October Film Series Quarantine: CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)
This film is available in the collections at the Harold B. Lee Library, Provo City Library at Academy Square and the Orem Public Library.
The Amazon River is home to a dark and foreboding creature, a remnant of prehistoric times and one who is haunting an expedition deep into the Brazilian interior. The mysterious and forbidding Black Lagoon provides more than the expedition bargained for as viewers in 1954 watched the creature shadow their every move. The suspense wasn’t, however, for the viewers, but for the expedition as the director skillfully built the tension in the film by allowing them to see what could be coming next. Cinematically, the film was among Jack Arnold’s best, as we see the creature swimming below the unsuspecting Julie Adams.
The Creature and Julie Adams
Two actors portrayed the creature, dubbed “Gill-man” by fans. Professional swimmer Ricou Browning was the underwater creature, wearing a lighter and more flexible suit. To maintain the illusion of a fishlike creature, Browning was required to swim while holding his breath, sometimes for up to four minutes. While out of water, the creature was played by Ben Chapman, in a heavy and less form-fitting costume. It is the single most important role in his career, and no one ever saw his face.
Although the film was successful, it didn’t catapult many of the cast or crew to greater success. Director Jack Arnold worked on a few films after The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but then turned to television before the decade was over and counted such series as Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch in his repertoire. Richard Carlson, playing the leader of the expedition, also moved to television where he became a staple among the character actors. Julie Adams became a staple among television, a career spanning over forty years and even appearing an episode of Lost in 2006,
While the idea of a half-fish, half-man monster was conceived ten years before the film, the actual creation fell to the costume and make-up department at Universal, led by the pugnacious Bud Westmore. For nearly a half century he would claim the creature was his creation, but it was in fact the work of Milicent Patrick, a former Disney animator. In addition to helping to visualize the creature, she worked on such notable films as It Came from Outer Space (1953) and This Island Earth (1955). Universal was so impressed with her work the studio sent her on a press tour to promote The Creature from the Black Lagoon, a move which infuriated Westmore. Upon returning from the initial leg of her tour, dubbed “The Beauty Who Created the Beast” he fired her and immediately claimed credit for the creature’s creation. It was not until the 1970s when an article by Forrest Ackerman revealed her work on the creature and again in 2019 with the publication of Mallory O’Meara’s book titled The Lady from the Black Lagoon was Patrick’s critical contribution to the film properly documented.
Milicent Patrick and The Creature
The success of the original film led to two sequels. In Revenge of the Creature (1955), the captured creature, now housed at an oceanarium in Florida, is again enamored with a beautiful woman. After an escape from his cage with said woman in unwilling tow, he is shot only to sink into the ocean as the film ends. While not a critical success, one of the more interesting trivial moments of the film is the screen debut of Clint Eastwood in an uncredited role as a lab technician. This sequel was followed by The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), which, lacking the cinematic and screenwriting skill of the original film, introduced the proposition of the creature becoming more human as it begins shedding its gills. With the conclusion of this film, some have said it marked the end of the Universal’s classic monsters series, launched in 1925 with the silent classic, Phantom of the Opera.
We hope you enjoy the beauty and chills of The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Brian Wages, Reference Specialist
Harold B. Lee Library, Social Sciences