Creature from the Black Lagoon, The (1954): Jack Arnold’s Classic Sci-Fi

Universal’s monster sci-fi feature, directed by the prolific genre filmmaker Jack Arnold, was originally presented in 3-D.

Creature from the Black Lagoon
Creature from the Black Lagoon poster.jpg

Theatrical poster by Reynold Brown

Born in 1916, Arnold made documentaries for government agencies before embarking on a Hollywood career in the 1950s, specializing in low budget sci-fi, horror, and Westerns.

This tale centers on the members of a fossil-hunting expedition down a dark tributary of the mist-shrouded Amazon, where they enter the prehistoric, amphibious “Gill Man,” the last of an underwater species of fanged, clawed humanoids.

After being captured and brought aboard, the creature revives and escapes, slaughtering several members of the team, while abducting their sole female member (Julie Adams). This motivates the surviving crewmen to take action, particularly those who fancy carrying the girl off themselves.

Good craftsman Arnold shot on tropical location, employing heavy mists and eerie jungle noises to create an effective ambience of tension and menace.

The film’s most impressive element is the monster, with its pulsating gills and fearsome webbed talons. The creature was played on land by stuntman Ben Chapman and underwater by the champion swimmer Ricou Browning.

In one of the picture’s most famous scenes, the Gill Man swims beneath his female quarry in an eerie ballet, a scene that inspired director Spielberg when he made Jaws in 1975.

 

Cast

Ricou Browning played the “Gill-man” in the underwater scenes of Creature from the Black Lagoon

 

Cast:

Richard Carlson as Dr. David Reed
Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence
Richard Denning as Dr. Mark Williams
Antonio Moreno as Dr. Carl Maia
Nestor Paiva as Captain Lucas
Whit Bissell as Dr. Edwin Thompson
Bernie Gozier as Zee
Henry Escalante as Chico
Perry Lopez (uncredited) as Tomas
Rodd Redwing (uncredited) as Luis
Sydney Mason (uncredited) as Dr. Matos
Ben Chapman (uncredited) as Gill-man (land)
Ricou Browning (uncredited) as Gill-man (underwater)

Credits:

Directed by Jack Arnold
Produced by William Alland
Screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur Ross, based on the story by Maurice Zimm
Cinematography William E. Snyder
Edited by Ted J. Kent

Production and distribution: Universal Pictures

Release date: February 12, 1954 (premiere); March 5, 1954 (regional openings)

Running time: 79 minutes
Box office $1,300,000

Narrative Structure

A geology expedition in the Amazon uncovers fossilized evidence (a skeletal hand with webbed fingers) from the Devonian period that provides direct link between land and sea animals.

Expedition leader Dr. Carl Maia orders his two assistants to stay in camp while he visits the marine biology institute. Carl reunites with his friend and former student, ichthyologist Dr. David Reed.

David works at an aquarium in California, but more recently he has been a guest at Carl’s institute in Brazil to study lungfish. He persuades his boss, the financially minded Dr. Mark Williams, to fund a return expedition to the Amazon to look for the remainder of the skeleton.

A piscine amphibious humanoid, a living member of the same species from which the fossil originated, becomes curious about the expedition’s camp.  Its sudden appearance frightens the assistants, who panic and attack, motivating the enraged Creature to kill them.

The expedition consists of David, Carl, Mark, David’s girlfriend and colleague, Kay Lawrence, and another scientist, Dr. Edwin Thompson. When they arrive at the camp, they discover Carl’s assistants have been killed.  Lucas suggests it was likely done by a jaguar, but the others are unsure.

Mark is ready to give up the search, but David suggests that perhaps thousands of years ago the part containing the rest of the skeleton fell into the water and was washed downriver.

Carl says the tributary empties into a lagoon, which Lucas calls the “Black Lagoon,” a paradise from which no one has ever returned. The scientists are unaware that the amphibious “Gill-man” that killed Carl’s assistants has been watching them.

Noticing the beautiful Kay, the creature follows them all the way downriver to the Black Lagoon. Once the expedition arrives, David and Mark go diving to collect rock samples. After they return, Kay goes swimming and is stalked underwater by the Gill-man, who then gets briefly caught. Although it escapes, the Creature leaves a claw behind.

Encounters with the Gill-man claim the lives of Lucas’s crew members, before the Creature is captured and locked in a cage. It escapes during the night, attacking Edwin, the guard. Kay smashes the Creature with a lantern, driving it off, but Edwin is injured.

David decides they should return to civilization, but Mark, obsessed with the Creature, objects. As they try to leave, they find the Gill-man has blocked the lagoon’s entrance with fallen logs.

Mark is mauled to death while trying to capture the Creature under water. The Gill-man then abducts Kay and takes her to its cavern lair. David, Lucas and Carl chase after the Creature and Kay is rescued.

In the end, the Creature is riddled with bullets before retreating to the lagoon, where its body sinks.