Wednesday, August 12, 2009


“The Blob” (*** out of ****) qualifies as a cult sci-fi film not only because it launched 27-year old Steve McQueen on a trajectory to superstardom, but also because it exploited the popular themes both of alien invasion and teenage delinquency that were inseparable in the 1950s. Interestingly, nobody in the Kay Linaker & Theodore Simonson screenplay ever refers to the amorphous, scarlet-red protoplasm that plummeted to Earth in a meteor and menaced everybody in the small town of Downingtown Pennsylvania on a Friday night as “The Blob.” Steve McQueen won the role of Josh Randall, the old West bounty hunter in “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” after producer Dick Powell saw this Paramount Pictures’ release. Meanwhile McQueen’s attractive girlfriend Aneta Corsaut went on to star opposite Andy Griffith in “The Andy Griffith Show” as Sheriff Taylor’s school teacher girlfriend Helen Crump. Of course, neither McQueen nor Corsaut were teenagers, but then rarely did actual teenagers play actual teenagers.

Director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr., made his directorial debut with “The Blob.” Linaker & Simonson’s screenplay synthesized four genres: first, the alien invasion; second, teenage delinquency; third, a murder mystery, and fourth; a horror chiller. Moreover, while the gelatinous substance assumes various shapes, it remains largely anonymous. In other words, the eponymous Jell-O neither talks nor communicates by telepathy. Instead, it kills without a qualm and discriminates against nobody. The tone of “The Blob” is fairly serious in spite of its somewhat campy nature.

As the filmmakers point out on the Criterion DVD release of “The Blob,” the movie opens uncharacteristically for a sci-fi horror thriller with our hero and heroine in a remote rural locale making out and kissing. Jane (Anita Corsaut) and Steve (Steve McQueen) see a large meteor fall to the earth and drive off to find it. Meanwhile, an old man finds the meteor and prods it with a stick. The crust of the meteor cracks open and a slimy bunch of goop clings to the stick. When the old timer (Olin Howland of “The Paleface”) gets a closer look at it, the goop attaches itself to his hand. The old guy runs screaming from the crater and Steve nearly hits him with his jalopy. Steve and Jane pick the guy up and take him to see Dr. Hallen in town.

Hallen is poised to leave town for a medical conference when Steve and Jane bring the old guy to his office. Hallen phones his nurse to return since he may need to perform an amputation. Of course, Hallen has never seen anything like the substance on the man’s forearm. Hallen sends Steve and Jane to find out what happened. Our heroes run into another group of teenagers that ridicule Steve’s fast driving. Steve fools him into a reverse drive race, but the local police chief Dave (Earl Rowe) lets him off the hook. Steve and the teenagers visit the site of the meteor crater and find the warm remains of the meteor.

After they visit the old man’s house and rescue a dog, the teenagers split for a spooky late night movie while Steve and Jane return to Dr. Hallen’s office. During the interim, the blob has entirely absorbed the old geezer, killed Hallen’s nurse and attacked the doctor. Neither acid thrown on the protoplasm nor Hallen’s shotgun have any effect on the blob. Steve catches a glimpse of the blob absorbing Hallen.

When Steve and Jane go to the police department to report the incident, Dave is frankly incredulous, while Sergeant Bert (John Benson) believes that it is a prank. Bert has an axe to grind with teenagers because his wife died when one struck her car.

Steve and Jane take them to Hallen’s office, but they can find neither hide nor hair of anybody, but Dave admits that the office has been vandalized. Against Sgt. Bert’s advice, Dave turns the teens over to their respective parents. No sooner have Steve and Jane fooled their folks into believing that they are snugly asleep in bed than they venture out again. They drive into town and spot the old man’s dog that got away from them in front of a supermarket. When they go to retrieve the mutt, Steve steps in front of the electric eye door of the grocery store and it opens. They find nobody inside, but they encounter the blob. Steve and Jane take refuge in a freezer and the blob doesn’t attack them.

Later, after they escape from the blob, Steve persuades his teenager buddies that challenged him in a street race to alert the authorities because he is supposed to be home in bed. Police Chief Dave and the fire department arrive at the supermarket. Steve tries to convince Dave that the blob is in the store. Sgt. Bert proves that nothing is wrong. About that time, the blob kills the theater projectionist and attacks the moviegoers. Suddenly, a horde of people exit the theater and Dave believes Steve. Steve and Jane wind up at a lunch counter that the blob attacks. The proprietor and our heroes hole up in the cellar and Steve discovers that a fire extinguisher with its freezing contents forces the blob to back off.

The authorities collect every fire extinguisher in town and manage to freeze the blob. The Pentagon sends down a team to transport the blob to the North Pole. As the remains of the blob drift down to the polar ice pack, the end credit appears with a ghostly giant question mark. Producer James B. Harris obtained stock military footage of a Globe master military transport plane depositing the parachute and its cargo.

“The Blob” proved to be a drive-in sensation and Steve McQueen’s surge to stardom gave the film added momentum. Unless you are a juvenile, this little horror movie isn’t scary at all, but Yeaworth and his scenarists create a sufficient amount of paranoia and sympathy for our heroes. They never show the blob actually assimilating its victims and leave this to your imagination, so “The Blob” isn’t without a modicum of subtlety. In his first starring role, McQueen is simply terrific and conjures up a surfeit of charisma despite the lengths that he must resort to so that the authorities will take him seriously. Corsaut is fine as his girlfriend. Although it isn’t a stellar sci-fi/horror film, “The Blob” is a lot of fun and takes itself seriously enough so that it isn’t as stupid as the Larry Hagman helmed sequel “Beware! The Blob!” (1972). The 1988 remake had a better production budget and took itself seriously, too, but neither film benefited from having a major star in the making.

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