Don’t Open That Door! #61: ‘The Blob’ (1958)

[14 August 2014]

By David Maine

Alternative titles: Steve McQueen’s Blaze of Glory; The Young and the Boneless

POSITIVES:

*“Beware of the Blob” theme song by Burt Bacharach

*Breakthrough role for “Steven” McQueen!

*Cool old guy (Olin Howlin) with wonky rooster-hair

*Chess-playing police officers! Drunk, uncaring parents!

*Effective juicy-red space-amoeba effects and some nail-biting suspense

NEGATIVES:

*A little too much cool teen bonding

*60+ seconds of The Most Annoying Child in Movies (and that’s saying something)

*Not enough onscreen monster time

SYNOPSIS: When a gray-haired old fella—last seen as an entertaining drunk providing comic relief in 1954’s Them!—gets himself wrapped up in a piece of ambulatory space jell-o that drops out of the sky one night, he’s lucky that teenagers Steve and Jane are busy making out nearby. The kids take him to Dr. Hallen (you can tell he’s a doctor by his glasses), which just shows they’re decent enough at heart when they’re not trying to drag race or get each other pregnant. Evil cop Sgt. Bert, however, has it in for them, but the kids aren’t worried. They don’t care whether the adults listen to them or not—it’s not like they’re trying to save the world or something, right?

Pretty soon, though, things start to get icky—and slimy—when the old fella’s arm, then body, get as gelatinous as, well, gelatin. A few gooey incidents ensue, involving the doctor, a nurse, and a car mechanic, and then we’ve got an aggressive and rapidly expanding ball of cosmic raspberry jelly bustling through town, lookin’ for action on a Saturday night. The obvious place to go is: the movies! But not before taking a little detour through the throbbing heart of downtown’s mercantile district.

Meanwhile, displaying a degree of alertness rarely observed in real, three-dimensional teenagers, Steve and company do a little investigating of their own and quickly glom on to the fact that there’s a monster from outer space causing people to disappear. Typically, the cops don’t listen—evil Sgt. Bert is downright rude about it, though friendly Lt. Dave is willing to cut the kids a little slack. This stalemate is overcome only when jellyroll-boy hits the packed movie theater and sends the audience rushing into the street, terrified and shrieking—or in some cases, grinning broadly. After that, kids and cops declare a truce as humanity joins hands to confront the deadly extraterrestrial menace. Or something like that. Don’t worry—nobody actually, physically joins hands. This was the ‘50s, after all.

What gets reduced to protoplasm: an old guy; a nurse; a doctor; a mechanic; and, reportedly, “40 or 50 people” but sadly we don’t see this.

Best line in the movie: “Hey, what gives? I thought you cats didn’t dig spooky shows.”

Most creepily prophetic exchange in light of melting polar ice caps: Lt. Dave: “I don’t think it can be killed, Steve. But at least we’ve got it stopped.” Teenager Steve: “Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold.” (Better check on that again, fellas.)

This reminds me of… …The 1988 remake, which starred Kevin Dillon and was a pretty nifty blend of campy and creepy that nicely retains the spirit of the original. Besides, it features a hilarious couple of scenes involving a pharmacist and a teenager buying condoms.

Did you notice? The poster at the movie theater (min. 52:30) advertises something called The Vampire and the Robot, but man, it sure looks like Forbidden Planet to me.

Did you know? Other titles considered for the movie included “The Glob,” “The Glob that Girdled the Globe,” “The Molten Meteorite,” and “The Night of the Creeping Dead.”

Unlikely as it may seem: This movie has enjoyed a Criterion Collection release. Take that, Seven Samurai!

Somehow their careers survived: One of the cinematic giants of the 1960s and ’70s, “Steven” aka Steve McQueen (Steve)  would become known for blistering tough-guy performances in The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), Bullitt (1968), Papillon (1973), The Towering Inferno (1974) and many other films. Aneta Corsaut (Jane) would appear in 1978’s The Toolbox Murders, while Earl Rowe (Lt. Dave) would appear in 1980 TV movie Attica. Steven Chase (Dr. Hallan) aka Stephen or Guy or Alden, started his career with 1933’s in Chance at Heaven; he also appeared in 1951’s When Worlds Collide, and his long career included over 90 other films, plus TV work. But even this career was nothing compared to Olin Howlin’s; the old man at the start of the movie here concludes an acting career which had started 195 films earlier, in Hick Manhattan (1918). His role as a colorful drunk in 1954’s Them! might be familiar to readers of this column.
           
BOTTOM LINE: A goofy good time, full of hot rods, teen heroes and sinister creeping Grape Jelly From Planet Neptor-X.

NEXT TIME: Donovan’s Brain (1953)

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/183915-dont-open-that-door-61-the-blob-1958/