trouble with the police after a backwards drag race ( who has ever wanted to race backwards in a straight-line before?) and we are introduced to Lt. Dave – a policeman that has a huge amount of patience and empathy for the youth.
Once Lt.Dave has said his piece, the group splits with Steve and Jane going on their quest set by the Doc and some of the youth gang wanting to go to a Midnight Showing of the ominously named Daughter Of Horror at the town’s cinema.
After finding little to nothing at the old man’s house, Steve and Jane travel back to the docs house and Steve witnesses The Blob having a Doctor shaped snack. In shock he and Jane do the totally honourable thing of running straight to the police who are more interested in playing chess over the police radio, than they are taking in the kids story seriously, after some persuasion the police search the docs house and find nothing. Chalking this up to a teenage prank, the Police call Jane and Steve’s parents and after some very strained 1950’s you’ve been naughty type dialog both kids are grounded. We then see The Blob slinking around the town eating a mechanic and several other people (off shot). Having bribed her younger brother, Jane escapes from being grounded and joins up with Steve and rounds up the other youth, who without question believe Steve and Jane – that a jelly is eating people for fun. After trying to call the police again and being ignored, the youth take matters into their own hands and make a lot of noise to wake people up, car horns, shop alarms, fire bells. Woken abruptly, the towns people gather as Steve tries to inform them of impending doom. When the police turn up and again try and dispel it all as a prank and reiterate someone’s going to be in real trouble; it’s at this point The Blob attacks the cinema and hundreds of people flee the midnight showing. Now the authorities and towns folk believe Steve and Jane. Jane’s younger brother arrives in a cowboy uniform with a toy pistol and tries to shoot the blob who then moves towards him. Steve, Jane, and the boy hide in a Diner and the Blob (who by this time is huge) engulfs the entire Diner. The police and the fire chief try to electrocute the Blob, and this does not work. So, they grab every fire extinguisher the town has and freeze the creature. That works, they manage to save those in the Diner and the rest of the town. After calling the government, the frozen Blob is picked up by helicopter and transported to the Artic with Lt.Dave saying, “that the cold will stop the Blob but not kill it, and Steve quipping ‘’Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold!’’
What makes The Blob so interesting is the underlying themes that Simonson and Linaker explore within the script. At first glance The Blob is a basic monster movie. Creature crashes to earth, makes nuisance of itself and is defeated. When you look deeper at the story and see that The Blob gets a deeper shade of red as is grows larger. You see symbolism indicative of the 1950’s ‘Red Scare’. A paranoia at the potential rise of communism and anarchism stemming from communist Russia, basically big red things are bad news and this played into the 1950’s psyche perfectly.
The writers also take a swipe at the status quo at the time, the script reveals how split 1950’s society is. By the time the film was produced most of the adult population had lived through both WW2 and the Korean wars. The kids have spent the intervening years growing in the shadow of the war. The Blob captures hints of this with the adult characters portrayed as authoritative figures, like Police or parents, all of which look at the youth with a level of arrogance and disdain. Apart from Lt.Dave, they have little patience for teens running around in cars causing mischief. It’s clear that the war veterans don’t listen to the youth. The kids on the other hand have nothing to do other than hang out at night, race their cars or go to midnight cinema showings, spending their parents’ money. So, when Steve and Jane consistently attempt to raise the alarm, it just gets laughed off as just another teenage prank. As the night goes on, more and more people disappear and yet the townsfolk seem oblivious, and nobody seems to be missing the town’s mechanic.
It’s also a very talky movie, the 1950’s dialog feeling outdated and quickly by current standards. Where Steve goes Jane must follow doe-eyed. Steve must save Jane a few times, with Steve demonstrating he is the Alpha male, in fact a lot of time is spent with Steve and Jane running around the town, talking to each other or other town folk with The Blob causing a nuisance is only a few scenes.
I quite like that the writers did find room to inject a little humour into the script, this breaks up all hysteria. A scene that sticks in my mind is when the kids wake up the town with noise and the shot moves to an elderly man who is woken up so abruptly, he doesn’t know what hat to put on, his WW2 helmet, or his fireman’s helmet.
Films live and die by the casting of the leads. The Blob needed a teenager that had bags of charisma and authority that could command the interest of the audience. As they couldn’t find one, they opted for a 27-year-old Steve McQueen who happened to simply be hanging around New York at the time looking for work. Watching the film it’s hard to understand why people consider this McQueen’s breakout role as he stands out for all the wrong reasons. His obvious age inconsistency with the rest of the youth and Yeaworth’s one-dimensional directing style all work against McQueen, who for the most part is either trying to convince police officers he’s not crazy for dragging Aneta Corsaut from scene to scene quoting poorly written lines like…
“Dave, make them listen to me. There IS a monster! We saw it again at dad’s store, and it’s bigger now!”
What McQueen does have in spades though is charisma and the fact he knows how to play a teenager. Those piecing blue eyes bring an innocence to his character that is needed and his total conviction to the role, despite its shortcomings, underscored his talents so much that so many people regard this as his breakout role that led to major success afterwards.
Jane Martin : [hysterical after they just escaped the Blob] “Steve… our parents think we’re in bed, at home, safe, asleep, sound.”
The producers had looked at lots of women for the role of Jane and couldn’t find the perfect girl. Then by chance someone had seen stage actress Aneta Corsaut and thought that she would be perfect to play Jane.
Aneta was an accomplished actress that had studied with Lee Strasberg in the same class as Charlton Heston and had never worked on a film before.
Her discovery was so close to filming she arrived on set a day before shooting began and only 2 days before she was needed for her scenes. So, with no read through Aneta started work. Her Strasburg training kicking in and helping to deliver her performance as Jane. She is not phased by Steve’s performance and plays the girl on the arm with the right level of submissiveness and forthrightness. It’s a shame that 1950’s sensibilities prevented Aneta from being the stronger lead as she would have been more than capable of portraying it.
If its one thing that the Blob is famous, it’s the Title song ‘The Blob’ by the Five Blobs Long before Bond films made it fashionable to create a title song for a film, producer Harris roped in non-other that Burt Bacharach and Mack David to co-write a title song. Overlaying the vocals of Bernie Mack (Mack David’s brother) 5 times and bringing in some session musicians, The Five Blobs where born and the Title song crept, leapt and gilded on to score a top 33 hit. Bacharach continued two write songs and had a glittering career right up to his sad passing in 2023
The Blob also features a score by Ralph Carmichael, like most films of this era the score is used sporadically. When it is used it’s a sound that is atypical for the time, big brash instruments convey tension and suspense. It sounds more like the TV episodes of UFO and Land of the Giants than a Hollywood blockbuster.
Harris’s expertise with film distribution taught him that dialogue had to be clear for audiences to keep interest and the great news is that 64 years later the dialogue is still crisp and clear. Criterion have worked hard at reengineering the 35 mm negative sound into an uncompressed mono sound and its great. Most of the background noise and hiss has been removed and dialogue is easy to hear despite the lack of modern Stereo or Spatial audio techniques.
Harris wanted The Blob to stand out and thus created one of the first sci fi films made in colour. For an audience used to the grey tones of black and white this was a revolution. Harris and Yeaworth did not hold back over exaggerating reds to make the creature more terrifying. Although now timid by our tastes its easy to see how the late 1950s audience would have been wowed by the dazzling sceptical. Criterion have paid attention to this so their release certainly pops with colour What disappoints is the grain the film is showing. Criterion have attempted to clean up some artefacts but it appears to be a conscious choice to leave in the grain of what appears to be low quality film stock used at the time. So, eyes accustomed to viewing flawless 4k films may well look at The Blob and wonder what the hell they are watching.
This is also Cinematographer Thomas E. Spalding’s first film although you wouldn’t know it. He had such a great eye for detail. Harris wanted the picture to be clean and bright especially in the studio shots. However, Spalding fought for the shadows and darkness, otherwise the shots wouldn’t look real. Spalding won and the blend of studio vs location shots are practically flawless. Filmed in 1957 Spalding also did a great job of capturing the 1950’s style on screen, with people now considering this to be a time capsule rather than a reimagining of what the 1950s should look like. Even today the cinema still exists and an Annual Blob Fest takes place whereby the film is screened and the audience recreates running out of the screen – how cool is that?!
For a horror film the Blob has relatively few gore effects, instead the time and money was spent on perfecting the main gloopy blobby creature itself. As nothing like this existed, the production team spent 6 months inventing new techniques on how to get the Blob on film. Creating the slimy substance that would become the monster, making it move by making image on image exposures, miniature model sets on gimbles that would make the Blob move with gravity whilst being filmed, out of shot prodding, in fact they even used inflatable balloons and made use of an old barrage balloon. The results are somewhat mixed, a modern audience can see through the non-extent CGI and blatant model building but none of that deters from the sheer audacity and ambition of creating the film in the first place, and in a bizarre way adds to the enjoyability of watching the film.
The Blob was created at a time where black and white delinquency films had captured America, Those films were all based on the premise of showing kids in a bad light. Harris set about to create a full blown colour sci -fi scare fest that would show kids in a positive light and the adults as the delinquents at their downfall. To be filmed in colour and pioneering visual effects all this whilst using a budget that was to be the price of two crappy westerns. Did he achieve what he set out to do, for the most part I would say yes, The Blob is very much of its time. A focus on boy/girl relationships, no transgender, no minority representation, it’s a Snapshot of 1957 sociality and reflects the ambience of a real location – Chester Springs, Phoenixville. It pushed the boundaries for film studios and the expectations of an audience.
Where the film falls down is the writing. To a modern audience, this is no scarier than a kid’s cartoon, look too deep into the script and you find the writers had no idea on how to frame the veteran’s vs the youth dynamic. This results in a tame horror that uses the Aesop Fable, The Boy That Cried wolf as the plot structure. The direction is one dimensional and the acting for its leads is questionable. However, when all is said and done The Blob stands as a masterpiece of low budget B-movie horrors and its easy to see why it has obtained a cult following and the addition to the Criterion collection.
And remember folks.
Beware of the blob, it creepsAnd leaps and glides and slides Across the floor Right through the door And all around the wall A splotch, a blotch Be careful of the blob.
|Directed by||…||Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.|
|…||Russell S. Doughten Jr.|
|Theodore Simonson||…||(screenplay) and|
|Kay Linaker||…||(screenplay) (as Kate Phillips)|
|Irvine H. Millgate||…||(original idea)|
|Steve McQueen||…||Steve Andrews (as Steven McQueen)|
|Aneta Corsaut||…||Jane Martin (as Aneta Corseaut)|
|Earl Rowe||…||Lt. Dave|
|Olin Howland||…||Old Man (as Olin Howlin)|
|Stephen Chase||…||Dr. T. Hallen (as Steven Chase)|
|John Benson||…||Sgt. Jim Bert|
|George Karas||…||Officer Ritchie|
|Elbert Smith||…||Henry Martin|
|Hugh Graham||…||Mr. Andrews|
|Vincent Barbi||…||George (as Vince Barbi)|
|Audrey Metcalf||…||Elizabeth Martin|
|Jasper Deeter||…||Civil Defense Volunteer|
|Tom Ogden||…||Fire Chief|
|Elinor Hammer||…||Mrs. Porter|
|Pamela Curran||…||Smooching Teenager|
|Ralph Roseman||…||Mechanic Under the Car|
|David Metcalf||…||Drunk at Door|
|Keith Almoney||…||Danny Martin (as Kieth Almoney)|
|Robert Fields||…||Tony Gressette|
|James Bonnet||…||‘Mooch’ Miller|
|Tony Franke||…||Al (as Anthony Franke)|
|Molly Ann Bourne||…||Teenager|
|Russ Conway||…||Boy Running Out of Theater (uncredited)|
|Howard Fishlove||…||Man Running Out of Theater (uncredited)|
|Jack H. Harris||…||Man Running Out of Theater (uncredited)|
|Theodore Simonson||…||Red Sweater Moviegoer (uncredited)|
|Russell S. Doughten Jr.||…||associate producer (as Russell Doughten)|
|Jack H. Harris||…||producer|
|Music by||…||Ralph Carmichael|
|Cinematography by||…||Thomas E. Spalding|
|Film Editing by||Alfred Hillmann|
|Art Direction by||Bill Jersey|
|Vin Kehoe||…||makeup artist|
|Second Unit Director or Assistant Director|
|Elbert Smith||…||assistant director (as Bert Smith)|
|Special Effects by|
|Bart Sloane||…||special effects|
|Camera and Electrical Department|
|Vincent Spangler||…||chief set electrician|
|Wayne Trace||…||camera operator|
|Howard Fishlove||…||head grip (uncredited)|
|Frank Pasquine||…||lighting technician (uncredited)|
|Floyd Ver Voorn||…||assistant editor|
|Jean Yeaworth||…||music supervisor|
|Burt Bacharach||…||composer: title theme (uncredited)|
|Script and Continuity Department|
|Frank B. Fuhr||…||assistant to producer (as Frank Fuhr)|