Cinema Sunday: Tarantula (1955)
Distributor: Universal Studios
Writers: Robert M. Fresco, Martin Berkeley (screenplay), story by Jack Arnold
Director: Jack Arnold
Producer: William Alland
Starring: John Agar, Mara Corday, Lewis G. Carroll, Clint Eastwood
Released: December 14th, 1955
After showcasing one great director (Bert I. Gordon) from the sci-fi genre last week, I couldn’t help but gravitate to his counterpart, Jack Arnold, this week! The giant bug/animal craze started with THEM! in 1954, and really hit its stride the following year with last week’s film, and this one. Of course, what would a sci-fi movie be without a leading action hero? Not so great, and that’s why we have none other than B-movie legend, John Agar, to save the day in this movie!
The quality of this film is better than the Gordon film, but probably had a bigger budget as well. And let’s not forget you have a better cast, and that makes a huge difference. The movie follows the typical plot lines of the times, but definitely has some cool moments. OK, let’s get right down to it!
The film begins with a man (in his PJ’s) wandering around the desert of Arizona. We eventually see that he’s been mutated from something, and really bloated looking. He falls to the ground, and seemingly dies. The scene then switches to a plane landing, and a doctor, Matt Hastings (John Agar – 2nd image below), steps out, and tells the technician to check the plane. The doc then checks in at his office…that’s in the local hotel (yeah, don’t ask). He then receives a call from Sheriff Andrews (Nestor Paiva – 2nd image below), and heads out to see him. Once he arrives at his office, the sheriff explains that they need to check out a body that found along the highway earlier in the day. The sheriff can’t explain what’s wrong, because he doesn’t know what happened to the man and he needs Doctor Hastings to examine the body.
Once they arrive at the coroner’s office, they talk with doctor that was working with the deceased man. Professor Deemer (Lewis G. Carroll), seems distraught about his friend’s death, but also troubled about something. They theorize that the man died from Acromegaly but that’s typically a disease that takes years to process, and this man was seen days earlier, with no signs of the disease. Later, Professor Deemer retreats to his lab, and we see why he was anxious when the others were questioning him about his assistant. He’s been using a secret formula on animals, that increases their size exponentially! The last one we see is a giant Tarantula (about the size of a medium dog)!
The next day, Professor Deemer is at it again, but a figure shambles in through the back door. It’s another man who looks like he has the same disease, but this one has some life left in him yet. He creeps up behind the Professor and attempts to murder him. As they struggle, the glass gets smashed to some of the cases, and the tarantula escapes! The disfigured man chokes him out, then injects him with the serum. A fire breaks out, and it looks as if the Professor is doomed, but then he wakes up (conveniently), and escapes the flames. He then finds the body of the man outside, slumped over, dead. He buries him out in the backyard, and we see the shadow of a spider the size of an elephant.
Dr. Hastings has a conversation with the sheriff, and attempts to convince him that Professor Deemer might be up to shenanigans. He’s not very responsive at first, but he does ponder his next move. Outside, a bus arrives, and a beautiful lady steps off, and heads into the hotel to ask for a cab. You see, Stephanie Clayton (Mara Corday – image below), has come to town to aid Professor Deemer in his experiments. Since Dr. Hastings is heading out that way to question Deemer, he gives “Steve” a ride to his place. Once they arrive, a local newspaper reporter is there and taking pictures. This angers Deemer, and he tells him to hit the road.
As Steve and Professor Deemer begin their work, over time, she notices that his face begins to be deformed. The serum is finally getting to him, and he eventually succumbs to the same fate as the others. As the story moves on, large animals are found with the absolutely nothing left but bones! They’ve been sucked dry of all living tissue. Hastings finds some fluid near the bones, and eventually finds that it’s spider venom. He then surmises that Deemer’s new formula must be mutating animals, and that a giant spider is the culprit for the dead animals and destroyed homes.
Can Mr. B-Movie, John Agar stop the giant beast? Or will a barely recognizable Clint Eastwood (image below) have to get the job done? Watch the film to find out!
OK, here are my thoughts:
This is one that I first watched with my son a few years ago, and loved from the very first minute. Maybe it has some sentimental value to me, and that raises it up slightly, but Agar and Carroll are fantastic in this film. This is actually one of the few films from this era that doesn’t use atomic radiation as a MacGuffin. There are a couple of moments of absolute hilarity, where blatant sexism occurs, but again, this was 1955. Plenty of cigarette smoking as well. I think Agar must have owned stock in R. J. Reynolds.
The sets were pretty good for the time, and the desert shots definitely stood out. Of course, the special effects leave a lot to be desired in this day and age, but for back then, they were pretty cool. Even now I can imagine little kids in a downtown movie theater, screaming their heads off when the tarantula attacks. Watch these films with a lens of nostalgia, and you’ll definitely enjoy them. Thanks to people like Jack Arnold, we’ll always have these classic “B” movies to give us laughter, and good times!