I was sitting in my living room a few days ago with the screen door wide open. It was a quiet, sunny day. Quiet, that is, until the guys that cut the lawn showed up. While I can handle the noise of the mowers without a problem, the moment they went on Kiki – my cat – ran to hide behind the commode where she stayed trembling long after the mower guys had left. Worried, I went over to reassure her that everything was fine and when she didn’t budge I caught myself saying, “You’re a sitting duck for the blob down there, honey.” Now, I can’t say whether it was mention of the blob or the fact that I called her a duck, but Kiki slowly emerged from her hiding place and all was good in my world. Except that it got me thinking – why did the blob come to mind?
I don’t normally go around thinking and talking about the blob – particularly to a cat. Nor do I recount these types of incidences when they occur, but it surprised me that the gooey star of Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr.’s 1958 movie, The Blob, still creeped in my mind more than a week after I’d seen the film. It was at that point that the gist of this post occurred to me. That is, that while the mention of The Blob usually evokes a smile or even laughter, in truth it is an effective movie featuring an effective monster. In fact, The Blob is a mass of contradiction – often mentioned both among the campiest movies ever made and the best science fiction productions of its time. No matter which way you look at it The Blob is a fabulous film of the 50s, one that crept into our collective conscience more than five decades ago and has remained there ever since.
Naming The Blob
Part of what makes The Blob the butt of jokes is its title and it was intended to do so…
The working title of the movie during production was The Molten Meteor, from which writer, Kate Phillips spun the story. The final title, The Blob was not ascribed to the movie until post-production when the film’s director sat with several members of the production crew for a week with the intent of finding a title that would find its way into popular culture by way of popular comedians. They wanted “a title they couldn’t help but joke about” said Yeaworth, which proved a brilliant idea. In an interview celebrating a The Blob anniversary some time back Yeaworth describes how Bob Hope joked about his movie’s monster during an Academy Awards ceremony – “If The Blob wins an Oscar,” the comedian said, “it will take home the statuette, the presenter and the audience.” How’s that for free publicity?
In any case, other titles considered for The Blob included The Creeping Dead and The Glob that Girded the Earth, which was liked by most in the production team, but since they had little money for marketing they needed a name short and memorable enough to catch on. After pouring over many other ideas, the team settled on The Glob only to learn that title had already been copyrighted by someone else. Rather than start from scratch, however, Yeaworth and the team liked The Glob so much they decided to go through the alphabet to find something close to it. They needed only get to “B” to find perfection in a simple change.
As far as a match between the movie’s title and its star a better name than The Blob could not have been conceived. What does “the blob” mean exactly? Well, EXACTLY! It means just that – a word that evokes a specific, non-specific image that’s never more than thick liquid with color like the movie monster, which is a creature that is a shapeless mass of ooze with no distinct characteristics other than its persistent goal to consume other life forms. The Blob – the movie – never makes an attempt to explain what the creature is. Yet…
The Blob as a monster…
…is quite effective – a contradiction to the simplicity of its name and form. While both the film’s title and the “look” of the blob itself lend themselves to being joked about, the movie presents its story methodically and deliberately. It is a serious story about a serious threat. Perhaps some might take an exception to this particularly if comparing The Blob to a few of the other science fiction films made at the time, which feature creatures that are life-like or that pose questions and/or concerns regarding societal fears. But due to its simplicity The Blob works because it presents an indiscriminate creature that defies gravity, can slither through the tiniest crevice or engulf a building, all in order to consume everything in its path, which suggests the potential for continuous, escalating menace.
To illustrate the contradictory effect the mass that is the blob can have on people, consider the review that appeared in the New York Times when the film was released. In that review critic Howard Thompson makes a point of describing in detail how fake the blob is. But then, he recalls squirming when he felt a huge wad of gum under his foot while watching the film in the theater and tells all, as a precaution, to be sure to check the floor before the lights go out.
It creeps, and leaps, and glides and slides across the floor.
Aside from its memorable title character, The Blob should also be recognized for being the movie that introduced Steve McQueen to mass audiences. You may have heard he subsequently became a major movie star. In the movie Steve McQueen, billed as Steven McQueen for the only time in his career, plays Steve Andrews who is believed by the authorities in the movie to be just another annoying teenager prone to delinquency. But Steve is actually a responsible young man and, along with the other teenagers in the movie, ends up being the hero, which is yet another part of the story depicted in The Blob that makes it stand out among other movies of the time, which often depict teenagers as angry and irresponsible. In that regard one must credit The Blob for giving due to what was its intended audience, young drive-in attendees. I’ll add that McQueen is actually quite good as Steve Andrews despite the fact that at 28 he is never believable as a teenager.
The Blob also marks the debut of Aneta Corsaut, who plays Jane, Steve’s girlfriend who helps save the world of the massive, oozing monster. Ms. Corsaut went on to have a substantial acting career on television. The rest of the cast in The Blob is also effective with the exception of the little boy who plays Jane’s 5-year-old brother, Danny. I have to admit I’ve wanted Danny to become victim of the blob during more than one viewing of the movie. And I know that’s mean, but it’s true. Anyway, I will offer one more special mention to Olin Howlin who plays the Old Man, the Blob’s first victim. Howlin makes his last film appearance in The Blob after a career that began in 1918. Playing mostly small, often uncredited roles he appeared in such acclaimed films as Cukor’s Little Women (1933), Taurog’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) and Fleming’s Gone With the Wind (1939). In The Blob Howlin’s first scene is my favorite in the movie, the warning scene of what’s to come (described below) as we learn one of the few things we ever learn about the Blob.
The indestructible creature! Bloated with the blood of its victims!
The Movie – with gooey spoilers so BEWARE!
The Blob opens as Steve and Jane are necking in Steve’s car. Suddenly they see what they think is a shooting star at first, except this one is lit red and crashes nearby.
Cut to the Old Man and my favorite scene – it turns out that the meteor lands in the bushes behind the small cottage where the Old Man lives. As is the requisite of all monster movies, the Old Man goes out to investigate and finds a crater with a ball of some kind inside, which he pokes with a tree branch. As he does so the ball opens to introduce what is at this time a small, gooey thing. The Old Man then picks up the goo with the branch at which time the thing proceeds to climb up the stick and take firm hold of his hand. What’s particularly good about this scene, by the way, is that as the Old Man sees the goo slide down the stick he quickly tries to shake it off by turning the stick upside down, which then shows the goo quickly going up, against gravity to grab a hold of his hand. It’s one of those ‘Oh-oh’ moments. Simple, but effective.
Meanwhile, Jane and Steve are on their way to the crash site, but they’re sidetracked when they almost run over the Old Man as he crosses the road, writhing in pain – his hand now fully covered by a gooey, jello-like substance. Obviously alarmed, Steve and Jane rush the Old Man to the Dr. who’s baffled by the mass that has by now moved up the Old Man’s arm. The Dr. begins to research what the strange mass can be, but before he finds any answers the Old Man is no longer and what is now creeping around the Dr.’s office is the Blob.
By this time the Nurse has joined the Dr. and both scurry to try to kill whatever the slimy thing is. The Dr. orders the Nurse to throw acid on the thing while he goes grab for his rifle. Unfortunately, by the time the Dr. grabs the gun, the Blob consumes the Nurse and later, the Dr.
Steve and Jane, who’d left the Dr.’s office after dropping off the Old Man to find clues as to what this thing is, return just in time to see the Dr. being attacked.
Jane and Steve then go to the Police who don’t believe a word they say about a monster having killed the Dr. No one believes them, in fact, chalking it all up to youthful pranks. But while Steve, in particular, is trying to convince the Police, the Blob continues its reign of terror consuming an unsuspecting mechanic who’s discussing leaving his wife.
Thinking there’s no other alternative, Steve gathers the other teenagers in town to help spread the word and search for the Blob, but it’s Steve and Jane who run into the thing in his own father’s store. As Steve approaches the store after seeing the Old Man’s little dog cowering in a corner he notices the store’s door is open well past closing time. Of course he and Jane go in to investigate and there’s the thing waiting for them. Luckily, the couple runs into the store’s freezer unit, which repels the monster for some reason.
Steve and the rest of the kids sound all the raid alarms to get everyone in town out in the open so they can be warned – BEWARE, THE BLOB! (Although the thing is never given a name in the movie.) Anyway, finally the police chief, Lt. Dave believes the teenager’s story so he sends another officer into the supermarket to find the monster.
Just as the supermarket is being searched we see the ever-growing red goo seeping into the protectionist’s room in the local theater, just a few yards from where the rest of the town now stands heeding Steve’s warning. Suddenly, crowds of people are running out of the theater in a panic with the Blob in tow. By the way there’s a particularly great shot of the people running out of the theater and toward the camera that resulted in the cameraman actually being trampled so you can see the people running by from the floor’s perspective, which works great. Obviously everyone else thought so too as the shot ended up in the movie.
Now we’re ready for the final showdown thanks to Jane’s little brother, Danny. As the Blob stands on the main street of the small town the boy tries to shoot it with his toy gun, but when the thing starts moving Danny runs into the Diner behind him. Jane and Steve go after him, but it’s too late for them to escape as the Blob is now eating the entire diner! The Police shoot down one of the nearby power lines to try to deep fry the thing, but it doesn’t loosen its grip on the diner.
Meanwhile, Steve, now hiding with Jane, Danny and the diner staff in the basement grabs one of the CO2 dispensers and fires the cold at the Blob as it starts to slither under the basement door towards them. Lo and behold, the cold makes the thing retreat! Steve is able to get word out about the cold remedy (see what I did there?), which sends the rest of the kids scrambling to gather all available CO2 dispensers. The Blob is then frozen into submission and contained.
Steve, Jane and the rest are able to escape and the world is rid of the Blob forever. OR IS IT?
Indescribable… Indestructible! Nothing Can Stop It!
Lt. Dave: “They’re flying it to the Arctic.”
Steve: “It’s not dead, is it?”
Lt. Dave: “No, it’s not. Just frozen. I don’t think it can be killed, but at least we have it stopped.”
Steve: “Yeah, as long as the arctic stays cold!”
Say what? If nothing else Steve’s statement gives us yet another reason to worry about global warming – as we see the frozen Blob being lowered into the arctic waters by parachute – and a question mark appears as to the fate of The Blob and mankind.
Despite all its flaws, The Blob is undeniably entertaining. That’s true from the movie’s opening sequence, which features a terrific theme song,“Beware of the Blob,” written by Burt Bacharach and Mack David, which makes fun of the movie one is about to see. Similarly light is the animated sequence that accompanies the theme song making neither element that introduces The Blob true to its horror genre – yet another contradiction. The song, by the way, is performed by The Five Blobs, who in truth was just one guy (Bernie Nee) whose vocals were overdubbed five times. I’ll admit I find “Beware of the Blob” irresistible and can hardly control myself from tapping along to the beat. Apparently many others felt the same way because the song became a national hit.
The Blob is a classic, a fabulous film of the 50s, a standout filmed in glorious color with exceptional staying power all for a very small budget. Testament to this movie’s popularity through time are the various times it has been revamped by Criterion – first on VHS, then DVD and just a few months ago in a new, gorgeous bluray release. Also worthy of mention is the yearly Blobfest the movie has spawned. The festival is held in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania where most of The Blob was shot commemorating not only the movie, but all the players involved in the making of it, a group made up almost entirely of locals with little to no previous feature film experience.
The Blob was released on September 12, 1958 by Paramount Pictures in a double-bill with Gene Fowler, Jr’s I Married a Monster from Outer Space and it became a sensation grossing $8.5 million in the first year of release. It also remains one of the most popular drive-in movies of all time.
This post is my submission to the Fabulous Films of the 50s Blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA). Be sure to visit the host site to read about all the other films of the ’50s that members are paying homage to – because they’re fabulous!