17 July 2011

THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE/1959/BEVERLY GARLAND/LON CHANEY JR.

THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE

1959/Director: Roy Del Ruth/Writers: Orville H. Hampton

Cast: Beverly Garland, Bruce Bennett, Lon Chaney Jr., George Macready

Lately I have been getting in lots of old - horror and sci-fi films I have always heard about but have never seen. I grew up with images in magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland of films like Invisible Invaders, Gorgo, Not of this Earth (the original) and many others but never caught them on any creature feature shows while growing up. By the time VHS came out I seemed to have lost some interest in these old films and followed a different and often darker path for many years. Now suddenly I find myself drawn back to these often harmless and quaint little gems and recall how Forrest J. Ackerman handled them with such care despite their often corny stories and shabby production values. One film I finally got around to seeing for the first time at the ripe old age of fifty one is 1959’s The Alligator People. Of course before I ever see a film I have an image of the film in my mind and in the case of The Alligator People the actual movie just did not come close. Not for better or worse but the movie was not what I had conjured up in my mind based on old pictures I had seen in horror magazines. For one thing the film should probably be called The Alligator Person since that is about the total number of alligator people we deal with for the most part. There are people covered in odd shaped shrouds that we assume are also alligator people in some state of mutation but nothing much ever happens with them though the images are a bit creepy.

I liked the film (as I like almost all of the films here at The Uranium Café with a couple exceptions) for a few reasons. I love Beverly Garland. She adds something special to any role she played in during her time as a scream queen during the late 50’s and early 60’s. She can act better than most of the gals in this category. She usually played the roles straight and had no problem hamming it up in situations that a bit ludicrous (such as facing off against the celery stalk from Venus in Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World). The film also has Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his most memorable roles as a sleazy, one armed, alcoholic gator hating swamper who tries to slime himself all over Miss Garland in his swamp shack.  The film also features some of the early work of make-up maestro Dick Smith. Smith is known for his work on films like The Exorcist and Taxi Driver but he did not start off at the top. This should be kept in mind as you stare in amazement at the final result of the cobalt treatment fusing man and alligator into one‘horrifying’ monstrosity. The cinematography by 1929 Oscar winner Karl Strauss in the film is exceptional for the genre with high contrasting black and whites that gives it a film noir quality at times. Director Roy Del Ruth did not usually work in the horror sci-fi area and did well enough with a story that could, in the final analysis, only end up a fine cheese classic.


Garland plays Jane Marvin, a woman with a secret past trapped in her repressed memories. The wonders of modern psychology in the form of hypnosis unravel these secrets little by little. Her true identity is that of Joyce Hatton. Joyce was dumped on a train while on the way to her honeymoon by her husband Paul Webster (Richard Crane) after he receives a mysterious telegram. Could the telegram be connected to Paul’s miraculous recovery from devastating injuries he received in a plane crash during the war? Does my stating the matter in the form of question give the answer away? Joyce finally traces Paul’s possible location to a plantation style manor in the Louisiana bayous where Dr. Mark Sinclair has been conducting tissue and limb regeneration research using reptiles, alligators, humans and radiation. In these 50’s and 60’s horror/sci-films radiation was at the root of almost all evils. The house is also occupied by Paul’s protective mother, a bunch of studly guys in tight white t-shirts that keep the patients in line and drunken, bitter handy man Manon (Chaney). Manon simply hates gators and the one thing he hates more is gator people. There are great scenes of laboratories with lots of dials and lights, swamps and snakes and Paul as the result of Manon’s drunken revenge: the Alligator Man. The make up for the creature really is not as bad as most people make it to be. It does not reek of Smith’s later genius either but I sort of liked it. I sort of wish we had seen more of it to be honest and that it was a little more evil. Good guy Paul wrestling with the gator’s carnivorous instincts. But like many films from the period we are treated more to long winded dialogs and scientific theories than to actual monsters. However  The Alligator People is a film that I would watch again because I sort of like those melodramatic dialogs and scientific musings on the benefits and evils of radiation.
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