The Giant Claw (1957)
"Flying beast out of prehistoric skies!"
A test flight to calibrate a new radar system goes wrong when a pair of planes spot what they believe to be a UFO. One of the planes is lost and no one will believe the other pilot when he is formally reprimanded. However other planes go missing until finally the culprit is revealed - a giant extraterrestrial bird with no regard for human life.
Science fiction was all the rage in the 1950s as mankind struggled to come to terms with the advent of the nuclear age and all of the horrors that it could bring about, giving birth to the 'atomic monster' fad with all manner of ants, spiders, scorpions, dinosaurs and even giant humans coming to life and smashing up civilisation as a punishment. It didn't stop there though, with alien invasion films also coming into their own in the 50s as mankind sought to expand our progress into the stars for the first time, unaware of what dangers we faced. What better way is there of combining the two sci-fi sub-genres then by unleashing a giant antimatter bird from outer space upon Earth? Say hello to The Giant Claw, one of the most infamously terrible science fiction films of all time.
The Giant Claw has staked this claim to fame for one reason only - the monster. Everything else about it plays out perfectly well and in line with the rest of its 1950s counterparts and follows that template down to a tee. The film begins with a mysterious threat starting to cause havoc in America. Some random people get drawn into the situation, usually scientists, and find themselves uncovering something bigger and more deadly than they ever could comprehend. There are some straight-talking military guys who talk tough and want to find out what is going on. There are scientists who spout techno babble to try and lend the film some scientific credibility. The music is booming and sinister. There's even a serious voiceover guy who continually hammers home how terrible the situation is getting. It's all going accordingly to 'atomic monster movie' plan. Well that is until about twenty seven minutes into the film and you see the monster for the first time.
Apparently the producers wanted Ray Harryhausen to do the special effects - after all, director Fred F. Sears was at the helm for Harryhausen's classic alien invasion film Earth Vs The Flying Saucers - but when he was unable to do it they just took the cheapest route possible and bought the WORLD'S WORST BIRD PUPPET. I mean this thing is just ridiculous. Forget whatever you may have seen on the screen before, the giant bird here is the sorriest-looking excuse for a monster the world over. It's got huge bulging eyes, a ridiculous Mohawk-style hairstyle, a rubbery neck which seems to have no control over its head movements and wings that move occasionally and clearly defy gravity. And it's not just any giant bird: it's a giant antimatter space bird which has an antimatter force field protecting itself from man's puny projectile weapons. The problem isn't just that the puppet is the worst thing ever made but it's that the puppeteer clearly has little control over where it's head is moving and you can see strings desperately trying to keep it all together before it falls off the set. To think that over in Japan, Rodan had been made a year prior to this. Whilst the special effects aren't that great either, there's no question which is the superior flying monster film.
Everyone in this film keeps referring to the monster as being "as big as a battleship" as if that has suddenly become the new measurement of anything huge. It sounds silly to start with but everyone in the film refers to it as a battleship. Maybe a flying battleship would have been a better idea! If the budget didn't stretch to find a decent puppet, it certainly doesn't stretch to the rest of the film either. The same cockpit is used time and time again for different planes. Stock footage is used from numerous other films in an attempt to make the bird looking like it's terrorising the planet (in reality it's just stock footage from Earth Vs The Flying Saucers). And there's some really bad rear projection of the bird swooping in to attack various cars, trains and even men tangled up in parachutes.
The real travesty is that the film plays itself out so seriously. It runs like the other 50s flicks and if the monster had been decent, then would this have been looked at in the same light as the likes of Them! or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. It was crying out for a decent monster because the rest of the film did what it had to do. Or alternatively, if everyone had goofed it up a little bit, the script threw in a few more one-liners and a few more comedic situations for the characters to be in then it would have worked with the monster we get as some sort of spoof. But the actors clearly thought that the special effects that would have been added after they filmed their scenes would have been so awesome that they bust their asses trying to convey the threat of the giant bird and sell it to audiences as the most terrifying thing ever. The film assembles a cast of 50s sci-fi stalwarts including Jeff Morrow (This Island Earth, The Creature Walks Among Us), Mara Corday (Tarantula, The Black Scorpion) and regular rent-a-general Morris Ankrum (Earth Vs The Flying Saucers, Beginning of the End) so the film has some genre pedigree at least.
The Giant Claw is a giant turkey of a film. It's not that the rest of the film is bad because it's about as standard as you can get for a 50s monster movie. It's just for the sight of the giant antimatter space bird, THE worst monster ever to grace the silver screen. I dare you not to laugh. Replace the special effects to something less ridiculous and you have a serviceable, if perfunctory, example of this genre but the sight of the monster immediately takes you out of the film and never allows you back in.
The Giant Claw
Director(s): Fred F. Sears
Writer(s): Samuel Newman, Paul Gangelin
Actor(s): Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum, Louis Merrill, Edgar Barrier, Robert Shayne
Duration: 75 mins