The Cyclops (1957)

lops4You’ll hardly believe your eye!

The Cyclops (1957) was a movie I chose from the resume of Gloria Talbott, who appeared in the movie I reviewed yesterday, The Leech Woman (1960). Written, produced and directed by Bert I. Gordon, The Cyclops is the story of Talbott’s search for her fiance, missing and presumed dead for three years since his plane crashed in a remote and mountainous part of Mexico. Talbott got radio transmissions from him for months after his disappearance, so she still holds out hope that he might be alive out there. She’s assembled a team consisting of James Craig, her fiance’s friend and famous bacteriologist, Lon Chaney Jr., the trip’s financier, is using the expedition to locate and secure rights to a large Uranium deposit in the area, and Tom Drake, a pilot with a habit of drinking and referring to himself in the third person and in newspaper headlines. The shady reputations of these men, not to mention Talbott’s persistence, only add to the suspicion of the Governor, who denies them a permit to fly into the restricted area.

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The team defies orders to fly back to Texas, and once near their target location, Talbott spots the movements of undetermined “elephant-sized” wildlife. At that same moment, the needle on Chaney’s Uranium “scintillator” detector goes wild, indicating vast deposits of radioactive and valuable material. They hit harrowing turbulence with no landing area in sight. As he will do through much of the movie, Chaney panics and does something stupid; in this case he socks Drake cold and grabs the controls, nearly crashing the plane. After a struggle they manage to set down in a little clearing, in a deep valley surrounded by steep rock faces and the sounds of unseen animals.

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Talbott makes off, determined to find her fiance, accompanied by Craig, who loves her and wants to prove her fiance is long dead. Chaney is thrilled about his Uranium find, already counting the billions he’ll make from the land claim, and promising a share to Drake if he leaves the other two behind and flies out immediately. What foils all their plans is the discovery of super-sized animals: lizards, a hawk, a rodent, snakes and a spider, all different scales compared to each other but all humongous. Craig surmises that the powerful radioactivity in the area stimulates the pituitary gland (seems to be “the glandular disorder marathon” here at the blog now) and causes limitless, continuous cell multiplication and exponential growth. It dawns on them that they too will be affected within days, and should flee. But Talbott senses…something, some crawling feeling that they are being watched by some giant eye, and it happens again when she wanders off alone and finds the wreckage of her fiance’s plane. Can you guess what might be watching them? If so, you are way ahead of our characters, who need another few sequences, an encounter with a bald, inarticulate, droop faced, gap-toothed, 25-foot-tall Cyclops, followed by speculations and a scientific talk before they’re certain.

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Talbott has a sharp edge and a bold determination as she leads these strong men, and shows a willingness to go over the heads of any incompetent and condescending local authorities to get to her fiance’s crash site. Chaney is a bombastic know-it-all who looks out for number one at all times and turns yellow, shaky and sweaty at the slightest threat. Drake would turn tail but needs the money since he’s lost his oil wells and probably his pilot’s licence. He may be untrustworthy but he’s likable and heroic, offers to go first into danger and track beasts since he assures everyone he’s part Indian (the precise percentage of that background increases through the film). Craig is, as usual, a sure, solid presence while being a secure and patient enough gentleman to ask Talbott’s opinion and often yield to it.

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While the movie does a great job showing you how freakishly large all these creatures are, the below-average effects fail to convince when it comes to interaction between the humans and giants. The footage is layered so they are together in the same frame, and sometimes the monsters are transparent, but that didn’t bother me. What did was that the actors never set eyes on the right parts of their pursuers and attackers. Instead, they’re frozen staring off into the middle distance while a giant claw or hand swipes at their faces, a disconnect which takes all the danger out of the struggles. The dodging, waving and grasping go on a bit too long with no contact, which gets tedious, and when a huge fist finally does land on one of our characters, it doesn’t feel like something that could hurt a person. Similarly, when Craig fashions a torch and spears the Cyclops’ eye, that doesn’t convince either, since he’s shown holding what a giant would use for a toothpick, yet Cyke is next shown trying to yank a deeply embedded pole out of his bloody face (a graphic bit where he does pull it out was cut and then restored in the Warner Archive DVD release). So overall, the effects don’t work enough to fully awe or frighten (not me anyway), and I would have loved a more developed plot to fall back on in their place, but Gordon’s point was to show you big monsters and that’s exactly what you get. For all my complaining about the effect of the effects, I can still see how these mutated things, especially the gruesome Cyclops, peering into the cave at the puny little humans he’s trapped in there, or running at their plane as they try fruitlessly to get the engine started, would terrify young viewers at the time and look impressive on a drive-in screen. The Cyclops also passes my ultimate test in that didn’t bore me and I had some fun. I liked the low budget thrills, such as they were, and more than that I liked spending an hour with Talbott, Craig, Chaney and Drake, as well as a nuked and melted giant who may be hokey but vaguely recognizes his girlfriend and his horrible situation and gets a lot of your sympathy.

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14 thoughts on “The Cyclops (1957)”

  1. Never seen this but it sounds like a whole helluva lot of fun, even if the effects are below par overall. Thanks for flagging it up.

    1. Yes it is, like I often say sometimes you just want a sloppy burger and it hits the spot even if it isn’t the best one you ever ate. Fun cast!

  2. Bert I Gordon was sold to us ’50’s monster nerds as MR. BIG! Would enlarge anything in your garden. He had giant grasshoppers crawling over the picture of a building, right onto the sky background of the photo. Cyclops also shows fleeting fame: Gable wannabe James Craig, and Van Johnson wannabe Tom Dtake, once Judy Garland’s adored “boy next door”. And even tho Lon Chaney had played every monster in Universal’s closer except Pauls The Ape Woman, he didn’t play that many monsters himself in his ’50’s horrors.

    1. Mr BIG embiggened so many things! In a way I feel bad criticizing the FX because it was early, groundbreaking stuff and low budget to boot. It didn’t come out perfectly in this one but it ends up being part of the fun. I like this cast a lot, they work well together. I recently saw Chaney in Spider Baby for the first time, that was fun! Thanks for dropping by

      1. Chaney’s ’50’s best might be The Indestructible Man, like an early version of The Terminator. Mute, and murderous – his character’s cute nickname is “Butcher”.

        1. I have to watch that, I know I have it. Just a few months ago I saw his movie SPIDER BABY for the first time, that was fun. Thanks!

  3. Great review Kristina,and I love this Gloria Talbott
    kick that you are on at the moment.
    I read that Gloria did not care at all for Bert I Gordon
    but loved working for Edgar G Ulmer on DAUGHTER
    OF DR JEKYLL.
    That missing disc I mentioned that I sent to Laura had
    MAN WITHOUT A BODY double billed with
    BEGINNING OF THE END another Gordon flick that had
    Peter Graves and Peggie Castle vs giant grasshoppers
    on the rampage in Chicago.
    For all their cheapo effects Gordon managed to get some
    pretty good actors to appear in his films.

    1. Recently watched the Ulmer documentary that was on tcm, I like many of his movies, STRANGE ILLUSION is a good one.

      Yes on the good actors, THE CYCLOPS has a great combo of people, big plus. And like I say, looking back from this era they seem super cheesy effects but I can totally see being impressed if I was a kid in ’57! Will have to look for more Talbott, Chaney or Gordon for the next few: I like to follow threads wherever I can, best way to learn/retain info on the people. Also like these folks venturing into the valley, it gives me an excuse to go exploring in my collection, I often find things I never knew I had! But didn’t find any giant lizards though 🙂 thanks

  4. Yup, sometimes you just want big, sloppy monsters, and it sounds like this movie really delivers.

    Random Question: Is there such a thing as a drive-in any more?

    1. There must be drive-ins SOMEWHERE, there was one right by my house that I really miss. Confession time: if I was to ever win a lottery I would open a drive-in, in an airplane hangar structure so people could enjoy in any weather 🙂 and sit at the concession bar or even in bleachers, if they came without a car, and watch. Yes I’ve thought this out in great detail, why do you ask?!

  5. Mr BIG had a thing for Bigness in his films that astounds me: along with The Cyclops and Beginning of the End (big grasshoppers), he did The Amazing Colossal Man (self-explanatory title), War of the Colossal Beast (the Amazing Colossal Man brought back for a sequel), Earth Vs. the Spider (a big spider from outer space), Food of the Gods (more big bugs), and Village of the Giants, about teenagers growing to gigantic size. Makes me wonder what he liked to talk about…

    Gloria Talbot didn’t get too many chances, but she gives an excellent performance in I Married a Monster from Outer Space, which, in spite of its schlocky title, is something of a re-do of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which men are being taken over by emotionless aliens. It’s an interesting film and worth looking up, certainly to watch Gloria.

    1. That’s great, thank you! I love all these suggestions, I have BEGINNING OF THE END here to get to soon, a couple of those I saw as a kid and need to revisit, and will be taking my list of Gloria movies to my “vault” and see what I have. I gather many of these can be found on Youtube too. I love these movies, but growing up my tastes always ran to horror first so I still have some catching up to do when it comes to scifi monster viewing. Funny about MR BIG, we can guess what he like to talk about 🙂 and what an imagination! Thanks and best

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