I recently reviewed Warner’s first volume of the Cult Camp Classics box sets, and had a number of kind words to say about Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. I thought I would expand on those remarks, going on at a bit more length as to why this film is so oddly endearing.
First, to re-iterate the review: “I quote Jeff Rovin: ‘If Attack of the 50-Foot Woman was intended to be taken seriously, it’s the worst film ever made. If it was intended as a put-on, it’s one of the great science-fiction satires…. Either way, the movie is hilarious. If Tennessee Williams had written a script for Ed Wood, the result might well have been this tale of rich alcoholic Allison Hayes and her obsessive love for her no-account husband William Hudson, who, along with floozy Yvette Vickers, is plotting to get her out of the way, in one manner or another. An alien giant who needs diamonds to fuel his UFO (called a ‘satellite’ in the film) expands both diamonds and Hayes. Cue giant rubber hands and transparent double-exposure effects. Cheap as the film is, the cast sink their collective teeth deep into the overheated storyline. The result is both hilarious and gripping.”
Why is it so gripping? Precisely because of the mismatch of genres that it seems to represent. The clumsy special effects are of the caliber one associates with Bert I. Gordon (The Amazing Colossal Man and so forth), and the ghastly, semi-transparent double-exposure work makes Hayes look more like a 50-foot ghost than anything else (except for a couple of brief low-angle shots toward the end, where one is briefly able to suspend one’s disbelief and buy the idea that this woman is gigantic). As a result, rather than appear dramatic, Hayes seems disconnected from the world in which she is supposed to be moving, almost as if she has nothing to do with it. That same disconnect extends to the structure of the film’s plot. The spaceship and its giant have so little to do with anything (where are they from? why are they here? why diamonds? – there are no answers), that they amount to a giant-sized MacGuffin, serving only to further the tale of Hudson and Hayes’ marriage, acting as the catalyst to its final, lethal disintegration. Hayes’ climactic rampage is so brief that it might as well be simply a literalized metaphor for her tortured relationship.
And this is the point which really makes, I think, the film so striking. In almost any monster movie you can name, the characterizations and relationships are perfunctory at best, when they’re present at all. And so they should be: they are merely filler between us and the main event (the monster), and excessive development would be unwelcome. Take the original King Kong, for example, to deal with absolute pinnacle of the genre. Important as the relationship between Ann and Jack Driscoll might be, the far more complex one is the one between Kong and Ann, and the human relationship serves merely as a symbolic counterpoint to the Beauty and the Beast myth. Uniquely among rampage films, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman has its giant mayhem grow out of the relationship and comment on it, rather than the other way around. The characterizations are hardly deep, but for a 50’s B-movie, they are very clearly drawn and are actually quite interesting. They are just as good as those in many a film noir from the period, which it greatly resembles. This could almost be a minor effort in the vein of Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, were it not for the whole 50-foot business. And yet… and yet… that 50-foot business serves to accentuate the ideas set forth by the rest of the movie, as if we were seeing familiar noir themes made flesh.
Am I making too much of a case for this film? I don’t think so. Take another look at it. Enjoy.