Viking Night: The Blob (1958)
By Bruce Hall
February 21, 2018
Sometimes I wish I could have been in charge of coming up with monster ideas for 1950s B-movies. It would have been a blast inventing danger out of random things. I would make movies about things that get zapped to giant size, and I would make movies about things that get zapped to tiny size. I would make movies about terrible monsters that eat people, make women faint, and are impervious to all known weapons.
And when I ran out of names for my abominations, I would just start designating them with random nouns preceded with “the.” “The Chair.” “The Pie.” “The Stethoscope.”
Wow, all the best ones are kind of already taken, aren’t they?
Okay, fine. Terrible idea. So before we get started on “The Blob,” I’d like to point out that if you’re inspired to watch it after reading this and you choose to do so on your tablet or other electronic device, please use care. All through the opening credits I kept looking for the Spotify window I’d left open. I didn’t remember leaving Burt Bacharach playing, just like I didn’t remember even having Burt Bacharach in any of my playlists.
And yet Spotify was not open. Could this really be the theme to the movie? The song in question sounded like something you’d listen to while cruising around Monaco in a vintage Ferrari. And then someone started singing this:
“It creeps and leaps and glides and slides...beware The Blob!”
Was I losing my mind? What the hell was happening? It turned out this was indeed the theme to the film, but once the vocals kicked in, it sounded more like something you’d play at your wedding reception in between Chicken Dance and The Gap Band. A quick web search confirmed that I was both not crazy, and had correctly identified the composer. Somewhere, up in heaven (and for the first time), my old jazz theory teacher is pleased with me.
I have seen The Blob before, but it was the considerably more graphic remake. I’d only seen clips of the 1958 version, and somehow was never aware that this bizarre theme song was a huge hit way back when there were only seven astronauts. This left me unsure as to the tone of what I was about to see. I‘d thought The Blob was a horror movie, but maybe it was actually a comedy. Was I missing something?
Thankfully, the answer was no. Although I still wasn’t prepared to have to suspend my disbelief so quickly. The film opened on a pair of teenagers parked at lover’s lane, kissing in that distracting, old-timey way where you just press your lips together and roll your head back and forth a couple of times. Jane (Aneta Corsaut) looked two weeks shy of graduating college, but I was prepared to accept her as a high school student. Steve McQueen, on the other hand, was just shy of thirty here. And while still boyish looking, he already had the complexion of an experienced sea captain.
High school kids, my ass. But this is a movie about a gallon of Strawberry jam that eats a small town. So it’s fine; disbelief officially suspended.
The next thing that occurred to me is that McQueen was taking this role pretty seriously. I know a little about the man and at the time, I believe he was surviving on nothing but ketchup and sadness. I’m not saying this is a career performance, but it does stand out. That first scene is silly and awkward, requiring Steve (it’s also his character’s name) to defend his intentions against Jane’s sudden misgivings. We’ll never know why Jane waited until after a round of backseat bingo in a wooded, unlit area to become suspicious. But to his credit, Steve declares his intentions honest.
So there you have it - Jane is a good girl who plays by the rules, and Steve may look like a scumbag but is actually an okay guy.
And being a guy, he forgets all about his loins when a shooting star lands nearby (men are naturally attracted to explosions). Also not surprisingly, when the rock settles near a shotgun shack owned by a cantankerous old coot, guess who goes to investigate? The scene has been parodied a million times but yes, the codger makes it a point to poke at the meteor until it pops open and the goo inside gets all over his hand. It’s hard to feel sorry for him as it starts dissolving his flesh.
Luckily, Steve and Jane are better people than I am. The kids find the poor devil running around in the middle of the road and rush him to the town doctor, who for some reason is still in past midnight. Not sure what to do, he sends the kids back to the crash site to look for clues, so he and his nurse can be alone when the Blob inevitably attacks and consumes them. That much is to be expected, but what follows is a jarring scene that’s obviously meant to establish a few of the other main characters.
Mission accomplished. But the dialog is full of long, uncomfortable gaps as though nobody’s sure exactly when they’re supposed to speak. Most of the film’s lines are delivered this way, leading me to suspect there wasn’t much time for everyone to adequately prepare for what was clearly a quick shoot.
Speaking of cutting corners, let’s talk about special effects. I’m of the opinion that they’re pretty solid for the time, but opinions vary. This was a hastily produced genre film whose subject matter called for things well beyond the range of contemporary technology. So is there some awkward looking animation where today CGI might have been used? Yes. Can you, at times, see someone’s giant fingerprints all over the Blob as it flops toward the camera? Absolutely. But considering the level of indifference with which so many genre films are made, I’ll give The Blob credit for making a genuine effort.
Which reminds me - there’s actually pretty decent acting in this movie, despite that godawful dialogue. I already mentioned McQueen, who’s literally performing for his dinner. A group of Steve’s friends who assist him later in the film earn passing grades, as do most of the townsfolk. And then there’s grumpy Sgt. Bert (John Benson), who has it in for teens in general, after one of them got drunk and sideswiped his wife one rainy night. He’s even insecure about his war record.
Folks, that’s a fair amount of arc for a tertiary character in an 86 minute film.
Bert actually has more backstory than the title creature and oddly, that’s perhaps the biggest complaint you could lodge against the film. There’s so much focus on developing some of these people that the monster itself often becomes an afterthought. There’s actually nothing wrong with that, and it’s one of the reasons I appreciate the film as much as I do. But this IS a creature film - and if you’re expecting a fast-paced slaughterhouse of death and dismemberment, this is not that movie.
This is about Steve and his rowdy friends proving to the town that they’re really good guys by saving them from something none of them believe exists. Which happens to be a Blob of indeterminate origin. That’s not much, but it’s too short a movie for me to care, and just enough fun for me to overlook it.