You’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.