Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: dead mobsters just don't know how to stay dead in Creature with the Atom Brain.
Creature with the Atom BrainDirector: Edward L. Cahn
Cast: Richard Denning, Angela Stevens, S. John Launer, Michael Granger, Gregory Gay
US Release Date: 1955-07
Alternative titles: The Incredibly Dumb Creature with the One-Atom-Sized Brain; Gangster's Pea-Brained Paradise
+ Great first scene.
+ Inventive premise.
+ Glow-in-the-dark fingerprints! Wish I had 'em! (Hmm, maybe not).
+ Benji-type terrier has wires running out of its head.
+ Impressive scenes of mass destruction and weird zombie guys.
+ There's a little kid, and you know what that means.
+ Cringe-inducing Ozzie-and-Harriet-esque gender roles.
SYNOPSIS: Police investigator Dr Chet—you can tell he's a scientist because he smokes a pipe—is called in to investigate the murder of a casino owner by a guy who looks suspiciously like Mr Grant from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Chet thinks there just may be a clue in the day-glo foot- and fingerprints found at the crime scene—yeah, that Dr Chet is a sharp guy—though not half as sharp as Teutonic Dr Steigg, the brains behind it all. Steigg is in cahoots with a mafioso named Buchanan (an Irish mafioso, apparently) who's concocted a dastardly plan to take revenge against those who've done him wrong… and then, possibly, take over the world, one radioactive footprint at a time.
Investigator Chet is the kind of guy who really throws himself into his work—maybe because the alternative is staying home with his incredibly vapid wife Joyce, she of the platinum hair and inability to perform simple tasks such as opening doors. Chet and his police buddy Captain Dave soon discover that the murderer was already dead; as Dave tells Chet, "You're the smart one. If it doesn't make sense to you, imagine how it sounds to me." Meanwhile, somebody else gets killed, and this time the fingerprints are from another dead guy, and oh by the way eight bodies have turned up missing at the morgue. Chet starts connecting the glow-in-the-dark dots, and the media get involved too: none other than radio anchorman Dick Cutting—yes, you read that correctly—wades in to disseminate his views on the crisis.
As the authorities tighten the noose around the lowlifes behind it all, said lowlifes respond by upping the tempo: more people get killed, followed in short order by a full-scale spree of destruction that's pretty impressive indeed, considering that it's being carried out by a half-dozen guys with lousy social skills and deteriorating glands. Soon enough, Chet himself is in the line of fire, along with blonde airhead Joyce—you remember, the one who couldn't open a door. Unfortunately, little kid Penny is streets ahead of her mom, and can open it right up. Shame about the timing, if you know what I mean.
Best line of dialogue in the movie: "Look, a diluted solution of hematin—two absorption bands between the Fronhauffer lines."
What gets reduced to its component atoms: A guy in a suit; another guy in a suit; two more guys; another guy (by report); a bus; a train; a plane; some army guys; a factory; a jeep; an electricity tower; a lake (a lake?—yes, a lake); a guy driving someone else's car; two more guys (sheesh); a guy in a white coat; a gangster with really bad aim.
What gets saved: Family values (at least for a while).
Did you notice? During all the time that Captain Dave is walking around under the, ah, influence, nobody thought to ask, "Say, Dave, why are there mascara lines and polka dots running across your forehead?"
Party game: Play "Atom Brain". One person picks a word from the dictionary, then reads the definition aloud, one word at a time, pausing after each word. Players try to guess the chosen word. Winner gets to pick the next word. Continue playing until a permanent settlement is functioning on Mars.
Somehow their careers survived: Richard Denning (Dr Chet) had already starred in Creature From the Black Lagoon and Target Earth (both 1954) and would go on to The Black Scorpion (1957) and a supporting role in TV's Hawaii Five-0 (1968-80). Besides 1955's Jungle Goddess, Angela Stevens (Joyce) appeared in projects as diverse as From Here to Eternity (1953, in an uncredited role) to the Three Stooges vehicle Triple Crossed (1959). Debutant S. John Launer (Capt Dave) would show up in 1956's The Werewolf, along with many westerns and much TV, including a supporting role in Perry Mason (1958-66). Creepy-looking Michael Granger (Buchanan) appeared Jungle Moon Men (1955), while Gregory Gay (Dr Steigg) would play Erwin Rommel in the 1962 biopic Hitler. Director Edward L. Cahn would helm such works as The She Creature (1956), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) and It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958).
BOTTOM LINE: A thoroughly enjoyable, noir-ish SF chiller, if you can get past the dingbat wife and cutie-pie kid.
NEXT WEEK: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1959)