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Blob, The (Criterion Collection) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 November 2000

The Blob
The Criterion Collection
MPAA rating: NR
starring: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howlin, Steven Chase, John Benson, George Karas, Robert Fields, James Bonnet
release year: 1958
film rating: Three-and-a-half stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

Back in 1958, every major comic made jokes about 'The Blob,' both for its naked title and the irreducible simplicity of its monster: a glob of protoplasm that moves, devours people, and grows -- and that's it. One of the bright surprises of the commentary tracks of this outstanding Criterion Collection release is that the filmmakers wanted comics to make jokes about their movie -- and that that is precisely the reason they chose the title they did. They shrewdly realized that jokes are great free advertising, and it worked -- the movie was a modest hit for Paramount, the Hollywood company that released it.

But the movie was made far from Hollywood, in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, by filmmakers who'd previously only made short religious films. But they had made a lot of short religious films; this was director Irwin Yeaworth's first feature, but something around his 300th movie. The film was made in the small but efficient studio that had been built for these religious films -- the kinds of things that were shown in churches and at Sunday schools around the country -- and while its low budget is obvious, it has a clean, open look that made it stand out from the pack of 1950s science fiction/horror movies. Plus, it was made in faded-looking but well-designed color.

Most importantly, however, was their choice of a leading man. On his commentary track, producer Jack H. Harris tends to take credit for choosing the lead, while on his separate track, so does director "Shorty" Yeaworth. At this point, it's all moot: someone hired Steve McQueen just on the point of stardom, and that made a tremendous difference. First, McQueen (billed, oddly, as Steven McQueen) wasn't just a good actor, the camera loved him; he knew the camera was his best friend on the set, and he's already working it like a pro. And yet stays tightly within his (limited) characterization of a small-town teenager, a nicer kid than the cops or the townspeople (including his new girlfriend) think he is. In the next decade, McQueen became one of the biggest stars of his time; he was a good actor, though never a great one, but he didn't need to be. Like James Dean in the 1950s, McQueen embodied his period -- the alienated loner who reluctantly takes on society's burdens, a perfect metaphor for the time. He was handsome but not conventional in looks; he could brood with the best of them, but had a light comic touch. (And when he combined both approaches he was untouchable.) He couldn't adapt, though, and his fame was slipping away well before his untimely death from cancer.

In 'The Blob,' a meteor lands from space; an old man (Olin Howlin) finds within it a glob of amorphous material (mostly played by a gallon or so of silicone) that adheres to his hand, and starts dissolving it. McQueen, as Steve Andrews, and Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut) happen upon the old man, and deliver him to a doctor. But the blob consumes the old man, then the doctor's nurse, and finally the doctor -- witnessed by a shocked Steve.

He cannot convince the cops that there's some kind of shapeless monster out there, so the Blob trundles about town, eating whoever it happens upon. Finally, it erupts from the projection booth of a movie theater featuring a midnight spook show -- a vividly memorable image -- and the townsfolk finally realize what they're facing.

This Criterion edition is excellent; the film has been restored to near-perfect sharpness and color. If you have a big enough TV, you can see fingerprints on the Blob itself. The two commentary tracks are both excellent; one features, mostly, producer Harris, interspersed with separately-recorded comments by Bruce Eder (who isn't clearly identified, but whose comments are insightful and historically interesting). The other features director Irwin S. Yeaworth, Jr., interspersed with comments by actor Robert Fields, who plays one of the movie's teenagers. Harris, Yeaworth and Fields each comment at some length on McQueen, who was a handful during the shooting of 'The Blob,' but who had the poster of only one of his movies on the wall of the room in which he died: 'The Blob.'

The special effects by Bart Sloane were simple but vividly effective. Photos were taken of locations where the Blob was to strike; they were mounted on carefully-cut plywood, creating kind of two-dimensional miniatures. These were fastened to a four-by-eight sheet of wood, and so was the camera. The whole rig could be tilted, so that gravity is what moved the Blob. This ingenious approach resulted in some scenes that are still remarkably convincing.

The extras also include, pointlessly, a rather ugly miniature poster; the artwork is from one of Harris' several reissues of 'The Blob,' but the color has been muted down so the once-crimson Blob is now a dull mahogany. The poster also makes the DVD case hard to close.

The movie is actually quite good. Writers Kate Phillips and Irving Millgate were far removed from the Hollywood scene; while a lot of low-budget SF movies had scripts that were just barely good enough to get by, Millgate and Phillips tried to write solid, if conventional, characters with believable motivations, and then to drop the alien monster into their midst. The film has a kind of solidity that was quite novel in 1958, even if it still had a jerry-rigged feel. The story takes place in one night, which is a good, classically dramatic technique, and it's confined mostly to just a few blocks of a small town. The 1988 remake had a lot to recommend it, but it lacked the honest innocence of the original. (The sequel, 'Beware the Blob,' was far too jokey.)

For years, Criterion has issued excellent discs -- first laser, now DVD -- of classic films, mostly foreign. But recently they've begun giving their fine treatment to movies that, while not exactly classics, are well worth this approach. Next up: 'Fiend Without a Face,' the one about the flying brains.

more details
sound format:
Dolby mono
aspect ratio(s):
letterboxed (1.66) and 16X9 enhanced
special features: trailer, stills gallery, two commentary tracks and a miniature poster
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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