Out of Universal Pictures, Creature from the Black Lagoon is directed by Jack Arnold, and stars Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, and Whit Bissell. The eponymous creature was played by Ben Chapman on land and Ricou Browning for the underwater scenes. The cinematography is by William E. Snyder and the score is composed by a trio of men, Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter & Herman Stein. The story sees a scientific expedition at the top end of the Amazon encounter a Devonian Period amphibious creature. As the creature starts to defend its turf by attacking members of the expedition, in fighting begins to take a hold as the men argue about the best course of action to take. Should it be killed, or should it be captured for scientific research? Either way they need to act fast as the creature has taken a fancy to Kay, the sole female member of the expedition group.
One of the better creature features that surfaced in the 1950s, Creature from the Black Lagoon was one of the film's made as part of the 3D craze that filtered out of Hollywood in 53 & 54. However, unlike many of those film's that were made in the format over those two years, this one has rightly managed to break away from its gimmicky beginnings to become regarded as a genre classic. There are many reasons why it is still well regarded and taken in appreciatively by newcomers.
The story of course is nothing new, the old "beauty & the beast" theme can be traced back to the daddy himself, King Kong. But much like Kong, Arnold's movie thrives within the endearing story by getting the audience to sympathise with the titular creature. He is after all only defending his territory, he was happy wallowing down in the depths, remaining undiscovered for many a moon. That he is fascinated by the considerable beauty of Kay Lawrence (Adams sexy and gorgeous), is no crime either. The amount of sympathy garnered for "Gill-Man" is helped enormously by the illogical actions of the humans; who in turn go diving and swimming where legend has it men get eaten! This coupled with their bickering about pro science or trophy hunting makes it easy to side with the amphibious one.
It also helps that the film is pretty brisk and only runs for 80 minutes, there's no sags or pointless filler. Too many similar film's of its ilk labour until the monster shows up and all hell then breaks loose. But under Arnold's (It Came From Outer Space/The Incredible Shrinking Man) astute direction, atmosphere and unease is built up by ominous talk and sightings of the Black Lagoon-and only initial glimpses of the creature's scaly webbed claw; accompanied by the attention grabbing theme music. And when the creature finally reveals itself it doesn't disappoint for its an impressive creation. A half-man/half-fish creature covered in scales, resplendent with gills and with cold, dark featureless eyes. It also has great characteristics with a distinctive swimming style in the water, and a lumbering Frankenstein thing going on when on the land. A definitive monster that would be merchandised for ever after.
There's also technical accomplishments away from the creature itself, notably with the memorable underwater photography by Snyder, who uses a portable camera to flow with the swimming sequences, while his shadow and light work down in the depths is memorably mood enhancing. The three tiered score is also one of the best to feature in a B movie schlocker, three different composers, three different emotional strands; nice. Then there's of course the definitive sequence, the sexy underwater flirting as "Gill-Man" swims below the shapely form of Kay, beguiled by her, it's love at first sight. He's not the only one beguiled, we all are, as was Steven Spileberg, who would homage the more dramatic part of the sequence in his opening for Jaws 21 years later. Whilst last but not least it should be mentioned that there are little asides to ecological issues in the piece, something Arnold was want to do. Two sequels would follow, Arnold would return for Revenge Of The Creature in 1955 and then the John Sherwood directed The Creature Walks Among Us would round off the trilogy in 1956.
It's the original that still holds up today. 8/10