The Creature Chronicles: Exploring The Black Lagoon Trilogy by Tom Weaver with David Schecter and Stan Kronenberg (book review)

November 28, 2014 | By | Reply More

CreatureChronicles  If ever there was an ultimate book for the Gill Man from ‘The Black Lagoon Trilogy’ then ‘The Creature Chronicles’ by Tom Weaver with David Schecter and Stan Kronenberg must surely be it. Stacked with rare photos from behind the scenes, you see the first film, ‘The Creature From The Black Lagoon’ (1954) develop over a series of scripts and the early designs made reality. For those of you who saw the original hunter from the first ‘Predator’ film and felt that was a lucky escape, the original Gill Man was truly dire and drab compared to the final model. Knowing about it is one thing but finally to be able to see photos of it solves that mystery for me and yes, it is. The final design might be seen as ornate for a swimming merman but you have a lot more faith that it could live underwater. Much of the design came from artist Millicent Patrick. There’s a beautiful photo showing her impressing Errol Flynn with some sketches she drew of him and how good an artist she was.

 

Reading the early scripts, born out of the belief that somewhere in deepest Africa there was an aquatic tribe who were given women each year has shades of a certain ‘King Kong’ film which is freely admitted at the plotting stage. Indeed, the final draft still owes much to it as indeed any creature film where said being wants the girl.

The audience comments are hysterical, especially one who thought there was too many shots of the creature. There was also some debates about it being in colour but I doubt if they’d have had it in 3D otherwise in those days.

Director Jack Arnold didn’t actually film the underwater sequence where the Gill Man was stalking Kay Lawrence (actress Julia Adams). It was actually filmed by cameraman Charles ‘Scotty’ Welbourne with second unit director James Haven staying above on the boat. Speaking of Arnold, apart from being a claim-jumper, the accounts given here reveal an unpleasant man nearly all the time away from the camera. It’s also interesting that he only appears in one photo and, even then, he’s not its subject. Then when you consider how Bud Westmore took credit for the make-up department at every opportunity, including the Gill Man, when he obviously had nothing to do with it shows the darker side of Hollywood. Granted that films in those days often only showed the names of the heads of departments, but this carried through to film stills and interviews.

Back to the creature, if you want to spot the difference between the water and surface versions, pay attention to the eyes. Oh, did you know that a young Henry Mancini contributed to the musical cues? Something else that doesn’t come up on the film credits.

With the second film, ‘Revenge Of The Creature’ (1955), it had more shakes of the title than the third original ‘Star Wars’ film. We also have a brief cameo in his third film appearance by a chap called Clint Eastwood. I wonder what happened to him? There’s a clip of this on Utube and it’s only a couple lines.

I always felt the fourth film, ‘The Creature Walks Among Us’ (1956) to be inferior to the first two films, mostly because the Gill Man had his external neck gills removed after being burnt in a fire. Considering the story is supposed to be about a creature that can live underwater, you would have thought that would be one aspect that shouldn’t be tampered with.

At the back of the book we come to real Tom Weaver country where he has his usual insightful interviews. The key one here is with stunt-woman swimmer Ginger Stanley. Despite her name, she’s actually a blonde, and was the swimmer for both Julia Adams and Lori Nelson when in the water. Both her and Ricco Browning could hold their breaths for minutes at a time. Reading about her underwater work before and after gives great insight into the 1950s, making for the real topping of this particular cake.

I should point out that the number notes are highlighted in red and often contains as much useful information as the regular pages and made them a lot easier to pick out and might be something that other publishers should pick up on in books that can have more than one colour on a page. I still live in hope that footnotes might actually end up being at the bottom of the pages they belong to or at least have the information incorporated into the main text itself but this makes an interesting compromise.

There is also a look at four films that copied ‘The Creature From The Black Lagoon’ plot including one spoof. Alas no reference to the one, as far as I can recall, take on the film in comics of Fantastic Four # 97 (original series) which ‘borrowed’ the basic elements, even if they did turn out to be amphibious aliens in ‘The Monster From The Lost Lagoon’.

Finally, there is a look at attempts to do an updated remake in the modern age. Reading their plot descriptions, I can’t help feel that it needs a fresh take on them than to go down the slasher route that we’re used to today. The Gill Man is supposed to be reasonably intelligent, so why isn’t he out to study these bipeds who are after him than run away with the token woman? Having him as the sole survivor when you expect a colony also needs to be considered. No doubt there will be another venture into the Black Lagoon at some point but it needs less of an update or remake and more a new take.

As you can tell by the length of this review, this is a superb book to own if you have any liking for ‘The Creature From The Black Lagoon’ then it’s a must have. I should also point out that with two-columns to a page, this is a long, long read, justifying its cost.

GF Willmetts

November 2014

(pub: McFarland. 394 page indexed illustrated large hardback. Price: £62.50 (UK), $60.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-78649-418-7)

check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com

Category: Books, Scifi

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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