The Giant Claw (1957)
Directed by Fred Sears
Written by Paul Gangelin and Samuel Newman
Tagline: "Flying beast out of prehistoric skies!"
Run Time: 75 min
“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…”
“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.”
- Dr. Noyman
If you’re into crappy movies from the 50′s then you’ve no doubt seen, or at least heard of, the infamous "Giant Claw" and the titular monster that has kept viewers laughing for nearly 5 decades. I’m happy to say that I’ve seen a lot of goofy monsters in my time: men in rubber suits, floating brains from outer space, giant bugs/lizards/spiders of all varieties, walking carpets, and so on. Yet, this film boast one of the all time worst, if not the worst monster I have ever seen in a sci-fi film.
First, a little background: a giant from an anti-matter galaxy flies to Earth from "millions of light years away." The bird eats people, toy trains, toy cars, smashes the Empire State Building, and the UN (!) before our intrepid hero blows it away . True, based on that brief synopsis "The Giant Claw" doesn’t sound any better or worse than the multitude of other such films produced during that fine decade of the 1950′s. Yet it is the unparalleled lack of quality in the "bird" that propels this film from a run-of-the-mill B-movie to a legendary laugh fest.
Note that I didn’t say the "bird" lacks in creativity or distinctiveness: it is truly a one of kind beast. The bird’s body looks like a turkey, at least up to the point where the accordian-like neck protrudes from the torso. Perched atop the long, featherless neck is a bizarre visage: large rolling eyes, flaring nostrils (how a bird has flaring nostrils in its beak is beyond me) , a fanged mouth, wiry whiskers, and last but not least, what looks like a lock of human hair glued to the top of its lumpy head. The bird flies ever-so-ungracefully through the air suspended by ever-so-visible wires while it squawks and roars. Its primary method of ground attack is to land on top of a building and simply smash its face into the walls until the building crumbles. Airborne ‘victims’ are guided by their wires into the bird’s gaping maw as it flaps through the air and screeches in a most non-avian fashion.
The monster eludes radar because of some sort of anti-matter "shield" that causes the radar waves to "roll off". Because of the shield, missiles explode a safe distance from the bird, a lot like the shields the Martian invaders had in "War of the Worlds". (Mr. Wells, wherever you are, I’m terribly sorry for mentioning one of your works while discussing "The Giant Claw". You may now stop turning in your grave.) The bird somehow lays an egg, but how the egg passes through the shield is never explained. To be honest, the ‘scientific’ rational behind this creature is far from the biggest problem this film has, so I guess we can just talk about something else instead.
Legend has it that the special effects were farmed out to a Mexican firm in order to save money. When the producers finally saw the finished product they were, to put it mildly, aghast. Alas, they were also out of money and had no choice but to use the ‘sub-par’ monster footage if they were to release the film at all. In fact, lead actor Jeff Morrow was quoted as saying,
"We shot the film before we ever got a look at this monster that was supposed to be so terrifying. The producers promised us that the special effects would be first class. The director – Fred Sears – just told us, ‘All right, now you see the bird up there, and you’re scared to death! Use your imagination.’ But the first time we actually got to see it was the night of the premiere. The audience couldn’t stop laughing. We were up there on screen looking like idiots, treating this silly buzzard like it was the scariest thing in the world. We felt cheated, that’s for sure, but they told us afterward that they just ran out of money. They couldn’t afford anything but this stupid puppet. But it was just terrible. I was never so embarrassed in my whole life."
Mr. Morrow, I feel for you, buddy.
To further add to the confusion, the artists that made all the film’s advertising posters never saw the "Claw", and worked under the assumption that it was a giant eagle-like monster. This, er, miscommunication, explains why all of the advertising material shows a monster quite unlike the one gracing the screen in the film itself.
Speaking of Jeff Morrow, he was certainly a capable actor, having popped up in over 60 films during his career, along with numerous TV and stage appearances. I’m sure his role as the hero, Mitch MacAfee, in "The Giant Claw" was one he wanted to forget.
Mitch’s mandatory love interest, Sally Caldwell, was played by actress Mara Corday who herself appeared in over 50 films, including Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953), Tarantula (1955), and The Black Scorpion (1957). Furthermore, Mara was also Playboy Playmate of the Month in October 1958. So there you have it.
Let’s see, ubiquitous character actor Morris Ankrum shows up as Army Gen. Considine. No surprise there.
Director Fred Sears also helmed the superior Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956). In fact many of the crowd scenes in "The Giant Claw" were ‘borrowed’ from that film. If you’re fast enough to catch it, you can glimpse a portion of one of the UFO’s as the Claw attacks Grand Central Station. Ahhhh…such quality work.
On an odd note, there is an unusual amount of comparison between the Claw and battleships. It’s funny at first, but quickly becomes confusing, and then unsettling…as if the world adopted the ‘battleship’ as a standard unit of measure and never told me about it. I’ve collected all battleship references at the end of the review for your convenience and entertainment.
Oh well, I guess I can’t put it off any longer. Let’s take a look at "The Giant Claw"…
|Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow)
Hero, pilot, and electrical engineer…Mitch is the first to see the bird, manages to discover its attack pattern, why it came to Earth, figures out how to kill it, and actually flies up and kills it himself. Man, this guy is a stud!
|Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday)
Sally, "mathematician and systems analyst", is surprisingly intelligent and assertive given how women were typically portrayed in these movies. She helps Mitch discover the bird’s motive…well, she drops hints that he puts together to solve the mystery. (Giving him the credit for it, of course). Anyway, she’s damn easy on the eyes (hint: Google picture search Mara Corday) and does a decent job in the film considering the low-budget.
|Lt. Gen. Edward Considine (Morris Ankrum)
Good ol’ Morris Ankrum growls, stomps around, and shouts orders as only he can do. Obviously comfortable in his role of (yet again) an Army officer, Ankrum does his best to convince the audience that the world is in mortal danger from the Giant Claw.
What more can I say? This bizarre Mexican-built puppet cruises through the air suspended on wires, gobbles up model airplanes, and smashes its face into numerous American landmarks. Will the world be able to escape from the clutches of the Giant Claw? Read on and find out…
After the bombastic opening music and credit sequence, the film opens with, <sigh>, narration and military stock footage. As we see a globe spinning in a cloud of dry-ice fog, the narrator reminds us that, "Once the world was big, and no man in his lifetime could circle it. Through the centuries, science has made man’s lifetime bigger, and the world smaller…" (How a lifetime can become "bigger" instead of ‘longer’ is unclear.)
Cut to the "top of the world" where the narrator clumsily explains that, "free men struggle with the elements to create some measure of defense to protect that self-same freedom." (Because, you know, the Commies were coming to get us at any moment…) Anyway, the whole point of this lead-in is to introduce us to test-pilot Mitch MacAfee who’s busy flying around probing the radar screen for holes in the coverage. Mitch decides to ‘buzz’ the control station, much to Sally’s irritation. The Air Force boys can only grin as they remark that Mitch is a civilian "electronics engineer", and thus can pretty much "make his own rules". (Huh? I don’t think it works quite like that…) Anyway, we have now established that Mitch is a go-gettem-throw-the-book-out-the-window-play-by-his-own-rules kind of guy, who will obviously end up smooching with Sally at some point in time.
The next few scenes show Sally and the others exchanging lines but I suspect the audio track was lost for the entire scene is covered over with bizarre narration, for example:
"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…"
(This whole scene has a very Creeping Terror feeling to it…another film that relied heavily on clumsy narration once the audio tracks were lost during production.)
Moving right along, Mitch spots a rear-projected object which zooms past his plane. (In order to keep the monster’s identity a ‘secret’, the beast’s image is blurred so you can’t make out what it is.) Mitch radios in the "UFO" but the ground control tells him that the only thing on the radar is his plane. (Once again, the narrator tells us what’s happening as we watch the actors moving their lips on the screen. It’s really very odd to watch this sort of thing…)
Anyway, Mitch doesn’t give a rat’s ass what the radar showed and gives chase. "Something…he didn’t know what…but something as big as a battleship had just flown over and past him…at speeds so great he couldn’t even begin to estimate." (Wow…couldn’t even begin to estimate…now that’s fast!)
Well, we learn that at National Defense it’s better to be "safe than sorry", so stock footage planes are scrambled into the skies to investigate. (Once again, the landscape around the airports where the planes are taking off in no way matches the supposed Arctic location of the radar station where Mitch is stationed.)
After Mitch lands he’s eager to hear what the fighter planes discovered. Unfortunately, they saw nothing, and to make things worse, one of the planes never came back. The radar station’s CO chews Mitch out for the "false alarm" but can’t do anything more than that since Mitch is a civilian. (Again…huh?) Sally tries to convince Mitch to drop the subject since he’s already "done enough harm with his flying battleship" but he insists on action. Suddenly a call comes through to the CO, it looks like another plane has gone missing after reporting a UFO. Hmmm…As the CO scratches his head in concern, a somber Mitch and Sally take their leave and hop on a plane back to New York.
The ride back to New York turns out to be a bit rougher than expected due to a patch of bad weather. The pilot, Pete, attempts to fly over the turbulence after Mitch’s suggestion. After cruising for a while in nicer weather, Pete spots the giant Claw racing by the plane. (Once again, it’s merely a blurred shot…oh the suspense is killing me…) As you probably suspected, the Claw attacks the plane. Pete is knocked unconscious and Mitch is forced to take the controls as Sally is tossed around in the back.
It’s kind of strange how the plane that took off from the airfield had 2 engines but the one shown after the Claw’s attack now has 4 motors. Boy. That’s strange. The plane has also become a plastic model that spews sparks and smoke from a damaged ‘engine’ as an off-camera stage hand wiggles the model by a wire. The plane plummets to the ground trailing a huge cloud of black smoke behind it. In another delicious display of terrible special effects, the plane is shown falling to Earth when, due to the wires getting caught on something, it actually stops, moves backwards a bit, and then continues towards the ground. I mean, this is great stuff!
Anyhoo, Mitch saves the day by crash-landing the crippled aircraft in a remote forested area somewhere in Canada. Whew. Sally and Mitch, carrying the unconscious Pete, flee the flaming wreckage and fling themselves to the ground just as the plane explodes. "What was that? It felt like something collided with us up there?" asks a stunned Sally.
"Yeah, the flying battleship that wasn’t there," Mitch answers in a voice laced with cynicism.
Thankfully, a local resident named Pierre (oh brother), runs out of the trees to offer assistance. After returning to Pierre’s house, the local authorities are called. The police eventually arrive and Pete’s body is taken away. The officer informs Sally and Mitch that the government has sealed off the area…"real hush-hush" he notes. "Did you tangle with a flying saucer?" he asks. "Oh no," responds Sally, "nothing as domestic as a flying saucer…a flying battleship."
I still think it’s strange that Sally is reluctant to believe anything is amiss. She glibly refuses to believe that something strange is happening, despite the fact that 2 planes have been lost within the last couple of hours, including the one that just crashed with her in it! Oh well, I guess you have to do what the script says.
Anyway, Mitch gets word that he and Sally are to continue to New York the next day for "questioning". With nothing else to do that evening, the trio imbibe in some of Pierre’s moonshine as a storm rages outside. Suddenly Pierre’s animals start making noise outside and the kindly French Canadian (unwisely) goes outside to investigate. A burst of lightning, a crack of thunder, and we hear Pierre let out a blood-curdling scream. Mitch and Sally rush out and discover him laying unconscious on the ground immediately in front of the cabin. He’s quickly brought back inside where he recounts his horrible experience.
Once inside Pierre starts mumbling about the "la cacanya" (or something like that). Mitch continues to try and get Pierre to explain just what in the hell "la cacanya" means when in a most unlikely moment (even for this movie), Sally suddenly remembers reading about la cacanya "somewhere". (Oh yeah, suurrrre you did.) "La cacanya" is supposedly a French Canadian myth.
"Oh yeah, it vaguely rings a small bell with me too," Mitch adds in a most unusual manner.
(Wow. They’re both experts in French Canadian mythology. What are the odds, eh?)
Apparently "La Cacanya" is some sort of evil giant bird. For kickers, if you see it you die. Gee. I wonder what’s going to happen to poor old Pierre…Anyway, a couple of patrol men show up to take Mitch and Sally to the airport, and the movie trudges along.
Cut to Mitch and Sally sitting comfortably on a plane to New York. As Sally dozes in the seat beside him, Mitch fires up a smoke and puzzles over the recent string of odd events. (Yes, I can remember when you could smoke on planes. I was just a kid at the time, but I distinctly remember that you could sit in either smoking or non-smoking seats. Like that made any difference.)
This is the point in the movie where we take a break in the action to allow the hero time for 2 things:
1) Go over the clues, examine the evidence, and deduce just what in the hell they’re dealing with.
2) Kiss the girl.
After some excruciating flirtatious banter, Sally finally says something that gives Mitch a light-bulb moment. He takes out one of Sally’s maps and begins marking all the spots where four (!) planes have disappeared in the past day. (You can easily see where little marks have already been drawn on the map for the actor to simply fill in. Sheesh!) In another fantastic (read: impossible) leap of logic, Mitch sees a pattern to the attacks, "a perfect pattern in time and distance!", and shows Sally what he has discovered: a spiral starting from the radar station and growing larger with each new attack. Sally sarcastically shoots down his theory, and to be fair, it does seem like he’s jumping to conclusions. Anyway, Mitch and Sally bury the hatchet as Mitch resumes his pursuit of a kiss by reciting a little ditty,
"I know another poem:
Be plain in dress
And sober in your diet.
In short my dearee
Kiss me and be quiet."
Lips lock, and we fade to the next scene.
Ahh yes. The moment we’ve all been waiting for: Our first glimpse of the Claw. An airplane carrying a crash investigation crew is en route to the scene of Mitch’s plane crash from the day before. The narrator gives the time as "oh-eighteen-fifteen hours," which would make it exactly 018:15 o’clock. (!!!) (I went back and listened to that narration several times and laughed just as much each time…classic!) The narrator quickly corrects himself after a few seconds but manages to get the minutes wrong as it is now "oh-eight-sixteen hours". (Maybe this guy should just stop time stamping his narration. Is it that freakin’ hard to say what time it is?)
With an annoying screech, the Claw grabs the plane and forces the crew to parachute out of the plummeting craft. (Once again, the plane is completely different from the one shown flying in the stock footage.)
Oh no! It’s a back-projected puppet!
Anyhoo, the crew is gobbled up and the Claw flies off to wherever the hell a monster that size could possibly hide.
The next day Mitch is awakened by some military dudes ringing his doorbell. It turns out that a General Van Buskirk would like a word with Mitch regarding the recent spate of disappearing planes. Mitch complains that he got in late but the officer insists. "All right," Mitch complies, "you keep your shirt on and I’ll get my pants on."
Later that morning both Mitch and Sally (!) show up at Buskirk’s office to discuss Mitch’s theory of there being an intelligent menace behind the disappearances.
"Too much and it fits too well to just be coincidence," Mitch insists as he shows Buskirk the ‘spiral’ pattern he drew earlier on the map. Buskirk admits that there have been 2 more crashes, the locations of which "follow your theory smack dab on the nose." (How do you follow something "smack dab on the nose"?) Anyway, the pilot of the last plane managed to radio in what he saw. Unsurprisingly, Buskirk says that it was, "…A bird. A bird as big as a battleship circled and attacked the plane."
"Three men said they saw something," Buskirk continues, "two of them are now dead."
"Well, that makes me the chief cook and bottle washer in a one-man bird watcher society," Mitch replies.
(Chief what in a what?)
Unfortunately nobody has been able to get a picture of the Claw. Bingo! Sally suddenly remembers that she had previously launched camera-fitted balloons as part of an earlier "Earth curvature calibration" project. Somehow the balloons are brought back to Earth and the film developed. As Mitch, Sally, and Gen. Buskirk look on, the photographs are projected onto a screen:
Hilariously, Sally gasps in horror at the last photograph, presumably she didn’t know what the monster really looked like until the final copy of the film was edited together. I mean, could anybody gasp in horror at this?
Anyway Buskirk, Mitch, and Sally all head to Washington to speak to Lt. Gen. Considine. Considine scrambles a squadron of fighters to find and destroy this "overgrown buzzard". Sure enough, one of the fighter squads spots the puppet, sorry, bird, and engages it in deadly combat.
Strangely enough, none of the bullets or missiles does any damage to the Claw. "It doesn’t make sense," radios one of the pilots, "it’s like hitting a battleship with slingshots!" Anyway, the Claw grabs a few planes with its beak which has the strange side effect of turning the airplanes into a completely different type of craft then the ones shown flying in the previous scene. With the squadron wiped out, Mitch, Sally, and the Generals are at the end of their ropes.
At that moment, a Scientist, Dr. Noyman from the "Research Labs", calls with some news. Yes. They have analyzed the wreckage of some of the planes and have discovered the identity and origin of the monstrous bird. At the lab, Dr. Noyman goes into a long, drawn out explanation of the atom and its components. Cutting to the chase now: he has concluded that the bird came from an "some God forsaken anti-matter galaxy millions and millions of light-years from the Earth". (So…um, the bird flew millions of light-years through outer space?) Well, Noyman explains that the bird itself isn’t made of anti-matter, but it can surround itself with an anti-matter shield as needed, which explains why the Claw was immune to all the gunfire.
OK. Sure. Whatever dude.
This shield also explains why the bird is invisible to radar. As Mitch explains, "[Radar waves] don’t bounce off…they just slide around."
Are you getting all this?
OK, while the military discusses a way to destroy the bird, we are treated to large amounts of stock footage, narration, and clips from Earth vs the Flying Saucers, as the Claw is presumably raising hell all over the world.
Meanwhile, Sally comes to the conclusion that the Claw has come to Earth to build a nest. In fact, the nest is probably in the vicinity of Pierre’s farm. Mitch warms to the idea and calls for a helicopter to pick them up and take them to Pierre’s place. Oh yeah. The Claw Just So Happens to fly over his apartment. Boy, there’s some weird connection between those two. But more on that later.
Once they reach Pierre’s place, with Pierre in tow (why the hell would they take him along?…oh yeah. So the Claw can kill him and fulfill the "La Cacanya" prophecy.) After a few minutes trekking through the woods, the Claw’s gigantic nest is spotted. Down flutters the bird and plops itself on an absolutely enormous egg… and I mean this egg is enourmous even for the giant bird. Anyway, Sally grabs a rifle and takes aim. Mitch gives her a ‘What the hell are you doing, woman?’ type look to which she replies, "I’m from Montana!" (ho ho)
Blah blah. A few rifle shots quickly reduces the egg to a pile of broken shell. The giant Claw understandably becomes pissed off and attacks Sally and Mitch who simply duck into a bush to escape its ferocious assault. On the other hand, Pierre chooses to flee down the middle of a road, transforming himself into a tasty snack for the Claw.
After witnessing the Claw gobble down Pierre, Sally wistfully notes, "Pierre’s ‘La Cacanya’…he was right: Seeing it did mean his death." Um, actually Sally, you and Mitch caused his death because you brought him along to look for the nest for now freakin’ reason whatsoever! Don’t blame it on La Cacanya, baby!
"Let’s get back to the city," suggests Sally.
"With that bird around it’s too dangerous to fly," Mitch notes. They decide to leave the chopper and just take Pierre’s car since, "He won’t be needing it." (An accurate, if not callous, observation.)
In a pointless scene, a group of rowdy teenagers rush by Mitch’s car (formally Pierre’s), laughing and having a gold-old-time. One girl even has a salt shaker to use on the "big bad bird! <giggle>". Does anybody need me to tell you what happens next?
Back in Washington, Mitch and Sally have a meeting with Gen Considine and Dr. Noyman. You see, Mitch has figured out a way to neutralize the bird’s anti-matter shield. It involves generating a "mu-meson" gun, mounting it on a plane, and firing a high-speed stream of "mesic atoms" at the shield. These atoms will "bond" with something or other and blah blah yadda yadda.
This is all fine and dandy except for one thing: Mitch…you’re an electrical engineer, not a nuclear physicist! How in the hell would he know about all this?! Ayeee! General Considine gives Mitch a carte blanche in order to create the weapon before "time runs out". Mitch and Sally enthusiastically get to work on a prototype.
After a string of failures, and God knows how many sleepless nights, Mitch finally stumbles upon the solution. Meanwhile the bird has been eating trains and smashing buildings all over the world. In the end the Claw returns to NY, smashes Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building, and the United Nations.
Needless to say, time runs short and guess who has to go up in the plane to try this gizmo out? Yup: Mitch, Sally, and Dr. Noyman while Gen. Considine and Gen Buskirk are going to fly the plane. (Two 4-star Generals are going to fly the plane?!) If you take a second to think about it, this crew consists of everybody that knows anything at all about how to destroy the bird. Now if that isn’t putting all your eggs in one basket…One lucky smack from the bird’s beak and I guess the Earth is screwed.
Ok, Mitch starts firing away at the bird. (The "stream of high-speed mesonic atoms" is realized by having a model airplane squirt puffs of smoke from its tail.) Meanwhile, ground units are blasting away with batteries of anti-aircraft guns. Since the guns use radar to track their targets, and the bird is invisible to radar, I question the usefulness of this barrage, but there you have it.
The mesonic-atom gun eventually does the trick, and how they know that the shield is now down is beyond me, but anyway, they circle the plane around and take a couple shots at the Claw. The shots hit home. Cut to see the entire silly Giant Claw puppet tossed into a tank of water by an offstage stage hand simulating the beast’s plunge into its watery grave in the Atlantic Ocean.
Mitch and Sally embrace.
Cut to closing title card as we see a monstrous claw sink beneath the waves.
Dennis Grisbeck (March 2006)
Man, well, hey, what can I say. I think the screen shots speak for themselves. In the film’s defense I will say that the film was pretty damn entertaining, the pacing was fairly quick, and there were certainly plenty of "action" scenes featuring the monster (whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you).
You sank my battleship! Or…a collection of battleship lines from The Giant Claw
Narrator: "Something…he didn’t know what…but something as big as a battleship had just flown over and past him…at speeds so great he couldn’t even begin to estimate."
Sally: "Oh come off it Mitch! You’ve done enough harm with your flying battleship."
Sally: "What was that? It felt like something collided with us up there?"
Mitch: "Yeah, the flying battleship that wasn’t there."
Officer: "Did you tangle with a flying saucer?"
Sally: "Nothing as domestic as a flying saucer, officer…a flying battleship"
Officer: "Well have a good time with your flying battleship…your car will be here soon."
Sally: "Flying battleship, pink elephants, same difference."
Mitch: "I said it looked like a battleship, not that it was a battleship."
Sally: "Something that seemingly destroyed four planes and barely missed you the first time…"
Sally: "Something like your flying battleship?"
Narrator: "Once more a frantic pilot radios in a report on a UFO..a bird..a bird as big as a battleship."
Sally: "Did the pilot say what is was?"
Gen. Buskirk: "Yes. A bird. A bird as big as a battleship circled and attacked the plane."
Pilot: "It doesn’t make sense, it’s like hitting a battleship with slingshots!"