It Came from Outer Space
One of the great marriage fantasies, profound in its evocation of “the married state” from the standpoint of ignorance, and looking for all the world as though it were a direct response to Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which came later. Note in particular the confrontation and transformation in the cave, common to both films, whose relation is probably expressed as Polanski’s The Tenant.
“It”, then, as in “The ‘It’ Girl”. Here, as in Creature from the Black Lagoon, Arnold opens on a flat multiplanar display of properties inhering in 3-D photography, and deploys a larger method gradually. His next best shift is the superimposed alien eye or viewpoint (remembered as HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey), whereby montage becomes perspective. But his sheer economical sense of 3-D’s power to convey depth gives him his sharpest effects of drama, as the hero descends a precipice and is lost in smoke from the crater, viewed at an abrupt angle imparting not recording the danger, and adding the frisson of reality to an image of the underworld. This is topped with a cascade of rocks completing the burning image derived at a comprehensive remove of abstraction from Keaton’s Seven Chances.
“It” is as solicitous of these Earthlings (it came here by accident or chance) as Oswald Cabal is of the groundlings at the liftoff in Things to Come. Its characteristic is to engulf men in a milky cloud and replicate them as distant projections of itself to repair its spaceship, which is first seen as a hatch opening in the crater it has formed on blazing impact, a hexagonal door that withdraws onto a dark interior with distant isolated lights.
Arnold’s first shot is a rough aerial view of Sand Rock, Arizona by night, showing the harmless hamlet in its true aspect, a hundred and fifty or so lights on a few dozen streets in the middle of the desert.
The title is made to suggest, by a very typical witticism, that marriages are made in heaven.
The crunching compositions of the Academy ratio frame, formed on diagonals with a great central area of horizontal conjunctions, are almost baroque by comparison with the still classicism of Creature from the Black Lagoon, and are a great joy to behold, tremendously articulate as they are.
There really is no exacting poem more expressive and original than this, though Robert Frost’s “Paul Bunyan” has an inkling of it, and lays the basis for the hero’s defense of “it”, or perhaps as Shakespeare put it, “I’ll buckler thee against a million.”
And still another word on this inestimable masterpiece, which shows Arnold out of his time and underappreciated to some extent, though his reputation is solid among some few. The combination of minutely adroit filmmaking (such as the condensation of a hand and arm from a cloud to tap a girl on the shoulder with) and a genuinely abstruse mind at work seems to have made his films fall between two stools, somehow, when it really is a matter (as in The Incredible Shrinking Man) of encompassing the vast range of mind and the finished application of the work exhibited.
Creature from the Black Lagoon
One can scarcely imagine a more virile introduction to Jack Arnold than this bravura rendering of King Kong and Sunset Blvd. into a meditation on the writer’s condition. Oh, yes, that last shot of the dead Creature floating face-down is strictly from Wilder, and the Black Lagoon is nothing but ink.
“What an age with hands,” exclaims Rimbaud, “I shall never have my hand” (the Creature’s reappears as the star of Oliver Stone’s film). Even though the realms of Kong and Joe Gillis are clearly seen, that is the work of observation and not of analysis, which demands further that a precise relationship be established between the two.
And here, dear reader, you enter the absolute world of Arnold. The writing hand is a tyrant among other things (Dylan Thomas), it lives by the point of its pen, adapted to live with its head below water, it’s a throwback (Bill Gates) or survival, experts in this field are contentiously divided on the question of whether it is to be studied or hunted and killed.
The clarity of his images is something Arnold has sought as a palimpsest to harbor all these possibilities of ideas, or perhaps rather it might be said there is the Creature and the object of its desire, its Muse if you will, in weightless pursuit within the locus of the title (Out of the Inkwell, as it were).
An upward angle at Julie Adams swimming against sunlight on the surface succeeds momentarily in transforming her into an ideal nudity.
In fact, these pure abstractions of speargun and net, mast and wrack, hand and aquarium, are so precipitously expressive in 3-D they lay the foundation for the original release of Ken Russell’s Altered States with its dynamic effects and similar representation of the artist as monster from the academic viewpoint.
And again, as in It Came from Outer Space, something so outré and profound as this is deliberately left in the guise of a plain old horror movie schoolkids laugh at in art houses, so very quaint it appears to them. They laugh at the clothes in Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, too.
That’s the piquancy of it, one among its aliquots. There’s another shot to match the up-angle, a down-angle that briefly depicts the prehistoric quality of the Creature sinuously moving amongst the rocks at the bottom of its Lagoon (something remotely human, as the clement ichthyologist observes with wonderment).
Take that last shot, add it to the beginning as the start of a flashback, let the pursuit of Kong run between, and you have this Kafkaesque fantasy.
King Kong (the “unacknowledged legislator” in this case) is reflected in the upriver journey. Moby Dick is an important academic theme, it goes so far as to suspend a tire amidships like a target.
The prodigious Amazon breeds unusual sights, “the anteater’s a giant with the strength of a bear,” the ichthyologist explains or expounds on deck.
Revenge of the Creature
The film is based on King Kong directly, rather than, as in Creature from the Black Lagoon, thematically related. The best analysis is by Irvin Kershner in A Fine Madness, and this prepares the fine sharpening of satire in Ken Russell’s Altered States.
A literary man is snatched “out of the inkwell” and studied by psychologists, or rather trained like “Flippy the ‘educated’ porpoise” at Ocean Harbor Oceanarium in Florida. The first lesson is STOP, administered with an enormous “electric bull-prod”.
“It’s time Mailer gave both his courage and his unconscious a well-appointed rest,” said John Leonard. Artistic chimps in the Department of Animal Psychology get hugs for daubs, but nobody’s kidding anyone. “A college degree is what a high school diploma used to be,” says a student about to be mauled under the palm trees, “you can’t get a job without one.” Flippy leaps up to ring the bell and earn his bit of mackerel.
The 3-D version is Arnold’s poetry of the heart. The mind receives his spoof elsewise.
The stunning satire on scientific imaginations geared to overpopulation and “the disease of hunger” is handled with great tact by Arnold in his quietest style (cf. Black Eye). Studio posters nevertheless leave no question in the mind, the predacious beast is the Dalian fascinator, the morros de cony.
Acromegalia is the fruit of self-injection at the lab when the head scientist is in town. Nutrient 3Y is manipulated with gloves in an airtight box to prepare a shot for rabbits that grow to maturity in six days. The success of the experiment consists in feeding a variety of creatures on the non-organic substance exclusively, but it has “an almost consistent instability” that is sometimes fatal.
Sweet rationality is the meeting of minds, surrealism dominates from the opening scene of a monster in pajamas and shoes who stumbles through the desert and falls dead.
A rare film in which the beauty of the desert is directly commented on. René Char’s “écroulements de l’amour” are set off by the beast. Arnold takes note twice of Welles’ storefronts in The Magnificent Ambersons to prepare the window shot from Cooper & Schoedsack’s King Kong. Kubrick’s Flying Padre is perhaps suggested early on. The final stage of the ailment is represented with Charles Laughton’s makeup in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (dir. William Dieterle).
An extraordinary piece of film shown in a university lab presents the small Arizona tarantula repulsing a rattlesnake from its burrow, its apparition hundreds and even thousands of times normal size suggests Poe’s Death’s-headed Sphinx descending “the naked face of the hill”.
The Tattered Dress
From a director of astounding films, the most astounding of the lot.
You will note that the ending is from Rossen’s All the King’s Men. Nicholas Ray did a monumental job of analysis in Party Girl the following year.
Halliwell’s Film Guide has “silly melodrama”.
Man in the Shadow
A newly-elected sheriff dominated by a powerful rancher is “weak democracy” against the Axis, and Mussolini is mentioned.
It goes the stages of intimidation following on murder and falsification, until the little railhead town gets its nose rubbed in it.
Quiet style in Arnold’s early vein, the camera discloses or a door opens on moonlight in the desert that brightens to a sheet-covered body on a morgue table.
Screenplay by Gene L. Coon, with Orson Welles as the despot, Jeff Chandler the lawman.
The Space Children
Christ appears from a ray beamed down on a Southern California beach as a brain, opposing the Thunderer, a six-stage missile at Eagle Point carrying a satellite that can fire an H-Bomb at any city.
Much philosophical and practical discussion precedes the launch, which fails because the technicians’ children are mobilized by the brain.
An end title quotes Matthew 18:3.
Hope without Faith and Charity is a theme.
Frost’s “Once by the Pacific” is another, mightily evoked by Arnold.
Monster on the Campus
As surreal as Hans Richter, as funny as Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, a satire of Academia at Dunsfield University, a key work preparing Russell’s Altered States, all about evolution and the coelacanth, an unchanging piscine progenitor of man.
The professor bitten becomes a “throwback”.
Madagascar is not in Texas, Professor Blake must explain to a telephone operator, “it’s an island off the East Coast of Africa.”
The effect of gamma rays on the coelacanth sample at Dunsfield is to produce an evolutionary retrogression on contact with its “sharp scales... or with the teeth.”
The Mouse That Roared
The film is legendarily famous for the middle term of its plot, which has the smallest nation on earth declare war on the United States in hopes of receiving a sort of Marshall Plan.
The initial term is a vintner in California who apes the duchy’s wines under a false name and so destroys its economy.
Finally, during the medieval invasion of New York, the Q-bomb is seized, a weapon vastly more destructive than any other.
The Grand Duchy of Fenwick thus wins the war. These are the proper terms for any discussion.
Bachelor in Paradise
The paradise of Godard’s Notre musique, “guarded by the United States Marines,” a planned community in the San Fernando Valley, tract homes, families only.
The writer in the south of France is called home for tax delinquency, he’s never heard from “planned communities”, away since the war, a romantic expert on foreign customs.
It’s a little unbearable, life in Paradise Village, through many imbroglios and a court case he regularizes it, and marries.
A work of genius, a monstrous satire with a Mancini score on the loudspeakers at Hughes Market and even the doorbell, a great score.
God help us, the New York Times sent A.H. Weiler, he reported “a lighthearted, if unimportant diversion.” Variety agreed in every particular.
For England, Halliwell’s Film Guide considers it “ill-considered”.
The Case of the Scandalous
This excoriating analysis of an artist at work has him (Sean McClory) pretending to be blackmailed by his model (Sue Ane Langdon) in order to obtain money from his wife’s uncle (Stuart Erwin) for the return of compromising letters written by her (June Lockhart) before they were married.
The difficult intertwisting arrangement of this massive and monumental comic composition suggests, at least partly, the great Braque Artist and Model in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, an intercomposition of positive and negative views linking the two figures in a kind of chiaroscuro.
The Park Avenue Rustlers
As part of a pilot program, McCloud is assigned a female partner, and the two go undercover against a big-time auto theft ring.
“The Park Avenue Rustlers” gives Arnold a slambang opening which then allows an hour of quiet work before the stunning finish. Michael Gleason developed the theme in the following season as “The Colorado Cattle Caper” (dir. Robert Day).
The industrial-strength auto theft drives stolen cars into semi-trailers on the hoof, where they’re chopped down for sale as parts and scrap. McCloud horns in undercover, proposes a Southwest leasing scheme (cp. “Sharks!”, dir. E.W. Swackhamer), gets recognized by Chris Coughlin at a company cocktail party (“Sam, this is the first time I’ve seen you out of uniform!”), and winds up on the skid of a helicopter “moving diagonally across Manhattan 140 mph.”
The greatest triumph of style is the intricate and subtle weirdness of Eddie Albert and Roddy McDowall as middle management under Lloyd Bochner (J. Bristol & Associates launches a menswear line at that cocktail party, with sports endorsements), and note the resemblance of Bochner in this part with his pinball machine to Cesare Danova in “Shivaree on Delancy Street” (dir. Bruce Kessler).
Ofc. Serino (Brenda Vaccaro) is a prim feminist who nevertheless in the line of duty pretends to be McCloud’s mistress undercover. McCloud’s hotel room is bugged by the boss (the man with the headphones practices card tricks), and the only safe place to whisper is on the bed.
Before the credits, they nearly catch a car thief (with the “si-reen” on), but McCloud swerves to avoid traffic and crashes into a store window full of mannequins.
It opens with footage of a silent film premiere, then shows you the film being projected inside. A woman warns her lover about her husband, who arrives and shoots her. “You cad!” says the lover on a title card.
The silent film star has died, and Black Eye is about the search for his silver-handled cane, or rather, that’s the first theme of the symphony.
Shep Stone is moseying about Santa Monica of an evening (beautifully evoked, from the foggy Pier to the two-story apartment buildings, in night exteriors) with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. Another fellow accosts a tired working girl with a knife behind his back, he wants the cane. On the floor below, Stone’s girl has a female visitor. The body upstairs proves a bone of contention between the two men, but the killer escapes.
He is the transitional element to the second theme, a missing girl. The development is prodigious. Did the cane have drugs inside it? Is the girl a Jesus freak?
Arnold’s astringent style is so simply ascetic (cp. Tarantula) that it found no favor even among those who got his earlier jokes, especially The Incredible Shrinking Man (about halfway through Black Eye, you recognize the touch). But it spares nothing, for example, when Stone slips into a sound stage and finds an after-hours sex flick being filmed. Arnold puts his camera on a brass bed looking through the footrails as the studio camera dollies in for a close-up. He then pans-and-tilts a little to show the crew playing cards or chatting while the bed squeaks and Stone stares quizzically. It’s an economic thing, says the director.
There’s a good deal of quietude and good action and the relentless symphonic treatment, culminating in various confrontations among the pathetic, bedeviled ruins of Pacific Ocean Park, strangled by an urban renewal project that never went anywhere.
Games Girls Play
Mary Margaret O’Hara, called Bunny, sleeps her way through the Pentagon and gets her father appointed to the Court of St James’s, he sends her to finishing school...
Launder’s The Belles of St. Trinian’s is rather niftily evoked, for this is an English picture (cinematography Alan Hume). “But what’s a bull dyke?”
The girls take London. Russ Meyer takes up a cue in Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens.
Time Out, “not really interesting.”
The Red Chinese ping-pong team win their match in the shower room. A visiting Soviet dignitary with medals on his nightshirt brings an interpreter along, “in Russia we don’t argue with our leaders,” says the fellow.
“Oh,” replies the thoroughly disgusted bird, “don’t you.” A swinging American disarmament negotiator, the staunch sentries at Windsor Castle...
“Degenerate capitalists” work to the advantage of Chairman Mao. Lord Teakwood of the F.O. observes, however, “it’s a universal problem, I fear.” Yankee, Russkie and Chinee all go home, the U.S ambassador is transferred to Afghanistan. “Try it,” says his darling daughter, “you’ll like it.”
“Like it? I can’t even spell it,” replies the former Wall Street tycoon, all but “the first American prime minister of Great Britain.”
The Bunny Caper, or Sex Play.
The dignity of the position gets written into law, against the town breathes the ogre of an outlaw gang. Arnold’s film mainly describes the fearful cost of obliterating the threat.
Williamson is co-producer, screenwriter and star. The Western town has a mayor (R.G. Armstrong) who deals like Jean Renoir’s (This Land Is Mine) with the enemy (William Smith). D’Urville Martin is the deputy.
The Adventure of the 12th
Newspaperman dies on his way to the top, with interesting and amusing consequences for the paper.
What kills him, in fact, is the crusading Communist-hunter who writes a column.
Arnold has a very amusing time with this, constructing camera angles that show for instance the relative position and view of a secretary, with reference to the murder.
The amusing side plots are well worth anyone’s while as gambits and ploys, but the amazing point is driven home with an appropriate ruthlessness.
The Adventure of the
Under the blue abstract nude is a self-portrait, the lady’s artistic countenance years before on the Mediterranean. Her Texas oil husband bought it for her, along with a Vermeer and the like, she faints at the sight.
It brings back the murder of a bearded Bohemian on his boat, she doesn’t remember what happened.
Simon Brimmer has a beautiful theory, but it was the lady’s sister-in-law, who never liked her.
Vargo, prince of artists, perhaps laments the loss to detective work, but sweeps away in beret and cape to paint another one even better.
The Adventure of the
The archness of the script is a magnificent lever for Arnold’s wit. The dénouement is laid out on the diagonal à la North by Northwest in a parked plane, as Ellery Queen solves the wartime murder of an ordnance manufacturer, a feeble businessman who knew nothing about weaponry. His murderer is the actual designer of the automatic rifle issued in 1943 and bearing the company name. The dagger is made of eutectic fusible alloy, and nominally disappears into a fishing-line sinker once the murder is committed during a 1942 plane flight. The culprit marries the boss’s wife immediately thereafter, and that’s how we won the war.
Arnold savors a backstage visit to Marvin the Magician, who says, “I’ve got an alibi, I know exactly what I was doing five years ago.” Ellery Queen innocently inquires what that was. Marvin replies, “seven years.” The theme is very closely related to Paul Wendkos’ Hell Boats.
The Swiss Conspiracy
Customers at a Zurich bank are threatened with exposure of their account numbers.
The bank hires an investigator formerly with the U.S. Department of Justice.
An inside job fizzles out, the bank manager’s romance is a private affair.
One of the victims is hit by the mob, one is murdered by a business partner, one is wanted by the Internal Revenue Service, one has a checkered past on the fringe of English politics, one is seemingly innocent.
They have banded together to bilk the bank. A classic stratagem classically deployed by Arnold on location in red herrings and cross-themes that boil down to a lady’s solitary grievance.