Thursday, March 9, 2023

R.I.P. Bert I. Gordon, Pt. I: 1954-58

Bert I. Gordon
24 Sept 1922 – 8 Mar 2023
After 100 years, he's gone! Trashmaster Bert I. Gordon, "Mister B.I.G.", a seminal influence on the filmic taste of a wasted life, has entered the Film Palace in the Sky. He will be missed... 
Born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, he was already making his own movies for fun by his teens. After a stint in the army during WW II, he married his first wife, Flora Gordon (1925–2016) — whom he divorced in 1979 — and started making TV commercials for a living. Soon after working as a production assistant on the TV series Racket Squad (1951-53), he produced his first genre film, Serpent Island (1954) and never looked back. He may have made "Bad Films" — he has the dubious honor of being the director/producer with the most films to have ever been on Mystery Science Theater 3000 — but many are classics of their day and remain truly memorable. And all get "better" with repeat viewings.
And now, the first of a three-part typically meandering and all-over-the-place career review...

Serpent Island
(1954, writ. & dir. Tom Gries)
The film that started a 25-film craptastic career of movies — "If laughter were food, this would be a full-course meal for Worst Films connoisseurs. (Filmed in 16mm Kodachrome on an $18,000 budget!) [Letterbxd]" For this, his first film, which was possibly a TV movie that never hit the theatres, Bert I. Gordon was "only" the producer, cinematographer, and editor.
Serpent Island is the official directorial debut of Tom Gries (20 Dec 1922 – 3 Jan 1977), who also wrote the filmscript. Gries went on to a long and successful career as director and scriptwriter for TV and film, his most noteworthy projects being the westerns 1000 Rifles (1969 / trailer) and Breakheart Pass (1975 / trailer). This film is not known as a high point for anyone involved, including the cast, all of whom made better bad films. Despite the promises made on the DVD cover above, this is a rare Mr B.I.G. project in that nothing is oversized.
Full Film —
Serpent Island:
The plot, as found at YouTube, where you also find the full film (embedded above): "An office secretary from Scranton, Pennsylvania (Rosalind Hayes Mary Munday) sets out to find her great-grandfather's hidden treasure. She enlists the aid of a former Marine Engineer turned harbor bum (Sonny Tufts [16 Jul 1911 – 4 Jun 1970]) and the greedy Captain (Tom Monroe [2 Sep 1919 – 2 Dec 1993]) of the sea ship Constellation. They find the gold hidden on an island near Haiti, but it's guarded by a voodoo cult and a boa constrictor." A slightly better version of the film can be found, for free, here at the Internet Archives.
Although Jamaican-born Rosalind Hayes (pictured above) is generally credited as the white female lead, a little online research reveals that not to be the case. Mary Munday (31 Jul 1926 – 30 Sept 1997), below from the film, the then wife of director Gries, below from the film, gets an "Introducing" credit for her inauspicious third feature-film appearance as the secretary from Pennsylvania, "Ricki André". She later made a memorable appearance in the commercial flop that was Pressure Point (1962 / trailer). 
The bad guy of the film, Tom Monroe, had a long career full of uncredited appearances, including the trash classic The Neanderthal Man (1953 / full movie); a rare credited appearance is in Two Lost Worlds (1951 / trailer) — both those films are better than this one. Hollywood Bad Boy Sonny Tufts, of course, had a career that started big and fell low, arguably due to "his alcoholism and his off-screen antics. "In March 1954, a stripper named Barbara Gray Atkins sued Tufts for $25,000 in damages after she claimed he bit her left thigh while his two friends and he were visiting her home. Atkins later dropped the lawsuit against Tufts. [Wikipedia]" A month later, he was accused of the same by a 19-year-old dancer named Margarie Von, who received a settlement, and, a year later, Adrienne Fromann sued him for beating her in a restaurant. Here at a wasted life we particularly treasure his appearance in the classic Cat-Woman of the Moon (1953 / trailer) and his super-obscure final feature film, Cottonpickin' Chickenpickers (1967 / trailer below). That film, BTW, is also the last film of the forgotten and equally scandal-prone silent film actress Lila Lee (25 Jul 1905 – 13 Nov 1973).
Trailer to
Cottonpickin' Chickenpickers:
But to return to Serpent Island: "This is mostly an adventure-at-sea movie with a romantic side story and dialogue out of a hard-boiled pulp fiction paperback. Despite the title, there is very little serpent action once they finally get to the island. This is an example of the pitfalls of watching a movie because of its title, but it's almost fun to be reminded that people used to make movies as terrible as this one. [...] It takes about two thirds of the movie to get to the Caribbean island (which nobody ever calls Serpent Island in the movie) and when they get there they spend at least 10 minutes showing us a bunch of chicken-sacrificing voodoo dancers who are protecting the island from treasure hunters. That leaves only a few minutes for the snake scene at the very end, but it's a classic of absurd action. When Ricky finally gets to a statue made of gold she sees a large snake which we're supposed to believe is guarding the treasure. She screams as the snake wraps itself around her, or more accurately, she wraps a disinterested sluggish snake around herself to make it appear like it is attacking her. She wrestles with it for a while, sitting down, standing up, lying on the ground, as the snake goes to sleep, until finally Pete shows up with a machete and saves her. Somehow. He must not have hacked it up with the machete and killed the snake because it comes back to get rid of a greedy bad guy in the end. [California Herps]"
Jacques, the manly and muscular native on the island, is played by Alabama-born, former professional wrestler Don Blackman (12 May 1912 – 11 Sept 1977), showing a hot bod above, whose career at the time consisted almost entirely of playing "natives"; his final film appearance is in the classic Blaxploitation horror, Scream Blacula Scream (1973 / trailer). That's him above showing some muscle.
King Dinosaur
(1955, dir. Bert I. Gordon)
"I brought the atom bomb; I think it's a good time to use it!"
Dr. Ralph Martin (William Bryant)

Gordon took over the directorial chores for his next production, King Dinosaur, thus making this film — which was shot in seven days with a cast of thousands four and shows it — his directorial début. It is also the first of his film to feature his trademarks aside from just lousy story, no logic, and cheap look — namely: big critters. For whatever reason, the movie is set in the then-future: 1960.
The screenplay, supplied by Tom Gries, was based on a story ("Beast from Outer Space") co-producer Gordon wrote with executive producer Al Zimbalist (3 Mar 1916 – 28 Aug 1975), the D-film producer of the classic disasterpiece Robot Monster (1953 / trailer) and more. If the soundtrack sounds familiar, it's cause parts of it were reused in Edward D. Wood Jr.-scripted The Violent Years (1956 / trailer); along the same lines, the mammoth footage of this film was pilfered from the original version of One Million B.C. (1940 / full film), and the rocket-landing footage was used a year later in Cy Roth's tacky Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956 / trailer). "Filmed in Bronson Canyon, the ancestral home and holy shrine of innumerable low-budget sci fi and horror flicks. [Internet Archives]" In true colonialist fashion, the film ends with white man doing what white man does best: killing anything and everything white man doesn't like — as Dr. Richard Gordon (Douglas Henderson) says after they detonate the atom bomb:
"Yeah, we sure have done it: Brought civilization to Planet Nova."

"The plot, as found at Zisi Emporium: "[...] A mysterious planet enters our solar system and takes orbit near Earth. Scientists determine the planet has a similar atmosphere as ours and send four scientists there in a rocket-ship. Guess what! The four scientists are all great looking... two babes and two hunks. They land and go to work immediately in this paradise. Pat (Wanda Curtis) the chemist and Ralph (William Bryant) the doctor swap a lot of spit together and grope passionately. Meanwhile, the grouchy zoologist Richard (Douglas Henderson) and geologist Nora (Patti Gallagher) do most of the work. As Ralph and Pat continue feeling each other up, they let their guard down. As a result, Ralph is nearly eaten by a crocodile and seriously wounded. As Ralph recovers, our quartet fight off a giant ant, and big snake. Meanwhile, as the two lovebirds continue making goo-goo eyes together, Nora and Richard make their way over to a nearby island. Here... all hell breaks loose. This couple is soon beset by a Tyrannosaurus-Rex (okay, so it looks like an iguana, just go with it), and more so-called dinosaurs. Our nymphomaniacs stop to breathe and see Richard's flare and rush over to help. Their arrival is met by more Bert I. Gordon menaces, including a gargantuan armadillo. [...]"
"[Bert I. Gordon's] actors are as inept as he is, each boy-girl pairing looking and behaving exactly like astronaut scientists on an interstellar voyage: wearing safari suits and long modest dresses, female hair and lipstick perfectly coiffed for a night club; landing on a planet rife with plant and animal life, yet not stopping to even marvel at it, let alone take one jot of notes to report back to Earth. The women scream and are treated like dames; the men puff out their chests and behave like Frank Sinatra toward dames. Real astronauts, these doofs. [Poffy the Cucumber]"
"In my eyes, King Dinosaur encapsulates everything that is so 'bad' with 50's sci-fi: A ridiculous premise, shameless sexism, cheap special effects, no regard for any laws of physics or nature, jaw-dropping dialog, mounds of stock footage, and of course, a goofy monster: I love it! [Monster Shack]" (OK, folks, a grammar lesson: never follow a colon with a colon. It's wrong.)
"Finding nice things to say about King Dinosaur is about as easy as swallowing lighter fluid. [All Movie]"
The eternal character actor William Bryant (31 Jan 1924 – 26 Jun 2001) made an interesting film or two in his life, like Experiment in Terror (1962 / Trailer from Hell) and The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler (1971 / full movie). Don Henderson (14 Jan 1919 – 5 Apr 1978) has a slightly more impressive resume, including Invasion of the Saucer-Men (1957 / trailer), Black Zoo (1963 / trailer, with Michael Gough) and the original Manchurian Candidate (1962 / trailer). King Dinosaur is the only known film appearance of former nightclub and jazz singer Wanda Curtis, blonde in the film but brunette (possibly red) in real life: "Wanda Curtis, originally from Portland, Oregon, was an acclaimed jazz singer during the '50s and '60s. She toured the world, fronting big bands and small combos, eventually settling in Argentina where she became immensely popular. [Chillin' Crow Books & Real Dream Music]" "In 1957 Curtis and her singing group The Cover Girls were apparently thrown out of Egypt on suspicion of being American spies. According to Richard Blackwell's biography, Curtis fled the USA in the late fifties to establish herself as a singer there. [...] According to a friend of [her son, Michael DeWall], Curtis later moved back to the States and passed away sometime in the early years of the new millennium. [Scifist 2.0]"
Little is known about the equally generically named Patti Gallagher, whose limited career includes an appearance in the unjustly overlooked trash classic-to-be-discovered, Ronnie Ashcroft's Girl with an Itch (1958 / trailer below).
Trailer to
Girl with an Itch:


Beginning of the End
(1957, dir. Bert I. Gordon)

"You can't drop an atom bomb on Chicago!"

Dr. Ed Wainwright (Peter Graves)

1957 was a productive year for Mr. B.I.G.: he released three anti-classics, of which this was the first to be released. In terms of actual production, however, Beginning of the End is his fourth film: due to the vagaries of the film business, Bert I. Gordon's actual second directorial project, Dr Cyclops (which we look at next), was released after Beginning of the End despite being made before it.
Beginning of the End hit the screens in June 1957. Scripted by Fred Freiberger (19 Feb 1915 – 2 May 2003), who had previously helped script the classic Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953 / trailer), and Lester Gorn (20 May 1917 – 26 Apr 2016), Gordon acted as producer and director. We caught this film a half-dozen times as a wee pre-peach-fuzz lad back in the days of after-school Creature Feature broadcasts, and it remains a favorite of a wasted life. The scene in which the mute Frank Johnson (Than Wyenn [2 May 1919 – 30 Jan 2015]) turns to face death and silently screams in terror and (naturally) no one hears him kept us awake many a subsequent night.
Beginning of the End:
Needless to say, Gordon stole the basic concept of the film from the H.G. Wells novel he was to "adapt" twice in the future, The Food of the Gods — just, instead of critters accidentally eating the food of the gods, "Herakleoorbia IV", due to the carelessness of the caretakers Mr. & Mrs. Skinner (or children being intentionally fed "Boomfood"), in Beginning of the End the growth of the grasshoppers is due to their ingesting mutant vegetables enlarged by radioactivity.

"A town of a hundred and fifty people just doesn't disappear."
Audrey (Peggie Castle)

"Beginning of the End remains one of the most famous Bert I. Gordon monster-films. [...] It holds this reputation largely on the infamy of the special effects, in that no one past very young childhood can sustain much conviction in the use of rear projection and split-screens to place real, tiny grasshoppers in the same frames with normal-sized humans or huge buildings. Precisely because the effects are so transparently unconvincing, [...] End has remained popular because it's sort of a 'dopey kid' of which one becomes fond. [Naturalistic! Uncanny! Marvelous!]"
"The plot, as found at Ninja Dixon, who is of the opinion that "it's extremely good entertaining [... and] it's easy to understand that this movie still holds up despite its meager budget": "The film starts with a young couple (Eilene Janssen & Paul Grant) making out in their car getting attacked by something big and hungry. Later the police find their car completely ripped to pieces. A young journalist, Audrey Aimes (Peggie Castle, above, not from the film), is the first one, the next day, to find out that a whole small town has met the same fate. Everyone is gone and the houses are destroyed. When researching the cause of this she meets the young hunky scientist Dr. Ed Wainwright (Peter Graves [18 Mar 1926 – 14 Mar 2010]) who is experimenting with enhancing the size of vegetables. Together they discover a race of enormous grasshoppers who threatens to destroy Chicago... and maybe even the rest of the world!"

"Dr. Wainright, you're a scientist, you know what grasshoppers can do. I'm a soldier, I know what guns can do."
Gen. John T. Short (Frank Wilcox)

Lou Bartel sings
Natural, Natural Baby:
The song above, which is playing on the radio in the car in which the couple are necking at the start of the film, is Natural, Natural Baby, an ABC Paramount release sung by Lou Bartel & Chorus (1957). Bartel, whose real name may have been Lou Bartfield, was a New Yorker songwriter who, obviously enough, remained rather obscure. Here at a wasted life, however, we are big fan of his long unjustly forgotten novelty songs from the following year, Frankenstein and Big Bad Wolf, which he sang as "Bart Lewis".
"Bart Lewis" sings
The independent working woman of the movie, Audrey the Journalist, is played by Peggie Castle (22 Dec 1927 – 11 Aug 1973), who normally played "bad gals" and is pretty much forgotten today. That's her below doing cheesecake. "[She] developed a chronic alcohol problem in the early 1960s. In 1969, she attempted suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates and slashing her wrists. She was later committed to California's Camarillo State Hospital for her alcoholism, but she regressed after her release. [imdb]" "After abruptly ending her career in 1962, she died in obscurity of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 46 in her modest apartment above Hollywood Boulevard. [Find A Grave]"
About her character in Beginning of the End, Classic Sci-Fi Movies points out what makes it a bit different from most female roles at the time in films of a similar ilk: "Peggie Castle plays an obviously tough and independent reporter. She'd covered the destruction in WWII and Korea, written respected books and never once screamed like a girl. (She did scream when Frank was eaten, but it was more shock and a call for help than silly panic.) Towards the end of the movie, she has less to do, and does lean in the chest of hero Ed (Graves), but she's on screen as more of an equal than a date." Peggie Castle's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, awarded in 1960, is located at 6266 Hollywood Blvd.

"The giant locusts have reached the Chicago south side and nearby suburbs."
TV Announcer (Bill Baldwin)

Beginning of the End opened initially as part of a double feature with Boris Petroff's craptastic The Unearthly (1957), which actually has a much better cast than Beginning of the End...
The Unearthly:

The Cyclops
(1955/57, writ., dir. & pro. Bert I. Gordon)
As Trailers from Hell notes: "Giant monster specialist Bert I. Gordon's only somewhat improved follow-up to King Dinosaur was shot in 1955 but didn't make it to theaters till 1957 [...]" The Cyclops was released on 28 July 1957, roughly a month after Bert I. Gordon's more famous (infamous?) big-bug film, Beginning of the End.
Both movies share a basic concept (also shared in many of later Mr. B.I.G. films): radioactivity can make you grow big. (Were that true, men would use radioactivity as much as Viagra.) Whereas Beginning of the End has a relatively large cast of faces and characters in roles noteworthy and not, this film basically has a cast of about a dozen people in total, only four of whom have a role of note.
The Cyclops:
The plot, as found at Film Frenzy: "[...] Featuring characters even more threadbare than those often encountered in 'B' films, The Cyclops is more dull than anything, and even the late-inning appearance by the title monster proves to be too little, too late. With her fiancé having disappeared a few years earlier in unexplored Mexican terrain, Susan Winter (Gloria Talbott [7 Feb 1931 – 19 Sept 2000], below not from the film) sets out in a small plane to search for him, accompanied by her beau's best friend (James Craig [4 Feb 1912 – 27 Jun 1985]), a wishy-washy pilot (Tom Drake [5 Aug 1918 – 11 Aug 1982]), and a financier (Lon Chaney Jr. [10 Feb 1906 – 12 Jul 1973] of Dracula vs. Frankenstein [1971] and House of Frankenstein [1944]) who's only interested in the area's rich uranium deposits. Arriving in the land unknown, the group encounters giant lizards, giant spiders, and a giant man (Duncan Parkin [9 Feb 1931 – 21 Oct 2009]) with only one visible eye and a nasty disposition. The visual effects are about as cut-rate as one would expect, but the makeup effects are another matter. YMMV, but I actually dug the look of the cyclops, with makeup artist Jack H. Young deserving the credit for this creation [...]."
"Once the one-eyed wonder appears, he doesn't speak, instead alternating between groaning and shouting. His abrupt entrance at the mouth of a cave, where he pops up and bellows 'RAWR!' is bizarre in the most delightful way. He is in full 'get off my lawn' mode, no curiosity, no fear, just pure rage that these people exist. Eventually he adds lust to his repertoire when he spots Susan, though you've got to wonder what he plans to do with such a tiny lady. Is this her boyfriend on radiation? Despite his having no verbal ability, Susan insists on asking a barrage of questions, all of which are answered by a moan and more longing looks. The exchange gives the audience the opportunity to examine the creature's melted face, crowded, dirty teeth and unblinking marble of an eyeball. The moment ends abruptly, because a snake plops onto the monster's neck and he slowly begins to wind the confused, but remarkably calm animal around his neck in an attempt to make it look like they are fighting. That limp battle pretty much sums up the spirit of this odd flick. [Watching Classic Movies]"
"If you think that this movie seems overly familiar, you would be right. Not because the film is a remake or anything of that sort, merely because there is nothing original about it. It takes much of what you would have seen from many different pictures of the time and just mashes them together to make an all-new film. It also might seem like you have seen this before because [...] Duncan Parkin played the creature in War of the Colossal Beast just as he does here [...]. It is all material that has been tread over many times before and yet the dependable and trustworthy Bert I. Gordon, director of many a science-fiction film including the previous mentioned ones, does a fine job of it and creates a fairly entertaining time-waster. [The Tell-Tale Mind]"
Trailer to
X the Unknown:
Per AFI, an early announcement of the production of The Cyclops stated that the film would be released by RKO as part of a double feature with X the Unknown (1956 / trailer above); once RKO closed and The Cyclops acquired a different distributor, it ended up being released on a double bill with Edgar G. Ulmer's Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957 / trailer below), which also stars Gloria Talbott.
Trailer to
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll:

The Amazing Colossal Man
(1957, writ., dir. & pro. Bert I. Gordon)

"What kind of sin could a man commit in a single lifetime to bring this upon himself?"
Lt Col. Glenn Manning (Glenn Langan)

Co-written with Mark Hanna (12 Jan 1917 – 16 Oct 2003), who went on to scribe Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958 / trailer, with Yvette Vickers), and genre-film specialist George Worthing Yates (14 Aug 1901 – 6 Jun 1975). While the proof is far from conclusive, one of Yates's earliest writing projects, long prior to his entry into film, might have been, as "Paul Hunt", the 1934 murder mystery novel Murder Among the Nudists.
Another Mr. B.I.G. favorite here at a wasted life, The Amazing Colossal Man, Gordon's third theatrical release of 1957, is once again based on the concept of radioactivity causing growth — in this case, nice guy Lt Col. Glenn Manning (Glenn Langan [8 Jul 1917 – 26 Jan 1991]) gets a big dose and becomes the Amazing Colossal Man. The giant-syringe death of Maj. Eric Coulter (Larry Thor [27 Aug 1916 – 15 Mar 1976]) is an all-time fave of ours, but what makes The Amazing Colossal Man a bit different from the average "big threat" movie of its day is, as Boba Fett points out, is that the film "picks a more emotional approach rather than [just] a spectacular one with the amazing colossal man smashing buildings and throwing cars (it happens, though not until the very end of the movie). Instead the movie remains more humble and humane, filled with emotions involving around the main character, who is broken inside by the man who he has become. This might seem boring to some but it in fact is its original approach of the story which makes this such a fine movie to watch."
"Why don't you ask me what it feels like to be a freak?"
Lt Col. Glenn Manning (Glenn Langan)

Trailer to 
The Amazing Colossal Man:
The blogspot Confirmed, Alan_01 has the interesting roots of the movie, which at one point was intended to star the great Dick Miller: "With the impending release of Universal International's The Incredible Shrinking Man in 1957 (trailer), Jim Nicholson, the co-founder of American International Pictures, tried to secure the rights to Homer Eon Flint's The Nth Man for his own studio's proposed polarity-reversed cash-in, The Amazing Colossal Man. [...] When Nicholson failed to get the story, the project was turned over to AIP's head filmmaker, Roger Corman [and his chief scriptwriter, Charles B. Griffith], to come up with an original angle. [...] In Griffith's original commissioned treatment, with Dick Miller in mind for the lead, the protagonist was a hard-drinking, hen-pecked schlub, who, while taking his physical at the local army induction center, absconds with a bottle of mystery liquid that, later, thanks to his wife, winds-up in his latest boilermaker. When this liquid is digested, Miller would grow into the 'Amazing Colossal Pain in the Ass of all Humanity.' [...] Meantime, while Griffith hashed out his script, Nicholson also scored a coup for AIP by signing producer, director, and traveling-matte artiste extraordinaire, Bert I. Gordon, to a three picture deal. And with the like-minded Beginning of the End (1957) and The Cyclops (1957) already on his resume, Gordon quickly put on his producer's hat, slid into the director's chair, and basically scotched most of Griffith's proposed script, citing budget concerns — but, honestly, Gordon was looking for something a little less farcical that yielded a lot more property damage, dubious pathology, and a little pathos scattered hither and yon. [...]"

"They gave me an expandable sarong. Look, it's adjustable. I can grow to be a hundred feet tall and I don't need a change of wardrobe! Army ingenuity!"
Lt Col. Glenn Manning (Glenn Langan)

The plot, as found at The Spinning Image: "The American military are testing this new plutonium bomb out in the isolated deserts of Nevada, and everything is set to go with the soldiers on the ground placed in a trench to protect them from the anticipated blast. However, when the countdown has finished, nothing happens, the device does not go off, though the men are instructed to stay where they are until the problem can be worked out, or the bomb goes off by itself. Then, the unexpected happens: a light aircraft in trouble flies overhead and crashlands into the ground, concerning Lieutenant Colonel Glen Manning (Glenn Langan) so much that he leaps out of the trench and races towards the wreckage... Big mistake, as that bomb is set off and our hero is caught in the blast, tearing the clothes from his body and covering him in radiation burns. He is rushed to hospital, his fiancée Carol Forrest (Cathy Downs) is called, and the prognosis is far from good — but this would be a short film if he expired, well, it's already fairly brief, but it was a B-movie, and Manning is found to have been miraculously cured because atomic radiation has magical powers, as we all know from watching nineteen-fifties science fiction. Although the plot here tried to keep its big reveal a secret, it was all there in the title: Manning is growing at the rate of a few feet a day! Soon he will be colossal!"
"The B.I.G. man's most famous work is also his best movie. For some, that won't be saying much. Still, Glenn Langan's performance is as immense as his quickly accelerated size in the film — usurping the budgetary limitations. Some of the effects work just fine, while most are pretty bad; but the overall package is an Amazing Colossal piece of 50s cult film entertainment. [Cool Ass Cinema]"
American International Pictures released The Amazing Colossal Man a double feature with the justly forgotten British horror, The Cat Girl (1957).
Trailer to
The Cat Girl:
Glenn Langan's first credited role is The Return of Doctor X (1939 / trailer), famous as Humphrey Bogart's only horror film, and his most respected probably Dragonwyck (1946 / trailer) or The Snake Pit (1948 / trailer), but he pretty much left the industry for real estate after his thespian turns in the craptastic cult faves Mutiny in Outer Space (1965 / trailer) and Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966 / full film). Oddly enough, he did not reprise his role in Bert I. Gordon's sequel to The Amazing Colossal Man released the following year, War of the Colossal Beast (1958); though scenes from this film here were used in that film, the "Colossal Beast" is played by Duncan Parkin (9 Feb 1931 – 21 Oct 2009), of The Cyclops (1957).
Cathy Downs (3 Mar 1926 – 8 Dec 1976), far more attractive as a brunette than as a blonde, had an auspicious start in the film industry, "but in 1947 Downs was inexplicably dropped by Fox, and she was never employed by another major studio. She may have been blackballed for refusing to sleep with her boss, studio chief Darryl Zanuck, who had a reputation for being notoriously persistent when it came to bedding his starlets. [Find A Grave]" Cathy Downs ended her career in films like this one and/or The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955 / trailer) and the anti-classic The She-Creature (1956 / trailer); she died of cancer in obscurity and poverty, Zanuck died celebrated and rich.
Larry Thor's last feature film "appearance" is in the animated film The Phantom Tollbooth (1970), as Tock the Watchdog, in which he sang the following song:
Time Is a Gift:
The lovely lass in the bathtub who captures the Colossal Man's eye in Las Vegas is Playboy's Playmate of the Month for October 1955 (centerfold photo below), Jean Moorhead. She appears in Bert I. Gordon's Attack of the Puppet People (1958), but the true highpoint of her career is surely The Violent Years (1956 / trailer), which was written by no one less than Ed Wood Jr.

Attack of the Puppet People
(1958, writ., dir. & pro. Bert I. Gordon)

Re-titled Six Inches Tall when released in the UK. In a case of meta-self-referentialism, the two main "good guy" characters of the film, Bob (John Agar [31 Jan 1921 – 7 Apr 2002]) and Sally (June Kenney [6 Jul 1933 – 25 Jun 2021]) watch The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) at a drive-in; taking it all a step further is that this film was also released on a double bill with The War of the Colossal Beast, the sequel to The Amazing Colossal Man. (A double feature sure to satisfy all size preferences.)
Trailer to
Attack of the Puppet People:
It takes little imagination to figure out that this film was made to ride on the coattails of the previous year's popular Universal film, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957 / trailer), something the poster even indicates in an "anti-way": while the poster of the Universal classic shows the hero facing off a deadly cat, the poster of Gordon's movie — like that of The Incredible Shrinking Man, painted by the great poster artist Reynold Brown (17 Oct 1917 – 24 Aug 1991) — ups the ante in its depiction of the heroes facing off a deadly dog.
Some sources claim Attack of the Puppet People as a remake of Tod Browning's The Devil-Doll (1936 / trailer), but the films have little in common other than the shared plot point of someone shrinking people, thus the comparison is about as valid as saying Attack of the Puppet People was remade as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989 / trailer); for that matter, the opening scene with puppet people in jars (screenshot below) could indicate that the film took at least some inspiration from The Bride of Frankenstein (1935 / trailer), while the sheer number of people shrunk and the clumsy love story angle could arguably have been inspired by the full-color and generally overlooked horror film Dr Cyclops (1940 / trailer below). The title of Gordon's film, in any event, is way off: there is nary an attack of anyone in the entire film.
Trailer to
Dr. Cyclops:
Hubbs Movie Review, which notes that "the biggest mystery of this movie is the fact that we don't find out what happens to the other shrunken people [aside from Sally and Bob]", has the "unusual" plot: "[The film is] not really a horror or a sci-fi, it's almost more of a fable or fairytale of sorts. The plot follows a lonely old man by the name of Mr. Franz (John Hoyt). Franz is a doll maker, he creates children's doll entirely by himself, [and] he also repairs them […] too. He is well known within his field, held in high regard, his dolls are famous for their detail, their overall craftsmanship. The strange thing is, certain people who have worked for him, or have known him, have a tendency to vanish without a trace. The other strange thing is, Franz has a special collection of dolls, in glass containers, that all have eerie similarities to these very people. Franz claims that he models his dolls after people he has known, but his latest secretary Sally (June Kenney) grows highly suspicious after her fiancé disappears and a doll turns up looking just like him. As Sally delves deeper, involving the police, Franz takes steps to ensure her silence, and before she knows what's hit her, Sally joins the special collection of dolls. It is then we discover that Franz doesn't want to hurt his special dolls, he merely wants them to be with him forever, his special friends, he wants to look after them and promises them a life of no worries or stress. Despite initial troubles trying to get the other tiny people on their side, Sally and her fiancé Bob (John Agar) eventually manage to organise an escape plan. [...]"
The music to
Attack of the Puppet People:
"Of course, it's typically silly 'Mr. B.I.G.' shenanigans, though Hoyt works hard to create a sympathetic villain. Hilariously, based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, Kenney deduces her boss turned Agar into a doll just because the doll looks like him. The fact that she's right makes this plot point no less ridiculous. [...] Befitting a film at this budget level, the quality of the effects varies. Sometimes the simplest are the best — some shots of miniaturized people in glass tubes are actually 2D photographs, rather than actors and photographic effects. [Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot]"
The Psychotronic Review points out "how to ruin a good story": "Instead of creating drama with the constant threat of little people rebellion, let's have the crazy guy be able to put the little ones asleep inside of tubes. Then, don't actually show the littles until a half hour into the film. And when you finally do show them, spend about 20 minutes with everyone standing around. And what about a song? (A rather good one sung by co-star Marlene Willis.) That's it! And don't forget to use up another 10 minutes with some scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo about tuning forks causing frequencies that make atoms scale the way projected images do. Just remember: no one cares, so they'll really be bored! Finally, for the big finish, just stop. It doesn't have to make sense. It's all right for the little people to do what they could have done at the start of the movie. And be sure to forget completely about the vast majority of the littles. Don't sink to using that cutting-edge technology of cross-cutting, invented no later than 1903 in The Great Train Robbery."
The full film —
The Great Train Robbery (1903):
Lastly, Duh!: "A major theme of the film is the consideration of loneliness and how it can be an all-consuming force that can eat away at the fabric of a person's soul and sanity. Thus, we have a non-stereotypical mad scientist who is really a lonely old man in need of company. He may intend no harm, but his view of reality has become so warped that he is unable to see what he has become — an obsessed, demented and insanely possessive old man. [Sci-fi Film Fiesta]"
The full movie —
Attack of the Puppet People:
Fans of "Bad Film" need no introduction to Shirley Temple's first husband, John Agar: his long list of good "Bad Films" is long includes at least two true must-see classics, Tarantula! (1955 / trailer) and The Mole People (1956 / trailer). The beautiful June Kenney is less well-known, but her limited oeuvre includes some fine Roger Corman trash like Teenage Doll (1957 / trailer) and Sorority Girl (1957 / trailer, with Dick Miller); she left the business soon after her final film role in Bloodlust! (1961). Marlene Willis (13 Jan 1942 – 29 Mar 1982), who as Laurie sings the film's theme song, died young of cancer; primarily active as a singer, she only ever made one other movie, Rockabilly Baby (1957 / full film). The other teenager of the film, Stan, is played by Ken Miller (15 Oct 1931 – 8 May 2017), whom some might remember from I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957 / trailer) and Blood Stalkers (1976 / trailer). Bert I. Gordon's "nepo baby" daughter Susan Gordon (27 Jul 1949 – 11 Dec 2011), a last-minute substitute when the original actress cast for the part of Agnes dropped out, made her film debut in the film: her limited career, which hardly lasted a full ten years, consisted primarily of TV shows and her Daddy's films. Laurie Mitchell (14 Jul 1928 – 20 Sep 2018) is best remembered as the man-hating Queen of Outer Space (1958 / trailer) and for being eaten by a lunar cave spider in Missile to the Moon (1958 / trailer).
Not from the film —
Marlene Willis sings Billy Barr:
Of course, the true thespian of the movie is the man playing Mr. Franz, the movie's lonely villain, the character actor John Hoyt (5 Oct 1905 – 15 Sep 1991), a man of great and diverse talent equally at home playing assholes (see: When Worlds Collide [1951 / trailer]), lonely old men or serious men (Blackboard Jungle [1955 / trailer] or Spartacus [1960 / trailer]) or funny roles, and equally at home in A-films as Z-films (and everything in between). One of a wasted life's favorite film appearances of his is as Professor Gordon in the soft-core classic...
Flesh Gordon
(1974) —
Full trailer:

War of the Colossal Beast
(1958, writ., dir. & pro. Bert I. Gordon)

"There's nothing in our directives about a 60-foot giant!"
Dr. Carmichael (Russ Bender)

Gordon may have supplied the story, but the screenplay is once again credited to his regular collaborator, the genre-film specialist George Worthing Yates (14 Aug 1901 – 6 Jun 1975). Mark Hanna (12 Jan 1917 – 16 Oct 2003), who had helped co-write The Colossal Man with Yates and Gordon, changed sexual preferences and went off to write Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (trailer, with Yvette Vickers), which was released the same year as this film.
Trailer to
War of the Colossal Beast:
"Beast lets us know that you can't keep a radioactive growing freak down, especially when he's down in Mexico. [DiscLand]."
"How do you reason with a 60-foot giant?"
Maj. Mark Baird (Roger Pace)

A direct sequel to Gordon's 1957 The Colossal Man, AIP changed the title from Revenge of the Colossal Man to War of the Colossal Beast and then totally ignored the link of the two films in all its ad campaigns.
Despite the fact that Carol, Glenn Manning's fiancée in The Amazing Colossal Man, mentions that he has no other family, the main female character of War of the Colossal Beast is Manning's sister, Joyce Manning (Sally Fraser [12 Dec 1932 – 13 Jan 2019], of Giant from the Unknown [1958 / trailer] and It Conquered the World [1956 / trailer]). Manning himself is recast in this film (but for the flashbacks, which still feature the original actor, Glenn Langan) and is now played by Duncan 'Dean' Parkin, whose only other known film role is that of the Cyclops in Gordon's The Cyclops (1957) — Gordon hid the recasting by giving the Colossal Man a Cyclops-like disfigured face.
As previously mentioned, the film was released as part of a double feature with Bert I. Gordon's Attack of the Puppet People (1958). Though those of us raised on B&W Creature Feature TV broadcasts of Gordon's films only know this film as fully B&W, the original theatrical release featured some full color: during the final scene, in which Colossal Beast is electrocuted, the film originally went full color. (The trick of the final scene being in full color was also used in another AIP production of the time, I Was A Teenage Frankenstein [1957 / trailer].
Over at the imdb, some guy named Baron Bl00d has the plot: "Colonel Manning, the Amazing 60ft Colossal Man [...] falls into the Colorado River at the end of that film from not-so-friendly military firepower. It seems now though that he survives that only to be swept down river into Mexico where he resides in the mountains and yanks trucks off the road for food. OK, the story in this one in not anything grandiose to be sure, but Bert I. Gordon's follow-up is satisfying to a point. This time around Glenn's sister still believes her brother to be alive and flies down to Mexico — soon to be followed by a military officer who didn't believe her in the first place. Well, Manning is discovered in the mountains, tricked into eating bread loaded with something that knocks him out, and then transported to Los Angeles. From there on we basically get what we got in the first film. There are some differences though. Manning [...] has virtually no dialog. This means that it is a lot more difficult to feel for the character as one might have in the first film. This film does show some attention to the bureaucratic way in which our government works. The acting is competent and Gordon's direction fair. His special effects are again nothing so special. We have the one brief moment of color in the climax. We also get a pretty lengthy flashback taken entirely from the first film. This is a decent sequel but not as 'good' as its original source material."

"Giants can run fast. They have long legs."
Sgt. Luis Murillo (Rico Alaniz)

"Despite being a follow-up to an earlier movie, or perhaps because the initial film failed to do so, this outing firmly adheres to many of the stereotypical plot points for giant monster films of the period. One can almost call out the story in advance with a checklist. First there is some type of mystery — usually involving missing people and/or equipment. After a minimal amount of investigating the 'monster' is discovered, in this case giant Glen living in Mexico. Then there is an initial confrontation that seems to resolve the situation by either capturing the creature or seemingly destroying it. This respite does not last very long and soon enough the tables are turned on our heroes and after one last climactic rampage, the monster is stopped ... usually by being killed. There are of course variations of this theme, the more common being that once discovered, the monster just rampages nonstop until it is killed, shrugging off any and all attempts to slow it down or kill it, with no false sense of security ever arising for the protagonists. To sum up the film even more succinctly let's use the following expression: Giant Bestial Man Found + Giant Bestial Man Captured = Giant Bestial Man Dead After Rampage. Really, that is all there is to this film. The movie truly seems like fifteen minutes worth of action spread out over seventy minutes. [B-Movie Graveyard]"
"Well, viewers, the War of the Colossal Beast is upon us. Well, I wouldn't call it a war, more of a tussle, really. [...] But this film, dinky special effects aside, really isn't a bad piece of film-making. [...] The acting is what you'd expect for the era, earnest while delivering some fairly questionable lines (like 'We can't leave him exposed to the weather, even if he is a giant...'), but we're not talking Ed Wood levels of tripping over the sets in wooden Indian mode. I wanted to know what was going to happen to our befuddled cyclops, and felt some sadness that his only moment of lucidity he experienced made him want to off himself on 'Old Sparky.' The special effects were pretty ordinary, the usual superimposed (badly) giant creatures we've come to expect from Monsieur Gordon. Still, [...] I'd say give it a look, if for nothing else but a reasonably rare sequel (I'm sure they didn't make that many sci-fi sequels those days) that has some pretty nifty makeup [...]. The actor's growling skills also made me flinch a couple of times — he relishes a guttural howl or two! Worth a peep, just don't hang out for a war, 'cause there ain't one... [Girls, Guns and Ghouls]"
The obviously woman-hating Maj. Mark Baird — "Other names could be Major Asshole or Major Dickwad [B-Movie Graveyard]" — is played by Roger Pace (2 Aug 1930 – 20 Dec 1999) in what seems to be his only credited feature film role. Sgt Luis Murillo, the law down Mexico way, is played by Mexican-American character actor Rico Alaniz (25 Oct 1919 – 9 Mar 2015) — he's a minority figure, so as to be expected, he goes "Squish". Russ Bender (1 Jan 1910 – 16 Aug 1969), who plays Dr. Carmichael, previously appeared (uncredited) as a Dr. Carmichael in War of the Worlds (1953 / trailer); in The Amazing Colossal Man, he played a different character (Richard Kingman) than in this film. As a specialist of (usually un-credited) character and background parts, he is found in many a favorite bad film; as a scriptwriter, he had a hand in the crapstastic Voodoo Woman (1957 / trailer). In the film Wild on the Beach (1965 / trailer), he even sings a country western ditty, namely...
The Yellow-Haired Woman:

The Spider
(1958, writ., dir. & pro. Bert I. Gordon)
As in 1957, but for the last time during his career, Bert I. Gordon made three feature films within one single year in 1958, of which this is the last one.
Looking for another popular film to remake cheaply, Gordon turned to Tarantula! (1955 / trailer) — or maybe he simply remembered the giant spider scene from The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957 / trailer) — and came up with this flick, The Spider, a.k.a. Earth vs. the Spider. The latter title was re-used for a TV movie in 2001 (trailer), which shares little else with this movie here.
Produced in May 1958, The Spider hit the screen that November. The original title, Earth vs. the Spider, was obviously inspired by Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956 / trailer) and is also given in the film's actual credits. The success of the succinctly titled The Fly [1958 / trailer] led to the shorter a release title. You don't really have to keep your eyes open to notice that Gordon slips in another meta-reference to his own films: the movie theatre owned by the father (Hal Torey [5 Feb 1915 – 11 Aug 1989] of Invisible Invaders [1959 / trailer]) of the "teenager" Mike (Eugene Persson) is screening two earlier releases of Gordon, The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and The Attack of the Puppet People (1958). After The Spider, which is generally considered one of his most surreally shoddiest works — notice how the credits tell you who is "starrring" in the film? — and thus one of his most enjoyable, Gordon didn't make another "big" film again until 1965, when he made Village of the Giants (which we look at in Part II). Scenes of the spider in the cave were later used in Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962 / trailer).

"It was a spider drained all the liquid out of his body."
Mr. Kingman (Ed Kemmer)

Trailers from Hell, which says that "technically and aesthetically, [The Spider is] a terrible film" but also thinks "you'll enjoy it", has the plot: "Something bad happens to Mr. Flynn (Merritt Stone [23 Jan 1915 – 23 Jan 1985] of Problem Girls [1953 / full film]) when driving back to River Falls with a birthday present for his beloved daughter Carol (June Kenney of Sorority Girl [1957 / trailer, with Dick Miller] and Teenage Doll (1957 / trailer) and Attack of the Puppet People [1958] and Bloodlust! [1961]). After school the next day, Carol talks her boyfriend Mike (Gene Persson) into taking her out to look for her father. They find his wrecked truck and the birthday gift out on the road, and then investigate a cave. There they find several human skeletons, a giant spider web and finally the title monstrosity itself. High school professor Art Kingman (Ed Kemmer [29 Oct 1920 – 9 Nov 2004] of The Giant from the Unknown [1958 / trailer]) guides Sheriff Cagle (Gene Roth [8 Jan 1903 – 19 Jul 1976] of Attack of the Giant Leeches [1959], with Yvette Vickers) in zapping the spider with DDT. It ends up displayed in the recreation room at River Falls High, where a rock band led by Joe and Sam (Troy Patterson & Skip Young) are about to hold a rehearsal. What could go wrong?"

"It'd be a good idea if you'd stay inside the house for awhile."
Mr. Kingman (Ed Kemmer) to his wife (Sally Fraser)

"Despite the low budget, cheap FX and several moments of questionable acting, Earth vs. The Spider is a lot of fun for those of us who appreciate the era in which it was made. The movie is damn near the epitome of the B-Movie, rolling out all the requisite ingredients: a rampaging monster, less than stellar visual effects, characters that don't seem to make the wisest decisions and little room for much else. The movie also has a good pace and a great sense of fun. Personally, I find it to be much more engaging that many other films from the same time period. Whereas other low-cost projects from the 50s often suffer from slow, plodding plotlines and boring characters, this film zips along at a good pace and at least has memorable people in it, even if they push the bounds of believability at times with their behavior. [B Movie Graveyard]"
"When you put these teens vs. monster movies in perspective (and there were a lot of them in the 1950s), they're essentially the slasher movies of their era — modified though they may be, they operate on much the same level. One of that sub-genre's staples is an unstoppable killer. In the case of Gordon's spider movie, the creature is 'killed' on more than one occasion, but proves to still be alive. It's smothered in large quantities of DDT, crushed in a massive cave-in, and finally — third time is the charm here — electrocuted in spectacular fashion. [...] Despite the obvious fakery of Gordon's (modestly) special effects, these scenes are still exciting and mildly creepy for such an antiquated production. The shots of shriveled spider corpses are among some mild gore shots (like a splatterly opening moment) that are effectively rendered. The sustained suspense of the first half, the assault on the town, and the creative finale all add up to a tightly woven web of low budget thrills that never overstays its welcome at just under 73 minutes. [Cool Ass Cinema]"
"Bring your bug juice and let's go!"
Sheriff Cagle (Gene Roth)
For fairness, voice of dissent: "Overall, faintly enjoyable rubbish, but it's not always enjoyable and mostly just rubbish. And why do I keep having visions of composer Albert Glasser beating back a horde of production staff who are trying in vain to wrestle a theremin off him? [Werewolves on the Moon]"
But talk about "teenagers" — June Kenney was already 25 years old when she made this film, and Eugene Persson (12 Jan 1934 – 6 Jun 2008), playing her high school sweetheart Mike, was 26, while their classmate Joe was played by verging-on-going-grey 35-year old Troy Patterson (28 Dec 1923 – 1 Nov 1975). (To put that in perspective Ed Kemmer, the science teacher, was only three years older in real life.) Like June Kenney, both Troy and Eugene pretty much left the acting biz after appearing in Bloodlust!, though Eugene did produce a film or two, including the racial shocker Dutchman (1966), and Troy raised his head again for a few bit parts in the 70s.
Full film —
Eugene Persson's Dutchman:
Gene Roth (i.e., Sheriff Cagle) was once an omnipresent (and usually uncredited) character actor and, by the time he was killed by an unknown hit and run driver on 19 July 1976 while crossing the road in Los Angeles, he had well over 250 film appearances on his resume, including such faves as She Demons (1958 / trailer) and Zombies of Mora Tau (1957 / trailer).
Trailer to
The Brain Eaters:
Earth vs. the Spider was originally released by American International Pictures as a double feature in different film markets with either The Brain Eaters (1958 / trailer above) or Terror from the Year 5000 (1958 / trailer below). Other pairings are also known to have existed.
Trailer to
Terror from the Year 5000:
Lastly, over at Media Mike's, Media Mike asked Mr. B.I.G. himself about Earth vs. the Spider and whether it was a difficult production. Mr. B.I.G. responded: "Not at all. It was actually one of the easier films. It appears to be shot in the Carlsbad Caverns and I wanted to film all of the caverns there. So I contacted the people in charge from the state (New Mexico) and they invited me down. They took me through and it was fantastic. Beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. I told them that I wanted to film a movie there. They said fine... BUT... you can't use your lights. The lights they have there are all indirect to bring out the beauty of the rock formations in the caverns. There's no way without lights that you could shoot a movie down there. So I was unhappy because I thought without some nice caverns ... what was I going to do? Then I got the idea to come back and shoot still photos with a long timed exposure, because that is what it took because the lights were so dim. They said that was fine. I went back with my camera and my tripod and some assistants and they took me through some different caverns. I set up the camera and took the photos. They lasted many, many minutes because of the time exposure. I took those photographic plates and split screened many of them and that's how I put the people and the spider in the Carlsbad Caverns. As for the spider yes, I used a real spider in the film…as I did on many of my films. I used some nice tarantulas that were very friendly. I put some in with split screen and some with blue screen travel mattes."

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