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Friday, September 14, 2007


It’s funny how one’s perceptions change as one gets older.

I first saw the infamous ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (1958) when I was about ten years old, already aware of its status as one of the supposedly worst films ever made, and at the time I couldn’t help but agree. The dialogue and acting were ludicrous and overwrought even by 1950’s B-movie standards, several scenes meant to take place at night were clearly shot in broad daylight — a “technique” made immortal in Ed Wood’s masterpiece, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) — the special effects were the polar opposite of anything resembling special, and the awesome gigantress depicted on the poster didn’t go on a city-destroying orgy of destruction. In short, everything that your average kid would find disappointing in a giant-monster-on-the-loose flick.

A blatant example of false advertising.

The film continues to be maligned to this day and in many ways deserves the derision so gleefully heaped upon it for nearly half a century, but having just seen it again last weekend for the first time in over thirty years I have to say that my adult tastes have caught up with its cheapjack charms. I fucking love bad movies, and in every way ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN stands as one of the more intriguing examples of the whole misbegotten genre.

Kind of a WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLFE? by way of THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, the story revolves around boozy heiress Nancy (Allison Hayes) and her flagrant failure of a marriage to equally boozy adulterous douchebag Harry Archer (William Hudson), a nonchalant heel who’s only in it for access to the wife’s fortune. Apparently Nancy's had a history of psychological problems and has recently returned from a stint in the local rubber room, supposedly okay enough to function in society but still a bit nutso around the edges. Her shaky mental state isn't helped in the least by her constant 1950’s-style drunkenness, or her husband’s totally in-her-face affair with the town pump, the gloriously sleazy Honey Parker, played to fantastic bad-girl extremes by the too-hot-to-handle Yvette Vickers.

Honey and Harry, vile 1950's adulterers and gold-diggers of the lowest order.

Harry’s such a prick that he hangs out with Honey in an open booth at Tony’s — apparently the town’s only bar & grill — all the while guzzling from highball glasses brimming with scotch and engaging in public lip-locks that look like the two of them are trying to suck each other’s innards up their necks.

It’s pretty smarmy stuff for the fifties and is still rather torrid even by today’s standards, evoking the feel of cheap bus station pulp fiction paperbacks replete with tough guys getting it on in smoky hotel rooms with easy floozies (an ambiance augmented by a great score that knows when to turn on the swelter).

One night while driving aimlessly (and kind of bombed) about some back roads, Nancy encounters a spherical spacecraft that houses a bald giant who makes a grab for her.

Eat your heart out, ILM!

The famously phony fake hand jiggles and wobbles as it attempts to pick her up, causing Nancy to shriek, abandon her car, and haul ass straight into town. When she arrives she seeks out Harry, but he’s too busy getting a bit of stink-finger so he asks the sheriff’s deputy to cover for him, saying that he wasn’t at Tony’s. An hysterical Nancy then convinces the cops to drive her back to the site of her close encounter, but when they get to her abandoned car there’s no trace whatsoever of a five-story Telly Savalas. Pissed that the cops don’t believe her, Nancy returns home to find comfort in good old booze.

When Harry finally returns home Nancy confronts him about where the fuck he was when she was freaking out, but he simply pours himself a drink, lies about his whereabouts, and slips her a sedative. The drug acts swiftly, coupled as it is with about three stiff drinks, and in no time Nancy’s about to pass out. Harry carries her up the stairs and puts her to bed, undressing her and tucking her in while her altered state of consciousness allows the deep hurt that she feels to roll forth undisguised by anger or false bravado, revealing a wounded and vulnerable woman who admits that she desperately needs Harry. As she fades into unconsciousness, his name pathetically on her lips, he removes her lightbulb-sized diamond, the Star of India, from around her neck, fondles it like it was his own nutsack, and drops it into his pocket. He then calls a doctor to evaluate Nancy’s mental state, the first step in having her re-committed, thereby gaining control of her wealth. After that Harry hightails it back to the bar to face the wrath of his mistress, a fit of pique that immediately cools once she sees the Star of India. The two then plot Nancy’s downfall in earnest before practically fucking the shit out of each other in their favorite booth.

The next day Harry returns the diamond figuring it’ll be his soon enough, and Nancy’s fresh as a daisy (read “sober”), demanding Harry accompany her into the desert to find the giant. He reluctantly obliges, thinking she’s finally gone round the bend, but then they spot the giant’s sphere and pull up to investigate. Beside herself with joy over not being insane, Nancy whoops and hollers, thereby attracting the giant who hauls her into his craft. Harry, after taking a few potshots at the big guy, then turns tail and leaves his wife to her fate. When he returns to town he makes up some story about Nancy’s whereabouts and prepares to run off with Honey, but then Nancy throws a monkey wrench into the works but turning up dazed but alive. Traumatized, Nancy is in no time doped up and imprisoned in her room in a state of utter helplessness while under psychiatric care, in other words the perfect time for Harry to administer an overdose (a tactic charmingly suggested by his floozy).

During all of this mishegoss, the sheriff and Nancy’s gay Lurch of a butler retrace her path and locate the spaceship. There they find the Star of India amidst a hodgepodge of dime store-acquired “futuristic” gizmos and deduce that the alien wasn’t after Nancy, just her enormous bling-bling to serve as a power source for his sphere. The also figure out that while onboard the spaceship she was exposed to high doses of some unknown radiation, and since this is the 1950’s you know what that means…

Finally working up the nerve to poison Nancy, Harry climbs the stairs, hypodermic at the ready, when he opens the door and finds Nancy has turned into — what else? — a gigantic mutant.

NOTE: we’re supposed to believe she’s about fifty feet tall, as per the flick’s title, but her body still somehow fits into her bedroom. But that’s unimportant since we never see any part of her while indoors except for the huge rubber hand that once represented the giant spaceman, now free of hair so it looks more feminine.

Now drugged out of her mind and chained to her bed, Nancy languishes while her husband continues to sloppily cavort with Honey. Then she has the decency to awaken, flail her huge hand about the place while bellowing “HARRY!!!” and demolish her house.

Still screaming for her unfaithful husband, Nancy strides in all her bikini-clad glory into town, rips the roof off of Tony’s — which coincidentally causes chunks of masonry to topple and crush Honey — grabs Harry (or more accurately the actor walks into the giant rubber hand and wraps its fingers about himself), hauls an obviously mis-scaled doll of him through the ceiling, drops him to his death, and then commits suicide by grabbing some live power cables (the same way out chosen in WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST). THE END.

If ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN sounds schlocky, it certainly is, but it only gets labeled as one of the all-time worst movies ever made for its admittedly horrendous special defects. The core story, space-giant notwithstanding, is a solid fifties B-picture about a fucked-up marriage, a heartless husband, and a wife’s pain over her spouse’s towering assholism. The three actors who bring life to the tawdry triangle give entertaining, professional performances in spite of a script that does everything short of shooting them in the head at point blank range to sabotage them, with Yvette Vickers owning the movie as a husband-stealing archetype.

Yvette Vickers, rockin' at the road house.

And the fifty-foot woman herself, Allison Hayes, was no slouch either, chewing the scenery as Nancy and having looks and attitude that remind me of Mariska Hargitay's earthy beauty with a touch of the porn-years Traci Lords poutiness.

I particularly like her in the scene where the looped Nancy pours her heart out to Harry and he feigns tenderness while undressing her. It’s a one-sided moment of tragic need where we see just how sad Nancy is, and how Harry couldn't possibly care less about her heartfelt entreaties for love. A small moment of realism in what is otherwise a soap opera with a couple of fantastic elements thrown in, the scene resonates to anyone who has ever been in a relationship where their lover is a taker who will just use them until they are all used up.

One-sided intimacy at its saddest.

It’s also a bit erotic, reminding me of the times I’ve returned home with a woman after some hard partying, and she wants nothing more than to go to sleep, trusting me to gently help her out of her clothes and usher her off to dreamland unmolested (we can always make osh-osh after she’s well-rested); the times that I’ve done this I quite enjoyed it, savoring the intimate trust of caring for someone who’s nearly helpless thanks to inebriation, and enjoying the slow, sensuous peeling off of clothing until all that’s left is curvy, womanly skin…

Sorry. I got a little distracted.

So now I see ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN in a totally new light, an understanding made possible by knowing all too well about alcoholic excesses and the agony of a broken heart. Sure it’s cheesy, but it’s a lot better than you’ve been led to believe.



Anonymous said...

I never had a chance to see this all the way through--did MST3K ever cover it, or wasn't it bad enough?

Bunche said...

MST3K could have had a righteous field day with ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN, but they never did it. It may have been more expensive to obtain the rights to it than most of the other bad films they handled; out of the well-known pantheon of bad fifties sci-fi flicks MST3K on got around to ROBOT MONSTER, and I wish we could have seen what they'd have made of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE...

Anonymous said...

The MST3K crew DID inflict their patented beat-down on "Plan 9 From Outer Space" - it was "MST3K: The Motion Picture."

Bunche said...

Hate to correct you, but MST3K the movie was a smackdown on THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955). The never, repeat, never got their hands on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.