From Here to Obscurity: The Giant Claw (1957)


PLEASE NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.

Today is Turkey Day, the day we all get together to feast on a big bird, so I figured what better day than Thanksgiving to talk about a turkey of a film starring a big bird that decided to feast upon us. And oh, what a glorious turkey it is!

“A bird. A bird as big as a battleship!”

For about the first 20 minutes of The Giant Claw you’ll be lulled into believing that you’re watching just another typical 1950’s giant monster movie. All the standard ingredients are there: a voiceover narration setting the stage for the events to come, a mysterious unidentified something begins wreaking havoc, bland lead characters investigating the menace meet and ultimately engage in a bland romance, scientists spout nonsensical pseudo-science, overly enthusiastic military types determined to seek whatever it is out and destroy it, and hokey dialogue out the wazoos. You even have the typical overuse of stock footage and music. But then about 20 minutes into the film something happens, something magical, that guaranteed The Giant Claw cinematic immortality. The monster appeared on-screen. And I’m not talking about just any monster. I’m talking about quite possibly the goofiest, silliest, stupidest looking monster to ever grace the silver screen.

As the story goes, star Jeff Morrow attended an opening night screening of the movie. All the effects footage was filmed seperately from the actors so he had yet to see the monster for himself. When the monster appeared in full view for the first time the audience began howling with laughter. Having seen the real star of his movie and how the crowded theater was reacting to it, Morrow quickly left the theater so as to not be recognized by anyone in attendance, went to a nearby bar, and proceeded to get hammered. In retrospect, it’s kind of hard to blame him.

Most 1950’s science fiction films had a moral to story. The Giant Claw has one too, but you won’t find it anywhere in the screenplay. No, the moral to this story is quite simple. NEVER FARM YOUR F/X WORK OUT TO MEXICO! Yep, the producer’s of The Giant Claw wanted to save a few bucks so they decided to hire a production company in Mexico to bring the monster to life. Boy, did they ever.

Keep in mind that audiences back in those day were much easier to frighten than audiences today. When Frankenstein appeared on-screen, audiences gasped. When the giant ants from Them! attacked, audiences were legitimately terrified. When the Beast From 20,000 Fathoms ate the cop, they crapped their pants. But when a giant vulture that looks more like something that would be hanging out with Howdy Doody swooped out of the sky they laughed it off the screen. Who can blame them? Just look at it.

We’re supposed to believe that this ridiculous looking wooden Muppet adorned with googily eyes, a fanged beak, a little tuft of hair on top of its head, and feathers that look as if they were plucked directly from a feather duster is supposed to be threatening the future of our civilization? We’re supposed to buy into the fact that all these actors in the movie are running around in mortal terror for 75 minutes because of this thing? One has to wonder if perhaps the cheap ass producers short-changed the Mexican F/X crew so they decided to get revenge by creating this absurd thing. If not, then that means that somewhere in Mexico in 1957, someone honestly believed this puppet would frighten people. Now there’s a truly frightening thought.

And I haven’t even touched upon the beast’s wail, which is equally as ludicrous. It’s beyond description.

I can’t help but to wonder how the movie would be regarded today if they had created a credible looking monster because the rest of the production is actually pretty decent for its genre. One thing that stands out is that the big bird is not an average bird mutated to giant proportions by atomic radiation. Nope, it has arrived on Earth from an anti-matter galaxy millions of light years from our planet. I guess they could have called the movie Attack of the Giant Anti-Matter Buzzard from Outer Space, but The Giant Claw is shorter and probably would have fit onto a marquee much easier.

What does the anti-matter factor add to the proceedings? Well, it gave the writers an excuse to make the thing invulnerable to conventional weaponry and invisible to radar so it can pop up anywhere at any moment. However, this doesn’t make any sense at all because we’re shown scenes where it’s being tracked on radar, and if nothing can penetrate its force field then you have to wonder how it can land or pick anything up. But looking for scientific reality in a movie like this is like expecting something intelligent to come out of Britney Spears’ mouth.

Scientist and military officials are forced to try and think outside the box in order to develop a means to defeat the monster, but while they work on that the big budgie is steadily knocking planes out of the sky, devouring parachuting pilots, flying off with model trains, killing obnoxious hot-rodding teenagers, and sending the entire planet into a worldwide panic. Martial law is instilled, curfews are ordered, and everyone shown breaking these orders ends up getting eaten by the feathered beastie that somehow manages to always show up at the right place at the right time. Also, actors Rob Morrow and Mara Corday fall in love while consoling each other over the fate of the world and searching for the monster’s nest because if it lays eggs and they hatch then mankind is really doomed. Even more doomed than before.

The movie’s apex finally arrives as it soars into New York City and wreaks havoc. Much of the havoc comes courtesy of Earth vs. The Flying Saucers from which quite a bit of destruction stock footage was lifted thanks to both movies being produced by Columbia Pictures and directed by the same man, Fred Sears. Still, the images of hordes of it perching itself atop the Empire State Building and achieving every Republicans’ dream of annihilating the United Nations is absolutely priceless.

Fortunately for the human race, our crackpot scientists invent some new crackpot atomic projector device that can neutralize bad bird’s anti-matter force field thus allowing military weapons to get through and mortally wound the Sesame Street escapee and send its corpse plummetting into the Atlantic.

If you’ve never seen The Giant Claw then you really should go out of your way to do so because it is one of the most hysterical movies you’ll ever see. If you can’t watch this movie and find yourself chuckling with glee during every single moment that the colossal bird appears on-screen then you clearly have no sense of humor and certainly no affection for schlock cinema. Sadly, The Giant Claw had a very limited VHS run ages ago and it rarely ever turns up on TV so you’ll most likely have to seek out a bootleg, many of which are not of the best quality. The fact that Columbia has yet to give The Giant Claw a proper and much deserved DVD release is nothing short of a crime. Yeah, it’s bad, but it’s the epitome of the so bad it’s good movie.

4 out of 5

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