The Monster That Challenged the World (1957)

(Warning:  Mild Spoilers)

Tim Holt is best remembered as a Cowboy star (and, curiously, as the son of Cowboy star Jack Holt).  it really comes as no surprise to find him in the lead in a Fifties monster movie because those films tended to feature the sort of second string stars who could just as easily appear in a B-Western or a movie serial.

More than anything else, this one resembles Them!, which featured a similarly methodical hunt for a menace which threatens to spread out of control, and an equally familiar slow-burn build-up as strange things happen and our heroes only gradually piece them together.  We do get a quick look at the monster fairly early in the film, but don’t see enough of it to really spoil the surprise

The creature itself is a full-sized prop, and reasonable impressive for this sort of film:  I’d seen pictures of it in books on SF film before, and had assumed that it was meant to be some sort of caterpillar, with its big pincers and stubby legs.  However, we are told that it is a close relative of the garden snail, and are shown stock footage of snails.  Mind you, it doesn’t look anything like the snails in that footage.  Nor does it appear to have a shell in most of the scenes it appears in.  I have a sneaking suspicion that they may have added the shells for one of the underwater sequences, the one where they find several of the beasts on the bottom of the Salton Sea, then proceed to destroy them.  My (somewhat cynical) guess is that they only had one big monster prop and decided that building big shells would be easier than making a second monster suit.

Another curious detail is that this one has a very pregnant young mother in a supporting role.  They usually didn’t show pregnant women onscreen in the Fifties.  It does help give a little poignancy to her part, but you have to wonder if they were deliberately flouting the accepted standards of their day..  Mind you, the female lead is not the sort of pants-wearing modern woman of the Howard Hawkes variety (like Nikki in The Thing), who shows up in so many SF movies of the Fifties, even if she does have some sort of technical training for her job at the Navy research station.  Perhaps they  were looking for more domestic women by then, it is hard to say.

Hans Conried gets a welcome (and fairly large) straight part as the sort of scientist one finds in these sorts of films, the kind who can spontaneously lecture on almost any  branch of science the plot requires.  I’m not sure, however, if, as in films like First Man Into Space he is the only scientist on staff:  after all, even though he seems to do everything, we do see a few other people in the lab!  There are a few scientific mistakes along the way, although none of them as big as their segmented worm posing as a big snail.

Despite its flaws, however, this is a thoroughly enjoyable monster outing:  the monster is fairly convincing; the script is reasonably good; the film is technically polished; and the story doesn’t get in the way of the monster action we watch these things for.

So if you’ve got a taste for Fifties SF or giant monster movies, this one should fit the bill as long as you remember that it is a B-movie, despite its polish.

And it is almost perfect for a midnight viewing, with or without friends.

Even if that big, hideous creature is not a snail.

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