From the DVD case: In an act of cosmic irony, an enormous bird from outer space descends upon the Earth and begins chowing down on people. As usual, scientists and the military must team up to save our planet. This hysterically feathered fable stars sci-fi icons Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum, and Robert Shayne, and is directed by Fred F. Sears. (1957, b&w)
Mark says: It was such a treat to find this movie on DVD. As a devoted fan of 1950’s schlock entertainment, I knew The Giant Claw was legendary in its appalling production values and “special effects.” I’ve seen stills and I’ve read articles, but until recently, I had never actually seen the film. I must say, it was worth the wait.
The Giant Claw starts out like countless other cheap sci-fi/horror flicks of the time. We get a lot of stock footage of military operations and rotating radar dishes. A narrator sets the scene: “An electronics engineer. A radar officer. A mathematician and systems analyst. A radar operator. A couple of plotters. People doing a job, well, efficiently. Serious. Having fun. Doing a job. Situation: normal. For the moment.”
Oh, we know its going to be bad, but there’s no way to anticipate how wonderfully terrible it’s going to get.
All of the usual suspects are here. Jeff Morrow (Kronos, This Island Earth) is Mitch MacAfee, an electronics engineer and pilot who plays by his own rules; Mara Corday (Tarantula, The Black Scorpion) plays Sally Caldwell, the no nonsense mathematician, and B-movie staple Morris Ankrum (Beginning of the End, Invaders from Mars) eventually shows up as Lt. Gen. Edward Considine, a man committed to his duty and his country. Director Fred F. Sears is no stranger to the genre either, having already directed such pictures as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and The Werewolf, both released only a year earlier.
The real star of the movie, though, is the ridiculous flying prop that is supposed to be a threat to humankind. We only see it as a blurred lump of feathers at first, but eventually we behold it in all its ludicrous glory. I’ve seen it described as a vulture, a turkey, as Beaky Buzzard from the old Looney Tunes cartoon, and even Gonzo of Sesame Street. What it is not, however, is scary. No flying menace was ever more laughable (though Reptilicus gives it a race for its money).
At this point it would be customary for me to attempt to make this review as humorous as the creature is absurd. However, I have to confess that I simply can not do this flying marionette justice. The beast is mind-bogglingly horrendous. Producer Sam Katzman had the prop manufactured in Mexico rather than Hollywood to save on cost. I think we can safely assume he saved a bundle. What a mess.
It’s not just the terrible special effect that makes the movie such a treat, though. The film is also filled to the brim with incredibly inane dialog. It’s not as bizarre as what you will find in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, but the results are similarly hilarious. Here are just a few gems:
Gen. Considine: Three men reported they saw something, and two of them are dead.
Mitch: That makes me chief cook and bottle-washer in a one-man bird watchers’ society!
Sally: Will it work, Mitch?
Mitch: I don’t know. I honestly haven’t the faintest, foggiest idea. It’s one of those cockeyed concepts that you pull down out of Cloud Eight somewhere in sheer desperation!
Dr. Karol Noymann: That bird is extraterrestrial! It comes from outer space, from some God-forsaken anti-matter galaxy millions and millions of light years from the Earth. No other explanation is possible.
Narrator: No corner of the Earth was spared the terror of looking up into God’s blue sky and seeing, not peace and security, but the feathered nightmare on wings!
This stuff is B-movie gold, folks, and just plain good fun.
There are a few other tidbits to relate, like how some of the scenes were recycled from Earth vs the Flying Saucers, and a funny story of how Jeff Morrow, sans a cast and crew screening, viewed the film (and it’s comically inept “special effect”) for the first time at his hometown theater with his family. Morrow was so embarrassed by the laughter the bird elicited that he sank down in his seat and eventually escaped the theater to meet his family afterwards in the car. (See Bill Warren’s book, Keep Watching the Skies.)
I could write more, but what would be the point? See the movie for yourself and let it do the squawking . I can’t imagine any fan of the genre being disappointed.
Scene to watch for: Mitch and Sally happily sip on Pierre’s applejack while the corpse of their friend lies covered on the sofa just feet away. I guess one can’t grieve forever.
Line to listen for: “You keep your shirt on and I’ll go get my pants on.”
Trivia: Fans of the genre may recall the name “Dr. Karol Noyman” (played by Edgar Barrier in The Giant Claw) was also John Carradine’s character’s name in Invisible Invaders. Samuel Newman was the screenwriter for both films.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! out of 5.