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February 3, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #57 - Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

(I wonder what people who use the metric system call this movie?)

It seems like a weird film to call up during Women in Horror Month - it's not commonly thought of as horror and it's kind of a crap movie - but 1958's Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (not to be confused with the vapid remake that was shockingly directed by the brilliant Christopher Guest) has often made me stop and wonder.  The sci-fi/horrors of this era generally warned of communists, preached paranoia, and often settled on religion as the worlds' only hope.  They were films that attempted to convince audiences that a strong and practical husband and a proper and subservient wife were also needed to survive whatever dramatic trauma the world could send our way.  Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, however, does not subscribe to these theories.
In fact, it seems like 90% of the movie is about how bad marriage can be.  Nancy and Harry Archer are not at all a happy couple, as the film begins with frantic Nancy - a former mental patient - driving angry and running into a floating orb which has been spotted across the globe and seems to have touched down to terrorize her.  In the meantime, Harry is publicly snuggling up with a barroom honey named...Honey.  They talk about how hard it is for him to get a divorce and talk his rich wife's money, and how much easier things would be if she were dead.  All while Nancy is freaking out and telling the world she saw a flying saucer.  It's most certainly not the template for a happy couple.

Nancy is played by Allison Hayes, who had previously appeared opposite John Carradine and Tor Johnson in The Unearthly (which featured Tor's iconic order "TIME FOR GO TO BED!") and played the female lead in Zombies of Mora Tau.  A former contestant in the Miss America pageant, Hayes was often cast for her good looks - yet the opening acts of Attack present her primarily as a bitter woman who can't even turn her own husband's head.  It wasn't until the second half of the film that she cemented her status as a B-movie icon.
In most regards, if you start a film with a volatile ex-mental patient and then they're transformed into a giant, house shattering creature who wants revenge - that's what people call a horror movie.  (It should also be noted that the giant house shattering creature is angry because their husband tried to kill them...WITH A SYRINGE THAT HAD A HUGE NEEDLE.)  But in this case, no one seems to talk about Attack of the 50 Foot Woman as a horror flick - because people aren't afraid of a monster that competed in the Miss America pageant.  Perhaps those people forget that quote about a woman scorned, because I think we don't give MEGA NANCY enough credit as one of the truly empowered women of genre cinema.

While most drive-in flicks of this time period were telling women to bake goodies and scream for their husband's help, the message we get here seems to be along the lines of "don't put up with an ignorant husband".  And while the film primarily made its name on spectacle - What dude doesn't want to stare at a towering model with an exposed midriff? - a male viewer with a clear mind will probably be reminded that being unfaithful can bring a full-scale rage upon them.
I don't know, maybe Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is just a silly b-movie that exists as an excuse to show off a giant makeshift bikini and the amazonian lass who inhabits it.  But the portrayal of Nancy Archer, in spite of Hayes' limited range, always seems like an aberration in the '50s sci-fi/horror subgenre to me.  This is a rare bit of pulp terror that gives the female character power of the male character, and for that I have to salute Ms. Hayes and those behind the film for doing something unique with what could have easily been something more kitschy.  The film may have gained greater acceptance had they played up the comedy and made it resemble an episode of Leave It To Beaver, but Attack of the 50 Foot Woman instead lives on as the tale of a woman who literally refuses to shrink away from her husband's attention. 

4 comments:

R.D. Penning said...

meh... I really do like the remake though!

Bleaux Leaux said...

Missed linking to this on my WIH post yesterday, but that's now been corrected. Cool piece! (As for more pressing matters, I am a Redskins fan, but a long time Steeler hater. Go Pack!)

The Mike said...

Russ - Ewwww. I totally was disappointed by the remake. I had such high hopes with Guest at the helm, and was wicked let down. Maybe I'll try it again someday.

Bleaux - Many thanks for reading! And many more thanks for supporting the Pack!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

The first time I read this review, I totally missed the genius pun in your last sentence.

So let me say it again, The Mike: Genius!