The Monolith Monsters (1957)

Rating:

USA. 1957.

Crew

Director – John Sherwood, Screenplay – Robert M. Fresco & Norman Jolley, Story – Jack Arnold & Robert M. Fresco, Producer – Howard Christie, Photography (b&w) – Ellis W. Carter, Music Supervisor – Joseph Gershenson, Special Photography – Clifford Stine, Makeup – Bud Westmore, Art Direction – Alexander Golitzen & Robert E. Smith. Production Company – Universal-International

Cast

Grant Williams (Dave Miller), Lola Albright (Cathy Barrett), Les Tremayne (Martin Cochrane), Trevor Bardette (Professor Arthur Flanders), William Flaherty (Police Chief Dan Corey), Harry Jackson (Dr Steve Hendricks), Linda Scheley (Ginny Simpson), Phil Harvey (Ben Gilbert), Richard Cutting (Dr Reynolds), Steve Darrell (Joe Higgins)


Plot

A meteorite comes down near the California desert town of San Angelo. After geologist Ben Gilbert picks up a sample, his colleague Dave Miller comes to work the next day to find the rock has expanded to fill the lab and that Ben is dead, his body petrified. Dave’s girlfriend, schoolteacher Cathy Barrett, realises that one of her pupils Ginny Simpson also picked up an identical piece of rock. When they race to the Simpson farm, they find the house crushed by rocks, Ginny’s family dead and Ginny’s hand turning to stone. Dave seeks the help of his former professor Arthur Flanders and they realise that the rocks devour the silicon in the human body and are triggered to grow by water. Just then, a rainstorm hits the town, causing the rocks to grow to giant-size and start slowly advancing towards the township.


The Monolith Monsters is a classic 1950s science-fiction film. It is not quite an alien invasion film, nor quite a monster movie – but almost certainly draws from elements of either. And to confer its classic status, it has a story from Jack Arnold, the finest director working in 1950s science-fiction with the likes of It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) among others to his name. The director was John Sherwood, who worked more frequently as an assistant director but who made three films as director, the others being the Western Raw Edge (1956) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), a sequel to Jack Arnold’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon. (In a further Arnold connection, the film stars Grant Williams who played the title character in the Arnold directed The Incredible Shrinking Man several months earlier the same year).

John Sherwood is a far more pedestrian director than Jack Arnold ever was and yet The Monolith Monsters succeeds. It has the perfect Arnold setting – a sleepy town located in the middle of the desert (something that featured in about every second Jack Arnold film). Sherwood creates some modestly effective scenes in the build-up. There is the eerie scene where Grant Williams returns to the lab to find the rocks have grown everywhere and caused chaos and then discovering colleague Phil Harvey with his back to him petrified. There is the subsequent investigation of the Simpson house where the rocks have grown to shatter the entire house and the young girl (Linda Scheley) is reduced to catatonic fear – a scene very reminiscent of the similar one in Them! (1954).

If nothing else, The Monolith Monsters has some of the most unique and original monsters of any 1950s science-fiction film. The writers have certainly spent some time studying their geology and give the film the appearance of credibility. There is a cool fascination to Grant Williams and Trevor Bardette discovering a shard of rock that falls into the sink and then starts rapidly growing after the contents of a pot of coffee are idly tossed onto it. The finest moments are when we see the full-size rock monsters – the superb scene where Grant Williams and Trevor Bardette realise the implication of the rainstorm and rush out to watch as we see giant towering geodes, crashing and colliding as they grow, all silhouetted behind a ridge at night. It is a magnificently eerie intro of the monsters, one worthy of Arnold himself. There are other fine shots of the rocks towering above two farmhouses like skyscrapers, crumbling, crackling and slowly moving.



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