The Giant Claw.
I think it was only a matter of time before it came to this. This is one of those staples of bad movies. While maybe not be a Plan 9 or The Room, this was a movie that seemed to step up to the proverbial plate and swing hard for the fences only to pop the ball up right in front of the plate.
It’s like you should hear a sad trombone play every time you mention the title. It’s not without a couple of really great pieces – a great performance by Jeff Morrow (who was in This Island Earth), and a neat idea springing forth from actual scientific discovery through particle physics. However, you see that fuckin’ bird with those goofball eyes and doofy expression and everything just goes right into the crapper. This movie is universally hailed as one of the worst attempts ever at a sci-fi monster movie.
It’s also quite well known for how often the giant claw is referred to as being as big as a battleship, but I’m going to try to keep the criticism of that to a minimum.
On the back of the Sci-Fi Creature Classics 4-pack DVD box, we’re told: “Global chaos erupts when an enormous bird from outer space ventures to Earth and begins killing scores of innocent bystanders in this awe-inspiring sci-fi thriller starring stunning Mara Corday and Jeff Morrow. Four times faster than sound, the bird is bigger than a battleship and surrounded by an invisible radar-resistant shield which repels existing destructive devices. It’s a race against time for scientists Mitch MacAfee and Sally Caldwell to devise a weapon against this abominable creature before it obliterates the United States. Can they do it?? See for yourself in this terrifying adventure of man against monstrosity!”
I hope whoever got paid for writing this copy for the back of the box got a raise because that description sounds amazing. Too bad this movie isn’t going to live up to it.
Right off the top, The Giant Claw hits us with a voice over about science as we watch a model of Earth spins in front of us. He talks about how science does stuff for us and how we are creating defenses to protect our science. We’re introduced to Mitchell MacAfee who is one of those classic 50s action scientists as he is doing test flights in some sort of fighter jet. Sally Caldwell, our hot-to-trot sexy mathematician, is told he’s a real rebel and makes his own rules. That’s because in the 50s scientists were sexy, not the dorks we know them to be nowadays. MacAfee sees an unidentified flying object and all the tension is removed by the narrator telling us that MacAfee was freaked out by seeing this thing flying around. Nothing pisses me off faster in a movie when you break the “show, don’t tell” rule in writing.
MacAfee gets chewed out for reporting the UFO because he made a big deal out of seeing something and none of the radars (which is MacAfee’s area of expertise – yes, he’s a radar specialist but also flies pilots because whatever) picked up the object he supposedly saw. What really burns the Air Force’s ass is that one of the pilots scrambled to see what’s up went missing. However, another report of a missing airplane – a passenger plane – also reported a UFO before its radio went dead.
When MacAfee and Sally are flying back to New York City, the pilot sees a blurry blob fly by and reports the UFO and tells MacAfee. When the plane loses an engine and falls out of the sky, they are forced to make a crash landing. They are found by a French-Canadian (they were flying from the Arctic to New York because the movie started in the Arctic for… reasons) and the Canadian authorities come to collect the pilot – who is completely covered up as if he’s dead or something. The Mountie tells MacAfee that they were told to keep the downed plane real hush hush.
Now, I didn’t want to harp on this, as I mentioned earlier, but it really is shocking how often they mention they saw something in the sky that was as big as a battleship. Within the first twenty minutes, I swear they have said that 47 times.
On the plane trip to NYC, MacAfee sees that Sally is asleep next to him and just flat out kisses her while she’s asleep – ballsy to say the least as the last time I tried that, I spent a few weeks in traction. Then they do some witty banter about baseball and how he needs to go to the minor leagues before coming up to the majors and how the umpires can make a reversal on their call and all sorts of other stuff. It’s complete insanity what they are saying to each other, but at least it is well-acted.
MacAfee thinks about the different missing flights and the reports of the UFO and asks to see a map. Sally gives him a map and he marks the different reports with an X. He then asks if she sees the pattern, like it’s totally obvious. She, like the rest of us, think he’s completely off his rocker because they are just some spattering of X’s on a map of Canada. He then says it’s rather obvious the patter and draws this…
The fuck is this?!? You can’t just put some X’s on a map and then see the “obvious” pattern being a spiral! That’s not an obvious pattern. Yes, spirals are patterns. And, yes, they are obvious when you see them spinning and what have you, but it’s not something that you can really spot by connecting dots unless you have actually viewed the pattern yourself! This is insanity. Sally, like the rest of us watching, calls MacAfee crazy with this pattern and claims. The scene ends with them making out hardcore on the plane.
Next up, a plane is going to investigate the crashed aircraft that MacAfee and Sally were on the day before and finally, in all its glory, the movie makes love to our eyeballs and shows us the Giant Claw…
Sadly, though, it’s more of a rough sex type of love that leaves everyone involved feeling really, really, REALLY dirty and uncomfortable with their partners for at least the next several days. It’s like one of those things you wish you hadn’t done. I mean, yeah, it’s great to fantasize about, but then you do it, and oof… It’s not at all what you thought it would be like. In fact, it kinda hurt. Not just physically, but emotionally too. Like the kind of horrible sex act that makes it impossible to look your pets in the eye because of how messy it was.
Anyway… After the plane gets destroyed and the people on the plane eaten, MacAfee and Sally are brought into talk to a general about these attacks. Yet again, they talk about the size of the creature as if “a battleship” is a standard unit of measurement. It’s like the screenwriters were hot for the military might of the United States Navy. Seriously, if someone said that to me, I’d be like, “And that would be…?” because I HAVE NO IDEA HOW LARGE A BATTLESHIP IS!!!
Sally says that despite the fact that no radar can pick it up, she knows of some weather balloons that should have been able to photograph it. This gives the Air Force an idea of what to look for and, when they find it, they engage the Giant Claw. Unfortunately, the fighters are no match for GC as no bullets or bombs or missiles seem to affect the monster. They even find a new way to use the word battleship when the main pilot says that their weapons were like firing a slingshot at a battleship. Fuck, movie, buy a thesaurus. Or at find another unit of measure.
Seriously, I didn’t mean to get stuck on this overused word. I just don’t know what else to say about this movie. Everyone has all the words to say about what’s going on. It’s like watching an all male version of Gilmore Girls. Everyone is witty and great with analogies. Everyone is hilarious and so quick witted, but no one is saying anything important to the movie. I… I don’t know what people are saying to be able to talk about it in this article.
A scientist guy reveals that GC came from outer space – from a planet of anti-matter. How does he know that? Look, don’t ask too many questions. He’s a scientist and, next to policemen, they were the most reliable source of everything in the 1950s. Just take his fucking word for it, assholes. It’s from space.
Oh, and Sally knows GC came from outer space to Earth to build a nest. Why? Look, don’t ask too many questions, jerk. She’s a woman and she knows all there is to know about building nests. It’s a goddamn surprise she’s a mathematician and not in the kitchen where she belonged in those times.
MacAfee and Sally go back to Quebec where they investigate their French-Canadian buddy’s land to check out GC’s nest. They find the next, but no sign of an egg yet. Just then GC lands and moves some of the twigs to reveal it has laid an egg. Sally and MacAfee shoot the shit out of it causing it to ooze all over the next and naturally pisses off Giant Claw. What I’m not sure about is, simply, what their plan is. They know there are no weapons to kill it, but they know they can shoot the eggs. So, they kill some baby Giant Claws, but what next now, geniuses? You still have the adult Giant Claw that can kill everything. It’s great that you committed infanticide, but what are you going to do about the present threat?
MacAfee uses some science talk to prove his plan to get rid of GC’s defenses. The General they have been working since the attacks began gives them a blank check for supplies to create this new type of atom bomb that will pierce the shield. We get an exciting montage that is narrated to show us how many attempts were made to try to build the bomb. All very exciting I promise you. Guess what? This impossible science kills the impossible giant bird from outer space.
As I mentioned before, the movie isn’t like the utter disaster that other far more famously bad movies are. The real problem with this movie is the tone. This giant bird (which is goofy as hell to look at) is rampaging all over North America and everyone is crackin’ wise and trying to sneak some kisses while their best gal is asleep on a plane. It’s almost as if they wanted to make a comedy and disguise it as a giant monster movie. It’s definitely entertaining but for all the wrong reasons. A Godzilla movie is fun and entertaining because, over time, Godzilla developed a personality and you began to think of him as just another character and less a threat. This movie is entertaining not because of how stupid GC looks, but you want to watch Sally and MacAfee and all the military guys to see what witty thing they will say next. It’s completely cut off from its own emotions as people keep crackin’ those jokes as hundreds of people are not only killed, but actually eaten by this monster.
Now, one thing that certainly caught my eye was what I found out about our female lead, Mara Corday. First of all, she’s a pretty lady with some great eyebrows. That’s an odd thing to say, I know, but I loved that look in the old days of the plucked, arched eyebrows. It gives just a hint of seductive, lusty look to a fairly classy looking lady. Now, maybe I’m making all this shit up because I also found out she was a Playboy centerfold the following year (1958). Maybe I’m using that knowledge to make a reductive judgment on her sex appeal. Or maybe not, she’s a pretty lady.
I will say that The Giant Claw is one of the true crown jewels of the classic b-movie era. Anyone who is a fan of these types of low budget, under-produced movies should be able to say they have seen it. It’s not just for the creature. You can look up pictures of GC, but you should be checking this out because it’s so over the top in its execution. It’s not just that the Giant Claw looks dopey as shit. It’s that you have these oddly well performed roles by Morrow and Corday who both spitfire these insane lines that have no business being in a monster movie. It’s a bizarre mish-mash of romcom and sci-fi at the height of the 50s when everything was atoms and bombs and monsters on Earth that were created by science.
Anytime someone wants to watch this movie, I’ll be more than happy to spend the 75 minutes to do so with them.