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Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!! No… wait… it’s a bird.
In ways, producer Sam Katzman was an early-day version of Roger Corman. His forte, like Corman, was producing low-budget genre films and finding a way to turn a profit with them. His career spanned from the early 1930’s until shortly before his passing in 1973. During his career, he not only produced many well-known B-grade sci-fi and horror films (Earth Vs The Flying Saucers, The Corpse Vanishes), but also westerns, 50’s “Rock N’ Roll” musicals (including Elvis’s “Rock Around The Clock“, and the Roy Orbison starring “The Fastest Guitar Alive“), and even the Superman serials of the late 1940’s.
For this review, we will look at 1957’s The Giant Claw, a film that’s better remembered for…… well, it’s remembered for not being better.
The Giant Claw was directed by Fred F. Sears. Sears was also the director on the Katzman-produced Earth Vs The Flying Saucers & The Werewolf (1957). I could be wrong, but I do not believe that he had anything to do with trying to sell “husky-sized” pants to overweight children.
The film opens at a radar facility somewhere in the Arctic Circle. During a systems check, test pilot and electrical engineer, Mitch (Jeff Morrow – This Island Earth, The Creature Walks Among Us), is buzzed by a large flying object. He reports in what he’s seen, but is informed that nothing was detected on any of the posts’ radars.
Fighter jets are deployed to intercept the object, but find nothing. The Major reprimands Mitch, thinking that it was all some big joke. I’ve seen some elaborate pranks, but Mitch must be god-damned David Copperfield because this “joke” involved the disappearance of one of the jets and it’s pilot. Has David Copperfield ever made a fighter jet disappear? He probably has. He’s made everything else disappear. Even Claudia Schiffer.
After a passenger plane goes missing, Jeff and Sally (Mara Corday – Black Scorpion, Tarantula), the base’s mathematician and token “broad”, are sent to New York to help in the investigation. En route, the pilot of their plane spots the “object”. The “thing” hits the plane, knocking the pilot unconscious. We are then greeted with what is the first in a long series of model airplanes on strings bursting into flames as they fall from the sky.
Even though he himself is a pilot, Mitch does a piss poor job of trying to land, and the plane slams into the model trees being used as a forest. Mitch & Sally drag the pilot to safety as the plane explodes. Someone on the film crew throws “debris” at the actors, and a few pieces come very close to hitting them. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad….. if someone hadn’t set the damn things on fire. You read that right. They actually threw burning props at the cast.
The “flying object” is soon revealed to be a giant bird resembling a turkey buzzard. Actually, it’s revealed to be a big-ass puppet. And that’s what makes this movie so much fun. Watching this silly looking bird on strings, swinging around over hobby shop models of cities and skyscrapers, all while occasionally eating toy planes and action figures. It’s really not that far removed from the days that we spent in our bedrooms as kids staging these grand scenarios for our own toys. I can clearly remember many “battles” waged between my G.I. Joes and Transformers. Occasionally, He-Man would enter the fray and things would get weird. It would always end with Snake Eyes doing some really freaky shit with She-Ra. Not that I had a She-Ra figure. Moving on.
There is enough aerial puppetry madness going on to keep the movie moving at a steady pace, and the film does contain its fair share of unintentional laughs. While not a term used in the days of the film’s initial release, it’s pretty amusing when the bird uses a weather balloon to take what is essentially a “selfie”. Some of the scenes of the monster eating people are nothing more than the actor dangling from wires in front of a back projection of the bird’s gaping maw. Trust me, it’s pretty amusing.
A few people who were not “amused” were the film’s stars. The actors do their best to portray terror in the presence of the killer turkey, and that is a testament to their abilities as none of them EVER ACTUALLY SAW THE CREATURE. The film’s stars were told that the creature would be created using stop-motion effects created by the “Master”, Ray Harryhausen. However, the film went over it’s already low-budget and the job was shopped out to Mexican marionettists. Unfortunately, the actors were not made aware of this decision until the film’s premiere. According to an interview with Morrow, he and his co-stars entered the premiere expecting to witness an audience’s terrified reaction to the monster. Instead, the crowd broke into laughter every time the bird was shown on-screen. Morrow even stated that he and a few of his co-stars had to sneak out of the theater, heads hung in shame, so as not to be noticed and associated with the finished product.
Many years have passed and the same things that prevented the movie from being taken serious at its release are now the same reasons that it’s remembered and why it has the fans that it does. The movie attempts to be serious, but the effects and inane concept kill any chance of that. In today’s view, when shows like MST3K have changed the way that some people view these cinematic catastrophes, The Giant Claw …. oh, who are we kidding? It’s still crippled by the pathetic appearance of its titular creature, but that is now a huge part of what makes it enjoyable.
The Giant Claw is nothing more than an amusing way to kill 75 mins. Fans of 50’s sci-fi, fans of cheesy movies, and monster kids alike should find enough here to enjoy.