The Giant Claw
Title: The Giant Claw
Year Of Release: 1957
Running Time: 75 minutes
DVD Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Directed By: Fred F. Sears
Writing Credits: Paul Gangelin and Samuel Newman
Starring: Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum
1. Flying Beast Out of Prehistoric Skies!
2. Winged Monster From 17,000,000 B.C.!
3. Big As a Battleship!
4. Flies 4 Times The Speed of Sound!
5. Atomic Weapons Can’t Hurt It!
Mark of the Claw (working title)
Review Date: 2.24.08 (updated 1.1.10)
Shadow's Title: "The Giant Flaw"
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Mitch MacAfee – There doesn’t seem to be much that this guy cannot do. He is an electronics engineer and a pilot, which enables him to build radar systems for the military and then help test and calibrate them by zipping around the sky in an Air Force jet. First to encounter the Giant Claw.
Sally Caldwell – Sally is a mathematician and has managed to get a lot of good jobs working for the government and the military. I’m sure it is because she is very good at what she does and not because she is so easy on the eyes. It sure isn’t because of her attitude, that’s for sure.
General Van Buskirk – This guy is an Air Force general that oversees a command somewhere near New York city. He can get a little testy at times. There are at least three or four occasions when I’m sure he was contemplating having Mitch's ass tossed out of an airplane without a chute.
General Edward Considine – Considine wears four stars to Buskirk’s two, so he is the movie’s highest ranking officer. The proverbial “buck” seems to stop at his office as he is the one who ultimately makes the decisions on how to combat the giant bird. Has an office in an invisible building.
Dr. Karol Noymann – The task of solving the identity of the mysterious UFO falls to Noymann and his crack team of high IQ boys. They come to the conclusion that the UFO is a giant bird from some distant antimatter galaxy. I’d really hate to hear the theories that got dismissed.
Pierre Broussard – He lives in a log cabin and makes his own moonshine, proof enough that rednecks transcend national boundaries. Believing in mythical monsters is proof that he is an idiot. Running down an open road to escape a giant bird makes him a candidate for the Darwin Awards.
The Giant Claw – The giant bird that hails from outer space and which gives the movie its name. Other acceptable names for the beast (and movie) include The Giant Turkey, Puppet Gone Bad, The Bird That Laid The Giant Flop and GIANT ANTIMATTER SPACE BUZZARD (typed in all caps).
The Clown - Continuously Lurking Omniscient Wearisome Narrator. Genre movies from the 50’s were loaded with them. This one is especially annoying because he pops up so often and adds nothing to the movie. NOTHING. He even fails to convey the time properly.
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This movie doesn’t waste any time at all. The very first thing we see is the title screen, with the words The Giant Claw easily displayed in a scary font. Behind the text is…a giant claw. Yes, the taloned appendage of the title creature can bee seen, along with a one of the beast’s wings. Not betraying one bit what a craptacular film is about to follow, the music kicks in on an ominous note, while the folks responsible for this travesty have their names rolled out for the entire world to see.
We start off by seeing the Earth from space. Well, I suppose that is supposed to be the world from the vantage point of outer space. It looks more like some cheap globe that was bought in a office supply warehouse that has had all the names on it erased and then hung by a wire and had smoke blown at it. Seriously, who knew that the natural state in outer space was foggy? I don’t recall Rocky Jones or Flash Gordon having to engage the fog lights in order to do battle with their enemies, nor do I remember any of their ships coming equipped with windshield wipers. Then again, maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention.
As our Earth rotates in the foggy void (at a rate that would no doubt flatten all of us into paste from the sheer force of the heavier gravity produced by the planet moving that fast), we are besieged by that most annoying of cinematic creatures from this time period: The CLOWN.
What’s a CLOWN you ask? Well, it is a Continuously Lurking Omniscient Wearisome Narrator. You know the type…they chime in unexpectedly, more often than not at a film’s beginning, to impart some piece of obscure arcana that the film’s producers thought was vital information relevant to the movie’s story. This is usually comprised of references to some past event involving atomic bombs, twisting known scientific principles into near unrecognizable technobabble to better fit the movie’s ideas or just prattling on aimlessly about a whole lot of nothing. CLOWNs have been known to interject their often near incoherent ramblings into the film in question at all manner of junctures – the beginning, throughout the middle as well as the end. In essence, they represent the producer’s contempt for the audience, personifying their efforts to explain things for the idiots the filmmakers perceive the audience to be (and often they are quite right). Thusly, CLOWNs infest B-Movies from the 1950’s at only a marginally lower degree than white trash at your local Walmart.
Let’s review what he has to say:
"Once the world was big and no man in his lifetime could circle it. Through the centuries, science has made man’s lifetime bigger and the world smaller."
Pardon my interruption at this juncture, but shouldn’t that be a case of science making man’s life longer rather than bigger? How does science make one’s life bigger? Oh, sure, get lazy and/or sloppy when handling radioactive materials and before you know it, you’re supersized like Glen Manning from the Amazing Colossal Man and War of the Colossal Beast, but that is a purely physical change. I want to know how science can make your (or my) life bigger? Will it endow me with special abilities to drink more, fight better and have sex non-stop? Will my lust for life be increased by taking a mere pill, causing me to indulge in all manner of sensory pleasures and to seek out adrenaline pumping activities? I think not. At least, not yet. Let’s return to Mr. Annoying now.
"Now the farthest corner of the Earth is as close as a pushbutton. And time has lost all meaning, as manmade devices speed many, many times faster than sound itself."
I’m not interrupting to nit-pick anything this time, but I want to point out that while the CLOWN is blabbering on, our viewpoint seems to be changing. The camera begins to move closer to that cheap globe and as it does so, we see just how cheap it really is. Finally, the globe stops rotating (and I can almost hear the screams of billions of tiny people being flung into space to meet hideous deaths) so the camera can focus on a section of North America near the U.S./Canadian border. Then the shot changes to some stock footage showing an aerial view of some sort of military base.
"Here, near the top of the world, free men struggle with the elements to create some measure of defense to protect that self-same freedom."
Now we see tractors pushing dirt around and building land bridges across bodies of water, men in parkas drilling into the ice and other construction projects underway. Then we see radar dishes spinning and I begin having flashbacks to Fiend Without A Face. More stock footage culled from some old military source follows.
"Distant Early Warning Radar, sensitive electronic devices to detect the presence of objects in the sky, including bombing planes and guided missiles and rain cloud and homing pigeons."
Damn! You just know those old Soviet plans for crippling American defenses by sending in wave after wave of irradiated and disease-carrying pigeons just went down the tubes. All that R & D shot to hell!
"New radar installations must be calibrated by the flying of controlled test flights to check the accuracy of the equipment and to chart a detection profile for the area in order to pinpoint blind spots the radar cannot penetrate."
Finally, we have come to the point were original footage shot for this movie is presented as we see a group of actors, including the totally delicious Mara Corday, working at and bent over various stations and radar screens. It should also be noted at this point, that despite focusing on a section of the globe near the U.S./Canadian border just a few seconds ago, the action that unfolds in the next few minutes is actually occurring much farther north, in the lower reaches of the arctic circle. The film does not make that specifically known at this time and the audience is left to piece it together later. I just saved you some time was all. So, the officer in charge speaks into a phone, communicating with the pilot of a test plane. A plane, no doubt, conducting the very radar calibration we were just told about by the CLOWN. Apparently, their equipment is tracking him at a different altitude than what he is reporting.
A quick flash of a stock footage jet and we see the pilot in question, strapped into his cockpit. This is Mitch MacAfee and he will be filling in for the movie’s real hero, who obviously read the script ahead of time and bailed on the project. Mitch tells the officer at the base to check the level of the antenna and then inquires into the status of Mademoiselle Mathematician, wondering if she has enough numbers to feed into her machines.
He is of course, referencing the stunningly gorgeous Mara Corday, who is playing Sally Caldwell. Sally, upon hearing Mitch’s words over the radio, gets a rather peeved look on her face, like she is being forced to deal with a room full of five-year olds. Worse….five-year olds that have all crapped their pants and insist on running in circles. The officer asks if she has all the information she needs and she replies by saying she would like one more run by the test plane, at low level. The officer relays this to Mitch, who confirms the instructions.
Ominous music kicks in and we get more stock footage of an old jet. Apparently, when told to come in low, Mitch took that to mean “scrape the paint off the roof" low. As Sally and the others check their instruments, the scream of the jet as it hurtles by right overhead makes them all jump, and in Sally’s case, crouch somewhat. She gets that annoyed look again and says that she did not know that pilots were allowed to do things like that (Geez, hasn’t she ever seen Top Gun?). The guy in charge verifies that Air Force pilots would never be permitted to perform such a maneuver (ok, there goes my Top Gun example), but Mitch is an electronics engineer – a civilian. He may work for the government, but he makes his own rules. Sally replies by saying that a three-year also plays by his own rules until his mother spanks him. At this point, Mitch pipes in over the radio with, “Mother, dear mother, I’m ready if you are.” Sally really looks pissed off now, while the Officer looks a bit sheepish and realizes he left the radio switch on.
Everyone goes back to his or her duties and we are then subjected to the aggravating sound of the CLOWN interrupting once again. You didn’t think he was gone did you? Anyway, he launches into another speech. As he rattles off the various positions, we are in turn shown Mitch, the officer in charge, Sally and some other nameless extras.
"An electronics engineer. A radar officer. A mathematician and systems analyst. A radar operator. A couple of plotters. People doing a job, well, efficiently. Serious, having fun. Doing a job. Situation, normal for the moment. Date, the 17th of the month. Sky cloudy, overcast. Visibility limited."
I’d just like to toss out that as the CLOWN utters that last bit, we are shown stock footage of a jet flying through a completely cloudless sky. If visibility is limited, then something else is fogging up those windows. If that is the case, I don’t even want to know what is going on in that cockpit. Alas, when we do get a close up of Mitch in the jet, the windows are clear, but now we see clouds outside. Wow, the weather sure did change fast! So the CLOWN continues.
"Time, 1332 hours. A significant moment in history. A moment when an electronics engineer named Mitchell MacAfee saw something in the sky. Something that was almost the beginning of the end of life on this Earth."
At this point, Mitch is sitting in his cockpit, gazing out the window when something big, dark and quite blurry flies past him at an incredibly high rate of speed. It is also at this point that it appears the producers of the film lost the recorded dialog track, as the CLOWN now has to explain everything that is going on. Rather than me interrupting to detail what is transpiring while the CLOWN talks, just trust in him.
"MacAfee reported instantly by radio the sighting of a UFO, an unidentified flying object. The radar officer replied that it was impossible. According to the radar scope, except for Mitch’s plane, there wasn’t a single, solitary object of any nature whatsoever. Nothing in the sky for a radius of hundreds of miles. MacAfee didn’t care what the radar showed or didn’t show. He knew what he saw with his own eyes. And he was determined to get a better look. MacAfee turned, and so did the unidentified flying object heading toward him (we do get some stock footage of vapor trails at this point and another shot of that big blurry thing moving past). There was no mistaking the urgency in MacAfee’s voice. Something, he didn’t know what, but something as big as a battleship had just flown over and past him at speeds so great he couldn’t begin to estimate. In national defense, it’s better to be safe than sorry. The alert was sounded to scramble interceptors (lots of stock footage now of men running towards parked aircraft and then those vehicles lifting off and flying)." Did you hear that reference to a battleship when describing the size of the UFO? Get used to it, as that comparison will be trotted out numerous more times in the next seventy minutes.
The next thing we know, Mitch is walking through a door and into an office already occupied by Sally and an Air Force Major Bergen. I think it is safe to assume that he landed safely. He asks the Major if he has found anything, but Bergen replies rather testily that if Mitch were in the Air Force, he’d have him facing general court martial charges. Alas, Mitch is a civilian and cannot be court martialed. However, the Major is determined to see that Mitch’s career is ruined and that he’ll be lucky to test batteries for flashlights when all is said and done. It seems Mitch really has caused a flap (Boo!) with this whole UFO story.
Of course, Mitch is confused by all the Major’s bluster and wants to know if spotting and reporting a UFO makes him a criminal, a traitor or some kind of psychopath. Bergen brings up Mitch’s expertise with radar systems and asks him that if there were something flying in the air, visible to the naked eye, would not radar detect it? Mitch answers in the affirmative and the Major informs him that while he was in the air, there were three radars fixed on Mitch, and not a one saw anything but his plane in the sky. Bergen thinks that even after being told this by ground crews, Mitch insisted on continuing with his joke about a UFO to the point where the interceptors were scrambled.
Mitch thinks that since the planes located nothing, Bergen is annoyed and wants Mitch to pay for the fuel they burned up or the time they wasted. The Major explains that the flight was scrambled and deployed to cover as wide an area as possible, and thanks to Mitch’s “false alarm” one of those planes did not report back.
The phone rings at this point and when Bergen answers it, he seems to get some unsettling news. He orders that stand-by crews be called out and seems suddenly concerned. He hangs up and looks pensive. Not noticing the subtle change in the Major’s demeanor, Mitch apologizes for the missing pilot, but tries to explain that it was no false alarm. Sally now interrupts him, somewhat annoyed, and tells him to come off it. She says that he has done enough damage with his “flying battleship” (there is battleship reference number two) and begins to read him the riot act.
However, Sally is now interrupted by Major Bergen, who tells them both that the call he just received was about a Transpolar Airlines plane, which has been reported overdue and missing. There were sixty passengers and a full crew aboard. There was a single distress call from the pilot before all went silent and radar lost contact with the plane. Mitch asks if there was engine trouble, but Bergen says that in that brief distress call, the pilot yelled something about a UFO before the radio went dead. Sally now inquires about the radar systems, and the Major confirms that all they detected was the Transpolar plane alone in the sky. Suddenly Mitch’s story is not so outlandish and the other two suddenly find themselves eating crow. Get it? Crow? A crow is a bird? Never mind.
Mitch doesn’t say anything like “I told you so,” or some other gloating remark, so I guess the guy isn’t a total jackass. He just notes that they seem to be finished there and asks the Major if their transportation is ready. Bergen says that there is a plane and pilot waiting to take them straight to New York. With that, Mitch ushers Sally out of the office and quickly follows, leaving Bergen to sit there and look worried (probably about the direction his acting career is going to take after this turkey).
After a stock footage shot of a transport plane taking off, we see the pilot in the cockpit. The windows are wet, as it is apparently raining outside. In the rear of the plane, Mitch and Sally are trying to keep from being thrown around too much from all the buffeting and turbulence. They also seem to be located on one of the simplest sets I’ve ever seen. All there is to denote the interior of the plane is a wall, which they are seated against. After taking a little tumble, Mitch picks himself up, walks about three feet to a door that leads to the cockpit and enters. He talks to the pilot, a poor doomed slob by the name of Pete and inquires about the weather, ultimately wondering if Pete can fly over the sudden front that has moved in. Pete radios in to the control tower at the New York international airport (why aren’t they headed for a military base?) and receives permission to increase their altitude from 8,000 to 12,000 feet. Mitch jokes with Pete then returns to the rear of the plane.
Now we see the aircraft (which seems to have somehow been transformed into an entirely different plane…I suspect stock footage), flying through a cloudless sky. It seems they managed to get above that storm. Everything seems ok. Mitch and Sally are in the back, going over their calibration work, while Pete flies the plane. As the pilot scans the skies, he sees something big, dark and quite blurry fly over the plane. Yes, it is the same footage we’ve seen twice before. Pete decides to call Mitch up to the cockpit.
When Mitch enters and sits down, Pete explains about seeing a UFO. “Not you, too?” Mitch asks, but Pete tells him to save the cracks. He has already called in to the airport about the object. He describes the object to Mitch as something like a cloud, but moving too fast to be one. Mitch now looks out the window and says that he sees nothing but sky. Pete explains that he lost sight of the UFO when it passed overhead. Those words have barely escaped his lips when the plane is suddenly rocked. They are perplexed, because there is not enough wind to cause such a shaking.
BOOM. The plane is rocked again and this time something falls on Pete’s head, knocking him out. He falls forward out of frame and bangs his head on the control panel. Mitch pulls him back up and we see that while he was briefly out of frame, Pete took the liberty to quickly smear his face with some extremely fake-looking blood. With Pete now removed from the action, Mitch looks to the plane’s controls just as we hear one of the engines sputter! Oh, crap, can it get any worse? Yes, it can. A cheap ass model plane is then dangled in front of the camera, one of its engines billowing smoke. It should be noted that the model plane looks nothing like the ones we saw recently in the stock footage shots. The wingspan on the model makes it look much more like large bomber than a smaller transport.
Mitch struggles with the controls while Sally is tossed around in the rear. An absolute ridiculous shot of the smoking model is now shown, the craft almost spiraling straight down towards the ground. Then a couple more shots follow where it seems to be coming in at a more even approach, no doubt thanks to Mitch’s piloting skills. The model plane finally comes to a sliding halt on a cheap ass replica of a clearing surrounded by trees.
Mitch hauls Pete out of the cockpit, sees Sally trying to gather up papers amidst the suddenly burning interior of the plane and claims that they need to exit immediately. The two of them manage to get clear, and half-carrying, half-dragging Pete, walk a short ways away. Mitch looks back at the plane and realizes it is about to explode. He tells Sally to get down and they all hit the dirt just in time, as the plane explodes in a cheap fury of stock footage. As the trio lay there on the ground, offstage hands throw flaming bits of wreckage at them, giving the impression that debris is raining down upon them.
Mitch checks on Pete, but the sudden change in expression on his face – like a man who just walked into a whorehouse with a credit card and a box of condoms and is told it’s a cash only establishment – reveals that poor Pete has expired. From what, I don’t know. He didn’t take too bad of a blow to the head, and if Mitch and Sally could survive the explosion of the plane and the subsequent scattering of flaming debris, I don't see why Pete could not do the same. My guess is that when Mitch and Sally hit the dirt in anticipation of the plane blowing up, they inadvertently smothered poor Pete beneath them.
Anyway, Sally now wonders what happened, noting that it felt like something collided with the plane when they were in the sky. Mitch says, “Yeah. The flying battleship that wasn’t there.” Aha! Battleship reference number three! A local who saw the crash appears on a nearby hilltop and calls out, “’allo, ‘allo!” in a cheesy French accent. I guess Mitch and Sally have had the misfortune to crash somewhere in Quebec. Mitch calls to him and the guy comes running. Then things fade out.
Now we see an ambulance (the lights from the film crew’s equipment can be seen reflected on its side) and a Canadian Police officer on a motorcycle pull up to a large log cabin. The dubbed in sounds of wind and thunder, combined with the use of fans to blow air around and the efforts of the lighting department to simulate lightning, makes it clear to the audience that a storm is fast approaching, though there doesn’t seem to have been so much as a drop of rain yet. Inside the log cabin, Pierre – the local that retrieved them from the crash site, is sharing his homemade applejack with Mitch and Sally. A knock at the door precedes the entry by the police officer, who confirms Mitch’s identity and then looks over to a body located on the couch and covered with blankets. “Is that the pilot?” he asks. Mitch says yes and the cop calls in the ambulance crew to retrieve the body. This means that Mitch, Sally and Pierre where getting sloshed while poor old Pete the pilot lay nearby preparing to rot. Talk about showing no respect for the dead!
As Pete’s corpse is being gathered up, the cop informs Mitch and Sally that a reservation has been made for them on a commercial flight to New York City and that a car will be coming for them shortly. Mitch asks about the plane wreckage and the cop tells him that they have been ordered to seal off the area and keep everything hush hush. Then he asks Mitch what happened to them, jokingly wondering if they tangled with a flying saucer. Sally, with just the slightest trace of sarcasm lining her words, says it was more like a “flying battleship” (battleship reference number four). A no nonsense kind of guy, the cop just accepts her remark, tells the two of them to have fun with their flying battleship (five!), gets directions to the crash site from Pierre and then ushers the ambulance crew (carrying dead Pete) outside.
No sooner has the door shut behind them than the phone rings. Pierre answers it and quickly determines that it is someone calling for Mitch. In fact, it is a General Van Buskirk (pronounced buzzkirk). Sensing an unpleasant conversation approaching, Mitch asks for more applejack, likening it to medicine (since Pierre said it was good for snake bites). Sally chimes in with, “Well, flying battleship, pink elephant. Same difference.”
Not only has she provided us with battleship reference number six, but has just reminded Mitch that she thinks he is making up the entire UFO thing and implies that he should drink something without any alcoholic content. At this point in the narrative, two planes have mysteriously gone missing, with well over a combined total of sixty people. She herself just survived a plane crash in which the pilot died and even noted on her own that it felt like something collided with the aircraft when it was in the air. Yet, now she is still giving Mitch crap about his UFO as big as a battleship. How dense can you be? It should be obvious that something strange is going on.
Sensing her sarcasm, Mitch replies with, “I said it looked like a battleship, not that it was a battleship.” For those keeping score, those were battleship references seven and eight. By the way, I thought he originally likened the UFO’s size to that of a battleship, and not its appearance. I’m beginning to think that even he cannot keep the facts straight!
Mitch now picks up the phone and we only hear his half of the conversation with “General Buskirk” who seems to have suddenly lost the “Van” in his name. Mitch confirms that Pete called in a UFO sighting before they crashed, and tells Buskirk that neither he nor Sally saw anything this time. Buskirk informs him that radar picked up nothing but their plane in the area and Mitch says that he was expecting that. At this point, the General no doubt says something about the whole affair being a joke or a false alarm. Mitch gets rather annoyed and starts to ask the General what kind of infantile jackass Buskirk takes him for. Before he can get too much out, Sally stops him and hands him a glass of Pierre’s applejack. He promptly pauses long enough to drink it, thank her and then continue with Buskirk in a more calm tone. The rest of the exchange is just him saying “yes, sir” several times to whatever Buskirk is saying.
After getting off the phone, Mitch reveals that the Civil Aeronautics Board is sending up an investigating team first thing in the morning and that the Air Force will be doing the same as soon as the civilians are gone. When Mitch and Sally get to New York, they are to keep themselves available for questioning. In other words, they had better not skip town or they’re gonna be in some deep shit.
Mitch now asks Pierre for more of his home made applejack, saying it is the perfect antidote for snake bites, thunder and disbelieving generals. As they are about to enjoy another round of drinks, thunder sounds from outside and we hear Pierre’s horse whinnying in the distance. Noting that something has scared the animal, Pierre jumps up, grabs his jacket and heads outside to investigate. He has barely stepped out when the power fails, leaving Mitch and Sally in the dark. A few brief seconds pass and then Pierre lets out a horrified scream from outside. Mitch and Sally rush out to find him stretched out, face down, on the ground. They look around and see nothing, so they help the dazed man back into the house while the lightning, wind and thunder continue, despite the obvious lack of rain.
Once inside, they get him seated and rouse him by forcing some of his own applejack past his lips. He comes to and instantly starts muttering something about the Carcagne. Mitch wants him to elaborate, so Pierre spins a tale about the “devil in the storm with the face of the wolf and the body of the woman with wings.” Mitch thinks he just saw an eagle, but the French Canadian has now cracked (boo!) and is convinced he saw La Carcagne.
Stretching the bounds of believability, Sally now remembers reading about La Carcagne and tells Mitch that it is a local superstition. Bending that believability to the breaking point, Mitch now chimes in and says that it rings a bell with him, too! WTF? Is everyone an expert at French Canadian folklore? Mitch tries to convince the distraught Pierre that it was just the lightning and the storm that unnerved him, but the other man is certain that he has seen La Carcagne and seems on the verge of a total nervous breakdown. So the solution is clear: pour more applejack down his throat.
Outside, a police car rolls up. This is probably Mitch and Sally’s ride to the airport. Two cops exit the vehicle, knock on the door and enter when Mitch invites them to. Noticing that the owner of the house is near the pants-shitting stage, one of the cops asks Mitch what is wrong with Pierre. Mitch just says that Pierre thinks he saw something weird in the sky. Pierre now elaborates and tells the cops that he saw La Carcagne. One of the cops explains that he too is familiar with the myth (isn’t everyone?) since he lives in the area, but this is the first he has heard of anyone claiming to have seen “the old witch.”
Mitch asks the cop if they are the ride to the airport, and is told yes. Sally is not too sure about leaving Pierre in the state he is in, but one cop will be staying behind to look after him. Mitch begins hurrying Sally out the door and she says that they didn’t get a chance to thank Pierre. Mitch notes that it wouldn’t matter much now, given Pierre’s condition. The one cop agrees, saying that they’d never get through to him with the way he is scared stiff. Sally is puzzled by this and wonders why seeing a big bird would paralyze a man with fright. The cop then informs her that according to the legend of La Carcagne, if you see this big bird, it’s a sign that you’re going to die…real soon.
With that, Pierre lets out another sob and the cop tells Mitch they had better hurry, as the plane is being held for them at the airport. Wow, I’d be pissed off if I was one of the passengers on that plane. Here you’re already to take off and you have to wait for these two yahoos to get their asses to the airport before you can leave. Mitch, Sally and one cop all head outside and pile into the police car. After the car drives off, we get a short view of the field across from Pierre’s house. There in the soil, imprinted for all the world to see, is the gigantic three-toed footprint of some colossal avian, resembling nothing more than the world’s biggest chicken scratch.
Now we see Mitch and Sally on the plane while it is in transit. This must be an overnight flight, as everyone except Mitch is asleep. He is enjoying a cigarette and eyeing his companion. Pioneering the technique that would later be used by hordes of horny college boys, he leans over and plants a kiss on Sally…while she is still asleep. It’s a good thing they are on a plane, in full view of the public. Who knows what else he might try with her sleeping form if they were alone somewhere. Sally comes to, reaches up and turns on the overhead light.
What follows next is just plain idiocy. I suppose the producers thought of it as playful, romantic banter between two engaging leads. I however, considered it just slightly less agonizing that being skewered up the ass with a ragged metal pole, then hoisted over an open pit of fiery coals and slow roasted rotisserie style while a five-piece band consisting of Accordion, Bagpipe, Koto, Sitar and Xylophone players struggled to cover Yanni songs nonstop. The only thing more painful than that would be sitting through Battlefield Earth again. Mitch and Sally talk and there is some baseball euphemisms thrown in, as well as some references to mathematics. I’m sure it all boiled down to cheap sexual innuendo. The point is, Mitch is getting frisky and Sally is not falling for his “charms” all that fast, remembering that he plays by his own rules.
Eventually, she says something (please for the love of god don’t ask me to rewind it and play it over in order to clarify) with the word pattern in it. This clicks with Mitch and he repeats the word over and over like his needle was stuck. Then he asks Sally for one of her maps of the region. While she is fumbling around in her bags, he looks over at the guy snoozing away across the aisle and sees a newspaper he has folded up. The words “Plane” and “sea” can be seen it big letters, so Mitch reaches over and takes it. Unfolding it and showing it to Sally, we see that the full headline is, “Navy Patrol Plane Missing At Sea.” Mitch then has Sally open up the map she has retrieved from her bag.
Mitch now takes a pencil and makes five X’s on the map, one for each location where a plane encountered the UFO and/or went missing: his initial encounter, the search plane that went missing shortly afterwards, the Transpolar airliner, the plane they were on that crashed and the recent Navy patrol plane. Of course, how he is aware of the Navy plane’s last known position is beyond me, as he only had enough time just now to read the headline on the newspaper and not the full article. Also, take a close look at the map as he is marking it and you will see several very faint X’s in the very spots he writes on. These were no doubt placed there to remind actor Jeff Morrow where to make the marks.
He then asks Sally if she sees the pattern, but she cannot. She notes that there is no straight line, no curve, nothing. So he takes his pencil and beginning with the location of the initial encounter, begins drawing an expanding spiral that eventually overlaps all the marks he has made. She wants to know if he means that something flew that pattern and he says yes. She notes that it would have to be flying at an incredible rate of speed in order to cover all that distance in the time involved – something that seemingly destroyed four planes and barely missed him that first time. Sally glibly adds, “Something like your flying battleship?” Number Nine!!
He gets a little annoyed when he perceives her slight sarcasm, so he tells her to forget it and folds up the map (cuz we all know she’d never get it folded properly). Sally then begins grilling him on his pattern theory. Why that pattern, to just take out a few scattered planes? And what was it? A meteorite? A guided missile? She babbles some more, pecking away (boo!) at his ideas, doing her best to shoot them down and calling it all coincidence when pointing out that radar systems tracked every plane in question. Mustering even more sarcasm, she suggests that maybe it was Pierre’s Carcagne after all.
I have one question at this point: When did the New York State Police gain jurisdiction over Canadian territory? When Mitch marks Sally’s map, one can clearly see that Pierre’s place is in Quebec, located right at the Southern end of James Bay, which extends from the larger Hudson Bay. It’s close to five hundred miles to the American border from Pierre’s place, yet when a car came to take Mitch and Sally to the airport, it said NY State Police on its side. If those cops came all the way from New York, why not just drive Mitch and Sally back, since they obviously know a shortcut?
Along about now, let me remind everyone of the fact that this is an overnight flight and that most of the people on board are sleeping. Well, trying to sleep. How can they when these two are yapping loud enough to be heard on the west coast? Some people just don’t give a hoot (boo!) about others. As Mitch and Sally banter back and forth, we can see the guy in the seat behind them struggling to catch some shuteye and having a difficult time thanks to these two. Finally, unable to take it any more, he leans forward and asks them if they’d mind being quiet so everyone else can sleep. Wow, how polite! I don’t know about you, but my reaction would have been a bit more…pointed. I love my sleep. I have a difficult time getting to sleep and staying asleep much of the time. So when anyone ruins my sleep, I get pissed off. If that had been me on that plane, I’d have kindly told them both to take a big drink of shut the fuck up or else they’d need to make an appointment with a proctologist when we landed so they could have the stewardess’s drink cart removed from their asses. Then again, that’s just me.
Mitch now apologizes to Sally, albeit much more quietly than before. She then likens him to a flying Sherlock Holmes, but says he made more sense with his poetry than with his deductions. Now he says that he knows another poem, and then recites it. “Be plain in dress and sober in your diet. In short, my dear, kiss me, and be quiet.” With that he leans over and kisses her. The smooch goes on…and on. She turns out the overhead light and things fade to black. Normally one would surmise that a couple got naked and then had dirty, sweaty sex after a fade to black, but we know these two are on a crowded plane, so the most that could happen is an awkward screw in the lavatory. Still, I doubt even that happened.
Up until this point, The Giant Claw has been your standard 50’s monster flick. The film has established its characters, set up a mystery for them to solve and has more or less stuck by the formula for such films, having things pieced together bit by bit. Everything has pretty much gone like it has in scores of other films. Until now. Now it is the time for this film to take a nosedive from entertaining derivative fare, to full out craptastic ineptitude. Why is that? You are no doubt wondering. Well, I’ll tell ya…it’s because the film is finally ready to show you its monster. A monster brought to you by the lowest bidder, mind you. A monster that belongs more in the cast of a third rate Muppet Show knockoff than a horror flick. Ready? Here we go.
First however, we have to briefly deal with a terror of a different kind. Yes, the CLOWN is back, more than likely because we have reached another portion of the film where the dialog track was “misplaced.” We now see the wide-open sky, a few heavy clouds scattered about then, POW…the CLOWN chimes in.
"Date, the 18th of the month. Sky clear, light clouds. Visibility unlimited. Time, 0815 hours."
It should be noted that while the subtitles give the time as 0815 hours, when Mr. CLOWN actually says it, it comes out as oh-eighteen-fifteen hours. WTF?! In other words, it’s 018:15 hours? What clock is this fool looking at? Maybe it was manufactured in Ireland. Anyway, we now get stock footage of a real plane flying through the sky.
"A CAB (civil aeronautics board for those of you with bad memories) plane flies toward the scene of the previous day’s crash involving Mitchell MacAfee. On board, four members of the Civil Aeronautics Board investigating team. And a pilot. Time, 0816 hours (he said it correctly this time). Another significant moment in history (I’ll say!)."
Don’t you get a laugh over how he makes a complete sentence out of “and a pilot?” It’s almost as if the poor pilot was an afterthought, like he was some schmuck who was not even worth mentioning, but tossed out there anyway for the sake of completion. Also, for a plane belonging to a civilian organization, it sure does sport a great big huge U.S. Military symbol on its side. We see the four investigators on board, sitting at what looks like a cheap card table and consulting a large map. Throw in some dice and miniatures and they could be playing some Dungeons and Dragons. All four of them are wearing parachutes, which either makes them awfully well prepared or awfully wary of their pilot’s skills. Then again, the loser was hardly worth mentioning, so maybe he was somewhat of a John Denver in the cockpit.
The pilot then sees that same big, dark blurry thing that has been buzzing around and been labeled a UFO. However, this time a strange sound accompanies the blur: the cackling of a large bird. The pilot, his eyes wide as if he just swallowed a bug, watches as the blur passes by overhead. The four CAB dudes in the rear of the plane hear the noise and look out the windows.
"Once more a frantic pilot radios in a report on a UFO. A bird. A bird as big as a battleship, circling and preparing to attack the CAB plane."
We see the pilot talking into his radio (and yes, the CLOWN just gave us battleship reference number ten) and then the four CAB morons all struggling to peer out the closest window. When we see the pilot again, he screams at the sight just beyond the window…and no, it ain’t a blimp made to look like a naked Rosie O’Donnell. Why, it’s a giant claw and wing…just like what we saw in the film’s title screen. Then we see the plane again, only now it has lost all of its wing markings, no doubt cuz the CAB realized they’d get in trouble for flying around in plane sporting military insignia. However, the plane is now being portrayed by a plastic model rather than stock footage. This is so we can see the Giant Claw attacking it. Yes, in this instant, we get our first real look at the title critter. Try your hardest not to laugh.
way I would describe this thing is if a buzzard, a giraffe, and Marty
Feldman got caught in Andre Delambre’s teleportation device (from
1958’s The Fly) and this was the end result. Its body
and wings are pretty much that of a standard buzzard. However, its neck
is just as long as the rest of its body, if not longer, and is completely
devoid of any feathers, making it look like an ostrich with bad skin.
Its eyes are huge, round and bulging and have no eyelids whatsoever.
The beak is curved, does not close very well and is home to numerous
huge and very sharp teeth! The beastie also has two large nostril slits
in the beak which flare from time to time, as if detecting some fowl
odor…er…foul odor (ok, stop booing me for that one). But
what really adds that final comic touch is the big tuft of hair that
protrudes from the top of the monster’s skull in a Mohawk-like
pattern. Given the size of the plane in comparison, these hairs must
be forty or fifty feet in length!
An exterior view shows parachutes being deployed while the Claw chomps down on the plane with its mouth. Then, done with the plane, the Claw drops it and goes after the poor CAB guys. Squawking up a storm, it flies up to the poor bastards through the miracle of rear-screen projection. These guys are so boned. They struggle and twist in their parachute harnesses, seeing the gargantuan bird screaming towards them, but are powerless to do a damn thing. With sickening crunches, we see two of them swallowed whole by the Claw. One must assume the other two were subsequently gobbled up as well, but the film fades to black at this point, leaving the “horror” up to our imaginations.
Now we see the interior of an apartment somewhere. The buzzer then announces that someone is at the door and is sounding it nonstop, which means there is a good chance that there someone at the door with cookies, encyclopedias or the Watchtower. Mitch emerges from another room wearing his pajamas and a robe, griping aloud about whomever is leaning on the buzzer. He opens the door and two Air Force officers stand outside. One says he represents General Buskirk and that the General would like to see Mitch right away. Mitch doesn’t want to go because he hasn’t managed to get any sleep yet (well, maybe if he didn’t spend half the previous night’s plane flight talking up a storm, he would have). The Air Force guy says that he has been ordered to bring Mitch to the General ASAP, even if that means taking Mitch into protective custody. In other words, beat his ass senseless and drag his limp form to the General. Mitch acquiesces and goes to get dressed. Pity. I was hoping to see an ass-beating.
Next up we see Mitch and Sally showing General Buskirk the map with his pattern marked on it. Buskirk now makes two more marks on the map, as two additional planes have gone missing, a private plane and the CAB plane which we just saw a moment ago. Both of these new incidents follow Mitch’s pattern “smack dab on the nose” and as usual, radar picked up nothing. Sally asks if the pilots reported anything and Buskirk tells them that the pilot of the private plane reported nothing, while the one in the CAB plane reported a UFO. Then Sally asks if he said what the object was. Buskirk says yes, “A bird. A bird as big as a battleship circled and attacked the plane.” For those of you keeping score, that was battleship reference number eleven.
Mitch smiles and laughs at the notion, but the General gets upset, reminding him that this is no laughing matter (from my angle it is!). The plane was completely destroyed and the five men on it have vanished from the face of the Earth. Buskirk now mentions Mitch’s expertise with electronics and wonders if anything that big could avoid being picked up by radar. Mitch says that it is impossible, but admits that he too, has seen this mysterious UFO. In fact, it is apparent that Mitch is the only person to have seen this thing and lived to talk about it.
The General asks Mitch if he got a good look at the UFO, but Mitch admits that he did not. It was just a blur as it went past. He wishes he had had his camera with him. Now, just like when Sally said the word “pattern” and sparked something in Mitch, his use of the word “camera” jogs her memory. She tells Buskirk that before her assignment with Mitch, she worked in Earth curvature calibration work. This no doubt boring as hell job involved fixed cameras in observation balloons. There is a good chance that these balloons managed to photograph the mysterious UFO. Buskirk is instantly on the phone and making a call, presumably to see about retrieving those balloons. Either that or to order a pizza.
Stock footage now shows us the balloons being retrieved and the cameras affixed to them being removed. Then we see Mitch, Sally, Buskirk and some nameless officer watching a slide show made up of photos from one of the cameras. One after another is nothing more than a view of empty sky. Then suddenly, on one there is the distinct form of a bird in the distance. “Something’s coming up now,” says Buskirk. What, is the man an idiot? Any fool can see that the image is that of a bird! My guess is, these scenes were shot well before the look and design of the monster was known, so the actor (and writer) had no way of knowing that the initial photo of the bird would be clear and obvious, not blurry and questionable.
Anyway, the next slide comes up and it shows the bird at a closer distance, meaning the creature was moving in the general direction of the balloon. The one after that has a pretty good view of the bird, which is still in the distance, but now appears to be moving at angle that will take it past the balloon while still some distance away. When the next slide appears, it shows a close up of the bird’s face, as if the beast was looking directly into the camera on purpose. It also seems to have changed position in the sky. In the first three shots, its entire body could be seen. Now only its head is shown, the rest of its body off screen to the left. Did it circle back around the balloon in order to take a closer look?
Sally gasps in horror, and I take that as proof right there that nobody knew what the monster looked like at this point of filming. If she knew it looked like Big Bird’s retarded cousin, she would not have gasped. More like chuckled. Buskirk now classifies the film and any information pertaining to it and the bird as top secret. Then he calls someone named Johnson and orders him to put the entire command on combat readiness right away and to then notify the Pentagon and a General Considine that he will be on his way there very shortly. After that he has a plane prepared and tells Mitch and Sally that they are going with him. Who here thinks it would be ironic if the Giant Claw destroyed the plane they take? That would be funny. It would also be good cuz then this movie would be over that much quicker.
The next thing you know, we see an establishing shot of the Pentagon. Moving inside, we see Mitch, Sally and Buskirk in General Considine’s office. The general is looking at a strip of film from one of the balloon cameras. “It’s some sort of bird all right. There is no question of that,” he says. Thank god we now have Sherlock on the freakin’ case! Considine asks Sally about the possibility of the bird having flown in radar blind spots. She says that at least ten different radar sites should have tracked the bird. Then he asks Mitch if the bird’s speed or altitude could affect the ability of radar to detect it. Mitch shoots down those ideas, as well. Considine vents his frustration and this gets Mitch’s feathers all ruffled (boo!). He says that he didn’t invent the bird, he just saw it and reported it. Buskirk now walks over and tells Mitch to relax. Mitch wants to know when the hell they are going to do something. this annoys Buskirk, who states that they (the Air Force and military in general) know how to take care of the country. Now it is Considine’s turn to calm Buskirk. Personally, I was hoping the two generals were going go all tag team and put a beating on Mitch.
Before going any further, I have to address the location of Considine’s office. Just where in the hell is it? Oh sure, the film wants us to believe that he is located somewhere in the Pentagon, but I’m afraid that is not the case. Just look at the screen cap to the left. Look through the window behind the General and what is it you see? The freakin’ Capital Building! The Pentagon is about three miles away from the Capital Building and sits on the other side of the Potomac river! There is no way his office could be that far away. So just where is his office then? Well, look at the image I got from Google maps. We see the backside of the Capital Building (where yellow arrow is pointing) which is the side facing Considine’s office. Given the angle the Capital is viewed from his window, the only building he could be in is one of the Library of Congress buildings (where the red arrow is pointing), but that looks like it may be too far away for the Capital to appear the size it does from his office. So again, just where is his office? I have two theories. First, see that big area in the middle where there seems to have been construction work going on? Maybe there was once a building in that area fifty years ago that held Considine’s office and it was recently demolished. No? Ok, the only other option is that the General’s office resided in some sort of stealth building that was invisible to the eye from outside. Maybe that building is still there and we just can’t see it! Then again, there is a third option: maybe the film’s producers were just idiots. Yeah, I think that explains it.
Anyway, back to the movie. Considine now explains to Mitch that there is a general air alert on. Hundreds of planes from every command are combing the skies, looking for the giant bird. Considine is sure that they will locate the beast. Sally asks what will happen then. As if to answer her question, the phone now rings. Considine answer and jabbers with someone. After hanging up, he tells the others that the bird has been spotted and the order has been given to shoot it down. He then has the air-to-air and air-to-ground channels piped into the office so they can all sit back and hear what is about to take place. Since the planes are armed with cannons, machine guns and rockets, he is confident that this will be the end “of the big bird who was there but wasn’t.” I’m surprised he doesn’t pop some popcorn and break out some beers at this point.
Now comes some footage of a pilot in his cockpit. Then that same blurry image of the bird streaking across the sky. The squadron leader spots the bird and there is some talk from the other pilots, one guy likening the monster to a chicken hawk and another vowing to never call his mother-in-law and old crow again (which will come true, but not for any reason he’ll be happy about). We see Mitch and the others listening to these exchanges and smiling at the pilots’ banter.
The next few minutes are a hodge podge of stock footage jets, reaction shots from Mitch and the others, crudely staged scenes with the marionette that is portraying the bird attacking cheap model planes and recycled footage from World War Two. Half the time the Giant Claw can be seen waving its wings, while the other half seems to be spent floating around on wind currents, its wings outstretched and still. Somehow I doubt there is enough strength in those winds to keep such a gargantuan bird aloft. I also get a kick of how it executes these stunning maneuvers…all while dangling from some wires. Then there are the planes that change from shot to shot. When they fire their weapons, they are one type of jet – something along the lines of an F-86 or F-89 – when the giant bird grabs them in its mouth, they suddenly transform into another type, something with a delta wing, like an F-106. Then, when we see the flaming wreckage plummet into the sea, it’s obvious footage from WWII (I know very little about military craft, and had to rely on Andrew Borntreger of Badmovies.org for those designations). The utter cheapness of this sequence is impossible to ignore. Comprised of stock shots and cheap models, this entire series of shots probably cost about five bucks to produce.
So the squadron begins unleashing all their weapons on the bird. Alas, nothing happens. No matter what they throw at the beast, nothing seems to touch it. The big bird swings around and grabs one of the planes, crushing it in its beak. It discards the wreckage, which explodes in a fury of model plane parts, then plummets to the seas below, having become stock footage. The pilot, however, was fortunate enough to bail out and deploy his chute. Unfortunately for him, he now suffers the same fate as those poor CAB dudes – swallowed whole by the bird. Mitch and the others hear of this when the squadron leader reports over the radio.
The remaining planes continue to fire at the bird with all they’ve got, but it still produces no change in the bird. The squadron leader reports that it’s like “hitting a battleship with a slingshot.” Yes, folks…that was battleship reference number twelve. The bird goes after another plane and the same sequence as before now follows: marionette on wires attacks model jet on wires, model jet is dropped and blown up with a firecracker, stock footage from WWII shows wreckage hitting ocean.
The movie now focuses on the radio speaker through which Mitch and the others are listening to this whole debacle. The Squadron leader calls the mission a washout and begins to express their intention to head for…well, he doesn’t get a chance to say where they’re going to go. Probably back to their base. The point is, he stops talking when he notices the bird coming for his plane. He states this fact and then says “No!” a couple of times, the fear in his voice evident. In the background, the cackling of the bird can also be heard. Then General Considine flips a switch and kills the audio feed. It is obvious that the pilot was doomed and there was no need to listen to his last few seconds on this Earth, no doubt spent shitting his pants, trying to make desperate bargains with god and then crying for his mama – a sequence of events that I’m sure also befell members of the audience.
Buskirk is stunned by what just played out, especially their inability to hurt the monster. Considine is still trying to maintain confidence in their eventual triumph over the bird, but is unsure what will happen the next time they locate the beast. Then he goes to his intercom and starts issuing orders. Buskirk starts freaking out, repeating over and over that “it’s just a bird.” Considine agrees, but points out that ten million dollars worth of radar can’t track it and enough firepower to wipe out an entire regiment cannot even slow it down.
Mitch chimes in now and wants to know what they are going to do besides sit there and weep. Both generals take offense at that and Considine says that his being flip doesn’t help. Mitch admits that he isn’t being flip, nor is he criticizing anyone in the Air Force, including the pilots they just heard die. No, he’s just scared and wants to try and do something about the bird. Buskirk makes some sarcastic remark about electronic spitballs, no doubt referencing Mitch’s field of expertise. However, Mitch thinks atomic spitballs would be better. Now Considine gets a call that informs him that “phase two” is now operational with all units ready. Then a call from a Dr. Karol Noymann at the research lab comes in. Whatever Noymann says must be good news, as Considine smiles, says “good” a couple of times, then makes plans to head over. Hanging up the phone he explains to Mitch that the research lab has been kept up to date. They’ve been examining the wreckage of the CAB plane as well as the plane Mitch and Sally crashed in. Apparently they now think they know what the bird is and where it came from.
The General now explains to Mitch the orders he just gave a minute or so earlier. It appears that he had earlier in the day given the order for atomic warheads to be loaded onto guided missiles. These have been set up in every launching site nationwide that is located in an area where the fallout pattern will make it safe to detonate them. These installations are now under orders to fire these missiles the instant the bird is spotted. Once everyone realizes steps are being taken to kill the monster, there is a round of mutual apologies for all the heated words. Then Buskirk and Considine head over to the research lab, taking Mitch and Sally with them, for as Considine puts it, “You’re up to your ears in this thing anyway.” I guess he is taking them under his wing! HA!
Now we jump over to the research lab where everyone has flocked (boo!) in order to hear Dr. Noymann present his theories on the bird’s origin. This involves a lot of real science as well as pseudo science talk. He starts by showing them a model of an atom and talks about how the atom is the basic building block of all matter. The nucleus is positive and the electrons are all negative. Then he says that “according to the law of electrodynamics, all nature is symmetrical. It is in balance. And if there is matter, then there must also be antimatter.” He goes on to explain that with antimatter, an atom would have a negative nucleus and positive electrons (or positrons). Then he really reaches deep into his ass for the next bit: somewhere in the universe, there are stars, planets, whole galaxies made up of antimatter.
Considine, perhaps sensing a load of bullshit, asks Noymann if he is implying that the bird is made of antimatter. Before the Doctor can answer, Mitch jumps in and says that though they have proven that antimatter exists, they also know that whenever it comes into direct contact with normal matter, the two annihilate one another. Mitch wants to know why the bird wasn’t annihilated when it touched something.
Finally able to answer, Noymann says that the bird itself is not antimatter but instead, radiates some type of invisible screen or barrier. That energy shield is antimatter. Now…pardon me while I go off into the corner and laugh. Buskirk now realizes that this is why none of their weapons affected the beast: they just impacted the antimatter screen. Sally chimes in and says that this also explains the failure of the radar systems to track the monster. The radar waves had no surface to reflect off of, so they just slid around the bird’s antimatter screen.
General Considine wants to know if this is all guesswork on Noymann’s part. The Doctor says no, and adds that the bird can obviously open that antimatter screen in order to use its beak, claws and wings as destructive weapons. He points to a pile of junk on a table and says that it is a portion of the wreckage. It has been checked and double-checked by a team of scientists and they have reached the same conclusion. Considine now asks where the bird came from, so Noymann produces a feather found amongst the wreckage. It has defied chemical analysis and contains no substance known on Earth nor any element recognizable by man. In fact, they blew up several pieces of expensive equipment just testing the feathers they found. The bottom line is clear: the bird comes from outer space, “from some godforsaken antimatter galaxy millions and millions of light years from the Earth.”
Okay, setting aside the notion that for some reason the supreme being hates antimatter, just how in the hell did the bird survive a trip across (potentially) millions of light years? The bird obviously is a biological life form that requires oxygen in order to live. Where did it obtain that oxygen during that journey? Even with its antimatter screen in place, any oxygen within such a bubble would be quickly depleted. This brings up another factor – locomotion. There is no air or wind in space, so the bird could flap its wings for years and not propel itself, since there would be nothing to push against. Now, let’s throw all that aside and just assume that the bird had both a way to survive and move through intergalactic space. Now comes another problem: speed. As fast as the bird moved within the Earth’s atmosphere, it is still far too slow to make a voyage from one galaxy to another. Hell, even at light speed, crossing our own Milky Way Galaxy would take 100,00 years. A trip from another galaxy (say...Andromeda) would take even longer…and there is no way the bird was cruising around at light speed. One of the film’s posters boasts that the bird flies at four times the speed of sound and describes it as a “winged monster from 17,000,000 B.C.” Just for fun, let’s assume the bird was born in that year and began its long flight to Earth at that same time.
770 mph x 4 = 3080 mph (This is the bird’s top speed)
So the beast traveled over 458.6 trillion miles during its 17 million-year journey. Just how far was that? Well let’s see how that distance translates into light years:
of light = 186,282 miles per second
So the bird could only have traveled about 78 light years, over a period of 17 million years. Without oxygen, no less. 78 light years is a far cry from the 2.5 million light years to the Andromeda galaxy. Hell, it’s nowhere near close to the 25,000 light years to the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way and the closest one to us. An antimatter galaxy would have to be much further away than any of the local galaxies (assuming it could even exist in this universe to begin with) and would be hundreds of million if not billions of light years away. Were the writers on crack or something?! In the end, the idea that a biological creature such as the bird could propel itself from one galaxy to another is just ludicrous. It’s beyond ludicrous, really. It’s just flat out stupid.
Now, in regards to any antimatter galaxy the bird may herald from, I just want to know how those antimatter planets are not being annihilated, since space isn’t exactly empty. There is all sorts of tiny crap floating through the void. Stuff that would no doubt cause those antimatter locales to go POOF when they came into contact with one another. In fact, I doubt that anything composed of antimatter could exist in our universe at all, where so much is composed of Baryonic matter. At least, they wouldn’t exist for longer than a nanosecond or two.
Furthermore, if antimatter and normal matter are mutually annihilated when they come into contact with one another, why isn’t there a perpetual explosion around the bird? The shield is coming into direct and continuous contact with all the particles in the air…stuff like Oxygen, Nitrogen, Argon, etc. As it flies around with its shield up, such normal matter particles should be annihilated constantly. The energy released from it just flying around would be enormous, too! An antimatter particle colliding with a matter particle releases 100% of the energy contained within the particles, while a hydrogen bomb only releases about 7% of this energy. So every time the bird raised its antimatter shield, there would be a perpetual release of energy around it, potentially equal to 14 Hiroshima explosions. Just through the act of flying around the planet, the bird would annihilate all life on Earth!
With everyone now accepting the Giant Antimatter Space Buzzard theory, Considine tells Mitch and Sally that Buskirk will fly them back to New York. He adds that they should hold themselves in readiness and to keep their mouths shut concerning what they know. Buskirk tells Considine that his command is ready and waiting at the end of a phone line. Considine says that he will need all the help he can get, but the last time he talked to a chaplain, there wasn’t a telephone line to the place where they could find the kind of help they need. Huh? A church? A bingo house? Oh! Heaven! Then Considine grabs a phone and calls the Secretary of Defense.
Heeeee’s back! Yes, our resident clown now decides to put in another “appearance.” Will his blathering be just as insightful (i.e. unintentionally entertaining) as before? Let’s see!
"Up to now, only one man had seen the bird and lived."
FALSE!! Both Mitch and French Canadian Pierre have seen the bird. Mitch just happens to be the only survivor who was piloting a plane when he encountered the monster.
"Among those who knew of it, its existence was a closely guarded secret. But even as arrangements were made for an emergency meeting of the President, the Cabinet, the National Defense Board and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, even then the bird revealed itself to the world at large and complacency quickly turned to panic. Panic, terror and horror. No corner of the Earth was spared the terror of looking up into God’s blue sky and seeing, not peace and security, but the feathered nightmare on wings.”
Now we see stock footage of people at a large outdoor pool. One guy is about to jump into the water when he sees that same big, dark and blurry thing streak across the sky. For a moment, as he was prepping to dive into the pool, I was half expecting the bird to fly down, snatch him up out of the water and then fly off to make a meal of him. Then I realized that I had already seen such a scene in the movie Q:The Winged Serpent. As the blurry bird flies by overhead, actors on a set, gaze up in terror, a parasol or palm tree thrown in to make it look like they are located at the same place as the pool in the stock footage.
Then we see merry old London (pip pip). The blur passes by overhead and one woman screams. We then see a close up of the Giant Claw puppet as it caws and shrieks. A few more stock footage shots of panicking crowds ensue (one having been lifted from The Day The Earth Stood Still), with a few shots of the ridiculous-looking monster thrown in for good measure. I think the film is trying to convey the idea that the bird is being spotted all over the globe. I think. The stock shots may be cheap, but it at least avoids having idiotic extras play the parts of fleeing crowds and then shown smiling and laughing as they run in fear (see Reptilicus and The Blob for examples).
Now we see Mitch in his apartment, going over some maps. The door buzzer sounds, but he ignores it at first. It is only when it sounds repeatedly that he gets up to open it. It turns out to be Sally, who hands him some papers and says that she worked half the night running his figures through a calculating machine. He thanks her and walks off with them, so she has to remind him to give her a kiss. What a moron. I don’t care if the giant bird was nesting on my roof, if I had a totally smokin’ hot babe like Sally in my place, she’d be having to fight me off.
She chastises him for burying his head in all his papers for the past two days, figuring and calculating and what not. She gets him to admit that he has been working on some way to destroy the bird, but he isn’t sure if it will work. It’s just a crazy idea he pulled “out of cloud eight somewhere, in sheer desperation.” She asks if he has informed General Buskirk or Considine, but he says no. He doesn’t’ want them to remind him to stay in his own backyard. After all, there is only a million to one chance that it will work. WHAT? What will work? So far he hasn’t mentioned a single detail about this “plan” of his. Does it involve guns? Missiles? Sonic Weapons? Eleven secret herbs and spices? What?!!
Sally says that she has also been thinking about the bird. She asks Mitch if he has ever stopped to wonder why the bird came to Earth. Did it come for food? She wonders aloud if the bird eats, as we Humans understand eating. Uh…I think that is a resounding yes. Just ask all those poor CAB dudes. Or the pilots of the attack squadron. They all got swallowed whole. Mitch says that according to Doctor Noymann, the bird “absorbs” energy from the things it destroys, including Humans, in some sort of molecular osmosis. Huh?
Sally now raises the question if the bird came to Earth to rest. Mitch says that it sure isn’t doing that. Sally agrees, pointing out how the bird seems to be in constant flight, never stopping. This got her to thinking about Pierre and his La Carcagne. Mitch laughs again at what scared the French Canadian so bad, but Sally says that what Pierre saw that night was the bird. Mitch questions whether Pierre could have spotted the creature twelve thousand feet straight up during a storm, but Sally says he must have seen the bird on the ground. She made a call to General Buskirk and confirms the discovery of a giant chicken scratch…er…claw mark, in the field near Pierre’s house. In fact, Sally knows why the bird landed and why it came to Earth: to build a nest.
Mitch, ever the astute observer and master of deduction, realizes that a nest means eggs...and eggs mean more birds (either that or the world’s biggest omelet). He jumps up, grabs the phone and calls General Buskirk. He convinces the general to allocate the use of a plane and then a helicopter to take him and Sally out to Pierre’s place. As they begin picking up all Mitch’s papers, an emergency alert comes over the radio. General Considine comes on and basically says that despite the cooperation of all nations, no solution to the menace posed by the bird has been found. Earth’s mightiest weapons are useless against the monster. Two days ago all flights were grounded. Deprived of things to eat in the sky, the bird began attacking things on the ground.
As the General’s speech continues, we get more stock footage. Some looks like it was lifted from The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. We then see horses running loose in the wild, cars crashing, things on fire and the bird attacking a train. The General announces that the bird is attracted by movement of any kind, thus all the governments of the world have instituted martial law. In addition to grounding all aircraft, all surface transportation (cars, trucks, buses, trains, and ships at sea) must be halted at once. The movement of food and essential supplies will be handled by the armed forces. Blackout conditions will be observed from sunset to dawn. All movement during the day must be held to an absolute minimum.
The General’s speech ends and Mitch turns off the radio, looking very unhappy, as if he just realized the sex doll he mail ordered will take months to arrive, if it arrives at all. Sally looks out the window and there, astoundingly and coincidentally enough, is the big bird flying by overhead. Have you noticed that where Mitch goes, the bird is sure to follow? We’ll examine that idea more later on. Mitch exhorts Sally to get moving, so they can take that plane to Pierre’s place. Wait a second! I thought all aircraft were grounded?!
Stock footage shows us the plane and then the helicopter Mitch and Sally take (along with Pierre, who looks about ready to soil his undergarments at any second). Then, get this, we see a real bird high in the sky. It could be an eagle or a hawk or a falcon. Who knows. The point is, it’s a real flesh and blood bird of prey, yet the silly sounds of the Giant Claw’s cackling are dubbed in, the producers wanting us to believe this is a shot of the big monster bird. HAHAHAHA! Sally spots the bird and the bird spots the helicopter. The giant beast swoops in low for an attack (more like swung in on wires), but Mitch manages to drop the craft down amongst some trees, preventing the monster from destroying them.
Mitch thinks they had better land before the bird comes back. Sally inquires about the guns they brought along and Mitch says they should be up to the task of destroying any eggs they locate. Sally adds that hopefully such eggs will be lacking antimatter screens of their own. Pierre asks, “La Carcagne?” Mitch replies, “No, Pepe, not La Carcagne, a million times worse.” Pepe? Pepe?! Did Mitch just call Pierre Pepe? Has the French Canadian somehow transformed into a Mexican national? Pepe is a variation of José, Joseph and Pedro, the latter being the Spanish version of Peter. And while Pierre is a French variant of Peter, how does Mitch justify going from a French version to a Spanish one? Is this just his ugly American manifesting itself? Does he consider all foreigners to be faceless entities to be arbitrarily labeled with an ethnic name?
Now we see Mitch, Sally and Pepe…er…Pierre trekking through Griffith Park…er…I mean the Canadian woods. For some reason, Mitch is carrying two rifles. One slung over his shoulder and one in his hand. This is almost too funny when you think about it. He will trust Sally to use the gun when the time comes, but he doesn’t trust her enough to carrying it while walking! Does he think she’s gonna trip and accidentally shoot someone? The trio eventually crests a small rise and happen upon a movie set made to resemble the woods. From this vantage point they spot the bird’s nest, made from dozens, if not hundreds, of felled trees. Amazingly enough, the bird took the time to strip these trees of their branches and foliage before piling them up, almost like it was running a nearby sawmill or something. The trio doesn’t spot any eggs, so Mitch says the best way to ascertain if they exist is to venture closer and take a look.
Before they can move a muscle, the familiar squawking of the bird is heard. Pierre calls out “La Carcagne” in fear and then we see the monster glide in to land in its nest. Once there, it begins uprooting a few nearby trees to add to the nest. As it does so, Sally spots the creature’s egg. How she can do this now and not a few seconds ago is beyond me, especially since the bird is obscuring so much of the view now. Mitch begins to ready the guns, but Pierre decides to bail. He’s afraid the noise from the guns will attract the beast and they will all end up as bird food.
With Pierre gone, Sally picks up the second rifle. After receiving a puzzled look from Mitch, she explains that she is from Montana. Aha! So she was never meant to fire that second gun. No wonder she wasn’t carrying it. But, if Pierre was intended as the second gun’s user, why wasn’t he carrying it to begin with? Anyway, Mitch and Sally take aim and with just a few shots, reduce the giant egg to a giant mess. The bird, literally suffering from empty nest syndrome and pissed off beyond reason, takes flight and buzzes their location, causing much of the nearby tree branches to fall on them. This is accomplished by having the actors cringe and then off screen stagehands toss small bits of foliage at them.
Not far off, Pierre has gone loony (boo!) and is running like hell down an open road. What an idiot. I don’t know if the bird has fantastic eyesight like terrestrial birds of prey, which are able to spot something as small as a mouse from a mile away, but surely, sticking to the trees in order to avoid the monster would seem to be the prudent thing to do. Alas, the bird sees him, swoops in and the last we see of poor Pierre is his screaming face. I don’t know if the bird grabbed him in its claw and gave him the squish treatment, popped him into its mouth for a chewy treat of just dropped the biggest load of bird shit in history on him. Whatever it was, he is dead. I’m left wondering if the poor bastard was beginning to think that his see-La-Carcagne-and-die idea was just fanciful thinking on his part. I guess, as it turns out, the yolk was on him (boo!) and it was true!
Sally notes that Pierre was right after all: seeing La Carcagne led to his death. Mitch says that he will alert the authorities to search for more possible nests across the world. They need to get back to the city, but it is too dangerous to take the helicopter. So Mitch suggests they leave it and take Pierre’s car. Oh sure, take the dead guy’s vehicle. He won’t be needing it anymore. Want to check his house while you’re at it for any items he no longer needs? I’m sure if there was a body left, Mitch would rifle through Pierre’s wallet and divest him of any extraneous cash the dead guy had on him.
Now we see Mitch and Sally in Pierre’s car, driving down a road at night with the headlights turned off. This rear projection shot shows us a vehicle in the distance behind them. This one has its lights on, just asking for trouble. In fact, this car is catching up to them quite fast. A close up shows that it is an open top model, carrying something almost as frightening as the bird: teenagers. There are two guys and two gals and the one male not driving is urging the other to go faster. They quickly come up behind Mitch and Sally, honking their horn as they do so. When they go to pass, Mitch tries to flag them down and get them to stop, citing the danger of the bird, but the teens just laugh at him. One girl says they are not worried about the bird as they have salt for its tail.
By the way, that bit about them having salt for the bird’s tail goes back to an ancient Teutonic belief that powerful spirits of the air were what caused the swift flight of birds. Salt is considered a foe to ghostly might, imparting weight to their bodies and impeding motion. However, why this particular gang of idiots thinks that it would be a good thing to ground the bird if they encountered it is beyond me.
The car with the teens goes barreling down the road ahead of Mitch and Sally. Sure as shit, within seconds the cawing of the big bird can be heard. Sally gasps as she spots the beast. It comes swooping down on the teenagers from behind. Two of them – a boy and a girl – manage to jump from the vehicle, but the other two are stuck as the monstrous avian grabs the car in its giant claw and begins to fly upward into the sky. Mitch and Sally watch in horror as it then drops the car, which explodes in the air as it falls.
With the bird gone, Mitch and Sally jump out and race towards the two kids that jumped from the vehicle. Both are in bad shape, but are still alive. Planning on taking them to a hospital in a nearby town, Mitch pulls the car closer so they can get the teens inside. Sally looks at the useless bottle of salt dropped by the girl. Fade out.
Now we jump to Washington. Mitch and Sally are at the research lab when Dr. Noymann and General Considine enter. The general hopes that this isn’t going to be a waste of his time and wants to know what Mitch has to show him. “How to shoot the bird out of the sky,” Mitch says. Considine wants to know if he means with some sort of new weapon, but Mitch says with regular weapons. The General is about ready to bail, but Mitch convinces Considine to hear him out and listen to the idea that he has hatched (boo!). Mitch then says that no matter where the bird came from, it is still flesh and blood and thus susceptible to bullets and bombs. Dr. Noymann adds that that is true…if you can get past the monster’s antimatter screen. Mitch now states that doing that is what he thinks he has figured out how to do.
Mitch now goes on to babble about bubble chambers bombarded with high-speed particles, mu mesons, the formation of a temporary Mesic atom (a mu meson with a hydrogen nucleus, according to Dr. Noymann) and the physical properties of such. He says a Mesic atom is so small, it can penetrate the defenses of a normal atom and fuse with its nucleus, whether they be atoms of matter or antimatter. He claims that by getting close to the bird and bombarding the antimatter shield with a stream of Mesic atoms, they can destroy the shield. The bird would then be defenseless except for its beak, claws and wings. If your head is spinning at the scientific mumbo jumbo thrown about here like shit in a chimpanzee enclosure, then you are not alone.
Considine is about to pee his pants with excitement and wants to know what Mitch will need. Mitch says he will need the lab, Noymann and staff, Sally to help him with the math and a blank check for supplies. The general agrees, citing the fact that time is running out. Considine leaves and the others get to work, Noymann stating the need for a miracle to make it all work.
The CLOWN now returns. Ugh. At least this will be his final time interrupting the movie. As he talks we see Mitch, Sally and Dr. Noymann hard at work in the lab, monkeying around with some contraption they have invented.
"This weapon would have to create Mesic atoms, not as rare and isolated laboratory phenomena, but in tremendous quantities, eject them through some aiming and propelling device so they could travel indefinite distances through the air to arrive with sufficient speed and in sufficient numbers to bombard and destroy the antimatter shield. Truly a miracle of science. Especially since the scientific total life expectancy for a Mesic atom, up to now, measured in laboratories, had been one two-millionth of a second."
At this point, the gizmo the trio is working on explodes in a mild display of sparks and smoke. Mitch looks at Noymann with a long face.
"Failure. Failure…after failure…after failure."
Each time the CLOWN says failure, we see a new contraption invented by the trio go up in smoke. Another shot shows the three of them sitting at a table, continuing their task. At one point Sally has to pick up a sandwich and force it into Mitch’s hands in order for him to eat it.
"And while a handful of dedicated people struggled to achieve the impossible, panic spread to all corners of the Earth. Panic and nightmare terror."
Now we see a toy train cruising along some outdoor tracks, toy trees on either side. I’d say this train looks to be about HO scale. Then we see the blurry image of the bird sweep across the sky, that annoying cawing and squawking it produces in full effect. The bird swoops down, grabs the train and flies off with it. This is comical for two reasons (other than the already established idiotic look of the monster). First, the train cars stay connected together as the monster flies off with it, making it resemble some gigantic sausage link. Second is the way the bird hovers over the train as it is grabbing it, then flies off into the sky with its prize…without ever once flapping its wings!
Back at the research lab, we see Noymann asleep at his desk in his office while Sally snoozes on a nearby couch. Suddenly an explosion from the lab rocks the place, throwing the door open and tossing shit all over. Sally screams and then she and Noymann race into the lab. The doorway to the lab must contain some strange dimensional properties, because when they run in, Sally enters the doorway first. However, when we switch to a shot from within the lab, it is Dr. Noymann who is the first one through the door to see a colossal mess, as well as Mitch laid out on the floor.
The next thing you know, Mitch is waking up in the hospital with Sally, Noymann and General Considine gathered around him. Considine tells him to take it easy, as he tried his best, but they don’t need him killing himself in his attempts to find a way to defeat the bird. Noymann adds in some words about a magnificent effort, but too bad it was doomed to failure. Mitch thinks they have all gone nuts and asks how long it has been since the explosion. When he learns that it has been less than two hours, he is eager to jump up and get to work, but the General restrains him. Mitch says that they need to get the apparatus installed on the plane provided by General Buskirk and they need to do it ASAP. Noymann tells him the experiment was a failure and Sally reminds him that he was hurt, no doubt thinking the poor guy has taken a blow to the head that has subsequently effected his reasoning.
Mitch now laughs, realizing that they don’t know the truth. He informs them that the experiment was a success and the explosion was no accident. He had used the Mesic atom projector. He goes on to explain how he realized the basic wiring was fouled up (or is that fowled up?) and all that needed to be done was adjust the polarity on the main condenser terminals. Huh? Did you catch any of that? Anyone? It seems Mitch made the changes while the others were sleeping and decided to test it. The outcome: BOOM! Considine really gets excited now, as if he can feel a viagra pill kicking in, and asks what type of plane Buskirk has waiting. “An old, stripped-down B-25,” replies Mitch. Considine wants to know why they are waiting and Mitch agrees. Everyone springs into action.
Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.
Now we see everyone gathered at the airfield. Mitch and Noymann are going over the weapon specs with Considine while airmen are outfitting the plane. Mitch is telling the General that they have installed the Mesic atom projector in the rear of the plane, with the emitter pointing to the back. With weight being an issue, Considine wants to know how many people Mitch needs to operate the machine. He says three: himself, Noymann and a calculator. He asks the general if he has someone to replace Sally, as he does not want her on that plane. Considine says the replacement is on his way, then asks why they have the machine aiming from the tail of the plane and not the nose. Noymann says that it is so they will not fly into their own Mesic bombardment and destroy the plane. Holy shit! An answer that actually makes sense!! Mitch adds that the chances are good that once in the air, the bird will pursue them. They will attract its attention somehow of it fails to give chase.
Sally now arrives with sandwiches and coffee. A brilliant mind she might have, but when push comes to shove, it seems she has been regulated to little more than a glorified waitress. A car then rolls up and General Buskirk gets out. He says that the bird has been spotted, heading towards New York City (New York City?!!!). Considine wants to know how much longer Mitch needs to get the weapon ready and is told about two hours. That being far too long, he tells Mitch that he will have to finish putting it together in the air. Also, they don’t have time to wait for Sally’s replacement. It looks like she is going, too. Considine orders Buskirk to pilot the plane and that he will back him up. WTF? A two star and a four star general are going to be the plane’s pilots? Who is the gunner going to be…President Eisenhower himself? Hurriedly the final preparations are now made.
Stock footage of an airplane taking off (from an airstrip that looks to be nowhere near a major metropolitan area like Washington D.C.) precedes a shot of the gang on a set representing the interior of the craft. Mitch, Sally and Doctor Noymann hurry to put their gizmo together while the two generals fly the plane.
Now we jump to New York, where the Giant Claw is perched atop the Empire State building and cawing/squawking up a storm. In the streets below stock footage people run. The Bird then begins to attack the building, reducing it to rubble, which falls on the stock footage people, some of them imported from Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. Now we get alternating shots of the gang working on their machine, exterior shots of the airplane flying low over the landscape, stock footage of people running and shots of the monster soaring about. One thing that bothers me: the plane took off from Washington D.C. and is heading to New York City. This means that they would be traveling North along the Eastern seaboard. Thus, land would on the left side of the plane. So why is it, in these aerial shots, the land we see is on the right side of the plane? They’re heading in the wrong direction! In fact, the landscape in those particular shots looks a lot like my old stomping grounds: the San Francisco Bay Area. They’re on the wrong coast!
The plane reaches New York and Buskirk spots the bird attacking the United Nations building. The monster is sitting on top of the building and tearing out huge chunks with its beak. More stock footage destruction follows, some obviously from the aforementioned Earth vs. The Flying Saucers as one of the flying saucers in question can briefly be seen! Talk about not paying attention. If you’re going to use stock footage, at least take the time to check over it thoroughly before editing it into your flick!
The plane now makes a couple of passes by the bird, trying to get its attention. Mission accomplished, for the bird is soon flying after the tiny (in comparison) craft. Then for some unknown reason we get stock shots of soldiers operating mobile radar dishes and then firing rockets at the bird from a cannon. Naturally, this doesn’t hurt the beast at all, since its antimatter shield is firmly in place. In fact, I think if they are not careful, they might end up blowing Mitch’s plane right out of the sky.
As the thrilling (not) chase plays out across the New York sky, the bird crashes into a building while in pursuit of the plane. To me it sure does look like the monster falls to earth after the collision, but seconds later we see it airborne, so I guess not. However, the debris from the building falls on people in yet even more stock footage and recycled shots from earlier, better movies.
Eventually the Bird is right on the plane’s tail. Considine hurries back from the cockpit to see if the weapon is ready. Mitch is trying his best to get it finished, while Considine nearly shits himself as he stresses how close the monster is. Then the weapon is ready and Mitch flicks a switch, which seems to be the firing mechanism. This causes puffs of smoke to belch forth from the ass of the airplane model and strike the monstrous bird. The weapon is fired several more times and somehow Mitch is able to tell when the bird’s antimatter screen has dropped. He tells Considine that the bird is now all his.
The general hurries back to the cockpit. With Buskirk piloting, they swing around and are somehow now facing the bird head on. They fire some rockets and after some more ‘stunning’ FX work via plastic model planes and cheap ass puppets, the bird goes plummeting downward to splash into the sea. It doesn’t seem to be moving, so I guess it’s dead. So is the audience at this point.
Considine pats Buskirk on the shoulder, who then grins like a freakin’ idiot. Considine then heads into the rear of the plane and informs the others that they “got it.” Mitch and Sally look at each other, smile and then embrace. The world has been saved!
At sea level, we see the last of the bird – one of its giant claws – sinking beneath the water forever. I almost expected it to flip everyone the bird (groan) as it went under. Fade out. No more intentional bad bird puns, I promise. It was all done as a lark, anyway.
Producer Sam Katzman got his start in the film industry as an errand boy at the old Fox Film Corporation shortly before the outbreak of the first world war. Performing various jobs, he quickly learned all the aspects of filmmaking and rose to the position of assistant director before being let go by Fox when it merged with 20th Century Pictures. This prompted him to begin his career as an independent producer, with his first film being His Private Secretary (1933). For the remainder of the decade, he produced movies through two of his companies, Victory Pictures (1935-1939) and Puritan Pictures (1935-1938), relying on names like Bela Lugosi, Tim McCoy, and Olympic athlete Herman Brix to draw the customers.
In the early 1940’s he convinced Monogram Pictures – a small but prolific independent studio specializing in low-budget films and which manufactured much of its own product in addition to releasing films made by other independent producers – to greenlight a film series in order to cash in on earlier juvenile-delinquency series Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys. The East Side Kids, as the series came to be known, was quickly a success and Katzman moved on to other projects for Monogram. In 1945 accepted a deal with Columbia Pictures that would allow him to produce adventure serials and eventually feature films. For two years he worked for both Monogram and Columbia, churning out serials and low-budget features at a blistering rate. In 1947 he joined Columbia full time and continued his success at making films extremely fast and extremely cheap. More often than not, his films earned profits because of their low budgets and the speed with which Katzman could get hot topic films into theaters.
Throughout the 1950’s, Katzman produced a number of genre films such as The Lost Planet (1953), It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), The Werewolf (1956), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) and The Night the World Exploded (1957). Some say that with The Giant Claw, Katzman pushed his luck a little too far. Bringing in one of his regular directors, Fred F. Sears, as well as writers Paul Gangelin and Samuel Newman, who had worked on some of his earlier western and jungle films, Katzman hired genre veteran Jeff Morrow as the lead and pin-up beauty Mara Corday as his love interest.
By all accounts, filming for The Giant Claw unfolded in the usual Katzman style: fast, efficiently and with low costs. Since the FX work was to be completed at a later time, the cast had no idea what the monster was supposed to look like and were told to use their imaginations. Katzman assured them that the creature and special FX were going to be first rate, saying that stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen would be brought in to bring the film’s monster to life. Whether this was true or he was just telling them this to assuage their fears is unknown. What is known, is that the FX work was farmed out to a company in Mexico for a fraction of the cost Harryhausen would have required. The result is the silly marionette that faintly resembles a buzzard, as well as the obvious balsa wood model planes being blown apart.
Legend tells tale of the night The Giant Claw debuted in Jeff Morrow’s hometown. As the actor was wont to do, he attended the premiere as something of a local celebrity. When the ridiculous-looking monster made its first screen appearance (the first time Morrow and the other actors had seen it as well), the audience began laughing hysterically. Embarrassed, Morrow would sneak out of the theater to avoid being recognized. Some versions of the story say he went home with his family, while others say he proceeded to the nearest bar where he got hammered. I would not be the least bit surprised to learn that he did go home with his family…and then proceeded to get hammered in the comfort of his own house.
The end result is a film that, decades later, is remembered fondly for its silly-looking monster. Whether that is the cinematic legacy Katzman, Morrow or anyone else connected to the film truly wanted to leave behind is unknown (but I can venture a guess that it was not), but like it or not, it has cemented itself in the annals of “good” bad movies for decades to come.
By June of 1957, when this film was released, theaters had already played host to most of the better efforts in the giant monster genre. The big name films like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, Tarantula and even the imported Godzilla had come and gone and aside from the occasional offering from a big studio (Universal’s The Deadly Mantis beat The Giant Claw into theaters by only a month), most giant monster flicks of the late 50’s were low budget affairs from smaller productions companies, designed to take advantage of those earlier films’ successes. The films of Bert I. Gordon spring to mind, and Mr. Big, as he was called (look at his initials) had a forte for cheap films centering on oversized nuisances. Like many of those less-than-stellar flicks, The Giant Claw seems to have been greenlit solely for the purpose of cashing in on a trend. While it benefited from a much slicker cinematic look and feel (it was released by Columbia after all), it fell short of greatness when it came to its monster.
If there is one aspect to this film’s story that I find hard to swallow (gee I made a pun and didn’t even realize it) – aside from the giant antimatter buzzard from outer space – is the idea that the very first guy to encounter the monster, somehow carries on through to the end of the film, often playing a crucial role. This happened a lot in these older monster flicks and it just doesn’t seem plausible to me. I’m sure that if a monster, giant or otherwise, was suddenly on the rampage, the government and/or military would quickly step in to take charge of the situation, bringing in their own “experts” and shutting everyone else out. It doesn’t matter what skills one may have, either. You could be an engineer, an astrophysicist or just a freakin’ janitor…the truth of the matter is, you will not be ushered into the upper echelons of power just because you were the first person to see the monster. The only thing more ridiculous is the notion that two Generals would personally pilot the plane carrying their last ditch weapon of choice.
First we have Mitch, the film’s hero. The word hero is used here in the broadest sense of the word. Main protagonist may be a better term to describe him, because aside from putting himself in danger a time or two in his attempts at combating the bird, Mitch doesn’t do much that is heroic. The film tries to portray Mitch as something of a wild card, a guy that plays by his own rules and who excels at pissing off people with whom he works. Well, he is described that way. The truth is, he doesn’t really come off that way through his actions. In reality, he comes across more as something of a loud mouth, a guy who talks a big game but capitulates to whatever higher authority calls him on the carpet. It’s hard for me to muster up much concern for Mitch because of the way he conducts himself. He isn’t a jerkwad by any means, but he just seems somewhat unlikable to me, like someone who always has an excuse or reason why something isn’t their fault. You may not feel that way about him, but as far heroic leads go, he leaves me cold. That is no reflection on actor Jeff Morrow, whose performances I enjoyed in other films. Here he just seems a little…less likable.
Sally on the other hand, is much more likable, and that isn’t just because Mara Corday was just so smokin’ hot. Sally has a certain energy about her that helps her stand out. Call it spunk if you will. While horrified by the monster, she never once cowers in fear from it and willingly does whatever it takes to pitch in, even grabbing a rifle and taking shots as the bird's egg. This is a far cry from many of the 50’s genre heroines, who spent more time screaming in fear than trying to be proactive. Sally doesn’t scream at all, except when Mitch blows up the lab, but considering that she was asleep and the explosion occurred just a few feet away and I think we can give Sally an out for her vocal outburst. Of course, all this praise cannot be heaped upon Miss Caldwell without pointing out her bad spots. Her one glaring problem is the way she absolutely refuses to believe Mitch’s UFO story. Not only does she believe that he is full of shit, but she teases him about his “flying battleship.” This gets old rather quick, and when factoring in the overwhelming evidence in support of Mitch’s story, it just makes her look like an idiot. At least, she was a hot-looking idiot.
The rest of the cast fills out the remaining roles in sufficiently convincing fashion. General Buskirk is gruff, yet accommodating when the situation calls for it, General Considine is even more gruff (in a grandfatherly kind of way) but is committed to destroying the bird at all costs, Doctor Noymann spouts enough pseudo-science gibberish to fool everyone under the age of twelve and Pierre is a doomed chickenshit. The real standout among this group is Morris Ankrum as Considine. Ankrum appeared in a lot of science fiction and horror films of the decade and brought a unique grizzled charm to his many doctor and military officer roles. Here he exudes his usual commanding presence, helping to instill the film with the proper amount of 50’s charm and (in retrospect) cheese.
There have been plenty of genre films that have utilized models in some capacity, whether it’s to help some giant monster stomp a city flat, show something being blown up that could not be accomplished with the real thing or any number of other reasons. Some times this miniature work looks good, sometimes it doesn’t. Eiji Tsuburaya perfected the use of miniature buildings and vehicles for Toho’s Godzilla and other kaiju flicks. However, such high quality is not on display here. For the most part, the miniatures that represent outdoor settings, like the Canadian wilderness or the New York skyline, do not look half bad given the time period. However, when it comes to the model vehicles, look out! The model planes in this film look spectacularly crappy. I guess they would be not be quite as crappy if it were not for the obvious wires that hold them aloft and which can be spotted in any shot using them. They also appear as if they were bought right off the shelf from some local hobby store rather than being fabricated for this movie! The same is true of the model train used in one scene. Oh, it looks ok, but I’m sure it was taken right of the HO scale rack at that same hobby store. It’s when these mini vehicles have to explode that things get really ugly. Then their plastic nature is impossible to hide. Of course, the producers could have fixed that by filming these explosions at a higher frame rate and then slowing it down, giving things the illusion of size and mass, but I don’t think they even knew such a technique existed. Either that or they were too lazy.
Then there is the monster itself. Oh, lord. Rumor says that producer Sam Katzman originally planned to hire Ray Harryhausen for the monster FX, and one can only wonder what marvelous creature he would have brought to life. Alas, either by purposeful intent or by accident, the film’s budget just did not allow for Harryhausen’s talents, so the FX work was given to a company south of the border. Who it was that came up with the idea to use a freakin’ puppet (ok, ok…a marionette if ya wanna get technical) has been lost to time…and that is probably a good thing. Not only does this approach make for a rather unconvincing monster (it resembles nothing more than some cheap kiddie show sidekick), but the methods used to make the thing fly and move only serve to highlight the nature of the prop. The glaringly obvious wires that the thing is suspended from only add to the sheer cheeze factor. Finally, it’s not just the manner in which the monster is brought to life that makes it so endearingly phony, but its design as well. Huge lidless eyes, big teeth, flaring nostrils and a Mohawk of hair makes this the most un-avian bird in all of cinema. Sure, it was supposed to be from outer space, but did they have to make it look so…I don’t know…goofy? In the end, the title beast only elicits laughs from the audience and not screams of fright.
Let’s look at the fluctuating size of the bird. The producers never seem to make up their minds on just how big the monster is. Take a look at the rotating images at left. In picture 1, we see the bird when it attacks the CAB plane. It looks pretty damn big here, with its head easily much larger than the entire plane. In picture 2, it’s a short while later, when the bird is gulping down the poor bastards than bailed out of the CAB plane. The shot is very fast and hard to see, but rather obvious from what can be discerned is that the guy about to be chomped is as big (if not a wee bit bigger) than one of the monster’s larger teeth. Going by the first picture, that makes this guy about twelve to fifteen feet in height! That means the bird shrunk in the few seconds between its attack on the plane and when it ate this guy! Later when it attacks a car full of teens, it appears to have gotten even smaller. This can be seen in picture 3. This takes place at night, so it is hard to see, but one can see that the car containing the teens (the arrow is pointing at it) is not much smaller than one of the bird’s feet. However, soon after this, the bird starts to get bigger. In picture 4, it is attacking a train and we notice that now its foot is much larger than an entire boxcar. The growth spurt continues, for as we see in picture 5, by the end of the film, it is dwarfing skyscrapers in New York. Judging by that picture, if the bird was the same size throughout the whole film, then the guy in picture 2 is about thirty to forty feet tall! The final picture (6) shows us the bird in flight, so we can compare the relative sizes of its head and feet for purposes of this size analysis. The bottom line is this: no care was taken to have the bird remain consistent in size.
This film utilizes a lot of stock footage, lifted (stolen) from earlier…and dare I say better, movies. Amongst the “borrowed” shots are scenes from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), which itself recycled a brief shot from War of the Worlds (1953). And yes, I checked the DVD’s for all of those aforementioned films just to verify these shots. There is also a claim that footage from Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) was also used in this film. I have never seen that film, so I cannot verify that, but I suspect it to be true and that the shots in question are of military planes taking off and flying, most notably B-25 bombers.
Ultimately, I think what the movie suffers from is a lack of money to realize its epic scope. The producers want us to believe that this gigantic fowl from outer space is threatening to annihilate all life on Earth. That when it attacks, entire cities are threatened with destruction and that nowhere on the face of the planet is truly safe. The problem is, these ideas are conveyed with stock footage and the cheapest methods imaginable for bringing monsters to life. It’s rather difficult to take those notions seriously when the creature in question looks so utterly ridiculous. Since this was true at the time of its initial release, imagine how goofy it all appears fifty years later, now that most films from that era are dated and considered rather silly. Thus, one can see why this movie has the reputation that it does, and why so many B-Movie enthusiasts love it.
A beautiful mess. That is exactly what this film is. The producers try so hard to give us a frightfully good time, but the end result is just laughable. It’s so bad, that the years have garnered this movie a special reputation above and beyond other genre films from the same decade. Anyone calling themselves a fan of B-movies must see this film at least once, just to see how unintentionally comical it all is. The folks that don’t like older films or prefer a certain degree of realism in their films had better steer clear. This thing is about as far removed from reality as Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch. If you’re like me, you’ll love this film for it’s over the top cheeze factor.
Action - A plane crash about as on-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting as a visit to the post office, plus an aerial combat sequence with the bird that evokes yawns rather than gasps.
Aliens - Only one extraterrestrial and it’s the biggest buzzard you ever saw in your life. One aspect that the movie never did examine was the damage stemming from colossal bird turds.
Forest Hijinks - Mitch, Sally and Pierre go stomping through the woods, looking for the bird's nest. Episodes of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom were more thrilling than this sequence.
Giant Monsters - One poorly realized giant buzzard. Cartoons have had better monsters. Popeye once took out a bird that was a more credible threat than this overgrown chicken hawk.
Hotrods - The hotrod in question comes into play when a gang of annoying teens goes blazing down the road, calling attention to themselves. Busted by the Bird, not the cops.
Romance - In the beginning, Sally can barely stand Mitch. By the middle, the two are locking lips. By the end, they have marriage, kids and mutual recrimination to look forward to.
Science - Oh, lord. “Science” is used to explain the origins of the big bird. “Science” is used to devise a way to destroy the bird. I've seen better "science" in an episode of Star Trek.
Stock Footage - Not only do the producers raid the vaults containing military and world war two footage, but also they steal entire shots from other movies.
Technology - The gizmo contraption thingie invented by Mitch fired a stream of Mesic atoms but might as well have shot magic candy canes for all the sense it made.
Violence - This is the 50’s, so violence won’t be too bad. Most of the deaths appear off screen, though we do see three people swallowed whole by the bird.
93 (hundreds implied)
Drinks consumed: 6
Flybys by a blurry Bird: 9
Voiceovers from CLOWN: 5
Total Words spoken by CLOWN: 665
Times battleship is used in reference to bird’s size: 12
Movies from which stock footage was lifted: 5
Percentage of movie made up of stock footage: 5.35%
Gratuitous and dated uses of the word “Daddy-O”: 2
Min – Worst. Model Earth. Ever.
Shadow's Drinking Game: Every time the bird (seen or unseen) and Mitch are within one mile of each other, take a drink.
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The annoying CLOWN.
CLOWN: “Once more a frantic pilot radios in a report on a UFO. A bird. A bird as big as a battleship, circling and preparing to attack the CAB plane.”
Shadow’s comment: Once more a useless, pointless, annoying narrator interrupts a movie to inform us of the obvious.
The two Generals.
“Machine guns, cannons, rockets, nothing touched it. Those pilots…”
Shadow’s comment: The end of Big Bird? Did Sesame Street get cancelled?
Noymann and a science lecture.
Noymann: “According to the law of electrodynamics, all nature is symmetrical. It is in balance. And if there is matter, then there must also be antimatter, a symmetrical mirror image. Now here we have a positive nucleus, negative electrons. In the reverse, we must obviously have a negative nucleus with positive electrons. Science has proved that this is so, not in this Earth nor in this solar system but somewhere in the universe there are stars, planets, whole galaxies made up of antimatter.”
Shadow’s comment: So somewhere in the multiverse, there exists a version of this movie that is not a total crapfest?
of Dr. Noymann’s “science.”
Noymann: “That bird is extraterrestrial. It comes from outer space. From some God-forsaken anti-matter galaxy millions and millions of light years from the Earth. No other explanation is possible.”
Shadow’s comment: What was it Sherlock Holmes said? Ah yes… “When you have eliminated the impossible, then start pulling answers out of your ass.”
Film & Me
This is another film that I remember watching on TV at a very young age. Since my older sisters were still living at home, then I must have been under five. I don’t recall feeling the slightest bit afraid or scared by the monster, and even in my youthful mind, I realized that the oversized buzzard was somewhat silly looking. I saw the movie a few times by the time I was eight, but then it vanished and I didn’t see it again for many, many years. When the late 80’s/early 90’s rolled around and I was buying old movies on VHS, I found The Giant Claw and snatched it up. Yes, this film has one of the worst looking monsters ever. I guess that is why it is so endearing. The fact that the movie tries so hard, hits all the right notes, has the right timing…but has just one aspect that is off, still makes it endearing to me. Too bad for this film that one bad thing is such an overwhelming one. I’ve been wanting to review this film for the Graveyard for the longest time (probably since the site first went online), but there was no DVD. I did procure a DVD-R copy of the film for possible review, but the screen caps and would have looked terrible, so I held out hope for a legitimate DVD release. Good things come to those who wait, and I bought the DVD the day it was released.
Shadow's rating: Seven Tombstones