This Month's Featured Equipment Reviews
Blob, The (Criterion Collection)
Written by Bill Warren
Tuesday, 14 November 2000
|The Criterion Collection
||Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howlin, Steven Chase, John Benson, George Karas, Robert Fields, James Bonnet
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
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.
|letterboxed (1.66) and 16X9 enhanced
||trailer, stills gallery, two commentary tracks and a miniature poster
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||36-inch Sony XBR