The Monolith Monsters (1957)

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Director: John Sherwood

It’s night #7 of 9 in the series with blog friend Mike’s Take on the Movies as we count down to Halloween. Tonight’s theme is 50’s Science Fiction, and I picked a movie I’ve never seen before, The Monolith Monsters (1957).

That’s a promising enough title and one that accurately describes the size and nature of the creatures advertised. The film begins by showing us meteors, “calling cards from outer space,” zipping by our planet. The ones that make it through our atmosphere without breaking up bring some form of life that remains dormant until awakened during the events like those in science fiction movies. On cue, geologist Ben (Phil Harvey) stops to water his overheated rad in the desert, spies some glittering black rocks and takes one back into the unsuspecting salt mining town of San Angelo, nestled in a beautiful valley.  

We soon learn that contact with water causes this specimen to foam and expand, and poor Ben is found the next morning by fellow geologist Dave (Grant Williams), completely petrified, a solid mass standing like a statue. Their office is destroyed and shards of the black rock scattered all over the office.

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Meanwhile, Dave’s schoolteacher girlfriend Cathy (Lola Albright) takes her class on a field trip to the desert, right near those rocks and then instructs the kids not to touch anything unusual. Naturally, the cutest little girl takes home one of the freakishly pretty stones and washes it in a bucketful of water. By the time Dave and company connect Ben’s strange death to the rock to the field trip location, it’s too late. They race to the girl’s home to find the rocks have multiplied all over, wrecked the house, turned the parents to stone and left the girl in shock and slowly solidifying.

In the race to save the girl, experts piece together a picture of a mineral that sucks silica out of anything it contacts. Right when Dave figures out that water activates these rocks, and right when you think how lucky it is that this meteor didn’t land in the rainforest, a thunderclap signals a coming downpour. The drenching triggers exponential growth, with some impressive crystalline spears rising to become towering monoliths that topple over, shatter, and then grow again until they overcome the area. The secret to stopping the advancing monolith monsters is to deactivate them chemically, with something they have a lot of: salt. The problem is how to get that salt from the other side of the valley into the monsters’ path in the few hours before the next rainfall, and the solution is dynamite.

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This is a short and basic but really enjoyable story with some nice looking visuals. The massive spears of the black mineral repeatedly stabbing up into the sky and tipping over are odd and huge enough to be threatening, the exploding dam and flooding footage is mixed with some good miniature work to make for a fun climax, and the desert surrounding this idyllic little town provides an attractive setting. 

Williams and Albright are one of the best looking pairs I’ve seen in this genre, they’re sweet to each other and Albright gets to worry about the little orphan girl, so that adds some nice dimension to the standard couple in peril. There are many familiar faces in uncredited roles, like Paul Petersen as a paperboy and William Schallert as a funny weather geek who’s asked how long the rain will last and drones on about masses, pressures, currents and fronts. Casual conversation allows for funny commentary and efficient character background. In the beginning the newspaperman Martin (Les Tremayne) complains how little news there is to cover in San Angelo, while Ben craves some new geological discovery, and aren’t they both sorry. Asking for the paperboy’s help leads to gripes about “kids these days” who won’t do anything without asking to get paid, and the little student of Cathy’s pries into the reasons she and Dave aren’t married yet if they love each other so much. I had lots of fun watching this likeable group save the world from giant alien paperweights. 

Now head over to Mike’s Take on the Movies to see people walk through walls (who aren’t the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde).

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21 thoughts on “The Monolith Monsters (1957)”

  1. This is a fun flick from that period when the genre was pumping them out weekly. William Schallert is one of those “faces” that people have seen hundreds of times but generally can’t put a name to. Glad you liked this one.

    1. yes, fun spin on a simple formula, and what more do you need. If you can make a pile of rocks this menacing the you’ve made me a happy viewer. Decent effects, fun actors, no complaints.

  2. I have always loved this movie, partly because of what you say above about making rocks scary, and partly because even though directed by John Sherwood, it is one more part of the remarkable vision of the great and sinfully underrated Jack Arnold.

    1. Yes he was, made a lot of great films. This story is so creative, you wonder how rocks would spread at a dangerous speed, so to have them shoot up that high answers that question and looks so weird and disturbing. Thanks!

  3. What a film! I remember seeing this as a kid and yeah, totally believing those visual effects. As I got older, it was the source of more humor than anything, but I’ll defer to my childhood memories of seeing this on the old black & white set… 😀

    1. Well it helps that it just looks so bizarre, alien and freakish on that massive scale. Well done and I’ll never look at a quartz paperweight quite the same way again.

  4. This looks fun! It will be nice to see Grant Williams in something a bit less stressful than THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN LOL. Besides seeing that title last weekend, I think William Schallert must have popped up in at least 2 of the movies I saw in Palm Springs. 🙂

    Pulling this one out of my topping To Be Watched stack…

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    1. …toppling like the monolith monsters!
      It is fun, nice effects and cast, it’ll make a nice follow up for you to see Williams at normal size, same year as Shrinking Man (great movie). That’s funny about Schallert, he does pop up so much and does wonders with a tiny role here. Hope you enjoy it!

  5. I LOVE The MONOLITH MONSTERS and was very glad to get
    the recent German Blu Ray which looks sensational.
    I love double billing it with the Jack Arnold Western
    RED SUNDOWN.
    In that film lovable Trevor Bardette and his wife are terrorized
    by nasty psycho Grant Williams.
    The following year in The Monolith Monsters Grant and Trevor
    team up to save America,and indeed the World,from the nasty
    invaders.
    Please give John Sherwood some credit;he only directed three
    films all good ones.
    I really like his wacky,anti-Feminist Western RAW EDGE.
    In that one Herbert Rudley turns 1840’s Oregon into a sort of
    Medieval fifedom whereby the first “available” woman becomes the
    “property” of the first man to claim her.
    The film is too wacky to be offensive however! 🙂
    I always thought Rudley took his role in RAW EDGE to get revenge
    on Womankind for playing the ultimate sap/femme fatale victim in the
    wonderful Noir DECOY.
    I don’t know if any of the above makes any sense at all but at least it
    gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to two of my fave character
    actors Trevor Bardette and Herbert Rudley.

    1. I really enjoyed it, bet this looks fantastic on blu and I’m glad I picked something new to discover. Sherwood had so much experience as A.D. and then only does the three movies before dying so young. I’ve seen his CREATURE but not RAW EDGE which I believe Laura sent me! so I’ll have to pull that one soon. Rudley is a familiar face from many movies, incl one of my fav war films A WALK IN THE SUN. All makes sense to me and welcome details, how else will I learn more about what to see next?

      1. RAW EDGE is fun! John’s right, the plot is completely nuts, but hey, it’s got Yvonne and Rory so I’m not complaining. 🙂

        Best wishes,
        Laura

  6. I’m glad to see this movie get so much love. I think it tends to be ignored/under-rated, because the giant rocks aren’t a “traditional” monster, just a faceless natural threat. It’s also great that Grant Williams is finally in a healthy relationship, unlike his turns in “The Leech Woman” and “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

    1. No kidding, saw Leech Woman over the summer, I need to see more, beyond his best known movies. Glad I got to this one, really enjoyed it and glad to see so many fans chime in. Thanks as always

  7. Wow, Grant Williams was in THE LEECH WOMAN too? I didn’t realize that. That guy really suffered bigtime in sci-fi! LOL.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

  8. One of my ‘must see’ movies here at the Monolith (for obvious reasons), and now your review has really piqued my interest. I do remember seeing this a million years ago, but I remember nothing about it. Now, if I can find a sci-fi film from the 1950s with ‘speakeasy’ in the title, I promise you I’ll watch it!

    1. haha! this should be a new theme, movies with friends’ blog names in the title. Better chances of finding the speakeasies in the pre-code 30s !

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