Saturday, June 11, 2016

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

The Psychotronic Zone

By Ed Garea

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (Allied Artists, 1958) – Director: Nathan Juran (as Nathan Hertz). Writer: Mark Hanna. Stars: Allison Hayes, William Hudson, Yvette Vickers, Roy Gordon, George Douglas, Ken Terrell, Otto Waldis, Eileen Stevens, Michael Ross, & Frank Chase. B&W, 65 minutes.

By any reasonable standard, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a bad movie. Just how bad can be seen in the fact that director Nathan Juran changed his credit to Nathan Hertz in a desperate attempt to escape responsibility. The film suffers from a dreadful cheapness, which manifests itself in a lousy script and totally laughable special effects. However, it does manage to boast some good performances from a cast that somehow manages to act their way through this mess with straight faces. And it is one of those great absurd movies that’s so bad it’s entertaining to watch. For that reason it’s considered a camp classic today.

The movie was produced by Bernard Woolner, who with his brothers Lawrence and David, owned a chain of drive-in theaters in the Deep South. To obtain product for their theaters, the brothers expanded into film distribution of Roger Corman’s Swamp Women in 1956, and production of Corman’s Teenage Doll in 1957). Looking for a sure fire drive-in hit, the Woolners noticed the success of Bert I. Gordon’s The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and figured that a distaff version would do as well, if not better.

For Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the Woolners partnered with Marquette Productions, the brainchild of cinematographer Jacques R. Marquette, who founded the company with the intention of making low-budget pictures. He had cranked out three for distributor Howco Pictures (including his biggest hit, the dreadful The Brain From Planet Arous, 1957), but due to Howco’s creative accounting, Marquette and his investors never saw a dime.

The Woolners decided to throw in with Marquette because he would operate the camera and also secured the services of director Nathan Juran, who helmed Brian From the Planet Arous. The brothers decided Bernard would represent them on this production and they secured Allied Artists as a distributor. Allied Artists fronted Woolner and Marquette a budget of $99,500. Juran directed the picture for union scale, provided he was billed as “Nathan Hertz” (his middle name), the same name he used to direct Brain. He was afraid the material was so awful it would hurt his future job prospects. 

Shooting the film in only eight days (the film was brought in at a final cost of $89,000) with some of the shoddiest special effects ever committed to film. It was somewhat of a hit, grossing $480,000 in its initial theatrical run. As Allied Artists’ accounting methods were much more honest, both the Woolners and Marquette shared in the profits. A sequel was considered and a script written, but the project never got off the drawing board.

The film opens with a television reporter reading reports from around the world of a glowing ball heading in the direction of California. As he announces that it should shortly be over California we cut to a speeding car tooling down Route 66. Driving the car is heiress Nancy Fowler Archer (Hayes) fresh off an argument with her shitheel husband, Harry (Hudson). Suddenly the glowing orb alights in front of Nancy’s car, causing her to swerve, hit the brakes, and stall the car. She flees the car as a giant hand reaches out for her.

The scene now shifts to Tony’s Bar, where Handsome Harry is entertaining his squeeze, Honey Parker (Vickers), as they discuss how to get their hands on Nancy’s fortune. When Nancy, who has spent some time on the funny farm after she and Harry temporarily separated, runs into town barefoot, looking for Harry and frantic over her sighting, Sheriff Dubbitt (Douglas) assumes she’s had a relapse. In order to placate her, Dubbitt agrees to return to the desert with her and his deputy Charlie (Chase) to look for the UFO and its occupant. However, on arrival, the group finds only Nancy’s abandoned car. Dubbitt, however, does get to lecture Nancy on the dangers of wearing her Star of India diamond, especially when out driving alone. Nancy, peeved that all she gets for her trouble is a lecture, returns home in a huff.

When she gets there, who should Nancy find waiting other than her wandering husband, Harry? The two waste no time getting into an argument over Harry’s philandering, with Nancy demanding that Harry leave, telling him they never should have reconciled, despite the fact that she still loves him. She then tells him what happened in the desert, begging him to believe her. Harry humors her before giving her a sleeping pill and heading back to Tony’s, where he informs Honey that Nancy might flip out again. This time, he may be able to gain legal access to her fortune by having her committed. 

The next day, Harry calls Nancy’s personal physician, Dr. Cushing (Gordon), hoping the Doc will see things his way, but Cushing tells Harry that Nancy could not endure another vacation at the nuthouse. Later that day, Nancy picks up with Harry where she left off, accusing him of publicly conducting his affair with Honey and trying to drive her back into the sanitarium. She tells Harry that her experience in the desert was real and after watching a skeptical news reporter mock her encounter, she demands that Harry accompany her back into the desert to find the UFO. Harry demurs. When Nancy tells him she’ll return to the looney bin if they find nothing, Harry takes the bait, even though Nancy’s loyal butler, Jess Stout (Terrell) protests vigorously.

Harry and Nancy take an all-day road trip with no results. At sunset, however, Nancy spots the sphere and runs towards it, banging on the outside. When the amazing see-through giant emerges, Harry fires several shots at him with his revolver but to no effect. The giant grabs Nancy, and while she’s screaming for help, Harry beats it in the car, returning to the house, where he starts packing.

As Harry begins to leave, he’s intercepted by Jess, who wants to know where Nancy is. The two engage in a brief fistfight before Harry lams out. Jess telephones the sheriff and Charlie intercepts Harry and Honey just as they’re leaving Honey’s hotel. Meanwhile, Dubbitt finds Nancy, unconscious with mysterious scratches, atop the pool house. While Cushing attends to her, Charlie brings Harry and Honey to the house for questioning. Cushing tells the assembled party he believes Nancy has radiation burns in addition to those strange scratches on her neck. The sheriff releases Harry and his squeeze with the admonition that they remain in town. 

Back at their favorite watering hole, Honey tells Harry she overheard Cushing caution his nurse that the slightest increase of Nancy's medication could be fatal. Harry agrees to return that night and give Nancy an overdose, but after sneaking back into the house he and the nurse are horrified to find that Nancy has mutated into a giant.

The next morning, Cushing chains the unconscious Nancy and consults with specialist Dr. Von Loeb (Waldis). Meanwhile, Dubbitt and Charlie have found an enormous set of footprints in Nancy's garden. Along with Jess, Dubbitt follows the tracks into the desert, where they discover the sphere. They explore inside, finding Nancy's Star of India and other jewelry apparently used for fuel. When the men see the giant, they run away, and fire at the creature, who is giving chase. He retaliates by picking up their car and destroying it. Dubbitt then hurls grenades at the giant, who retreats to the sphere, which then takes off and disappears into the night sky.

Back at the Archers’, Nancy awakens and begins screaming for Harry. Charlie finds Harry at Tony's with Honey and tries to get him to return. Harry, who has decided to withhold all approval for medical treatment for Nancy, refuses. Cushing and Von Loeb attempt to tranquilize Nancy with an elephant syringe, but she awakens and, breaking the chains, bursts out of the house, searching for Harry. Charlie finds Dubbitt and Jess walking back from the desert and returning to the Archers', discovers the house in shambles and that Nancy's on the loose. Giant Nancy arrives in town and, as people flee in terror, she destroys Honey’s hotel, looking for Harry.

Charlie returns to Tony's and desperately tries to convince the drunken Harry to hide. Nancy begins to break into Tony’s. Harry shoots at her, but with no effect, as Nancy rips the roof off and drops a beam on Honey, killing her. Nancy then grabs Harry and wanders off, crushing him in her fist. Dubbitt fires several shotgun blasts at Nancy with no effect, but as she walks by the city power lines, he fires again and the lines explode, shocking Nancy. She staggers back and collapses, dead, still clutching Harry's lifeless body.

What makes this movie fun to watch are two things. One, it takes itself seriously, a requite for an entertaining bad movie. There are few things worse than a bad movie with its tongue firmly implanted in its cheek. It’s as if the production staff is laughing at the audience for watching their film, which, of course, they are too superior to take seriously themselves. The script by Mark Hanna takes the drama very seriously indeed, and gives us a rather sympathetic leading lady who fighting for her life against two despicable people out for her money. 

It’s also unusual in presenting us with a heroine who’s no shrinking violet (though she does need a shrink). Female characters in most other films made during this time are there to serve the hero. If she’s a scientist, she abandons all science as soon as she meets her hunk. Nancy Archer, on the other hand, is a successful and wealthy woman whose only Achilles heel is her dependence on her heel of a husband, who obviously married her only for the money. 

The other thing that makes this such an enjoyable bad movie is the tremendously shoddy special effects. Most of the credit should go to the spectacularly lousy optical printing, which makes the giant alien and the giant Nancy transparent and almost ghostly. We never see either giant in the same shot with the live-action townsfolk. When the giant reaches out for Nancy all we see is a huge papier-mache hand. The same occurs near the end when Nancy reaches into Tony’s bar for Harry. All we see is the same hand, but without hair. 

When Nancy walks through town, we see the same footage of her walking several times. Sometimes it’s reversed with different backgrounds used. And when she’s standing behind the power pylon, the back projection is so shoddy as to be practically non-existent. Also, when Nancy grows to her outsize proportion it’s amazing that the bed need not be changed or that her added weight doesn’t knock her down to the first floor. When she decides to take her walk into town, her hair is noticeably longer and blonde. She is also conveniently draped in a huge bed sheet bikini, clutching a overdressed doll that’s supposed to be passing for her husband, Harry.

As for the giant, he played by Michael Ross, who doubles as Tony the Bartender. Looking silly in a costume with a giant ax and shield on the front (Shades of Bunny Breckinridge from Plan 9!), he, too, is practically see-through. His best scene comes when chasing the sheriff and Jess. Angered because he’s being shot at, the giant picks up the car that Jess and the sheriff arrived in. After twirling it around, he throws it down to the ground, only the car that hits the ground is an entirely different model than the one he lifted in the air. After the grenades are tossed at him, he takes on despairing look, like he did something he shouldn’t and will be punished for it. He then saunters back to his ship (which, when the sheriff and Jess were checking it out, seemed to have an interior of pegboard), the cue ball UFO takes off into the sky, and we can just about make out the wires.

It was rumored that, doing the finale, Nancy was to have wrought more destruction on the town, but the film’s budget wouldn’t allow it. 

The acting, as mentioned before, is above average for this sort of film. Allison Hayes is wonderful as Nancy Archer, covering the emotional ground of a dysfunctional person whose financial stability enables her to ignore the rejection and lack of love she receives from her husband. And even though she’s aware of the extent of his infidelity, she still wants to save the marriage. Instead of being a shrinking violet, Nancy shows her strength when, angered by the television reporter’s derisive comments about her experience, she drags her husband out to the desert to find the UFO she ran across earlier in the movie. Though she never managed to escape the B’s (and Z’s), Hayes was not a bad actress – she just appeared in bad films. Even though Hollywood had little use for her, she was a frequent guest star on a number of television series, such as Perry Mason. She did land a good supporting role in Elvis’ Tickle Me (1965). She died Feb. 27, 1977, a week before she would have turned 47.

Sexy Yvette Vickers plays seductive Honey Parker so well she was cast in a similar portrayal in the even cheesier Attack of the Giant Leeches the following year (1959). Playmate of the Month for July 1959, Vickers was mesmerizing: blonde hair, blue eyes,  breathless voice and a voluptuous figure. Her look provided a nice contrast to the dark, sultry looks of Hayes. Vickers’ looks and body language typecast her in future films, such as Hud (1963), where she had a brief, but memorable role as Lily Peters. Her death in 2011 was one of Hollywood legend: living in seclusion in a small cottage in Benedict Canyon, Vickers was rarely seen by neighbors. One day, her neighbor Susan Savage was walking her dog when she noticed yellowing envelopes and cobwebs outside the home. She went to the front door and called inside several times before entering. Inside, she found a mummified body. The police identified the remains as that of Vickers and an autopsy revealed that she had died the year before from heart disease.

William Hudson was best known for his portrayal of Ranger Clark in the 1954 sci-fi show, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, and as Special Agent Mike Andrews in the television show I Led 3 Lives (1954-55). He was a supporting player in mainstream movies and a lead or featured player in B’s or below. Besides Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, other films include The She Creature (1956), The Man Who Turned to Stone (1957), and The Amazing Colossal Man (1957). Most of his work was in television. He died on April 5, 1974, at the age of 55 from cirrhosis.

Director Juran was born in Gura Humra, Bukovina, Austria-Hungary (now part of Romania), in 1907. After coming to the United States, he studied architecture at M.I.T., and while seeking work in California, he became an art director at 20th Century Fox in 1937. He won an Oscar for art direction for How Green Was My Valley in 1941. The film’s director, John Ford, was so impressed with Juran that when World War II broke out, Ford had Juran assigned to his unit, where he used his skills as a draftsman to determine the dimensions of enemy structures in captured photographs for the O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services).

Returning to Hollywood after the war, he was working as an art director at Universal when the studio offered him a chance to direct after firing Joseph Pevney from the Boris Karloff film The Black Castle (1952). Juran is known primarily for directing B-movies, among them The Deadly Mantis (1957), Hellcats of the Navy (1957), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Good Day for a Hanging (1959), Jack the Giant Killer (1962), First Men in the Moon (1964), and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, his final film (1973). In addition, he directed several episodes of various television series, including My Friend Flicka (1955-56), Crossroads (1956), Men Into Space (1959-60), A Man Called Shenandoah (1965-66), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea  (1965-66), The Time Tunnel (1966-67), Lost in Space (1965-68), Land of the Giants (1968-70), and Daniel Boone (1965-70). The only time he used pseudonyms was when he directed Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and The Brain From the Planet Arous (1957) as Nathan Hertz. He even directed an Italian sword and sandal adventure called Le imprese di una spada leggendaria (The Story of the Legendary Sword) in 1959.

As mentioned earlier, a sequel was considered (in color, no less), and while the script was written, the project never got off the drawing board.

In the mid-1980s, filmmaker Jim Wynorski was considering a remake starring Sybil Danning in the title role. But after going so far as to begin preliminary work by photographing Danning in costume, Wynorski opted instead to direct the 1988 remake of Not of This Earth

A remake was finally made in 1993 for HBO, directed by Christopher Guest, written by Joseph Dougherty (Thirtysomething), and starting Darryl Hannah (who also produced) in the title role. In 1995, director Fred Olen Ray made the T&A farce Attack of the 60-Foot Centerfold.

In 2012, Roger Corman, through his New Horizon company, released the made-for-cable Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader. Directed by Kevin O’Neill and written by Mike McLean (who also wrote Sharktopus for Corman), it starred former Miss Georgia Teen USA Jena Sims in the title role. Originally airing in 3D upon its premiere, it played in 2D thereafter.


The poster for the movie, a Raymond Brown illustration of supersized Nancy Archer straddling a freeway while holding a car, has become a prized collectible, fetching thousands of dollars for mint condition. It was voted No. 8 of “The 25 Best Movie Posters Ever” by Premiere magazine in 2008.

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