The Blob [DVD]
Screenplay : Theodore Simonson and Kate Phillips (from an original idea by Irving H. Millgate)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1958
Stars : Steve McQueen (Steve Andrews), Aneta Corsaut (Jane Martin), Earl Rowe (Lieutenant Dave), Olin Howlin (Old Man), Steven Chase (Dr. T. Hallen), John Benson (Sergeant Jim Bert), George Karas (Officer Ritchie), Lee Payton (Kate, the Nurse)
During the Cold War 1950s, American cinema goers found cathartic release from the growing fear of the nuclear arms race in watching the U.S. being bombarded on-screen by threats generated by either atomic radiation run amok or invasions from outer space, from body snatchers, to atomic men, to giant ants, to the 50-ft. Woman. Yet, none of these creatures were as simplisticly freaky as the oozing mass of gelatinous matter from outer space in The Blob.
Like most '50s sci-fi movies, The Blob takes place in small town America. But, one major difference is that the main characters are not scientists, policemen, politicians, doctors, or Army generals. Rather, the main characters are all teenagers (although most of the actors who played them had left their teenage years a decade earlier), which is most likely a response to the then-popularity of teen pics and juvenile delinquent films, most notably Rebel Without a Cause (1955). The Blob plays on the teenage fantasy scenario that the teens know what's happening, but the stubborn adults in town (especially the police) don't take them seriously until it is almost too late. If they'd only listen to the kids...
The central character is Steve Andrews, played by soon-to-become action star Steve McQueen (billed as "Steven") in his first starring role. While on a date with his girlfriend, Jane (Aneta Corsaut), Steve sees a meteor fall to earth nearby. The meteor, which cracks open to reveal a tiny, clear Blob, is discovered by an old man living in a shack in the woods (Olin Howlin). The old man makes the dubious mistake of allowing the Blob to touch him, where it immediately engulfs his hand and begins to consume his flesh, growing larger in the process and turning red with his blood.
Steve and Julie take the old man to the local doctor (Steven Chase), but it is of no use because the Blob consumes not only the old man, but also the doctor and his nurse (Lee Payton), despite attempts to kill it by throwing acid on it and blasting it with a shotgun. Growing ever larger and redder, the Blob begins to move silently through town in the night, oozing its way into a movie theater, a grocery store, and a diner, sending people running and screaming into the street. Meanwhile, Steve, Jane, and several other teenagers try to convince the skeptical police of what is going on.
Made on a miniscule budget completely outside the Hollywood studio system by first-time feature director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr., whose only previous film experience was an extensive career making 16-mm short religious films, The Blob is one of the prototypical '50s drive-in movies. It doesn't demand much of its audience, and it delivers about what one would expect. The movie is creative, but not too creative. It never pushes any boundaries or attempts to transcend its limited material. Today it can be read as pure camp, but it's hard to tell whether it was meant to be taken seriously when first released in 1958.
Some of the dialogue is terribly hokey and clumsy in a gee-whiz '50s kind of way, but the actors are game and they deliver their lines with passion and intensity. Most of the actors who played the teenagers were recruited from New York and the Philadelphia theater scene; only the supporting adult roles were filled by familiar character actors. (However, it should be mentioned that the movie does include one of the worst, most gratingly bad performances by a child actor in film history, and the movie's biggest letdown is that this kid never gets consumed by the Blob.)
The effectiveness of the Blob itself tends to vary from scene to scene. It is actually more menacing when it is small because it has a more acute sense of agency--it moves quickly and seems to go after people, especially when it races up a stick and onto the old man's hand. Once it gets larger, the Blob becomes bloated and slow, and its consumption of humans feels more like an afterthought, as if they simply got in its way.
The Blob was created by a number of special effects tricks, some of which are more effective than others. In some scenes, the effect was created with a modified weather balloon, in other scenes it was shot in miniature using colored silicone, and when it was required to be larger than people, it was simply a cardboard cut-out or a matte painting. Many of the effects are obviously fake, but considering the budget, they are really quite inventive.
For fans of '50s science fiction, The Blob holds a special place in their hearts. It is not a complex allegory for communism like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), but neither is it a truly dreadful piece of junk like Robot Monster (1953) or Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster (1955). The Blob has not aged particularly well (Burt Bacharach's silly theme song, forced on the movie by Paramount executives, sounds particularly dated and out of place), but that's part of its charm. No one will mistake it for great filmmaking, but for 82 minutes it's good, campy fun.
|The Blob: Criterion Collection Special Edition DVD|
|Audio||Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements|| Audio commentary with producer Jack H. Harris and film historian Bruce Eder|
Audio commentary with director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. and actor Robert ("Tony") Fields
Original theatrical trailer
BLOB-abilia!: collection of publicity and behind-the-scenes stills, posters, and props
Special collectible poster
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision|
|This Criterion DVD features a brand new digital transfer taken from the original 35-mm color negative, and the result is fantastic. For a low-budget movie made more than 30 years ago, the picture could not look any better. The image is crisp and clear, with only a minimal amount of dirt and scratches. The Technicolor image is appropriately bright and slightly gaudy, but that is the intended look. Colors look rich and well-saturated, and flesh tones appear natural. The detail is particularly outstanding, which has the amusing effect of making the special effects look even cheesier. Black levels are relatively stable, although in a few scenes they become a bit gray and show some grain. On a side note, some of the early scenes appear to be slightly misframed, with too much space at the bottom and not enough headroom (for instance, the top stars on the Paramount logo are clipped at the top of the screen). Other than that, the video quality of this DVD is top-notch.|
|As with the image, the monaural soundtrack has been restored to great effect. From Burt Bacharach's opening theme song to the closing moments, the soundtrack is clean and clear, with barely any hiss or distortion of any kind. Dialogue is always clear and audible, although there are a few points of silence in the film between dialogue where the soundtrack seems to drop out entirely.|
|The Blob was one of Criterion's early laser discs, but this new DVD has a completely different and expanded set of supplements. The only supplement they have in common is the inclusion of the original theatrical trailer. The LD featured an interview with Steve McQueen and the trailer for the 1988 remake, both of which are not included on this disc for various reasons. However, Criterion more than makes up for their absence with several new extras. |
The disc includes not one, but two brand-new running audio commentaries featuring four people involved with the production who recorded their commentaries separately and were edited together. The first track features producer Jack H. Harris and film historian Bruce Eder, while the second track features director Irwin S. Yeaworth, Jr. and actor Robert ("Tony") Fields. Both commentaries are interesting and informative, and having the director, the producer, an actor, and a film historian discuss the movie ensures that virtually every aspect of its production and reception is covered at some point or another. Harris, Yeaworth, and Fields all sound relaxed and informal, while Eder, who has contributed to other Criterion commentaries, sounds like he is reading an academic paper at a conference. The disc also offers convenient chapter divisions for the commentaries.
Another nice additional is a collection of Blob-related materials, including publicity stills, behind-the-scenes photographs, advertising posters from the U.S. and abroad, and various props and models from the production, all of which comes from the personal collection of Blob fan Wes Shank. Each picture has a helpful caption that precedes it. My favorite part was the international movie poster section, especially the French poster that has little to do with the actual movie by featuring an absurd picture of a muscle-bound, open-shirted Steve McQueen looking more like Rambo than a teenager.
As mentioned earlier, the disc also contains the original theatrical trailer, which is one of those classic examples of '50s movie marketing ("RUN! DON'T WALK FROM THE BLOB!"). Also included in the DVD case is a 20" x 14 1/2" fold-out poster of the newly designed cover artwork.
©2000 James Kendrick