The Giant Claw is the second of two films I watched this week that were produced by noteworthy horror film producer Sam Katzman. The second film, also included on the DVD I got, is The Creature with the Atom Brain. I don’t want to get into my thoughts on The Creature, because I’m going to be talking it over with Matt on an upcoming episode of the High and Low(Brow) Podcast. However, I enjoyed The Giant Claw so much, I decided to make it my entry for my little corner of wherethelongtailends.com.
Claw is a really fun movie. It’s a kind of American version of Godzilla in that it concerns a gigantic bird that terrorizes people from the sky. All of this is done in brilliant miniature, the cables holding up the bird’s wings barely visible. Miniature buildings are chewed up, model airplanes and cars crushed, and even a model train is devoured by the bird. Our story begins with the exploits of one Mitch MacAfee, electrical engineer and stunt pilot. While flying jet planes over the Antarctic, he sees what he describes as a “flying battleship”… a battleship with wings and a giant beak. MacAfee (Jeff Morrow of This Island Earth fame) brings this to the attention of his incredulous superiors for the branch of US military that’s employing him as a test pilot. While at first they reject his claims, they soon come around when planes go missing and other pilots begin to report sightings of this mysterious flying battleship. Soon it’s discovered that this UFO is on its way south through Canada and towards the USA. And when the bird proves itself impervious to bullets, it is surmised that this is actually a trans-dimensional being, coated in an anti-matter shield, that’s flown through outer space and arrived on Earth to feed and lay a few eggs.
With the help of the darling scientist and statistician Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday) Mitch begins research on an anti-matter ray-gun using state of the art nuclear technology. To go into too much more would spoil the fun of watching this movie, so I’ll stop here. However, I will say that there’s much more to enjoy in this film — the homey miniature special effects, the campy dialog, and far out atomic-age plot are just the beginning. You won’t be sorry you checked this one out. This film also has an interesting layer just below the surface. As the film fits neatly alongside many of the other atomic-age science-fiction and horror films of the 1950s, it’s easy to attach a psychoanalytic interpretation of the film’s exploitation of the audience’s subconscious fear of nuclear war; however, you’re not let off so easily. When you keep in mind that the winged menace brings with it a mysterious history explained only by the most esoteric of nuclear scientific explanations (and who knows how accurate the film was for its time…) but that it’s science itself — in the person of engineer and jet pilot Mitch MacAfee — that is humanity’s only hope, you see that the filmmakers were up to something a bit more ambitious that your average monster movie. And for that, The Giant Claw flies high above the competition.
Four out of five stars means: nearly there.
directed by Fred F. Sears
written by Samuel Newman and Paul Gangelin