Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hubrisween 2016 :: A is for Attack of the 50ft Woman (1958)

As harried news reports chime in about a mass sighting of “a large red fireball” circling the globe, the trajectory of this mystery spheroid soon finds it zeroing in on the deserts of southern California. There, it crosses paths with Nancy Fowler-Archer (Hayes) when it settles down on an otherwise deserted stretch of highway right in front of her speeding car, causing a huge swerve and a near miss. 

And while both driver and car are basically undamaged by this ditch-diving, what emerges from the glowing sphere sends the wealthy socialite into a screaming tizzy; a giant -- more specifically, a luminescent humanoid gargantua with big floppy hands and hairy knuckles, who exits his ship, towers over her, and playfully gropes for the terrified Earthling, who punches the accelerator and speeds back into town, leaving perceptible vocal chord emissions the whole way.

Alas, having been recently released from a sanitarium, where she was recovering from a nervous breakdown, the authorities are a little dubious of Nancy’s fraughtful report of a satellite, its ginormous pilot, and how it seemed to be after her large diamond necklace. But, since she pays most of the taxes in this county, Sheriff Dubbitt (Douglas) humors the sole heiress of the Fowler family fortune and returns to the scene of the incident; but neither he nor Deputy Charlie (Chase) can find any trace of either extraterrestrial vehicle or occupant.

Now, the reason for Nancy’s institutional confinement was a two-punch combo of marital woes and alcohol abuse; and the root cause of both was her philandering husband, Harry Archer (Hudson), which reached a crucible when Nancy finally kicked the deadbeat gigolo’s ass to the curb right before she cracked-up. But on the long road to recovery, Nancy’s psychiatrist, Dr. Von Loeb (Waldis), felt a reconciliation between the lovelorn wife and estranged husband was crucial to his patient’s recovery.

Thus and so, in perhaps not the wisest of moves, Nancy has given Harry a second chance (-- or fourth or fifth, judging by the spiteful rancor between these two). Unfortunately for Nancy, no matter how hot the torch she carries for him, Harry isn’t all that interested in rekindling their marriage but is more-like bound and determined to get his wife back into that loony-bin so he can get his hands on her money and blow it all on his new squeeze, Honey Parker (Vickers). The man does little to hide this blatant affair with the town tramp, hoping an already fragile, paranoid, and extremely jealous Nancy will snap for good this time. And now that his wife is seeing flying saucers, Harry decides to accelerate things along, putting a concerned face on a strategic call to Von Loeb. 

Well aware of this and his end game, Nancy strikes a deal, convincing Harry to search the desert with her to find this elusive satellite. If they find it, he must renounce his current dalliance and settle down for good. And if they find nothing, she will return to the asylum voluntarily. Unsurprisingly, Harry readily agrees to this. For Nancy, the good news is they eventually find that satellite and the alien. The bad news is, her asshole of a husband quickly abandons her with Mr. Touchy-Feely Big-Floppy-Hands and flees the scene.

But as the sun rises and a frazzled Harry tries to pack up Honey and head for the hills, Deputy Charlie rounds them both up for an escorted ride to the Fowler ancestral hacienda. Seems at some point during the night, a delirious and half-dead Nancy was found on the roof of the pool house -- minus that diamond necklace. And since Harry was the last one seen with her, and it sure looked like he was ready to bug-out with another woman, the Sheriff has a few questions for the couple. But as a sedated Nancy fitfully sleeps, Harry denies any knowledge of what happened to his wife, where the necklace is, or where those strange scratches and apparent radiation burns on her neck came from. And with Honey providing his prime suspect a false alibi, the Sheriff is forced to give Nancy’s ramblings of a space-giant a closer look, which don't seem quite as outlandish with the discovery of several giant footprints; and so, he and the Archer’s butler (Terrell) head off into the desert in search of an alien diamond thief. 

Meanwhile, at Honey’s goading, Harry schemes to give the near comatose Nancy an overdose of morphine for a more permanent solution to his problem. But when he tries to sneak into her bedroom, he is confronted with a terrifying sight: somehow and for some reason, the exposure to that radiation emanating from the alien giant has caused his wife to mutate into a giantess herself...

Like a lot of filmmakers of his strata, Jacques Marquette learned the plumbing of filmmaking while serving and shooting film for the Army Air-Corps in World War II. But unlike most filmmakers his dream wasn’t to direct but to serve as a director of photography. And while trying to make his way through the studio system to achieve just that, Marquette's career stalled as a second tier camera operator due to some strict union technicalities that prevented producers from hiring novice cinematographers unless all others weren’t available, making it nearly impossible to get certified. Taking matters into his own hands, Marquette rounded up thirty or so investors and formed Marquette Productions in an attempt to produce his own low-budget feature. And being the producer, Marquette was able to hire himself as the DOP, essentially doing an end-run around the union.

The result of these efforts was the hot-rod fueled Teen Age Thunder (1957), which sparked a bidding war between Allied Artists and Howco International Pictures, a new consortium of theater owners operating out of New Orleans looking to get into the production business. Howco won, paired Teenage Thunder up with Roger Corman’s Carnival Rock (1957), and then commissioned Marquette to produce another double-feature for them; the totally gonzo Brain from the Planet Arous (1958) and the truly awful Teenage Monster (1958) -- the only film Marquette would ever direct, and he only directed it because the original choice backed out at the last minute.

However, while Howco promised a lot in terms of compensation and percentages, their penchant for cooking the books and hiding profits meant Marquette and his investors essentially made nothing on all three films, which ended that working relationship with prejudice. Enter Bernard Woolner, who had successfully produced Roger Corman’s gender-swapped crime capers, Swamp Women (1956) and Teenage Doll (1957), who knew Allied Artists was looking for a double-bill partner for Corman’s War of the Satellites (1958), and who had another intriguing feminine twist on The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) -- The Astounding Giant Woman, which eventually morphed into Attack of the 50ft Woman (1958) when The Astounding She-Monster (1957) beat them into theaters. To flesh out Woolner’s idea, Marquette hired Mark Hanna, a bit-actor turned screenwriter, who had penned Colossal Man for American International, along with writing, co-writing, or script-doctoring several vehicles for Corman -- Naked Paradise (1957), Not of This Earth (1957), The Undead (1957).

Inspired by Sputnik-mania, the UFO the alien giant hot-rods around in, apparently fueled by diamonds, is constantly referred to as a satellite, whose constant mechanical bleating adds a tinge of menace whenever it appears. When the Sheriff and the butler find the vehicle and manage to get inside it -- a fairly effective scene done mostly with intense lighting, distorting glass spheres, pegboards, and the resulting crazy-quilt shadows, is short-circuited a bit when the audience is left to puzzle the scale of the interior which doesn’t quite jive with the size of the pilot, who rousts them out but loses a brief pitched battle when a grenade blows up in his face. But the before he retreats the giant destroys the Sheriff’s patrol car, leaving them with a long walk back into town.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, mega-Nancy wakes up, calls for Harry, and goes berserk when she realizes he’s no longer on the premises. No, Harry is back in town at the local honky-tonk, soaked to the gills and cutting a rug with Honey, unaware of the distant colossal footfalls that are getting closer and closer. E’yup, Nancy has broken free of her restraints and leveled most of the hacienda, and is now making a beeline for town, determined to strip it bare until she’s found and had her revenge on Harry and Honey. And so, Deputy Charlie’s warnings come too late as the enraged giantess shreds the saloon, killing Honey in the process, buried and crushed under the falling debris, and manages to scoop up Harry (-- well, a reasonable facsimile of Harry); who had managed to seize Charlie’s revolver but his fired bullets have no effect on his rampaging wife. But before Nancy can squish him, the Sheriff manages to put a few slugs from his riot gun into the transformer on a nearby power-line, and the resulting discharge kills both Nancy and Harry, leaving the survivors to ponder who the real victim was.

Apparently, according to Hanna’s script, the original ending had Nancy and Harry killing each other -- she, crushing him, he, emptying a revolver right into her face, but Marquette and director Nathan Juran decided to tone it done. Even money said that kind of optical proved too tricky or costly to pull off. Yeah, Attack of the 50ft Woman kinda falls flat on its face when it comes to talking about the FX as the action pales quite a bit when stacked up against the fantastic poster campaign, courtesy of the legendary Reynold Brown. The film was shot in 8 days and came in $10,000 under budget. ($89,000 in total.) Marquette liked to do most of his tricks in-camera to save money, and the matting-in of both the alien and Nancy is downright laughable as they constantly seem to be fading in and out of existence. (I suppose a person could make an argument about the stretching of molecular cohesion as the body expands but, nah.) 

And then there’s that big floppy hand, which had to serve both characters, which appears to be fairly articulate but cannot quite shake its rubberized origins. (Those giant press-on nails are a hoot, though.) As the legend goes, Allied Artists took a look at the finished film and weren’t real pleased with the half-assed effort, even going so far as offering up some money to go back and try to fix things. But Marquette felt it was impossible to get the cast back together and told the studio to take it or leave it. They took it, and thanks for that.

What’s most interesting about Hanna’s script, though, is that it’s more concerned with the sudsy soap-opera elements and sultry melodrama -- think Tennessee Williams by way of Bert I. Gordon -- than the rampaging sci-fi elements, as the ballyhooed attack doesn’t happen until the last ten minutes of the movie; all shot with a stark and solid noir flare by Marquette and Juran -- under the nom de plume of Nathan Hertz. Mix all that up with Ronald Stein’s infectious score and their efforts are both noxious and intoxicating. For between Honey’s provocative dancing, to Nancy’s massive cleavage in her makeshift bed-linen bikini, and factoring in that this was probably the first onscreen French-kiss witnessed by many an impressionable viewer, one cannot deny that this film carries a hefty erotic charge -- an erotic charge all those behind the camera had no idea what to do with or exploit properly. Still, aside from the lousy and laughable FX and that amazing poster art, Attack of the 50ft Woman owes most of its staying power to its two female leads:

A statuesque beauty, Allison Hayes had the talent to be big but her career seemed to be cursed from the beginning by freak accidents and bad timing. Spotted as a model and soon signed to a film contract, her first big breakout role was in Sign of the Pagan (1954), but she was injured during the production when co-star Jack Palance let his method-acting get away from him during a lovemaking scene, resulting in several broken ribs for Hayes. (She gets her revenge on-screen.) This led to a lawsuit against Universal, who terminated her contract.

But the actress landed on her feet at Columbia but her best role there for Count Three and Pray (1955) found Hayes upstaged by the debut of Joanne Woodward. This bad luck continued as her career shifted to B-pictures, where she suffered a broken arm falling off a horse while filming The Gunslinger (1956) for Roger Corman; a shoot so miserable and plagued by rain the actress infamously quipped, “Who do I gotta f@#k to get off this picture?"

After roles in Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), The Disembodied (1957) and Attack of the 50ft Woman, Hayes switched to television, where, sadly, she developed a reputation of being difficult to work with and a hypochondriac. Eventually, this erratic behavior and inexplicable declining health were linked to a prescribed calcium supplement she’d been taking ever since her first injury, whose main ingredient was apparently lead. And by 1967 this accumulated lead-poisoning had really taken its toll on the actress, who managed to successfully lobby the FDA to ban the imported supplement. A pyrrhic victory as Hayes was forced to retire in 1969 and was essentially reduced to an invalid by 1972. Then, she was diagnosed with leukemia in 1976 and died one year later just shy of her 47th birthday.

Outside of the B-Movie brethren, Yvette Vicker’s popularity is a bit of puzzler, considering she really only made two reputable films in the genre, this and The Giant Leeches (1959). Well, four if you wanna count Reform School Girl (1957) and Juvenile Jungle (1958), where she consistently played the exact same sex-kitten or hot to trot vixen. The actress was considered for several larger roles by the majors but had developed an unjustified reputation as a marriage-wrecker. (She had much better success and a wider range of roles on stage.) The biggest film she appeared in was probably Hud (1963) opposite Paul Newman. After, it was mostly bit parts and a few TV guest appearances and that was it. But she always had a solid reputation as a B-Girl, even author Stephen King singled her out as a favorite.

Somewhat sadly the actress fell off the radar after 1976 but kinda had a mini-revival in the 1990s at autograph shows and conventions. (She even recorded a commentary track for the Attack of the 50ft Woman DVD in 2007.) But then she kinda disappeared again shortly thereafter. Rumors abounded that she had picked up a stalker and became a recluse, seldom if ever leaving her home. Then in 2011, her mummified remains were discovered by a neighbor. An autopsy concluded she had died nearly a year earlier of congestive heart failure. And all one can say about that is at least foul-play wasn’t involved.

After Attack of the 50ft Woman Jacques Marquette got his wish, serving as a cinematographer for the major and the minor studios as well as an exhaustive track-record on the boob-tube. The very same year Nathan Juran used his real name and had a smash hit with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) for Columbia. As for Bernard Woolner, he and his brother, Lawrence, had plans to do a bigger-budgeted sequel for Attack of the 50ft Woman, which was to be shot in both CinemaScope and color for Woolner Brothers Pictures Inc. They even had a final script approved but the film never went into production. There was a made for TV remake released in 1993, and though it was meant as an intentional spoof, was penned by Christopher Guest, and blessed with much better FX it still isn’t near half as much (unintentional) fun as the original.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow we collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's one down with 25 to go!

Attack of the 50ft Woman (1958) Woolner Brothers Pictures Inc. :: Allied Artists Pictures / EP: Jacques Marquette / P: Bernard Woolner / D: Nathan Juran / W: Mark Hanna / C: Jacques Marquette / E: Edward Mann / M: Ronald Stein / S: Allison Hayes, William Hudson, Yvette Vickers, George Douglas, Frank Chase, Otto Waldis, Ken Terrell

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