Godzilla needs to step on the Tarantula (1955)
I must have Godzilla on the brain, because all I could think of when watching this Universal monster movie was how Godzilla should come along and step on this tarantula. This 1955 movie used pretty good effects for the time and it has what you might expect: a giant superimposed tarantula. It is a monster attack movie. It has no more depth than a kiddie pool, but made its budget back in spades because it was a drive-in special, a perfect vehicle for B-Movie star John Agar, and it is pretty entertaining.
The Tarantula is supposed to be 100 feet tall, or so the poster says, but it starts out as a laboratory experiment. A strange scientist is giving injections to all sorts of animals, but it is the tarantula that escapes and grows to extreme heights. How does it do that, you ask? Well, one of the Professor’s human victims breaks open its cage and it walks out the front door! It’s loose at the 12 minute mark! This movie sure can move fast, which is good for us, because there’s not much else interesting about it besides the effects.
This movie knows it is a B-Movie and hides its weaknesses pretty well. The dialogue is terrible, so they limit the lines. The acting is garbage, so there’s more monster effects. The atmosphere is pretty ordinary but it is spiced up by a desert landscape. They use darkness to cover up some of the things that might stick out and most the other effects are done nicely. There’s no rubber monsters anyway, which is a plus.
John Agar imitates Columbo because there is a mystery that needs solving. He’s only a country doctor, but he solves the mystery at the 20 minute mark though and that was pretty darn quick. Kinda funny. He simply goes to the local sheriff and explains it out in a monologue. He figures the Professor is doing something strange out in the desert, something illegal that the evil guy doesn’t want people to know about. Why is he there? Who knows, it is never explained. Who is he with? How did he get there? The movie doesn’t say. It doesn’t matter though, because Agar goes to see what the Professor has been working on.
This movie also stars Mara Corday, who is there to look good and add some screams where needed. She does an alright job, for a B-Movie anyway. She is a former Playboy centerfold and the camera knows it, making sure she’s centered in the picture frame for as long as possible. This was the 1950s though, so don’t get too excited. As an aside, she met Clint Eastwood on set and he has an uncredited role in this film.
When Agar as Columbo arrives at the Professor’s desert laboratory, he figures out what is going on, like a good sleuth. The audience does too, because the Professor gives a speech, monologuing like any good Univeral character. Agar nods his head and helps the town track the tarantula down. Pretty simple really. People run around for a while and argue, but there’s only a couple of tarantula effects toward the end, which is disappointing.
Clint Eastwood comes in at the end, playing an air force pilot who divebombs the giant tarantula, which has grown out of control. You wouldn’t know it was him though, because he has his airmask on over his face. It’s him though. He even has a couple simple lines like “Fire two rockets on that thing!” They have to resort to napalm though and they burn it until it is good and dead. This was not Clint’s first film appearance, but it is the first year he started working in films. Sources say his first movie was Revenge of the Creature (1955), the Creature From the Black Lagoon sequel. He must like his monster movies.
All in all, this is a pretty forgettable movie. I see why the monster movie drive-in special pretty much dried up in the 50s. Universal moved on to other things, but there’s a little entertainment value left in this movie, as compared to other 50s monster movies, like The Deadly Mantis (1957). This movie doesn’t have any allegory or symbolism like The Deadly Mantis though, which probably makes it more forgettable and more of a popcorn movie. At least it has Mara Corday. Because this movie was a marginal success, they kept making them, so I guess that tells you something.