The creature from the Black Lagoon as a progressive milestone in cinematic history

As we approached Halloween night Terry was joyfully scouring the interwibbles for 3D films we could watch on our brand spanking new 3D telly. Some have worked really well, others less so. I hadn’t realised how many ‘old’ movies had actually been shot in 3D for cinematic release back in one of the previous eons where 3D was the exciting new thing. So we settled down to watch this icon of black and white horror.

It’s from 1954 and I’d already seen the picture of Julie Adams sprawled over a rock in her bathing suit, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of gender roles. I am so happy that my pre-conceptions were at least partly wrong. The character of Kay Lawrence is strikingly independent, educated and pragmatic. She’s in a relationship with one of the other characters, but from the banter between them you don’t get the impression that she’s under his thumb. She’s works at a research lab studying marine biology, which is awesome. I know I’m a few weeks’ late for Ada Lovelace day, but I’d venture she’s a pretty good candidate for a female science role model. What’s equally impressive is that she actually understands the importance of funding. In fiction (and for that matter in reality) scientists are often starry eyed idealists who think that situating their work within the confines of reality, for which read curtailing their budget, is an attack on their integrity and commitment to their work. In the film Kay takes the role of peacemaker between the ambitious entrepreneur Mark Williams who wants results he can show off to his backers, and the David Reed who just wants to do cool science-y things and discover stuff.

So here was my next surprise. The scientists are the goodies. I was expecting a Frankenstein style sermon on the dangers and limits of science, but instead I took away a fairly progressive morality tale about the importance of ecology. The scientists are perfectly happy to leave the creature be, and if memory serves it’s Kay herself who suggests that they would learn more by allowing the creature to remain in its natural habitat. But the money-grabbing Mark Williams sees an opportunity to score a trophy, and unsurprisingly the creature doesn’t take too kindly to getting harpooned.

There are still plenty of things which mark this as a 50s horror. There’s the screaming, but actually far less than I expected. I think a couple of them could be classed more as a shriek of surprise, which when confronted with what is basically a Silurian is fair enough. Then there’s the lingering shots of Julia Adams swimming around just a few feet from the creature gazing at her lithe form from beneath her. (Actually, scratch the lithe bit. Adams is sporting the pointiest breasts outside a Madonna video and there’s no way those are conducive to aqua-dynamics.) But there’s plenty of eye-candy for those who prefer their screen idols to come with a Y Chromosome, and for my money the shots of Richard Carlson and Richard Denning cavorting in their swimwear is no less gratuitous than the sequences of Kay splashing about, particularly when they come to a brief bout of fisticuffs!

Yes, ultimately Kay gets captured and has to be rescued by the men folk, so loses feminist marks there, but the character of Kay is not the one-note damsel in distress I had anticipated from any film of that era.

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