“I need a woman ‘bout twice my height, statuesque, raven-tressed, a goddess of the night.”
By the time future baby-boomer classic Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (the lack of a hyphen in the title is annoying) was released in May 1958, moviegoers in theatres and drive-ins across the U.S. had already been exposed to all sorts of radiation-induced terrors. Jump-started by the prehistoric rhedosaurus unleashed by atomic testing in 1952’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, the trend was soon followed by another prehistoric radioactive nightmare, Gojira, and then the real onslaught began: giant ants in Them!, a giant octopus in It Came From Beneath the Sea, a giant arachnid in Tarantula, more giant insects in Beginning of the End, The Deadly Mantis and The Black Scorpion, giant mollusks in The Monster That Challenged the World and on and on. The Incredible Shrinking Man, in April ’57, told what might be the first tale of radioactivity’s mutating effect on a human being, followed up six months later by a film that went in the opposite direction, The Amazing Colossal Man.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman can be seen as a distaff version of that latter film. Produced on the cheap for only $88,000, the film surprised everyone by being a tremendous hit, returning $480,000 at the box office. Both reviled as a “camp classic bomb” and beloved as a hugely entertaining boomer piece of nostalgia, the film is very much a product of its time. This viewer had not seen Attack… in over 40 years (it used to be shown very often on NYC TV’s Chiller Theatre in the early to mid-’60s; indeed, several scenes from the film were part of Chiller‘s chilling intro), and I was amazed at how much I remembered from it, and how many scenes seem to have made an indelible impression (such as that homely, screaming nurse, and a car being lifted by a giant, furry hand). This is most assuredly a film that, once seen, can never be forgotten.
In it, cult actress Allison Hayes plays Nancy Archer, a millionairess who lives in a small California town with her philandering hubby, Harry (William Hudson, who had also starred in The Amazing Colossal Man). Distraught after seeing a globular flying saucer and its “30-foot-tall,” bald-headed alien crewman in the desert one night, Nancy’s lot is made even worse when no one will believe her, and when Harry and his paramour, bar floozy Honey Parker (cult actress Yvette Vickers), conspire to have her re-institutionalized. And then things get even more dire for Nancy, when, after another run-in with the giant alien, she starts to grow at an alarming rate…
It is hard to defend so silly a motion picture as this one, but darn it, Attack… DOES have many fine qualities going for it, and is not nearly as campy as one would expect. The acting across the board is uniformly fine, especially by the three leads; Nathan Juran’s (listed here as “Nathan Hertz,” for some strange reason; his other “psychotronic” credits include 20 Million Miles to Earth, The Brain From Planet Arous, The Deadly Mantis, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and First Men in the Moon) direction is effective and often decidedly imaginative; the photography by (executive producer) Jacques Marquette is moody and sometimes noir-ish; Mark Hanna’s screenplay is often intelligent — it surprisingly makes mention of “filaria” and “pituitary fossa” — not to mention concise and amusing (he had also scripted The Amazing Colossal Man); and Ronald Stein’s music is occasionally eerie and gripping. And while the lousy FX utilized in the film — that ridiculous giant-hand construct; those poorly done, see-through matte shots — could certainly have been bettered, they yet still have a certain endearing charm that the 1993 TV remake (featuring Daryl Hannah) and 1995 spoof Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold could not match. Though it might have been nice to have seen Nancy going on a longer rampage than the brief, somnolent walk through town that the film gives us (the original script DID feature a lengthier rampage sequence), what we DO get is still mighty fun.
Sadly, the two cult actresses in the film (Hayes’ other beloved films include Zombies of Mora Tau, The Unearthly and The Crawling Hand, while Vickers, of course, would go on to star in another classic “Attack” picture the following year: Attack of the Giant Leeches) share virtually no screen time together, up until the time Nancy literally tears the roof off the dump in the film’s unforgettable climactic scene. And as for poor Harry, seeing this film as an adult only reinforces the notion of what an incredible schmuck the man is. Not only is his millionaire wife a dishier babe than his mistress, but also more honest, decent and loving, too. Thus, one can truly enjoy seeing Harry get his just desserts from this woman scorned; how modern-day feminists must love seeing this empowered gal give it back in spades to the man who had wronged her!
In the seventies, some of my women friends and I *did* watch this as kind of a feminist cheer-leading thing. “You go, Nancy!” We loved that she got so big that men couldn’t ignore her anymore.
My limited experience with movies is that very often, with the right team, you will get a film with great values (good writing, direction, acting) from a low-to-no-budget film — maybe because there is less pressure and less interference?
Marion, the list of low-budget films–films that were put together by people with passion and talent–that are infinitely better than megabudgeted, modern-day tentpole/”event” films is endless. Give me a Roger Corman cheapie over a “Transformers” type of film any day…
Oh, I know! Films made by committee with an obvious formula for dialogue,dialogue EXPLOSION! Dialogue, long look, VISUAL! and so on.
Both these women sadly had tragic closes to their lives. Hayes dying most likely from lead poisoning after her complaints were ignored by her doctors for years (I think her death might have had something to do with the FDA regulating non-drugs–supplements and the like). While Vickers died a lonely death that wasn’t discovered for nearly a year when her mummified body was found in her home. Whenever I see a reference to this movie, I smile/chuckle at fond remembrances of its campy presence on my local afternoon monster movie cycle (though perhaps I need to revise that camp), but then get saddened as I recall what happened to its two leads.
You’re so right, Bill. I remember both stories. The one regarding Vickers was especially shocking, as at the end of her life, she apparently had no one interested enough to check on her, even though she had been dead in her house for a whole year. Honey Parker got off lightly, compared to her….
I remember hearing about Vickers but I didn’t know about Hayes.